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THE ANCIENT WORLD AND US - OUR EGYPTIAN SOJOURN

What do all ancient monuments such as the Pyramids of Egypt have in common? Did the builders want to leave a legacy behind for their posterity to remember them by? Did the ancients find a way for the soul to return to the heavens through secret passage ways? Or were the pyramids along with similarly strange structures such as Stonehenge and the Moai of Easter Island built by aliens as surmised by some influential intellectuals including the Swiss author Eric von Daniken in his seminal book "Chariots of the Gods"?

The Pyramids at Giza and the enigmatic Sphinx have remained there from the dawn of history whatever route their creation took to come into being. Besides being a world tourist attraction they shine as beacon of human endeavour. Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana must have been one of the first Nepalese to see these awesome monuments while on his trip to England in 1850 A.D.  Egypt was known to us as Misr in those days, its name in Arabic. Abbas Pasha was the ruler of Egypt and the Sudan who welcomed Jung Bahadur in Alexandria as the Nepalese embassy crossed the desert to reach the port of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea. The Suez Canal was not yet constructed and caravans of horses and camels took them from the port Suez in the Arabian Sea to Cairo in a seemingly interminable journey across the formidable desert the Nepalese could not have even imagined. From there they traveled by road to Alexandria the seat of government. Abbas Pasha's grandfather Mohammed Ali Pasha had started the new Allawiya ruling dynasty of modern Egypt in 1805 A.D. by wresting powers from the decaying rule of the Ottoman Turks. He had fought against Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte when the French attacked Egypt half a decade earlier and proved his military prowess. Jung Bahadur was impressed by this historical lineage.

Another Nepalese contingent set off for Europe and America in the aftermath of the Allied Victory over Germany. The year was 1946 A.D. The British Empire celebrated the Allied Victory by organizing a Victory Parade inviting all the armies supporting the war effort from all four corners of the earth. The Rana Regime of Nepal sent a contingent to the Victory Parade led by Commanding General Baber Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana. The second in command was my father Major General Kiran Shumsher J. B. Rana. They sailed from Bombay and landed in Egypt to see the obligatory Pyramids at Giza. They sailed on to France and England.

My own journey to Egypt was purely for pleasure but I and my family did get special treatment on account of my travel company having pioneered the outbound leisure travel for the well-heeled Nepalese. I had already sent a group of banker friends and a potpourri of Nepalese glitterati earlier to popular acclaim. The Nile Cruise had been the highlight of the trip for most. My handling agent Spring Tours had made preparations for us to take a train from Cairo to Aswan and then sail down the Nile for three days and three nights reaching Luxor, the modern name of ancient Thebes. My wife and I flew in from Nepal in two separate flights to be joined by our daughter Monica now working in the Morgan Stanley Investment Bank in London. It was a family reunion for Christmas 2008.

At the pyramids
Cairo struck us just like a populous Indian metropolis we were used to visiting. The teeming denizens weathered adversity, the traffic bedlam and apathy of the political masters like in many Arab lands. Our first stop was at the Pyramids, of course. What was in store for us there was one of the most ferocious sand storms of the season virtually sweeping us off our feet and veiling the Pyramids in a cloud of dust and sand particles. The desert just like our mountains look strikingly beautiful until the elements rebel and consume us.

The train ride from Cairo to Aswan reminded me of my journey in the Indian railways. There was the obligatory wait as the train was late. We had coolies to carry our luggage and jostle with the crowd to get our berth. Tourist wagons were comfortable enough with us getting 2 inter-connecting compartments ensuring us privacy. The train set out on its sonorous overnight journey to Aswan the sound and gait putting us fast to sleep. The morning found us inspecting the famous Aswan High Dam Gamel Abdel Nasser the Egyptian hero and president built to generate electric power for Egypt. The tilt towards the Soviet Union had not bemused the western powers and he met his Waterloo in the 1967 war with Israel.

Xmas party aboard the Nile Cruise ship
For the next three days the Nile Cruise ship was our base as we explored the stunning historical monuments by day when the boat anchored and made the ship our home by night when the boat sailed. Spring Tours had arranged for me their Junior Suite at the bow of M/S Medea. We partook of the giant buffet meals for lunch and dinner in the ship and particularly enjoyed the groaning tables full of Egyptian and Arabian delicacies for Christmas Eve Dinner and lunch the next day. The Nile was the main lifeblood of ancient Egypt and nothing had changed in the five millenniums since huge stone boulders were transported on barges during low tide from Upper Nile to its destination at Giza for the construction of the pyramids. Sitting on the sundeck watching the shore recede at the languid pace of the Nile flowing was a special treat.

Monica on the Nile
We immersed ourselves in history and wonderment during the next three days. Ancient pharaohs like Ramses, Tutmoses and Tutankhamun came alive from the pages of history and accompanied us for the duration of our tour. They had the same emotions and ambitions we now have. The Gods they venerated started to become comprehensible to us against the historical and geographical backdrop of ancient Egypt. The mythological tale of Osiris and Isis and their son Horus kept us enthralled. We learnt that historians beginning with the Greek Herodotus had carefully divided the history of ancient Egypt into three periods: Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom, with Intermediary Periods I and II in between. Then came the Greek Period with Alexander the Great etched in stone in Pharaonic posture in huge frescoes showing him getting the blessing of God Sobek to rule over the Egyptians. Powerful women such as Queen Hatshepsut, Queen Nefertiti and Cleopatra VII the last queen of the Ptolemic dynasty revealed to us the romance of ancient Egypt and glimpses of what went on behind the royal curtains.

Mural of Alexander the Great
It is not sufficient to explore all of Egypt during one, two or even three visits; it whets our appetite for more. The highlight of the trip was the tomb of boy king Tutankhamun in the Valley of Kings and the rich haul of mind-boggling treasure found there which is now displayed at the Cairo Museum. We did not go to Abu Simbel in Upper Egypt or to Alexandria the capital of the Ptolemic period and the greatest harbour of its time on the Mediterranean Sea. There is a venerated hotel called Old Cataract in Aswan where Agatha Christie used to check in to write her mystery novels. It is not hard to believe that she wrote "Death on the Nile" there. Imagination runs rampant in this ancient land!    

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  1. so interesting to read a first hand account of egypt :)

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