Often, the travel agents get tourists to Giza and show them around for a while. So most tourists think Giza is the only place in Egypt to see the Pyramids. Fortunately, as an architectural student, I had to study the evolution of Egyptian pyramids, and I teach the same now. I knew the mysteries hide beyond Giza, and we went seeking the mysterious experience beyond the ones in Giza.
This is a story from our Egyptian Pyramid hopping day in and around Giza.
Stories of Egypt Pyramids
After that last sip of Kadkade and the last lick of Baba Ganoush, we went down to the street with our guide Ibrahim where the camel/horse poop smell had risen in the air on that cold morning of January. The journey began crossing the not-so-clean streets of Giza, often interrupted by traffic jams and accompanied by grooving Egyptian music.
The Giza Urban Sprawl
Music is a magical icebreaker. Especially Egyptian music with the flutes, drums and violins can make anyone groove. Ibrahim and the driver noticed us grooving. Smilingly he asked,” Do you mind Egyptian music, or shall I switch to English music?” – Egyptian music is what we wanted to listen to. The conversation that started like this made us ignore the unorganised Giza traffic. In the next few minutes, we were out of the city approaching Memphis through countryside filled with green.
MORE THAN 90% OF EGYPT IS DESERT – IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE THAT HERE!
A large field filled with petty shops and a concrete building is what we could see & we weren’t there at the pyramids yet. We saw a huge statue at the entry gate, maybe four times taller than me – the Statue of Ramesses II.
Memphis of Egypt
Memphis was ancient Egypt’s capital city. Then a thriving city, now in nothing more than rubbles occupied with modern buildings.
Then why visit Memphis?
This is the place to give you a pinch of Egypt’s history lessons – Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, the famous Pharaohs. Where were their mummies found & where are they now? What is a Cartouche, who decoded the hieroglyphs now?
Egyptian history is so vast that it can not be explained standing in front of something as complicated as a Pyramid. Memphis, with little remains, is the best spot to introduce anyone to Egypt’s history.
Don’t forget to play this little quiz. It felt good to be spotting things on the colossal statue and relating them to the facts and stories.
I studied Egyptian buildings but never thought of Pharaoh’s headdress that got some snake. Did they do some fancy gold things to their beard to make a royal statement?
Did Egypt Pharaohs have that strange long beard?
Pharaohs wore a headdress, but not as big as this on the statue. This extra-large headdress and the weird beard exists only on statues along with Hieroglyphs to create a statement,” I am THE Pharoah.”
Scam alert: Memphis parking area got a lot of small shops for souvenirs. Make sure to bargain to half the asked price. Read our post “What to shop in Egypt.” to learn more about souvenirs you can buy here haggling for half of the price quoted by the sellers.
Dashur Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid
Seeing Giza Pyramids from our room balcony was fascinating. But touching a 4500-year-old Pyramid for the first-ever time in our life was inconceivable. The freezing breeze, shining Sun, and no other tourists had doubled the excitement. This is it- I will be stepping on an Egyptian Pyramid now,” I said.
The Pyramid belongs to Pharaoh “Snefru”, the father of Khufu ( Khufu owns the biggest Pyramid of 147m height at Giza). The archaeologists say that the colour of the sandstones was reddish initially. Hence, they called it Red Pyramid – but we both find it far from red. After a short history intro, we set our first step on the 4500+year-old Pyramid. With Butterflies in our stomachs, grinning faces, we began to walk up towards the entrance. The entrance was like a rectangular cut out of 4’x4′. Dropping some of our jackets and sweaters at the entrance, we began to crawl inside.
Inside of pyramids in Egypt
In that narrow passage of 3′ height, only one person could walk down at a time. Either you crawl or duckwalk. The overexcited “me” began to slide with my butt on the floor. Unaware of my Claustrophobia, I was rushing. Ashrith asked me to slow down, but I could not hear him. Somewhere halfway down the passage, I realised I was breathing faster. I began to feel suffocated and tired eventually. I turned back to Ashrith -Cleverly, he was taking steps at a slow pace, duckwalking.
The moral of the story – don’t rush. Duck and saunter.
I finished it better and smoother for the next half of the passageway. Finally, we were at the bottom of the passage that leads to a chamber with a Pyramidal Corbelled roof. There was neither gold nor hieroglyphs inside. The blank plane walls with no colours and the chamber without a mummy didn’t surprise me. But these blank walls disappointed Ashrith.
Many may feel Pyramids are viewed best from far, not inside. To an extent, they are right.
Think of this
Who stole the sarcophagus (coffin) filled with gold and treasure? How did they take the coffin to 63m down in that narrow and dwarf passage? There were no heavy machine machines for lifting back then. How could they build a 104m tall pyramid?
The Pharaohs used to order the labours to build their pyramids as soon as they took the throne. The coffin was placed first, and then the Pyramid was built. So how is it done? Thinking this, walking inside the pyramids will give you chills. It is an experience of a lifetime for everyone. “Where is Snefuru mummy now? Can we go further down? There is no air here. It is suffocating here. Let us go up. Wait, is this place haunted” I rambled. (Too much influence from the movie series of Mummy, you see.)
Entrance of the Pyramid and the trucks carrying excavation instruments
Saqqara Step Pyramid- the oldest Egypt Pyramid
We have watched all the movie” Mummy” series so often that I remember most of the characters in detail. Make sure you watch the first two parts again before going to Egypt. When the guides explain the real history, you will know what movies show versus what is real, especially at Saqqara necropolis.
After the hide and seek of green and desert, we arrived at a place that looked weird in a goodway.
It is crazy how drastically Egypt’s landscape changes within a kilometre.
A ramp led to a podium with only a few columns left – The place looked super ancient. “Why would someone choose harsh deserts to build tombs and palaces? When they built, was it fertile green land? I read on the news about whale skeletons found in the Wadi Hitan desert of Egypt. Does that mean this could have been a fertile land with the Nile flowing next to the road we are walking on now?” I poured out many more questions to Ibrahim.
He said, “Egypt’s most treasure is still buried under the sand. You never know what you are walking on. Right now, you might be standing on a billion worth tomb or 2000-year-old Sarcophagus.” ( What he said) out to be true. In 2019 March, Egyptians have discovered a new tomb belonging to someone called “Wahtye” Watch everything related to this on” Secrets of Saqqara Nome“.)
The Revelation of Step Pyramids
We saw only the top 3 tiers of the Pyramid in the beginning. At every turn, we saw the Pyramid revealing more. The drive here is dramatic- You feel as if you are a part of the ancient Pharoah era in the middle of the desert. As this is one of the tourist spots, fellow tourists bring you back to reality from Periodic drama. But the place is way less crowded than Giza.
Inside palace complex
Unless someone tells you that this was a palace complex with houses for priests, a palace for Pharaoh, you can never guess it. As proof of the palace buildings, only foundations and a few columns remain. More houses, more palaces, so more spicy stories await you here- Most Pharaohs used to marry their sisters or stepsisters to avoid any impure blood in their bloodline! (Keeping the royalty within the royal family. Wow! What all kinds of genetic disorders they must have suffered!)
DJOSER’S PYRAMID- THE CLOSEST WE COULD GET TO THE PYRAMID WAS THIS BECAUSE OF RESTORATION UNDER PROGRESS
Ibrahim narrated jaw-dropping stories of Pharaoh here
Egypt’s oldest Pyramid tiers belonged to Pharaoh Djoser. Like any other Pharaoh, he got married to his half-sister. It was common then to have many wives besides a queen. But our Djoser remained” One woman Man” and lived happily ever after with his one and only “half-sister who was his wife.”
Do you remember the villain Imhotep from the movie Mummy 1 & 2?
In the movie, he was a high priest under Pharaoh Seti and had a love affair with the queen. In reality – he is Pharaoh Djoser’s HIGH PRIEST ARCHITECT OF STEP PYRAMID and a Physician! Ancient Greeks also consider him a great medic. Neither Ibrahim nor any archaeologists talk about Imhotep’s love life similar to that of the movie Mummy. So let us not get to that. Super impressed with Imhotep’s Step Pyramid, Djoser got Imhotep’s name carved on the Cartouche next to his.
The vast complex has got more than one Pyramid. Mastabas – rectangular base with trapezoidal faced burial chambers, hundreds of tombs, and a Pyramid of Unas that almost into the ruins. If you are lucky enough and the weather favours you with a clear sky, you can see Giza Pyramids from here ( and we were unlucky to see that)
How many pyramids are in Egypt
There are more than 300 and not all are in good condition
The status of Unas’s Pyramid inside and outside is in contrast. The outside is so much in rubbles that you can’t make out the profile of a pyramid at all. Inside is where few colours on the wall and many stars on the ceiling remain. So the moment I saw the granite Sarcophagus, I ran to see if there was a mummy inside. They won’t keep Billions worth of mummy this carelessly, obviously. Ibrahim took us to the Mastaba complex and other tombs, which had lots of hieroglyphs that explained the process of Mummification.
Gross story alert – Process of Egypt’s Mummification
- This complicated procedure takes as long as 70 days after a Pharoah dies ( Patience is the key to success. right)
- The trained priests with intense knowledge of human anatomy remove the delicate parts. They took parts that decay quicker out first
- They removed the brain first Through the nostrils, with a long hook, the Priest pulls the brain out without damaging the shape of the face. Eeeww!
- Through a cut in the left abdomen, they pulled out the other parts like the Liver, Lungs and Intestines, leaving the heart behind in the actual place. They believed the heart is where the soul resides. The Pharaoh will lose his intelligence and soul if you remove the heart!
- They kept those parts in the ceramic Jars with salts to save them from decay so that Pharaoh could re-assemble them after the incarnation. ( This reminded me of how we store mango pickles in Malnaad with salt so that we use them in the next year.)
A real mummy in Cairo Museum
The Natron Salt Saga
- Then comes, draining the blood and moisture to keep the body dry with Natron salt – the salt similar to what we use now to keep the meat dry.
- The body was stuffed with Natron salt till it dried the body completely. Strangely, this reminded me of Jackie Chan’s“The Tuxedo.”
- Once the body dried out completely, priests carefully stuffed the skinny body with linen clothes to keep the body in shape – Like a stuffed toy.
- Then comes the tight wrapping with hundreds of yards of linen cloth. They were specific about it so much that they wrapped each finger separately and connected it to the main wrap. It is like how we wrap our feet or hands with a Crepe bandage for ligament tears.
- The wrapped mummy was placed inside a mini wooden coffin studded with precious gold and gemstones. We can see the fancy headdresses on these coffins with snake ornamentation in the Cairo museum now.
Then was the time for endless rituals of citing magical words to bless the Pharoah in the other world. After the rituals, they put the mummy in a stone coffin and fill with gold, ornaments, Amulets (to keep the evil eye away), and jars of their organs were placed. Finally, the coffin was placed in the chamber, furniture, jewellery, food, and even the Mummies of Pharaoh’s pets – Everything a Pharaoh would need after his death!
Trust me; this creeped me out! I knew a bit of the architectural part of the pyramids, but not the creepy mummification part. Throughout the journey back to Giza, we talked about this scary process. To ease the mood, Ibrahim talked about the buried wealth of Egypt. “We could become one of the wealthy nations in the world if our people don’t misuse the treasure. For example, Egypt gifted an obelisk to France because Champollion – A french archaeologist, deciphered the Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Fair enough. But so many other countries got Egyptian Obelisks sold to them by our previous dictators.”
The Fertile land continued
The lands on the Nile banks are so fertile that a country where most of the surface is filled with sand can grow fruits and veggies. While speaking about the fruits, the driver stopped at a village for some juicy oranges and Bananas. While we went to pay for it, the driver said something in Arabic, and Ibrahim translated it for us” I like you guys. You are not like most of the couples I usually meet with. You are always smiling and talking. It feels nice to be with you. Being an Egyptian host, this is the least I can do. The fruits are my treat.”
Imagine the tune of Pharoic music or even the background score of Mackanas Gold. -That was our feeling when we stopped the car at Giza and saw the three pyramids at a short distance. I got off the car like an Egyptian queen. Ashrith puts on his jacket like a Pharaoh puts his headdress on. The feel was real. The three pyramids and the Sphinx at a reachable distance made us feel as if we were the Egyptian queen and king.
We waited near the car as if our workers would bring a sedan chair to carry us while Ibrahim went to buy the entry ticket. A Pharoah with his queen was waiting for their Priests. Suddenly we heard a voice – “Hiiiiii you are Indiaaaa… Amitabh Bachhan, Shah Rukh Khan. Do you want a camel ride” Booom – A herd of sellers swamped us! We kept saying La Shukran until Ibrahim had to rescue us! He says this has created a major drawback to Egypt tourism – Locals were swamping the tourists to cheat them with Horse rides, camel rides.
The pyramids felt brilliant from my terrace cafe! This is a tourist trap! Filled with kids jumping on the stones, locals trying to sell you something continuously, people chatting loudly. Men smoking right on your face – there was nothing peaceful about this place!
Is the Great Pyramid of Giza Worth the Trip?
It is hard to see the entire Pyramid at one glance when you are right in front of it. I liked it from far than near, I said. Still, we didn’t want to go back without stepping on the only existing ancient wonder of the world. So after climbing a few boulders, we saw the town of Giza filled with tall buildings and a bunch of buses carrying the herd of tourists like us.
Quick facts about Giza Pyramids
- Giza Necropolis is a Royal cemetery – built of limestones, each weighing up to 2.5 tons.
- The pyramids had a gold capping at the crown with super smooth finished lime plaster all over when it was built. There is no gold crowning now, but you can spot a patch of lime plaster on the biggest Pyramid. Play/watch ACO to see how it looked
- The three pyramids were the tombs of Grandfather, father and son- The main Pyramid – Khufu, which is 147m tall, is the biggest of all,
- The Pyramids were connected to the temples by secret passageways and further connected to the river Nile. Now the river Nile is nowhere near the Pyramids. The Nile is around 10km from the Sphinx now. The temple areas remain a bit, and hotels and residences swallow the rest.
- You can go inside Khufu’s Pyramid by paying extra costs other than the entrance ticket. But there was an ocean of tourists going inside the Pyramid. This was during a non-tourist season but still crowded. Imagine the peak season!
- The treasure inside is looted by Arabs, Ottomans and many others long ago.
- These Pyramids are enjoyed best from a distance.
Giza Pyramid Panorama viewpoint
YOU CAN NOT LEAVE GIZA WITHOUT CLICKING A PHOTO LIKE THIS
If you have chosen your hotel somewhere near the pyramids, you need not worry about the best view. It will be from your room balcony or the terrace. If you stay somewhere else, this Panorama viewpoint further west (behind the pyramids) is a great choice to capture nice shots covering all three pyramids. If the weather is pleasant, you can walk from the main Pyramid complex (around 1km) to reach this point. You can hire camels or horses too. If you are with an organiser and a car, they drive you to this point.
Why was Sphinx built?
Fancy a picture of the Sphinx kissing you? Be patient. Everyone wants a similar picture. Some girls even want to take out their makeup brush or goggles to put them on the Sphinx. So you need to wait in line.
We saw Sphinx in our history textbooks more than the Pyramids as a kid. So the day’s last stop had to be something very close to our childhood memories. We made our way through the shops and escaped the seller’s ranting; we took the ramp. This led to a temple whose roof has fallen off now. From the hall to a passage, it ultimately opens to that view we longed for – the closest we could get to the Sphinx.
Egypt Sphinx is a colossal statue of 74m in height with a man’s face and body of a lion sitting in front of Khafre’s Pyramid in poise.
There are multiple theories of why the Sphinx was built. Few historians believe that it was built to channelise the Sun and spiritual energy to the soul of Khafre. Other historians who discovered a statue meant to be Khafre say a totally different thing – the Head of Sphinx and Khafre’s life-size statue’s face resemble each other.
So is it Khafre sitting in front of his own Pyramid in the form of a lion then?
Ibrahim told us a different story about why they built Sphinx
When Labours were building Pharaoh Khafre’s Pyramid, a gigantic stone was sitting right in front of his Pyramid. Khafre thought the stone would block the view of his mighty tomb. So he ordered the labours to destroy it. Labours started chiselling the rock piece by piece. Accidentally it took the shape of a Lion with its paws on the floor. After a few months, when Pharaoh came back to see how the work was going on, he liked that accidental shape of the rock. So he ordered the workers to refine it further to look like a lion with a human face – To look like a guardian angel for his tomb! Many people claim this to be false, saying it wasn’t built accidentally but intended to be the sun god. The mystery is still a mystery.
Mystery or history, this place is the nicest of all in Giza Necropolis.
We had stepped on something super ancient. . We touched, felt and loved something that we read from our history book as kids. Every Pyramid story unfolds a secret. Remember the timeline if you want to compare the detail and artistic skills of Gothic churches, Indian temples, or Ottoman mosques to the Mighty Pyramids. Egyptian Civilisation is the second oldest. So comparing Pyramids to Paris Notre dam cathedral/ Tanjore temples is stupider than comparing 1648’s steam engine to Japan’s bullet train.
The End of Egyptian Pyramids Hopping Day
Thanking Ibrahim for an excellent day, we came back to the hotel walking and talking. It was just 4 PM, but the cold was rising. Shivering and walking, Ibrahim said,” Well, you have seen many pyramids. But, do you know where the best view lies – from your hotel room.
The rest of the evening we spent sipping KarKarde sitting on our Balcony, deeply discussing our baseless theories on the pyramids. Ashrith explained how Bayek struggled to kill Khaliset and the Hyenas inside Khufu’s Pyramid. At the same time, I kept talking if the pyramids were haunted. What if the scarabs come out of the grave now like how they show in the movies. It was experiencing the architectural wonder and remembering the movie Mummy. For Ashrith, it was tracing the path of Bayek of Assassin’s Creed Origins. Each stone told a different story.