Friday, 6 January 2012

Tally Ho!

Sitting alone on a lump of rock, staring at the huge, damaged but serene face of the Sphinx, I was approached by a man on horseback who came galloping up through the dust.


"Yes", I replied wearily.

"Tally-Ho" Tally-Ho!"

Catching the bus to the Great Pyramid from central Cairo had been easy - it was number 888. In Arabic, the number 8 is pyramid shaped, so all I had to do was get on any bus which had the pictorial image of my destination and ask for 'Al Ahram'.

These buses drop you at the university entrance and when you alight, you are informed by about 100 young men that what the students need more than anything else is pencils. I only had one ball-point pen, which I handed over before I began the short walk to the Giza plateau, guided by a surprisingly small amount of visible pyramid seen above the buildings and palm trees. Surprising, because the Great Pyramid contains more stone than all the churches, cathedrals, chapels and monasteries in Europe put together.

A little wooden hut 200 yards away from the Great Pyramid contained a man with a wooden desk in front of him, and I paid him the few piastres required to obtain a ticket which officially allowed you to enter the vast edifice, then walked toward the gaggle of people who leaned against the enormous blocks at the entrance.

There is no official entrance to the pyramid, so everyone is obliged to go in via a hole blasted into the side with gunpowder, during a futile search for buried treasure around 180 years ago.

One of the gaggle told me that I had to wait until the party already inside had come out, and I replied by telling him that I did not. These unofficial 'guides' where everywhere in those days, and I had not come all this way to see the object of my childhood dreams and be lied to and herded like cattle by people who had done their utmost to destroy it until they had realised that there was money to be made from preserving it for tourists like me.

I had quickly learnt that all the dire threats and shouting were meaningless and ineffectual, so I ignored them as I pushed passed and began the arduous climb up the wooden staircase toward the King's Chamber, and their voices receded into the distance quite quickly before ceasing altogether.

It takes a fit person about a quarter of an hour to climb up the shaft which was built as a giant telescope before the pyramid was capped off with another few million tons of carefully shaped stone, and then I found myself in the cavernous chamber with a handful of other tourists, illuminated by a single, 60 watt light bulb strung from the roof above on a wire. The 'guide' was busy lying to the others in bad English.

"Here" he pointed to a small hole in the floor, "was buried treasure." Lie.

He then pointed to the only object in the room - a massive, rectangular stone box. "Here was Pharaoh." Another lie. This box was the record of a measurement of volume, and had never contained a mummy - Pharaoh or otherwise. End of tour. He had had noticed me come in and was now telling me that I must leave - now - with the others. Of course, I refused, so he became agitated and marched toward me as if he was going to bodily carry me down the stairs, shouting, "Leave now - you must! You must!" I just laughed and eventually he gave up, taking the party away with him and leaving me alone in the pyramid for a full three-quarters of an hour.

Not many people have been left alone in the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid, but I was in good company. Napoleon spent the night alone in there once, and when he emerged next day, they asked him what had happened. He replied, "If I told you, you would not believe me."

Well, if I told you what happened to me, you would definitely believe me - not a lot happened, but it was nice and peaceful compared to the outside.

I ended up hiring a horse from the aforementioned hunting horseman, and traveling across the desert every night for a week whilst I stayed in a 'hotel' which turned out to be the barracks for the Cairo Secret Police, but that's another story. I've just remembered that I have photographs of the Great Pyramid under grey skies and soaked in rain, taken between the ears of my horse, so I will definitely use them for another pyramid post.


  1. Years ago I visited Egypt, as well. I was in one of those gaggles of tourists, though, which are herded in and out of places. I don't remember the trip too well, but I do remember that the camel which took us to our next sight was farting like a champ!

  2. What an interesting life you have led Tom.

  3. Of course, in your line of work seeing the pyramids would be high on your list of must sees Tom. It does not read as though you did this yesterday - maybe a few years ago?

  4. Ah yes - farting camels, Iris.

    Not really Jacqueline - I just pick out the interesting bits and ignore the boring stuff to make it look as though I lead a dramatic life.

    It was many years ago, Weaver - about 30 to be almost precise. The days of Saddat.