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Mystical, Magical Egypt

By Cindy Ferguson
When you think about a "trip of a lifetime' what does your mind's eye envision?

Tropical, white-sand beaches, the towering skyline of a cosmopolitan city, or life aboard a luxury yacht, casually cruising the ocean blue? While all of these dream vacations could be spactacular (and I do report on them as well), none stands out more in my minds-eye than Egypt. A true explosion of the senses, and I mean ALL of the senses: sight, smell, taste, hear and touch.

A transformational experience of a lifetime.
This was my first trip to this ancient wonderland, an 11 day sojourn to a country where the old and new are woven together, as ancient Pyramids dot the horizon of a vast, dusty desert, and ultra modern hotels sit at their side. A camel or donkey drawn cart trotting down the highway hauling freshly picked produce is not an uncommon sight, as a more modern Egypt speeds by in their cars, vans and trucks. The people are warm and hospitable, and crime is almost non-existent.
My transit through the airport was speedy, as an awaiting, friendly greeter from Spirit Quest Tours took my passport to process my visa, and very quickly escorted me through customs to the baggage area, picked up my luggage and had me through to my transfer van where I met up with my guide Emil. When traveling through Egypt (especially for the first time), I highly recommend traveling with Spirit Quest Tours and one of their professional guides, so you are fully informed on where to go, and what to do and see. Their guides are experienced Egyptologists, able to answer any/all of your questions as you traverse the country. They seize every opportunity to show you the awe-inspiring faces of this country rich in history and ancient stories, and Emil was no exception. Our guide Emil Emil also arranged for us to have private tours at most of the temples, to avoid the massive crowds from the cruise ships and tour groups. Trust me, this is the way to experience Egypt!
Mena House Oberoi hotel
I arrived in Egypt on the last fasting day of Ramadan (Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and indulging in anything that is in excess or ill-natured; from dawn until sunset), just in time for the festivities to begin. I quickly checked into the Mena House Oberoi hotel which is sitting in the shadows of the Great Pyramids in Cairo, a palatial hotel that has enchanted guests since 1869. Located on forty acres of jasmine scented gardens, Mena House Oberoi has played host to kings and emperors, Heads of State and celebrities. Its royal history is reflected in luxurious interiors that are embellished with exquisite antiques, handcrafted furniture and rich textiles. A variety of international as well as Egyptian cuisine is offered at the excellent restaurants and bars in the hote.
Imagine sitting in your room, gazing directly at the Great Pyramids in Cairo! Mena House Oberoi has rooms and suites in the Palace and Garden wings and Cabana style rooms by the swimming pool. All guest accommodation at Mena House Oberoi are air conditioned with private bathroom. Rooms and Suites are lavishly appointed with traditionally inspired furnishings and rich carpets. All Suites in the old Palace section feature beautiful traditional detailing, murals, screens, paneling, gilding, fine upholstery, original wooden balustrade and arched windows. Guests in the Suites enjoy the privilege of private butler service and 24hr in-room dining. This is the perfect place to begin your explorations of Cairo.
Once unpacked, I jumped into an Spirit Quest Tours van to partake in the local Ramadan festivities. The end of the month of Ramadan is marked with the joyous festival of Eid al-Fitr, which literally means the "Festival of Breaking the Fast." During Eid al-Fitr, families celebrate with elaborate feasts. At the same time, they increase their efforts to give charity to the poor and make contributions to their mosques. We visited several ancient Mosques, the world famous Khan El Khalili Bazaar (where I purchased my first of many Galabia - Egyptian dress) My first Galabia and the "Alley of the Tentmakers" which rendered me consumed in a sea of celebrating Egyptians, dressed in their finest wares for the event. The Medieval atmospheres of this traditional market, together with the labyrinth layout of the streets, gives visitors a glimpse into what medieval markets were once like. The Khan El-Khalili is one of the most interesting bazaars, not only in Egypt, but also in the entire Middle East.

After a tiring evening of festivities and shopping, we went to the Felfella Restaurant, a long-time favorite with tourists and locals for traditional Egyptian fare. The casual atmosphere and reasonable prices make this chain an ideal place to sample fresh grilled seafood and meats, and Egyptian staples such as shorbat ads (lentil soup), taamiya (the local version of falafel) and ful (stewed fava beans). Be sure and try their "Om Ali," a delicious traditional Egyptian dessert! For your snacks while on the road touring Egypt, you can get the same great food at a fraction of the price at their Felfela Takeaway around the corner on Talaat Harb Street.

In the morning we set out for the famous Egyptian Museum, with its staggering collection of relics dating back to 4,000+ BC. You will wander through Egyptian treasures, preserved mummies, 18k gold Egyptian jewelry, papyrus, statues and other collectibles that capture the beauty and history of Egypt. The highlight of this museum was the visit to the priceless treasures of Tut-Ankh-Amon. You will marvel at the intricate workmanship of the contents packed for this King to accompany him to the next world. An awe-inspiring trip through the different ancient Kingdoms and time periods, spectacular to say the least.

We drove past the City of the Dead (Qarafa, Arafa), a four mile long cemetery in eastern Cairo. It is a bustling grid of tombs and mausoleums where people live and work amongst their dead ancestors. Many residents live there to be near their loved ones, or because they were forced from more crowded areas in Cairo.

We then explored “Old Cairo”, which encompasses Coptic Cairo and its many old churches and ruins of Roman fortifications. Modern tourists visit locations such as the Coptic Museum, the Babylon Fortress, the Hanging Church and other Coptic churches, the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the Mosque of Amr ibn al-'As. We visited the famed St. Sergio Church where we were deeply moved by the very spiritual, private toning and chanting by a local Egyptian.

Then it was onto Luxor by plane. Once in Luxor, we visited the Karnak Temple to play in the energies of the largest spiritual site in the world. Karnak is dedicated to the Powers of Creation and exhibits profound solar alignments. Karnak was built over a period of 2 thousand years, with constant extensions and additions made to the original structure which date back to the 11th dynasty. Inside the temple is the Great Hypostyle Hall, a vertical forest of 15 rows of towering columns made of sandstone, each beautifully carved with hieroglyphics and Egyptian designs, 134 columns in total. Other attractions of the Temple of Karnak are the Sphinx Avenue that connects the Temple of Karnak to the Temple of Luxor, the two obelisks, the Scarabeus and the Sacred Lake. A highlight of our trip to Karnak was the visit to the Sekhmet Chapel to meditate and commune with Sekhmet, the Lion Goddess. One of our most powerful and beautiful initiations.
We then boarded our PRIVATE cruise ship, the luxurious dahabeya Afandina. This gorgeous ship, with almost a 1:1 ratio of crew to guests, was our home for the next week. The Afandina, boasting incredible materials, workmanship and design, is a truly world-class experience that harkens back to an earlier era of travel. Our private chef prepared a daily breakfast, lunch & dinner, served either in the dining room, or on the patio. Every meal was absolutely amazing (and I am very particular about foods in foreign lands), and included traditional Egyptian and American soups, salads, main courses, deserts, teas and spirits. We spent the afternoons and evenings sailing down the Nile (the longest river in the world), waving at the villagers, farmers and fishermen. Nothing can prepare you for the magic of sailing the Nile on the Afandina. The first evening we visited the Luxor Temple, a large Ancient Egyptian complex located on the east bank of the River Nile in the city today known as Luxor (ancient Thebes, "the city of one hundred gates"), founded in 1400 BC. The profound feeling of awe one feels when wandering these grounds by moonlight is beyond words. The Temple of Luxor was the center of the most important festival, Opet. At that time the festival included the distribution of over 11,000 loaves of bread, 85 cakes and 385 jars of beer.

Of course Egypt would not be complete without a visit to the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of Luxor, the royal cemetery for 62 Pharaohs (including Tutankhamun) and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom during the 18-21st Dynasties. The Valley of the Queens houses the tomb of Nefertiti in all its original splendor and color. While the iconic pyramid complexes of the Giza plateau have come to symbolize ancient Egypt, the majority of tombs were cut into rock (the sides of the hills).

Early the next day we drove to Dendera Temple, one of Egypt’s most beautiful temples, dedicated to Hathor, Goddess of Love, Music and Joy. Then on to Abydos to visit the Temple of Seti I, one of the most spellbinding spots of Egypt. Among the temple’s special features are the Seven Axial Chapels, whose reliefs number among the most beautiful in Egyptian art, and the ancient, enigmatic Osirion, home to the Flower of Life: the most important symbol in sacred geometry. We also saw bizarre "future vision" hieroglyphs which seem to show tanks, planes and helicopters. No pilgrimage to Egypt is complete without visiting Abydos.

As our Dahabeya floated down the Nile, we traversed at a leisurely pace and stopped to see the Temples of Edfu and Kom Ombo. Kom Ombo Temple, built during the Greco-Roman Era, is a very unusual structure. It is actually two adjoining temples. The temple on the right was dedicated to the crocodile-headed god Sobek, while the temple on the left was in honor of Haroeris. Each temple has its own entrance, court, halls and sanctuary. It shows the first illustration of medical and surgery tools, which are being presented to a seated God. Here you will find depictions of scalpels, suction caps, bone saws, and dental tools, 2000 years old!

The Edfu Temple was built out of sandstone during the Ptolemaic period. The temple is dedicated to the falcon-headed god Horus. It is the best preserved temple in Egypt, is magnificently constructed making wonderful use of natural sunlight. The temple contains a nilometer, windows and a well, as well as a variety of battle and religious inscriptions on the walls. Two statues of falcons are located at the entrance of the temple. The interior includes a library, a robing room, a laboratory, a treasure room, an offering hall, a sanctuary and several other chambers.

We spent several days on the West Bank, and took time to visit the craftsmen. Throughout Egypt I witnessed their crafts still created today in the ancient way. Papyrus, perfumeries, alabaster, stone work and carpet weaving to name but a few, and don’t forget to check out the gold Cartouches beautifully engraved with your name in Hieroglyphics. We stopped on the shore of the Nile for a visit to a Nubian village to see life as it is today, little changed from that of thousands of years ago. Dirt roads, sparsely decorated rustic dwellings, freshly washed laundry (in the Nile River) drying in a gentle warm breeze. We were greeted by the locals with open-arms, as they offered us tea and a seat on their finest rugs. Local children scampered by, waving and smiling, genuinely glad to see us. Goats, sheep, ducks and chickens were roaming the village freely, and donkeys and camels were tethered to trees.
We were lucky enough to visit during a local wedding (or just prior to the wedding). As in the past, many weddings in Egypt are still arranged, and the tradition of the groom's family proposing to the bride is often practiced. Just before the wedding the women get together at the brides house for a “Henna Party”. Henna is believed to be good for the skin, and the beautiful patterns are intended to bring good luck in the bride's new life. The bride’s feet and hands are bleached with elaborate mosaic designs in henna, and the dancing and singing continue all night. The men have a party at the groom’s house, which also involve dancing and singing throughout the evening, and into the early hours.
We were invited to mingle with the men for awhile as they rested before the ceremony. I observed in the b ack the very large steel vats and huge piles of vegetables being used for their celebratory cooking as they did in days past, over an open flame. A few of the local women peered in and escorted us to their own private area to join them in traditional dancing and singing, displaying their decorative henna designs. Whether Muslim or Christian, whether in a decorated city hall, a lavish Cairo hotel or a neighborhood alley, Egyptian weddings are celebrated with an intensity that stem from the respect of family and hope for lifelong happiness.

On reaching Aswan the next day, Spirit Quest Tours escorted us to a Felucca (small Egyptian sailboat), for a sail on the Nile to the Philae Temple of Isis. Feluccas are narrow, swift, lateen-rigged sailing vessels that have been used on the Nile since antiquity. A Felucca is not quite as comfortable as a luxury cruise vessel (such as our dahabeya Afandina) but nothing can beat sailing on the ancient Nile, on a quiet rig that was designed thousands of years ago. The crew on our Felucca entertained us with their handmade percussion and stringed instruments, and their energetic singing. They also offered us their large selection of beautiful beaded necklaces and bracelets. Prices were very reasonable, and I purchased several as gifts for friends and family.

We arrived at The Philae Temple of Isis, also called the Jewel of the Nile, and built on an island. The complex was dismantled and relocated to an nearby island when the building of the Aswan Dam completely submerged the temple underwater. The Philae Temple, dedicated to the goddess Isis, is basically a complex of temples and sanctuaries that honor Isis and her husband Osiris. In the evening, the temple complex is a vision of utter beauty, as the sound and light show explains the story of the buildings, by flooding them with light that reflects on the Nile.

The following morning we took our last water taxi from our floating home-away-from-home (dahabeya Afandina) and flew back to Cairo for our final excursion before returning to the USA. Last, but certainly not least, we visited the Sphinx and the Giza Pyramids (burial structures of the 4th dynasty - pyramids of King Cheops, his son King Chephren, and King Mycerinus, as well as several smaller pyramids and burial vessels that belong to members of the royal family, noblemen and important officers), the most famous of all ancient sites in Egypt, built between 2613 - 2494 BC. The Ancient Pyramids and the Sphinx are much closer to the city than I had imagined, in the desert on the outskirts, overlooking Cairo. Spirit Quest Tours and our guide Emil arranged private tours to both, allowing us to get "up close and personal", as the masses looked down on us, from above.
As a warm desert breeze gently blew, the setting-sun illuminated the towering head of the Sphinx. I slowly walked every inch around the ancient structure, in awe in its presence, stopping to snap a few pictures between the giant paws.
The Sphinx is a giant statue of the head of a pharaoh in a traditional head-dress, with a lion's body, and made of soft limestone. It is believed, due both to its location and its resemblance, that it is the face of King Chefren. It is said that the statue is the guardian spirit of his pyramid complex. It was built between 2558 and 2532 BC, as part of King Chephren's pyramid complex (comprised of the Pyramid, the Sphinx, the Mortuary Temple and the Valley Temple).
As the sun continued to sink, we entered the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops). At 481 feet high, it was the tallest structure on Earth for over 40 centuries; it was only in the nineteenth century that it was eclipsed. The pyramid today stands only about 450 feet high having lost about 30 feet of its original height over the centuries due to natural erosion from wind, pollution, rain and sun exposure. Each side of Cheops is oriented to the cardinal points of the compass, north, south, east and west. Each side measures 751 feet and has an amazing maximum error in length of less than 0.1%. Over two million blocks of stone were used in the construction with each weighing over two tons.
  The original entrance is above the newer
entrance used today
After entering the pyramid on the north side, we followed original, dimly lit corridors of solid rock to the King's Chambers, passing multiple side-passages to the pyramid's many other chambers and galleries. The floor and walls of this passageway are rough and uneven. The burial chamber is lined with red granite. The only remaining item inside the burial chamber is Khufu's sarcophagus. The sarcophagus is made of chocolate-colored granite and is, like the pyramid itself, perfectly aligned with the four points of the compass. It is possible that the sarcophagus was constructed inside the chamber, as the entrance to the room is a mere centimeter wider than the sarcophagus.
Upon reaching the entrance to the King's Chambers, the lights suddenly went dark to enhance our final initiation in this amazing, ancient structure. In the blackness, we had to stoop down to enter the very low, narrow channel that lead to the chamber, located in the heart of the pyramid. Only a small candle held by Halle (proprietor of Spirit Quest Tours) could be seen at the far end of the corridor into the King's Chamber. Once inside we were approached individually by Greg (proprietor of Spirit Quest Tours) to participate in our last initiation, meant to apply our conscious will toward creating profound change in our lives, and in the world.
  Greg & Halle in the King's
Chamber, proprietors of
Spirit Quest Tours
Cindy Ferguson in the
King's Chamber
 
Some believe the King's Chamber is an interdimensional portal, intended to bring more of who you really are into your present third dimensional reality. What you are doing is traveling to the equivalent of the future, a more evolved you, and upgrading all or part of you. You may intend that specific parts be replaced/healed, or just intend that any upgrades that you are able to integrate at this time be installed during this session.

Toning by candle-light within the King's chamber (surrounding the sarcophagus) was as profound as any experience I have had, to date. Red Granite (the lining of the chamber) is by nature full of quartz crystal. Quartz is a natural resonator and some believe the ancient Egyptians employed the use of red granite BECAUSE of it’s incredible acoustical properties, resulting in an overpowering echo, a true melodic symphony. Please also keep in mind that some of the frequencies that resonated as a result of toning in the King’s Chamber are of an infrasonic band, or very low frequency. Infrasonic acoustical energy is recognized as a healing modality by the medical establishment.

Once Halle and Greg formally concluded the initiation, instantly, and quite mysteriously, the lights once again illuminated. I made may way out of the Pyramid, taking note of the maze of pathways, and finally made my exit from the pyramid into a sea of pink haze from a lingering sunset, cast across the three desert giants and Cairo down below. The sun had almost vanished, and a crescent moon hung directly above the great Pyramids of Giza. As an ancient warm breeze blew, I wandered alone towards a smaller nearby vacant ruin complex, the Royal Cemetery. It contained several mastabas (Ancient Egyptian tomb in the form of a flat-roofed, rectangular structure with outward sloping sides) scattered in front. A pack of Baladi dogs (Egyptian desert dogs) ran over to investigate this stranger roaming their ancient sands. After a few minutes, they all ran off, nibbling at each others tails. Suddenly, rising up from Cairo far below (blanketed in now, a deep rose haze), a melodic Muslim "call to prayer" echoed across the city in a mighty man-made chorus from towering minuets above the city-scape. I sat in complete peace and listened, the wind gently kissed my face and echoed in my ears, as the sky slowly faded to dark.
What an amazing way to say good-by to Egypt, for now.