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Return to the land of pharaohs

The protests are over, and time may be right to make a trip to the land of the Nile, pyramids and mummies

travel Updated: Feb 19, 2011 13:36 IST

Of late, Egypt
has been in
news for all
the wrong
reasons. But it
isn't easy to
ignore the art, architecture
and history of the country.
Here are some places that are
a must in any itinerary.

Pyramids of Giza, Sphinx and Cairo Museum:
Any trip to Cairo is incomplete without a visit to the Pyramids of Giza and the Cairo Museum, which hosts the most important collection of Egyptian art in the world. The latter made news recently, when protesters demanding Egyptian President Mubarak's removal, vandalised some mummies present inside the museum.

On the other hand, getting a glimpse of the former is not difficult. The story behind the construction of these magnificent tombs is fascinating. Ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife. To them, the pharaoh (king) was the incarnation of God. Once the pharaoh died, a pyramid was created as a 'mortuary temple'. Here, the royal priests conducted long rites of embalming the king's body, along with his favourite possessions, and finally buried in the form of a mummy. The chamber was sealed and every passageway blocked to ensure that no one disturbed the king as he made his final ascent to the sun, and was officially reunited with God. The three Great Pyramids of Giza belong to the kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure.

There is also a 21-metre high and 73-metre long Sphinx at the same site. The humanheaded lion, built in the likeness of Khafre, keeps a watch over the pyramids.

The Valley of the Kings:
Getting here means a trip deep in the desert. During the time of the pyramids, the tomb along with the mortuary temple was the focal point for kings. With the Pharaohs that came later, grandeur took a backseat. Instead, imposing mortuaries rose up at the edge of the desert and the tomb, now smaller, but yet a temple, was jealously guarded from the outside world. The Valley of the Kings is an arid, harsh place. The funerary complex spreads over a vast area and sometimes, deep in the ground. To get to the various tombs, one needs to cover a large distance. It is not very well known but a ticket bought can only get you inside five tombs. So one also needs to be well-informed and pick the right chambers, as some tombs are bare while others offer glimpses of the grandeur that was once present there, including beautiful coloured carvings that tell the story of the Pharaohs, tales of the Gods and rites performed in that era.

The sarcophagus chamber of Tutankhamen, which yielded immense treasures of art and archaeology, was found here.

Abu Simbel
In the heart of the Nubian territory and almost at the Egypt-Sudan border lies one of Egypt's most beautiful temples: Abu Simbel. Getting there takes about five hours from Cairo. The temple, in theory, is dedicated to the Gods Amon-Ra, Harmakes and Ptah, but actually glorifies its creator King Ramses II, The Great. The rising waters of Lake Nasser once threatened the temple and many were worried that it would forever disappear. But a massive worldwide rescue operation later, aided by several countries, along with the use of technology, succeeded in saving the temple after some unbelievable levels of dismantlement and reconstruction.

The beauty of the place comes alive about 65 metres into the monument and in the heart of the structure. Here, in a small room, sit the statues of the deified Ramses II, with the Gods Amon-Ra, Harmakes and Ptah. The precise calculations used to build the temple can be marvelled at twice a year, when an event called the miracle of the sun takes place. At this time, the sun penetrates the entire length of the temple and floods the statues with light. However, no light falls on Ptah, as he is the God of Darkness. This miracle lasts for only five minutes, but thousands make the journey to catch it year after year.

This port city offers a completely different aspect of Egypt. Built by Alexander the Great, who consecrated himself as Pharaoh, the architecture here, with its Greek influences, is different from anything else in Egypt. The city is renowned for the Great Lighthouse or Pharos and the fortress of Kaitbay.

A few days in Egypt isn't enough. But visiting these places is the first step in getting to know this land better.