Long before the rise of Daesh and the threat of terrorism many millions of British holidaymakers travelled to Egypt.
For many the attraction were the holiday resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh but, not being a beach person (Sand does get where it really shouldn’t) I had my eyes on travelling down a river of legend, The Nile.
But before I got there I recall vividly my first sight of the Pyramids, looming out of the mist on an already scorching day, their imposing might, their vastness, utterly dominating the encroaching city. My hands touched stones laid in place over 4500 years ago and I instantly knew peace. I was home.
I remember the thrill of clambering within the Great Pyramid. The vast chambers, that feeling of weight, of sheer tonnage above you, around you and my slack jawed astonishment that such a monument could ever have been built in ancient times. I also recall being taken short when in the very heart of the edifice and spending the most painful 15 minutes holding it in whilst trying to extricate myself through a one way system filled with eager tourists.
But if the pyramids wowed me, the Nile seduced me.
My holidays are about seeing. I relax badly as my brain is rarely quiet so a balance between overload of information and chill factor is essential. Do too much and I burn out. Too little and I burn out, but in a different way.
Cruising the Nile provided perfection.
My first visit was actually in the wake of terrorist threats so the country wasn’t as busy as she otherwise might have been. Our boat, built to hold seventy passengers, only had to cope with thirty so I also had that space, that quiet area I could retreat to when I got overwhelmed by the sites, sights and people.
I was also fortunate that my cruise was ten days long. The full Nile cruise, not the shortened version that was reduced shortly afterwards in the wake of terrorist threats in Middle Egypt. Ten days in heaven!
The routine was brilliant for someone with Autism. An early rise to avoid the heat of the day, breakfast (always amazing. I recall a chocolate mousse so good I could have wallowed in like a happy hippo), leave the boat by 7.30, back by 12.30, lunch, cruise, afternoon tea and cake at 4.00, dinner at 7.30, rinse, repeat.
And the sites. And the sights.
Philae, the island temple to Isis, moved when the high dam was built and Lake Nasser was flooded. Perfection, hypnotic, amazing, astonishing. Oft repeated words.
Karnak. The largest religious site on earth. It’s ten vast pylons, the hypostyle hall of 134 columns, it’s statuary, it’s development over progressive dynasties. It was just good, it was awesome!
I have seen many wonders. I have seen Petra. I have seen the Taj Mahal. I have seen the Shwedagon Pagoda. And I have been to the Kings Valley three times and emerged from each visit, moved, humbled and uplifted.
The tomb of Seti 1st has been closed for many years now. Kv17 has suffered much at the hands of tourists but I have been there. Oh, the colours, the colours. No words can adequately describe them nor the richness of the images, the depictions of Gods and monsters.
Kv57, Horemheb. Sparsely decorated but the panels that are, life sized depictions of Pharaoh and the Gods, on a rich blue background leave the senses reeling. What genius.
I never visited Tutankhamun. He is there in his tomb but the extra cost didn’t seem worth it and, after all, it’s the most photographed and publicised of the lot. Perhaps the fact I was living in Dorchester helped where they have the tomb recreated in the famous Tutankhamun exhibition. The tomb was on my doorstep.
But my passion for Egypt extended beyond the sites. It was deeper than mere sightseeing. It was because I understood them. I taught myself rudimentary hieroglyphics and tested myself regularly (8/10 ?. Must do better). I could identify the images, not only by their physical appearance but also by the glyphs beside them. I recognised the letters, the numbers, the prayers. I felt involved in their lives. I felt I knew them. I felt an affinity with them beyond that of mere traveller or observer. I felt I belonged.
I felt free. I felt at home. I could watch the sunlight sparkle in the blue Nile. I could sit outside on a warm, muggy evening and watch the city lights dance and sparkle in the black. I could marvel at ancient works and wonder at the people who made them. And I was happy.
So Egypt means the world to me. It’s my spiritual home. 40-50 books sit on my bookshelves ready for me to immerse myself once more.
I dream of returning. I dream of a time when it’s safe to do so. I dream of once more walking through Karnaks great halls. I dream of the Nile. I dream of resting my hands upon those ancient immovable blocks of colossal stone and whispering “I’m home”.
I dream of Egypt.