A visit to the Pyramids is like a long pending pilgrimage to your school-days memories when numerous text books on history of the world was full of pictures and periods spent by the Pharaoh Kings and Queens of ancient Egypt. Rightfully their slogan to woo more tourists says “Egypt- where it all began”, and it actually delivers that experience of being at the beginning of something fundamental, something that shaped civilisations and rituals, something that invoked the mysteries around death and afterlife.
Before we dig deeper into the Pyramids experiences, let us share with you some precious tips which you will not find easily in the web. Once you keep in mind these key take-aways, feel free to fully immerse yourself with the beauty and mystery of these monumental structures.
1. Do remember that you have to pay anything in the range of between 60-120 EGP per head for entrance in the sites of interest. So make sure you have sufficient cash on you and don’t expect card payments to be available.
2. Camels with their owners will approach you and you will be allured to take pictures of the camel or of yourself posing with the camel. Keep in mind that a payment will be expected by the camel owner and many times they can be pushy. We suggest to refrain from clicking camels to avoid the bargaining altogether.
3. A few notes about the inside premises of the Pyramids sites – Avoid using tripods, big lenses, video microphones etc. inside the Pyramids premises. You may be approached by many men carrying badges and claiming to be security staff who will ask if you have permits. if you love photography too much and appear to be a professional, you may be approached by parties asking about your identity and more importantly, what you are going to do with the photographs. Don’t handover your camera to anyone ever.
4. Remember that no photography is allowed inside the Museum of Saqqara. So don’t even try.
5. It is possible to get down deep inside the Red Pyramid to see the Mummy Chambers i.e. where they used to store the mummies. Is it worth it? No. Firstly because of the fact that there are no mummies kept inside the pyramid, they are all transported to Cairo Museum. Secondly, it is really hot and humid inside and the trip down and back up will require you to maintain a 45 degree posture yourself and wear appropriate footwear. Simply not worth the effort and outcome. So avoid this.
6. You will be asked where you are from at almost every location and by almost everyone. So be prepared to respond, ignore or smile.
7. If you do intend to buy any artwork on papyrus paper, we strongly recommend you to buy these straight from the craftsmen and not from any city retailers or from the hotels. Especially there are some authentic papyrus shops just next to the entrance to the Museum of Memphis, where the massive lying statue of Ramesses II is kept. Depending on the quality and size you are after, the price of a good quality, original, handmade artwork on papyrus paper should be in the range of 50 – 200 EGP. Bargaining is ofcourse suggested.
8. Don’t try to climb the Pyramids. You may have read about mavericks actually having climbed up the Pyramids to take selfies. They were fortunate because they were not shot. Incase you want to avoid being arrested or shot at – don’t become a dead mummy yourself. Also, don’t stay inside the Giza Pyramids premises after 6pm. The Security is claimed to have right to shoot at anything moving inside the boundaries – camels, humans, horses, ghosts, Pharaoh souls etc.
9. The Pyramid sites are full of stalls selling souvenirs but not full of shops selling water, refreshments and there are no toilets etc. So carry your own water with you and try to contain your own urge to release yourself unless you are out of the sites.
In spite of security concerns in Egypt, we decided that we had to go because although tourists and tourism industry get effected by terrorists and their actions, voyagers venture out to unveil the fear of unknown and the undiscovered. We made sure that we stayed and slept literally under the watchful shadows of the Great Pyramids of Giza and this was made possible when we were invited as guests at the fabulous Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa. Located just a 3 minute drive from the Wonders of the Ancient World, you can read more about our wonderful experience at this hotel here.
We spent the first day settling down at the hotel from where we could see the Pyramids in short distance. Menkaure, Khafre, Khufu – the Three Pyramids of Giza – continued their unmovable meditation of centuries. Seeing the monumental structures with own eyes from a far distance, but waiting for the next day to visit was like fixating your gaze at a beautiful woman you can stare at from a distance but have to undergo the pangs for a certain time to achieve the desired vicinity. The limestone peaks of the Pyramids were visible from inside our room, from the poolside of the hotel, from the entrance of the hotel – pretty much everywhere.
No pilgrimage to Pyramids could be or should be completed in one trip. Our careful planning implied that several trips to the historic site would address separate objectives each day. Day one was the day for the official photoshoot of Team OneTimeFashionista – a ritual we do as a team to capture in frame some amazing emotions and moments that we share. We agreed with our photographer to meet at one of the entrances of the Pyramids. Svetlana was our preferred photography partner for this session. She is Russian, based in Cairo and her photography, professionalism and friendship won us over. You can read about our photo shoot experience in another post here.
We reached at the agreed time at the entrance and our expectations had a screeching crash landing. Possibly more touts than tourists, more dry dust and dirt around than dazzling decorations. Frankly, the impression created at the very entrance is enough to tell a long story in a short scan to the most observant wanderers. While we were not wearing any ”typically-touristy” outfits which drew attention and surely we were covered up but that was good enough to propel towards us the interested protectors of sanity and sanctity.
Every other man claimed to be in charge of security, everyone showed their badges in a flash and spoke sheepishly on their walkie-talkie for inviting others to join in. Like Adam & Eve recently dropped from Heaven may be protecting their modesty with only an apple and nothing else, we got surrounded by saviours of modesty, culture and fashion police. We were astonished at their demand that we would require special permissions from the Ministry of Culture for taking photos wearing clothes which are ‘not normal’. After a brief argument, they just thought to let us in. We knew that we would be watched from thereafter.
Step inside the premises and we realised why it was so much more beautiful to contemplate at the Pyramids from a far distance. Because from where we got their first sight, it was free from dust, dodgy onlookers and animal excretion almost everywhere. It was a better option to look up and above at the Pyramids with occasional manoeuvring needed to dodge and avoid dodgy people and camel waste.
Svetlana showed up on time and we started our photoshoot with the best backdrop one can imagine. Some magical moments were captured by her before we were approached again by a group of men asking us to stop. The bitter drama unfolded where it was beyond anyone’s comprehension that we had to be married to be taking photos ”holding hands” or any sort of ”body contacts” and wearing good clothes. Faced with the threat to capture the camera or a choice to pay them bribe, we walked out of the premises with a very heavy heart and disappointment. Not that the Pyramids were to blame, but certain people have really hijacked the pride and prowess of Egypt for their own interest.
Undeterred, we put on our ‘ordinary’ clothes the following day and headed back to the Pyramids to conduct our regular photo shoots. Free from the sad situation on ground, we focused on the sights of the Sphinx maintaining its posture for ages.
The sight of the three pyramids in line, sphinx and the sun above – make sure you bring out some time and a quiet corner to reflect on the magnitude of this location. The inspiration and belief with which these giant structures got created, brick after brick, rock after rock. What went down deep inside these structures, the mummies and the rituals around death, this infallible faith they had on this connection between life here and thereafter. If you don’t experience a Zen moment when you are at the Pyramids, may be you are too consumed with the banalities of modern life which eventually will reduce to the dusts and dirt as found in abundance in Pyramids in any case.
Our faithful chauffeur-turned-friend-turned-guide Adel, the Egyptian gentleman suggested that we include in our itinerary the Pyramids of Saqqara and Dahshur too so we obliged. Contact him before you land in Cairo at this number +20 1005112666 and he will make sure you have a trusted chauffeur, guide and friend to take you to the points of interest in and around Cairo. He not only drove us to key locations but also became our de facto photographer when we needed to take photos of ourselves together.
The following day we went to see the same Pyramids structures built in these locations which were an easy couple of hours drive from Giza. There are supposedly around 90 Pyramids structures remaining all around Egypt. Therefore don’t be under the assumption that the Pyramids you see in Giza are the only ones in Egypt. There are many others situated around the country, some still seen, some may have been lost in oblivion of history and negligence.
Saqqara is famous for its stepped-Pyramid, also known as the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which is not seen anywhere in Egypt. This location had a museum which was found to be cleaner and more organised even than the Cairo Museum. There was even an auditorium for a short documentary on this pyramid. We waited briefly for the responsible person to show up and when he did the DVD player refused to turn on. So we had to walk out with a bitter taste thinking noticing the sad little signs of negligence in such amazing locations of interest. We made our way through the beautiful alley way guarded by round columns to the main premises. Again, a giant dust mess, a few stray camels or dogs and some enthusiastic tourists were all to be found giving company to the Pyramid of Djoser.
Afterwards we headed to see the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid of Dahshur which was just a short drive south of Saqqara. It was fascinating to know that the pyramids in Dahshur were built way before the Pyramids in Giza were built. Infact the Pharaoh Kings were still learning the ropes of architectural designs and engineering to master smooth-sided pyramids. So the ones seen in Dahshur still bear the testimony of their attempts, hence the Bent Pyramid, is surely not smooth and that is what makes it special.
Again, there were moments of complete exclusivity in the vicinity of the pyramids. A handful of tourists, one or two security guards who were more curious to strike up a conversation to find out if we were from Bollywood or not, or if we know Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. The very fact that it was possible to stare at the attempts of the ancient Egyptians in the form these magnificent pyramids all by ourselves was a surreal feeling. With sudden gushes of desert wind playing with the golden dusts, the struggling rocks kept fending off the decays thrown by the wind centuries after centuries. Once abuzz, this land with workers carrying rocks from all parts of Egypt to build these massive monuments to bury their deads, now lay deserted in this vast desert land where we left our footprints behind. May be our arrival and movement were observed by the dormant rocks on ground, waiting for the wind of change to erase it in due course of time.
We climbed up the Red Pyramid with a faint desire to get down to the burial chambers. While we were weighing the pros and cons, we saw another group of tourists finally climbing up gasping. As per their account, it was not surprisingly very hot and stuffy inside and moreover, all the mummies from all these pyramids had been transferred to Cairo Museum long time ago. Therefore, it is actually not worth the trip deep down inside the Pyramids. As the final destination in our day trip, we made our way to the Museum of Memphis, where the giant statue of Ramesses II is kept. Certainly worth a visit and make sure you buy some handmade artwork on authentic papyrus paper from the shops right next to the entrance to this museum.
While returning to Giza, Adel took us to a hotel belonging to his friend just opposite the Sphinx entrance of the Pyramids. We climbed to the terrace to see all the three pyramids in one view. It was certainly a wonderful sight, but we decided to return to the premises the following day to catch the sunset glory.
We made our final visit to the Pyramids of Giza to bid aurevoir to the last setting sun of the year 2015. We hired a caleche where the deal was to take us to the sunset point, outside the boundaries of the Pyramids to watch the mesmerising natural colour display of over the Pyramids. Our horse was called Eid and he was compelled to propel in flying speed to take us to the sunset point before the sun could set. Once we reached the coveted location, the three Pyramids were all visible at the same time and the orange light of the setting sun created a magically mysterious shade on the Pyramids. The western sky itself put on a fabulous display of hide and seek between the clouds with golden glows whereas the Pyramids stood awash by the crimson light of the reclining sun – it was too much to behold in those 10 minutes of twilight.
While the sun was setting splashing its spectacular display across the three Pyramids of Giza, we thought how commendable the history of these Ancient Wonders of the World was to bemuse us profoundly, but we could not help but wonder why they had been left in the state we saw them in. Unclean, shabby, dusty, filled with unregulated guides and touts who appeared more pushy than friendly. If the Egyptian Government is keen to keep the sites of the Pyramids as close to their ancient times of building as possible – it may turn away a lot of travellers who expect the basic standard of cleanliness and safety. But if you are willing to overlook these shortcomings, the Pyramids will make you think to reflect on some fundamental turning points of human race, rituals and religions.