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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Breathless in Pharoah's Tomb

No visit to Egypt is complete without a closeup examination of the mighty pyramids in Giza (as the old photo of one group below shows). So naturally we went to see them when we spent a few weeks in Egypt seeing the wonders of ancient Egypt, the bustling activity of modern Egypt, and doing research for our novel. Some nice aerial views of the pyramids are found in this site.
Satellite view of pyramids in Egypt
The weather was hot, there seemed to be camels everywhere, and hordes of tour buses came snorting into the parking lots. 
The pyramids are almost beyond description; when we boated up the Nile we passed quarries on its banks, from which huge stone blocks were cut and floated downstream to be used to build the pyramids and monuments of the pharaohs. You can see one of the quarries in our photograph.
Our guide was superb. Educated in Israel, he had a deep knowledge of his homeland Egypt, and delighted in telling us stories about the characters of the past and present.
He gave us all a choice: we could go down inside one of the pyramids to see the tomb of the pharaoh. But, he warned, there were rules. No stopping, because the tunnel leading to the tomb was fairly narrow, and there would be people going down and coming back up. Keep up the pace so that the tunnel is not blocked. 
Graffiti in Egypt by Belzoni, the wild Egyptologist
And of course, no graffiti – you can see in our photo how prominently the bullheaded Egyptologist Belzoni carved his name into a monument's wall.  
At once I had a predicament I had not expected. I am claustrophobic. The thought of plunging down into the earth in a narrow tunnel, surrounded by jostling tourists, and then spending some time down below in a smallish room buried deep underneath tons of monstrous stone blocks terrified me.
Loraine and I had a quick talk. She was going down to see the last resting place of the pharaoh. I could stay on top if I wanted to.
Forgeddabout it, I thought. I've come all this way to see the wonder of this ancient civilization, and getting a chance to see the final resting place of one of the mighty pharaohs could not be put aside.
So we lined up and in single file started a steep descent down a tunnel, bent because the roof is a bit low, with people struggling up past us on their way out. 
The breath caught in my throat, making me gasp for oxygen, my heart started hammering, my ears were blocked by a roaring sound, and a full scale panic attack grabbed my by the throat and never let go until we saw light again. Every few steps Loraine would reach behind her to touch my bent head in reassurance.
Napoleon in Egypt
But when we reached the bottom, we saw the place a pharaoh had rested during his long wait for entry into eternity. After his judgement day exercise – click here for a description in our website, Obelisk Seven – he had been laid to rest here, in a sarcophagus worthy of his rank and power.
What an intense emotion that was – to stand in the burial chamber in silent thought of the ancient ceremony, and of the millenia that had passed in this oldest of all lands!
Too soon, we had to leave and start the journey to the surface. On the way I kept two thoughts firmly in mind: earthquakes are relatively rare in Egypt, and Napoleon Bonaparte had not only descended the long tunnel of the Great Pyramid, but – so legend has it – had spent a whole night there, alone in the burial chamber.

One visit I could manage, despite my panic. One whole night would have been a different story!
Our handshake on our camels was partly to celebrate my survival.
Glenn & Loraine in Egypt
The Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt

Pharaoh's resting place in the Great Pyramid, Giza
















Visitors in Victorian times
Stone quarry on Nile bank


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