Climbing the Great Pyramid
If I was given $1 for every time I’ve heard someone say: “I’m too old” or “I’ve left it too late to visit the great pyramids of Egypt” or “I’ve left it too late to go climbing the great pyramid”, I’d have enough money to go on several overseas trips.
As fate would have it, the ‘too old’ conversation once again reared its ugly head last weekend.
“No, you haven’t left it too late!” I cried in frustration.
Having recently been to Egypt, I can say, with good authority, you’re never too old.
Only a few weeks ago my partner Monty and I were standing at the foot of the Great Pyramid, looking up in awe and thinking everyone should experience this moment.
And for those in their dotage who think they’ve left it too late, you’re wrong. I was delighted to see many ‘senior citizens’ ambling across the desert, traversing the sandy terrain with the aid of a stick or enjoying the view from the comfort of a wheel chair. In fact, it was not uncommon to see this throughout our Grand Tour of Egypt. Several of the ancient tombs we visited are OK for wheel chairs; at times the route to the entry and beyond via stone covered paths may be a little rocky but that’s part of the fun of the adventure. But, let’s not digress…back to the pyramids…
Once you’ve soaked up the moment of literally ‘being there’ and fulfilling your childhood dream of seeing the pyramids in person, the time arrives when you muster the courage to venture inside. Current access to the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid is along a narrow passage created by ancient tomb robbers. Before stepping foot inside the entry, you need to scramble up gigantic stone blocks which form part of the pyramid’s structure. If you’re sure-footed and reasonably fit, climbing these stones is not challenging. Monty had a knee replacement last year and ably navigated his ascent to the entry. However, what could be difficult for some is the journey inside to reach the burial chamber. Monty’s knee was fine going up but coming back down he found a crab crawl (sideways descent) was more efficient and less taxing on his lower limbs.
Once you make your way through the pyramid’s only entry from the outside, you clamber down a slight decline, up a dimly lit steep ‘gang plank’, then continue your ascent along the ‘grand gallery’ to the final destination: the King’s Chamber. Although normally I would be scrambling to get out by this stage, I didn’t find the experience claustrophobic; some may. It is quite hot inside, so much so, if you’re wanting to attempt this climb, start as early as possible. And take a bottle of water with you. During the day the heat intensifies and it can be unbearably hot; stifling really. While we were en route to the King’s Chamber, one gentleman found the ascent arduous, hot and oppressive and he decided to turn around and head back to the entry.
If you can, do persist. Just take it slowly. In some sections it’s squeezy-tight but people are generally thoughtful and let you pass; and vice versa. When you reach the King’s Chamber, do not feel cheated. There are no treasures to gloat over but you have made it to the burial chamber of a mighty pharaoh!
Walls dressed in monolithic blocks of granite, the chamber houses an empty pink granite sarcophagus (also referred to as a coffer or coffin). Before starting our climb we were told by security staff photos inside the pyramid weren’t permitted but you can take your mobile phone with you. And yes, once inside, visitors did take photos with their mobiles.
While at the Giza site, take an easy stroll over to the Great Sphinx. It’s located east of the Pyramid Khafre. I must admit, although it is mighty in size, I thought the Sphinx would be bigger than it is. Legend has it that Napoleon’s men fired a cannonball which led to the destruction of the Sphinx’s nose, however, old sketches have been found which predate Napoleon’s birth and the Sphinx is missing its nose even then.
Snippets of interest:
The Pyramids of Giza There are three pyramids of Giza: Khufu, Khafre (still with part of its summit capped) and its Sphinx, and Menkaure (flanked by three smaller pyramids).
Don’t expect to be confronted by an expanse of desert and sandy-covered dunes. Depending on where you take your photo of the pyramids, they can look as if they are in a remote landscape, that’s because they sit on a limestone plateau and are on higher ground than their surroundings.
Don’t be fooled as to which pyramid is the Great Pyramid. I was always under the misguided impression that the pyramid that has part of the summit capped and looks the largest of them all was the Great Pyramid. Wrong. This pyramid is Khafre – its size is an optical illusion because it sits on higher ground.
To add to the confusion, the Great Pyramid, the Pyramid of Khufu is also know as Cheops Pyramid. It was built by Egyptian pharaoh Khufu; Cheops is the Greek name for Khufu. The pyramid took 20 years to build with 100,000 men working three-month shifts. It is considered to be one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. The pyramid’s original height was about 147 metres. Due to erosion, its present height is about 138.8 metres (numbers vary depending on the source). The blocks weigh two to 30 tons each; some weigh over 50 tons. The pyramid was originally covered with highly polished limestone casing stones which reflected the sun’s light. Imagine how it must have shone in the sun! After an earthquake in the 14th century loosened many of the casing stones, the Arabs removed them to build mosques.
The Great Pyramid once held the title of the tallest building in the world until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889. Today the top of the pyramid (summit) is truncated; at the top is a metal structure about 8 metres high to give an indication where the pyramid’s top was originally.
Giza Plateau Pyramids The slightly smaller Pyramid of Khafre is the second pyramid you can explore inside. While on site visiting the pyramids, check out the Solar Boat Museum (tucked away in an ugly building). If you’re not in the mood to traipse around in the heat (which would be a shame after travelling so far to experience these ancient wonders) but you want to enjoy the grand view in air-conditioned comfort, the Pizza Hut, a mere stone’s throw away, offers expansive views.
King Tut’s Tomb You will not find it at the Giza Plateau. Tutankhamen’s tomb is in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile near Luxor. The tomb’s treasures, including the famous gold mask, are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Tutankhamen is also written as Tutankhamon, Tutankhamoun and Tutankhamun.
Alone or with a Guide I’m a bit torn on this one. The guide can often sprout forth so much information you do tend to glaze over a little. Trying to make head or tail out of the long list of Egyptian rulers is a minefield. Armed with a trusty guide book (Lonely Planet or DK Eyewitness Travel Guide are easy reads) will get you some of the way but it won’t do it for you entirely. Not only will your guide provide you with interesting snippets you won’t necessarily find in a travel guide, they will also organise your ticket for the Giza Plateau site, entry inside the pyramid and Solar Boat Museum, permit to photograph, and a camel ride. While you wait in the shade. Hassle free.
Our guide was Mohamed Salah. He was with us for the entire week we were in Cairo and Giza, and comes highly recommended. Contact details are available on request. Just send me an email.
It was Mohamed’s suggestion to arrive at the Giza site before the bus loads of tourists rolled up. He also recommended an early start to avoid the heat. He also explained the number of visitors is restricted to 150 before and 150 after midday – the reason being the moisture from perspiration and human breath impacts on the interior walls. He also suggested we explore inside the Great Pyramid rather than the smaller one nearby. The latter is very cramped and you are unable to stand straight as you make your way to the burial chamber.
How to get there The pyramids and Great Sphinx are flanked on three sides by roads and neighbourhoods of Giza. Entrance to the site is from Al Haram Street, past the entrance to the Marriott Mena House. The road is one way to the Sphinx area. Don’t be shocked to see not only a Pizza Hut but other restaurants nearby.
Costs in LE (Egyptian Pounds)
Entry to the Giza Plateau 160 LE
Entry inside the Great Pyramid 360 LE
Entry to the Solar Boat Museum 100 LE
Permission to use your camera inside the Solar Boat Museum 50 LE
Camel ride 100 LE
Plus tips including something for the guys who lead the camels around and the “drinks” man who handed us a bottle of fizz or water which you think is complementary (part of the ride) but it’s not. Again another 20 LE
Note: our final payout was slightly less as we scored some discounts thanks to our guide.