The 2005 NEMES Sojourn
Saqqara · Giza · Maidum · Hawara · Illahun
by Alan M Fildes


The plan was Dahshur, Saqqara and possibly Abusir if time allowed. I informed Hanaa and she passed "the plan" on to the Police and off we went; the NEMES group an armed policeman named Mohammed, Hanaa our own tour company representative, and the driver. NOW!! The drive to Dahshur should take around an hour allowing for the vagaries of the Cairo traffic. I noticed he was going a new way, "interesting," I thought. I had been to these sites dozens of times over the past twenty five years of travel in Egypt. To cut a long story short after an hour and a half of desert, I ventured forward to see Hanaa and our intrepid driver Ahmed.

"Hanaa are you lost love?" I asked, tentatively, "No, no, no Alan." was the smiling reply. Bemused I returned to my seat at the back of the bus. However, my question was not altogether in vain. At the next checkpoint (of which we had passed numerous) the driver asks for Dahshur. The checkpoint soldier just laughed and pointed in the direction we had just come. Ahmed, probably not believing the soldier, took out his mobile phone and started asking his office for directions! Alas! We could not turn our coach around there; we had to drive in the wrong direction for another few kilometres. Hanaa informs the group the road to Dahshur is only twenty minutes this way, back through the checkpoint, smirking guards and all.

Of course seasoned travellers will know the desert road to Dahshur is in a military zone and has been since 1956. Anyway, all the way back to Cairo, I am thinking, "So much for our early start!" chunnering to myself, "I knew - I knew." We finally arrived at the Saqqara ticket office after a mammoth two hours and thirty-five minutes. "We could have been in Rome in the time it's taken to get here!!" I grumbled.

My mind was pleasantly redirected from my troubles by Christine, who pointed out with great gusto, "Look Alan - look!" there, above the ticket office perched on a telegraph wire were a row of six beautifully coloured little green bee-eaters. I am sure Christine is becoming a twitcher!! Mind you with the sheer volume and variety of wonderfully coloured birds in Egypt it's hard not to take an interest, especially if you have purchased a copy of Common Birds of Egypt by Bertel Bruun and Sherif Baha el Din. It makes a difference being able to identify the various species.

The tickets purchased for LE 35.00 each; we were off up the road that climbs the plateau where we were met by the magnificent Step Pyramid of King Zoser, (Netjerikhet), 3 rd Dynasty and as awesome as ever. My eyes are drawn to my favourite site nearby, the Pyramid complex of King Userkaf first king of the 5 th Dynasty - mystical and enigmatic. I wish I was gifted with the ability to hear or at least be aware of the wisdom of our forefathers. Userkaf has that effect on my senses.

Skirting around this amazingly powerful complex we arrived at the Pyramid of King Teti first king of the 6 th Dynasty - a pharaoh shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Was one of his Queens tried by a court for crimes against the crown? Whatever the answer many tombs from this period contain defaced reliefs, as if some of the king's companions had committed crimes, or at least they were aware of possible regicide.

The area around the Pyramid was packed with tourists, so to get the best out of the day we had to bide our time. It is impossible to admire these Ancient works with dozens of people milling around, the noise levels can destroy the whole effect. Teti's Pyramid though looked reasonably quiet. I asked a chap sat on the bench outside next to the entrance, "Is anyone inside?" "A few I think." was his curt reply. "Come on let's go in then!" I instructed the group.

If you have been in the pyramid you will know that you descend the tunnel for a short distance then it levels out. This is where the three granite blocks (portcullises) barred the entrance to the burial chamber. Of course they like the pharaoh's body are long gone. Whilst taking a breather in the corridor before the next short stint to the burial chamber I became aware of voices, then "Fildesy! I didn't know you were in Egypt." Followed by my Victor Meldrew reply, "I don't believe it!" Lo and behold there was Mohammed and his daughter Amber. What are the chances of meeting a friend in a corridor in a Pyramid, when you're not even aware they were in the country? When we arrived in the burial chamber, Louise, a very keen student of Egyptology is found admiring the Pyramid Texts. "Fantastic!" what are the odds on this happening. You can't go anywhere these days.

The ceiling blocks of the burial chamber seem to have moved since my last visit here two years ago. Alas! There was a small tour group inside, so any thoughts of meditation were put aside. In past years I have sat in the burial chamber alone in a state of complete reverence. When we arrived back in the light of day, I do the introductions of Mohammed, Louise and Amber to my lot, inviting them to spend the rest of the day with us. The itinerary today is:

Kagemni /LS10 open

Mereruka / open

Ti/ No.60 open

Ptahhotep/ D64 open

IsesiAnkh/ No.85 open

Merefnebef/ bricked up (signs of vandalism)

We enjoyed the Unas pyramid walk from Ti along the moat of Zoser. Then we walked down the Unas causeway. The area was looking unkempt and ramshackle as though know one cares, it was very sad. The tombs along the causeway, of which, Irukaptah was bricked up, Khnumhotep was closed and Khenu looked the worse for wear. The toilets were a disgrace; I left my favourite archaeological site in a state personal despair; asking myself, "Why has everything gone so wrong?" Saqqara has never looked so sad. Maybe the next day's visits to Giza and the Museum would be an improvement.

At least the Sheraton was up to standard, we had an excellent room overlooking the Nile and the El-Gezirah. That evening we ate as always in "La-Mamma" restaurant. After a few Stella's in the bar I took some consolation from the fact that the evenings would be comfortable.

Day two dawned, after feasting on breakfast yoghurt, honey, some scrumptious Egyptian bread and coffee, I was re-fortified and ready for what the day would bring. Our bus arrived on time, we still had an armed policeman in tow, for our benefit I'm sure, although slightly over the top for Giza and the Museum, but fair enough.


Alan Fildes at Ilahun
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