If you were under the impression that the cultural navigator disappeared by way of some ancient curse in Egypt after blogging about King Tutankhamen’s underpants, rest assured that no; I was indeed happily navigating through the land of the pharaohs, kings and queens of this fabulous ancient land.
One of the reasons for my momentary hiatus was simple: someone cut the cables. I am talking about the Internet cables, and this is the second time it happens to me while in the Middle-East. The last time was while at and oasis on the Dead Sea in Jordan in February: again, they cut the cables. This time internet services between Egypt, Europe and Asia were mysteriously cut, causing internet failure throughout the land.
But I merrily went about my business of a cultural navigator. After all, there was a time when there was no internet and believe me, in the last century the well-to-do went on their Grand Tour, including a stop at Egypt and its impressive pyramids, and their only personal computer was a handy writing desk.
Allow me to resume my voyage, as belated as it is. Cairo was infested with a palpable pollution. The air was thick and the sky bathed in a cloud of smog out of which pierce the distant ancient pyramids and modern mosques. Some 18-20 million Egyptians live in Cairo and the pyramids themselves are a stone’s throw from the capital.
Even in ancient Egypt they were deemed too close to the masses, making these pharaohs’ tombs vulnerable to pillaging. That’s why later rulers of ancient Egypt decided to secretly tuck their tombs away in the Valley of the Kings on the shores the Nile, away from the masses. It was only time, though, that had its effect even there – and when the secret got out, the kings and queens would have their vaults pillaged despite all the best intentions.
As impressive as it was standing in front of the Pyramid of Khofu, the Great Pyramid, it was also anti-climactic. After all, the image is so embedded in our minds. It is part of our cultural baggage that made me feel as if I have all been to this – the oldest and grandest of man-made monuments. Like the Taj Mahal, Petra or Machu Picchu – which I actually visited this year – these monuments too have somehow been siphoned into popular culture and mindset. They become even greater than their actual weight or real grandness. They are physical and spiritual monuments that belong to all of us.
You almost fail to understand the true weight of history when in front of the pyramid that was incomprehensively built sometime between 2589 and 2530 B.C. Even looking back at the pictures of where I was just a few days ago, the reality evades me. That same vista that I saw has drawn the amazement of so many, so far back, that the images of these pyramids are etched in another era.
After the pyramids I headed north for a day-visit to Alexandria, the home of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina – the modern-day rebirth of an ancient library lost over time. The library itself was impressive, beautiful and modern. The city was vibrant and young, if not as quaint as I would have imagined. Students spilled on the streets, beautiful veiled young Egyptians buzzed about in this university city. Notably, the library actually has a printing press of sorts, that prints out books on demand. Of course, the author’s have to give their permission and copyright, but the idea is brilliant. The book is printed, along with its cover and all for a fraction of what you would pay in a bookstore.
Alexandria, on the shores of the Mediterranean, was the capital of Egypt long after the golden age of the pharaohs. But this renaissance lasted for almost a thousand years – from 334 BC until the 641 Muslim conquest of Egypt.
I then flew to Luxor, over 700 kilometres away and on the shores of the Nile. Here the weather was warmer, the sun shone brighter and air crystal clear. And it was on the boat journey from Luxor to Aswan that the most stunning sites were hidden away by the ancient pharaohs. Afraid of looters, it is here where generations of pharaohs tucked away their most prized possessions for safe use in the after-life. They actually blindfolded the builders of the tombs before bringing them to the Valley of the Kings, and Valley of the Queens to build the tombs. Needless to say while the secret may have remained safe for a time, archaeologists to this day search for intact tombs, making the ancients afterlife ambitions rather futile.
The first stop, however, was Karnak, a series of temple complexes dedicated to Amun, the sun-god.