By Shahida Sakeri on December 19, 2019
“…and so I took this beautiful trip to Egypt. It was the first time ever in my whole life I took three weeks off, and I sailed down the Nile and I saw the tombs and the temples, and I experienced a place that was so magical and so incredibly powerful and intelligent and inspiring.” ~Alicia Keys
It seems like there are not enough adjectives in the world to describe Egypt; but one thing for sure, the country that witnessed the birth of one of the earliest and impactful civilisations the world had ever seen, possesses the ability to touch many travellers’ hearts. The charm is simply irresistible. But don’t let the mindboggling mythology, impressive ancient architecture and the longest river in the world blind you from the fact that the country also offers unique cultural immersion not to be found anywhere else. And oh, the Egyptians are incredibly hospitable too. I enjoyed every moment in Egypt and developed fresher perspectives on life during my trip.
Though visiting Egypt on your own is doable, going with reliable tour operators will free you from stressful planning and confusing arrangements. One such operator is Cleopatra Travel & Tours (www.cleopatra2u.com), which promises impeccable service, offering value-for-money packages that include comfortable accommodations, meals, transport, and entrance fees. Besides, Cleopatra Travel & Tours also provides professional Egyptologists throughout the trip who are experts in Ancient Egypt history, which at times can be overwhelming and difficult to understand.
One strong advantage that I loved the most about going with Cleopatra Travel & Tours is the high-level security given to its clients. This was made evident during our group’s trip to Khan el Khalili market, where we were accompanied by a security guard who made sure that we had pleasant shopping experience, free from scammers and pickpockets. On top of these, Cleopatra Travel & Tours has strong ties with the Malaysian Embassy in Cairo, hence travellers can be rest assured that the embassy will be alerted right away should anything goes wrong.
Cleopatra Travel & Tours is helmed by Ms. Waheedah Hanifa, a champion in the field of education before jumping into tourism in 2015, a decision that led to the establishment of her own travel company the following year. She places strong emphasis on giving her clients quality service and dares to shake up this once male-dominated industry. With her unrivalled dedication and strong professional team, a fulfilling travel experience in Egypt is guaranteed.
The Egyptian Museum
Start the tour right with a glimpse of Egypt’s yesteryear. This outstanding museum is divided into two floors, overflowing with impressive relics originating from as far back as the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt to the Greco-Roman period. Of course, the main highlight would be the Royal Mummy Room, which requires an additional fee to enter, but proven to be a priceless experience when travellers witness the mummies of famous pharaohs such as Ramesses II, who not only reigned for six decades and built more monuments than any other Egyptian kings, but also believed by some historians to be the pharaoh who fit the narrative in the Bible and the Quran. This museum is wheelchair accessible, but its massive size can prove challenging for those who are time constraint.
The Hanging Church
Considered as one of the oldest Christian religious sites in Egypt and one of the most beautiful buildings in the country, the Hanging Church obtained its name from its unique position on top of a gatehouse of a Roman fortress. However, since the ground level had been raised over time, spectators can no longer see the special ‘hanging’ effect anymore. To make up for this loss, step inside this precious architectural gem and get ready to be impressed by top-notch craftsmanship that are evident on the church’s elaborate inlaid screens, marble pulpit and timber roof resembling Noah’s Ark. Truly, this church is an artwork of its own.
The Old Market Khan el Khalili
Navigating Khan el Khalili, or also known as Turkish Bazaar, in the lively heart of Old Cairo is an experience that every traveller should give a go. This bustling souk is a shopping haven for travellers who hunt for Egyptian treasures, including spices, silver jewelleries and carpets. The market’s soaring arches, limestone walls and intricate wood panelling that have stood the test of time since the Middle Ages are absolute feast for the eyes. Just keep in mind that haggling is part of the experience here. Also, having a handy stash of small notes is always a good idea.
The Pyramids Complex (Necropolis)
The pyramids are possibly the most iconic face of Egypt, second to none. Their sheer size, outstanding precision and remarkable ancient engineering remained unmatched for over 3,800 years. But do you know that the pyramids we see today at Giza were just a shadow of their former selves? They were originally covered with highly-polished white limestone that glistened under the sun for hundreds of miles across the desert.
The oldest and largest of the pyramid at the site, known as the Great Pyramid, belonged to Pharaoh Khufu, surrounded by three small pyramids built for his queens, including a small tomb dedicated for his mother, Queen Hetepheres. The second tallest pyramid here was built for Khufu’s son, Khafre, which is accompanied by the Great Sphinx whose role was to guard the area. The shortest of the three pharaoh pyramids, but gigantic in size nonetheless, was built for Khafre’s son, Menkaure.
The Temple of Philae
Said to be the last ancient temple constructed in the classical Egyptian style, this house of worship was dedicated to the goddess Iris, who according to Egyptian mythology was the daughter of Geb (the earth god) and Nut (the sky goddess). She was a role model to many women during ancient times, often considered as the goddess of magic, love, motherhood, and fertility. The temple was originally erected under the instruction of the 30th dynasty pharaoh, Nectanebo I, but eventually received later additions during the Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods, turning the place gradually larger over time. The complex was partially flooded during the early 20th century due to the construction of the Aswan Low Dam. In fear of further destruction due to the plans for a second dam, UNESCO launched a salvation project that relocated the temples to a higher ground on Agilkia Island.
The Temple of Kom Ombo
This temple is unique as it served as a double temple; one half dedicated to Horus (the sky deity that was represented in the form of a falcon) while the other to the crocodile deity, Sobek. It was erected during the Greco-Roman period on a riverbank where sacred crocodiles once basked in the sun. One of the most intriguing features here are the engravings that depict what is believed to be the first representations of medical and surgical instruments like forceps, scalpels, scissors and prescriptions, including two goddesses sitting on birthing chairs! Conclude your exploration of this site by visiting the mini crocodile mummification museum next door to gawk at real, large crocodile mummies!
The Nubian Villages
A short boat ride from Aswan town will take you to the Elephantine Island, where vividly painted houses and warm smiles await. They belong to the Nubians, who moved from southern Egypt and northern Sudan thousands of years ago to start farming along the Nile. But when the government began the High Aswan Dam project in the 1960s, most of them were relocated to Aswan, including the Elephantine Island. Today, the Nubians still retain their unique culture and language, making a day of exploration here truly memorable.
Cruising along the Nile
Honestly, there would be no conversation about Egypt’s old civilisations without the River Nile. It formed the basis of many ancient beliefs, including what it was thought to be the passage from life to the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians based their calendar on the river cycles, referring them as Akhet (the flood season), Peret (the growing season) and Shemu (the harvest season). Interestingly, the fascination towards the Nile does not stop there. The river even makes regular appearances in literary works in the modern era such as in Agatha Christie’s ‘Death on the Nile’, set to be turned into a Hollywood remake in 2020 starring Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer. So, before the movie arrives, why not experience this breezy bliss (without the tragedy, of course) for yourself?
The large suites aboard the houseboat that travellers put up during the cruise come with comfortable bedding, en suite bathroom and panoramic window that affords scenic sights as the world passes by slowly. Buffet-style restaurants, spa, swimming pool and lounge further add comfort. Nevertheless, the ship’s best spot is on the deck with a book in hand to enjoy fresh breeze and wave at local villagers going about their daily lives along the water lines. From time to time, you would be approached by souvenir salesmen riding on a small boat, offering things from towels to table clothes. Voyaging along the Nile is best done from November to February when the weather is more pleasant with little chance of desert sandstorms, locally called khamsins.
The Abu Simbel Temples
Perhaps the most popular icon besides the pyramids of Giza is Abu Simbel, which comprises two temples commissioned by Ramesses II during the golden age of Egypt. The Great Temple, characterised by four colossal statues of the pharaoh sitting down, was dedicated to himself, while the other was for his favoured first wife, the beautiful Queen Nefertari. It is said that twice in a year, around 22 February and 22 October, the sun beams right into the inner sanctuary of the Great Temple, illuminating the three statues inside it, including one of the pharaohs. Egyptologists believe these dates mark the pharaoh’s coronation and birth. In the 1960’s, the temples were moved from their original site to save them from being inundated by the Aswan Dam. The journey to Abu Simbel takes around three hours by bus or car from Aswan, but certainly worth the journey!
The Temple of Edfu
Looking at the grand towering pylon (the typical monumental gateway of an Egyptian temple) of the Edfu Temple, it’s easy to see why one would feel easily overwhelmed, if not intimidated, just by the sight of it – the size is frighteningly gargantuan! This pylon, along with other features of the temple, is considered as among the best preserved Egyptian architectural wonders due to its relatively young age. It was built during the Ptolemaic period and completed roughly within 180 years. Thanks to the inscriptions on its walls, archaeologists managed to uncover information on language, myth and religion of the Greco-Roman period in Ancient Egypt.
The Valley of the Kings
Ideal for all the Lara Crofts in the world, a visit to the Valley of the Kings is bound to satiate your curiosity on the death rituals and burial rites of the ancient Egyptians. After all, this valley was the main burial site of the kings and important nobles of the New Kingdom. 60 tombs were found in this site, but only eight are available for viewing. Two of them require additional fees, while the entry to three of the remaining six comes with the entrance ticket to the valley. I suggest that you enter the tombs of Rameses III, Rameses IV and Rameses IX, as they are the most vibrant and best-preserved. If you are feeling brave, be sure to visit the tomb of King Tutankhamun – the youngest pharaoh in Ancient Egypt – where his mummy is still in its original resting place. Though word got around that a mummy’s curse would befall on those entering the tomb, followed by illnesses or deaths, this remains merely a legend.
The Karnak Temple
Karnak is the largest religious site in the country, covering 250 hectares of land filled with temples and chapels, obelisks and statues dedicated to the deities Amun, Mut and Khonsu. Its construction began in the Middle Kingdom and continued into the Ptolemaic period, with involvement of approximately 30 pharaohs including Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, all proudly left their own architectural mark over a span of 2,000 years that eventually made the temple’s design so uniquely diversified. The most outstanding feature here would be the Great Hypostyle Hall, which is so enormous that it could fit the entire Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
The Luxor Temple
Modern-day Luxor was part of Thebes, the capital of Egypt during the New Kingdom era. Many important monuments and religious sites were erected within this city, including the construction of of the Luxor Temple commenced by Amenhotep III and gradually expanded until Rameses II’s time. During the Christian era, the temple’s hypostyle hall was converted into a church. Over time, the whole complex became buried under the sand, as most of the other ancient temples. The mosque of Sufi Shaykh Yusuf Abu al-Hajjaj was later built over it. When the temple was eventually uncovered, the mosque was preserved and became an integral part of the complex. The temple is gorgeous in daylight, but even more romantic during the night.
The Temple of Hatshepsut
The story of Hatshepsut, to me, is the most intriguing of all. She was the daughter of the pharaoh Thutmose I, and the first wife of Thutmose II, who was also her half-brother – a common practice in the ancient times to maintain the purity of the royal bloodline. They had only one daughter called Neferu-Ra. Hence, when Thutmose II died, the throne naturally was passed down to her step-son, Thutmose III, born to the king’s second wife. However, since Thutmose III was still a child at that time, Hatshepsut was appointed as the regent until he came of age.
In the seventh year of her regency, she made a daring power play against the system and the society, by appointing herself as the pharaoh, making her the first female ruler in Ancient Egyptian history. Some might claim that she was power-hungry, yet most historians agreed that she eventually won her people’s hearts with roughly two decades of peaceful reign. Unlike her predecessors, she forwent military conquests and instead brought vast riches to her kingdom through highly profitable trading expeditions, the famous one being the trip to Punt (possibly the modern-day Somalia) that marked the first known successful attempt at transplanting foreign trees on Egyptian soil.
Hatshepsut erected many ambitious building projects to solidify her place as a rightful pharaoh, but the most glorious work was her mortuary temple near the Valley of the Kings, which was designed to tell her story. Unfortunately, soon after her death, Thutmose III destroyed all traces of her reign, by erasing her name, crushing her statues and replacing her images with his own. She was disappeared from history until thousands of years later when an excavation project led by Howard Carter, a British archaeologist in the early 20th century, uncovered her. It appeared that the renovation of the mortuary temple during the time of Thutmose III was incomplete, therefore the temple’s original inscriptions mentioning the glories of Hatshepsut remains visible to this today.
Experiencing sleeper train from Luxor to Cairo
Travelling by train is arguably a quintessential Egyptian experience. The rail network here is extensive and fares are generally affordable. For added comfort and privacy, opt for the sleeper train, which is the highest class of rail travel in the country, but do take note that it is not luxurious by any means. Each cabin comes with two bunk beds, fresh linen, washbasin, two hand towels and ample power sockets. There are also washrooms located at the end of each carriage. On top of these, the fare includes a hearty local dinner and a breakfast.
*Prices do not include return flights from Kuala Lumpur to Cairo. For more information, contact Ms. Waheedah at +6012 – 311 4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is a simplified version included in Gaya Travel Magazine Issue 14.4. For a complete article, click here. Gaya Travel Magazine team members express our heartfelt gratitude to Cleopatra Travel & Tours for making our trip in Egypt smooth sailing. Syukran!