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Hope you are one of those countless numbers of people who have been dying to see the great pyramids of Giza through the ages. For your convenience, we are here to share our thoughts. All the suggestions written below are based on our 1st hand experience of visiting Giza as independent travelers on October 2016.

Tour planning

Tombs and pyramids of Giza, Saqqara and Dahsur can be visited in one full day, but if you tend to observe and click every detail, then it is better to split the trip in two days, one day for Giza and another day for the rest of the sites. 


How to get to Giza Complex

There are following ways to reach there:

  • The most hassle-free and the most expensive way is to take a private guided trip from any tour operator of Cairo. Joining a group-tour will cost you less, but may not suit your own pace and interest. Most of the hotels of Cairo usually arrange these trips for their guests.
  • You may get to Giza by hiring a private cab, but there are many cab-drivers, who will not take you directly to the front gate of Giza complex, rather stop the car to a horse/camel provider’s office, which is far away from the gate and will force you to hire their animals or carts, otherwise he will not drive anymore. To avoid this type of scam, it’s better to book an Uber (radio-taxi) and carefully set the front gate of Giza complex as your destination.
  • The most convenient and a very pocket-friendly way, as we recommend is to jump into the AC buses (no 355/357) of Cairo Transport Authority and get down in front of the Giza complex. These buses are available from Tahrir Square, airport or Heliopolis. Try to start in early morning to avoid traffic jam.
  • Availing micro buses, which are frequent, though remain crowded usually, from the bus-stop opposite to El Giza metro station is a little adventurous and the cheapest way to be there. El Giza metro station is situated in line 1. Cairo metro map(easily available in internet) will show you the metro station close to your hotel is on which line, and if it is not on line 1, then where to change for another train. ( For details, click here  Pyramids of Giza : How We Came?)

 


Best time to visit

The most appropriate time of the day for visiting the pyramids of Giza is either early morning or late afternoon. For the best experience, I would rather suggest to visit in both of the time, if possible. The face of the Sphinx, along with the front sides of the pyramids is illuminated by morning light as well as the walls of the pyramids viewed from the panorama point look awesome when the rays of setting sun fall upon them. More to this, an afternoon visit may be clubbed with the light and sound show on evening. (For details, click here:Pyramid Complex of Giza : Tips for Your Best Experience)


Tickets 

The entry ticket to Giza pyramid complex includes visit to Sphinx, strolling around the pyramids and entry to all tombs laid there. For visiting the inner chambers of the pyramids, one has to buy special tickets, which, along with the entry ticket of the complex is available at the ticket counter on the main gate. Remember, only two the three pyramids are kept open at a time. The separate ticket for visiting the solar boat museum is available on that museum and there is an extra fee for camera. (For information like up to date ticket price, you may click here: http://www.sca-egypt.org/eng/SITE_GIZA_MP.htm). Keep in mind that photography is not allowed inside any pyramid or tomb. There is no extra charge for outdoor photography in Giza complex, apart from a special fee for using tripod. If anybody, pretending to be a part of authority demands money for photography, remember he is a scam artist. If you take a guided trip, then the tour operators may arrange your tickets, otherwise never allow anybody to buy tickets for you.


Inside the pyramid

All the pyramids have almost similar inner structures. To experience this, I am suggesting you to choose the red pyramid of Dahsur. While the great pyramids of Giza burn hole in your pocket, the entry inside this red pyramid is free of cost and tickets are required only for entering Dahsur pyramid complex. More to this, red pyramid, being smaller in size is less strenuous to explore.


Hiring animal or cart

 If you intend to wander around the Sphinx and the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre, then you may opt for walking. But if you wish to encircle all pyramids and reach Panorama view point, then you should hire horse, camel or horse-cart, as it would be extremely tiring to cover the hot and dry desert on foot. Remember, in recent days, a fixed rate chart for hiring animals or carts is set and some boards showing that rates are placed in different areas of Giza complex. As per I remember, one of this boards is placed on the asphalted path (left hand side from the ticket counter if facing to pyramids) which opens to the mortuary temple of the Sphinx.


Best view of pyramids

There is a particular zone, called panorama view point in the complex of Giza. From there, one can get the magnificent view of three pyramids together, one after another. This is far away from the entry gate, so it’s better to access by horse or camel. We are not sure whether horse-carts go to this point, so before hiring them, make sure about the inclusion of panorama view point. Another excellent view point is the rooftop of the Pizza hut shop, situated just opposite to the main gate of the complex. From here an afternoon visitor can enjoy the magnificent sundown behind the silhouetted pyramids. (For details, click here Pyramids of Giza: Here We Come!!!)


Tombs

All the tombs of Giza complex are supposed to be open for visitors, but in reality a very few of them found unlocked and there are some ‘unofficially’ open tombs, that means whenever you approach to any of them, a guard with a key will appear and say he would unlock the tomb in return of ‘baksheesh'(tips). He will try to deceive you by describing how worth-visiting that tomb is. Don’t pay attention to them. Try to visit the tombs of Meresankh III, Qar or Idu, if found open. These tombs are gorgeously decorated with rock-cut statues and painted reliefs.


Essentials to carry 

There is no shop inside the Giza premises. While walking on desert, the fluid requirement in one’s body increases, therefore carry adequate water. If you plan to stay longer, then have some food with you. Sun-glass, hat, sun block lotions are other mandatory items to carry.


Foggy weather

Often in early morning, the pyramids are found to be covered by dense fog. Don’t waste your time. Do all sorts of indoor activities like visiting burial chambers of pyramids and tombs and the solar boat museum until the weather gets better.


Popular photo-shoots

There are some particular points in Giza complex from where you can take photographs like placing your palm over the top of the pyramid, hanging two pyramids from both hands or kissing the Sphinx. Your animal handler or cart-driver will take you to those points, but if you do not hire them, then, never ask anybody for, as you will be charged ‘baksheesh’ in return of this ‘help’. Even you don’t ask, some people will run after you to offer their ‘help’! The best trick to find those photo-points without losing money is a silent observation on other visitors who are taken to those points by their guides.


Toilets

As per I have found, there are three toilets in Giza complex. The one, near the ticket counter will cost you, but the toilet inside the boat museum is free of cost. There is another toilet on the north-side of Khufu’s pyramid, but I did not visit it. Someone may push the toilet door for you, or hand over toilet tissues. Refuse their services, because they are going to demand ‘baksheesh’ (tip) from you. It’s better to use your own toilet papers.


Tourist scam

There are enormous chances of getting ripped off in Giza complex:

  • Wherever you step in Giza complex, you will see touts approaching towards you to make you hire their animals or carts. Everybody, needless to say, will demand higher charges than the fixed rate (as I said earlier), though mentioning phrases like ‘special price, only for you’ et cetera et cetera. If your nationality is apparent in your look, then they will try to impress you by mentioning some popular references of your country, like, identifying us as Indians, they were shouting ‘Raja-Maharaja’(Indian words for kings & emperors) and names of Bollywood actors. Even there are chances of getting trapped by the touts outside Giza complex, in bus-stations, in metro-stations, even in the footpath of Cairo. Whenever you see anybody himself starts talking to you in English, be alert. Their common trick is pretending to be sociable to foreign visitors initially. But, remember that the common people of Egypt, not associated to tourism business usually don’t start conversation about the historical sites and most of them don’t know English. So, you can easily identify who is a tout. Even, the staff of your hotel or your cab-driver may try to convince you for taking animals and carts from someone he knows very well. They have their own interest. Don’t pay attention to any animal/cart-provider outside and even inside Giza complex until and unless you find the board mentioning the fixed rate. To avoid these endless persuasive efforts, try not to make eye contact with any of them, or put headphones to pretend as if you are not listening to them. If these tricks do not work, then start talking in your own language (apart from English and Arabic). They will get confused!!!
  • Before fixing any deal, re-confirm the currency to be paid. There are some dishonest people who start the deal in Egyptian pound, but after getting the service, you are asked to pay the same amount in USD or GBP!
  • If you are found not with any tour operator, scam artists pretending to be ‘licensed guide’ will rush to you with fake i-cards hanging from their necks. Even, some common local people, or staffs of Giza, without being asked may start to help you by providing petty information like ‘This is Khufu’s pyramid. This is 146 mts tall’ et cetera! Firmly refuse their ‘help’, as at the end they are going to demand ‘baksheesh’!
  • Never give your camera or smart-phone to anybody, not even to your horse or camel handler. They may not return it until you tip them. If you wish to take your own photograph, then either use a selfie-stick or ask help from other foreign visitors.(though we did not face any of such kind of blackmailing but it is better to be alert than sorry)
  • While you would be trying to capture photographs of those colossal structures, some local people in traditional attire may appear in your frame and start posing. If you are not interested to feed those tip-mongers, tell them to move away.

Winning over all these fraudulent attempts is really a challenging task! They may be tip-hungry but they are not harmful. So be stern but don’t be rude. Don’t lose your mental peace for some pushy people. Remember that you are in front of the greatest man-made wonder of this planet and you may not get another chance to be here. Take it as a fun and try to innovate mischievous counter-tricks! Enjoy!

(To know more, you may click here : How to Handle the Tourist Scams while Visiting Egypt)

 

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Saqqara : From Where the Journey Begins… …

Dahsur : A Journey towards Perfection

How to Handle the Tourist Scams while Visiting Egypt

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Since childhood, words like pyramids and mummies always used to enthrall us. All the story books written on and films made on Egypt, even those boring text books of History used to declare that nothing in our planet is as old, as big and as mysterious as the great pyramids of Giza, and needless to say, we had been dying to visit them.

So, we could not wait more than a day (half a day precisely as we landed in Egypt in the evening) to go there & hired a car from Cairo to visit the pyramids & tombs of Saqqara, Dahsur and Giza in same day, which was an impractical plan for us as we tend to observe & click everything meticulously.  As a result, after visiting Saqqara and Dahsur, we arrived at Giza just 2.5 hours prior to sundown. It was always our childhood dream to see the Great Pyramids of Giza and this place deserves more time. The only option left was planning for a repeat visit on next morning.

Though it did cost us twice the entry fee, this mis-planning actually led us to something good. Before our trip we dug into several travel forums to find which time of the day is the most appropriate for visiting Giza and got no satisfying answer. But, as we visited twice, once in the afternoon and once in the morning, we found that both times were unique in some aspects and for the best experience one may consciously opt for double visits.(I am going to explain it later)

Day 1 : Afternoon Visit

Hiring horses to cover almost 11 km to encircle all three pyramids was a right decision, but the wrong decision was to hire them from outside of the pyramid premises, as later we found there was a fixed rate chart for hiring horse, camel and horse-cart inside the premises and what we paid, even after ‘successful’ (as we assumed) bargaining was 1.5 times of the price inside.

Pyramids at 1st Sight
Pyramids at 1st Sight

The main gate, which opens to the mortuary temple of Sphinx is usually not taken by the horses hired from outside, so we were carried through a bushy, uneven and less populous path  which seemed like a backdoor and tickets were arranged by those who provided us the horses. I often used to think how I would feel after getting the first glimpse of the Great Pyramid, but in reality the romance of the first sight was spoilt by the scary thoughts of falling down from the horseback, due to the extremely bumpy road, reckless horses and a very casual horse-guy who was supposed to control the horses but was more keen to teach us independent horse-riding!

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Do I look like a pro in horse-riding?

Our constant perseverance of grappling with all those difficulties and distractions was slowly leading us to some mental peace, and with time, we started to enjoy everything, even the horse-riding lesson, which in front of the greatest ancient wonder of the world was itself a prestigious experience

The entrance was far away from the pyramids and we had no idea how far it was. The endless desert and the absence of any familiar structure in proximity made an optical illusion. The great pyramids appeared not so big at first sight! But as we kept proceeding towards them, the perception started to change, pyramids started to grow and finally when the horse stopped in front of the pyramid of Pharaoh Khafre, it seemed like a huge mountain, a man-made mountain, taken shape by endless manual labour and ingenious ancient engineering, four and half thousands years earlier!!!

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Pyramid of Pharaoh Khafre

Khafre’s pyramid is as high as a fifty storied building (height 136 mts). His father Khufu’s pyramid, seen behind, though smaller looking, is actually 10 mts taller than the Khafre’s one. The top of Khufu’s pyramid is actually flat and three iron rods were placed to indicate what the apex would be if finished. The pyramid of Pharaoh Menkaure, situated on the opposite side of his father Khafre’s pyramid was smallest in size (61 mts), less than half of his ancestors’ memorials.

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Pyramid of Pharaoh Khufu and the Solar Boat Museum (on left)

Our guide cum horse-handler took us to some special points from where all those photographs like placing one’s palm over the pyramid or hanging two pyramids from both hands were taken by most of the visitors (which by the way we felt quite cliché). Our prime goal for hiring horses was to reach panorama view point before sundown, which is far away and difficult to access by foot. This is a special zone in Giza complex from where one can view pyramids of Pharaoh Menkaure, Khafre and Khufu one behind another in one straight line along with three small pyramids of queens. Though they are distant neighbours of each other, but a perception of proximity occurs from here and Menkaure’s pyramid looks almost as big as Khafre’s one. Some moving colorful dots were seen near Menkaure’s pyramid. They were depicting how nanoscopic the human’s existence is compared to the greatest ancient wonders!

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The Magnificent View from Panorama View Point

There was a higher point behind that panorama view point, from where better view may be available. But, as per our guide’s opinion, that point is only accessible by camels.

The best advantage of visiting Giza complex during afternoon, as we found, is this panorama view point. The soft orange light of the setting sun gently touches the angular walls of the pyramids. But in morning, pyramids are seen against the sun from this point. On the contrary, the morning sun illuminates the face of Sphinx along with the front sides of the pyramids. Therefore, our plan for the next morning was to enter through the front gate.

Dawn & Dusk
Light matters!

That evening, we came out from the premises through that front gate and although the Sphinx, facing against the light looked quite unimpressive, nevertheless the silhouette of three pyramids with the setting sun between Khafre and Menkaure’s ones offered a picturesque memory to cherish forever. That would be definitely another justification for one’s visit during afternoon.

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…..and they have been witnessing countless sunsets!!!

Day 2 : Morning Visit

On our 2nd visit, we did not hire a car and arrived at Giza by using public transports. It was another long story, which has been written in a separate blog. (Click here Pyramids of Giza : How We Came?)

Unlike other tourists coming with different tour operators, on the next morning, we started from Cairo as early as possible and arrived there just after opening. Nobody was there apart from us. Just two of us! And those gigantic wonders!

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Solitude!

We continued to get absorbed in that very personal togetherness with the pyramids until the owners of the horses, camels and carriages rushed to us with the hope of making the day’s 1st profit. But, our plan for that day was exploring the area on foot. So we paid no attention to them, even after their enormous persuasive efforts like mentioning the names of Bollywood actors to impress us as our Indian-ness was very apparent!

We bought tickets and set foot into the pyramid complex through the main gate, from where the road was bifurcated and we took the road of our left hand which led us through the mortuary temple of Sphinx, a ruined building made of huge stone blocks.

Seeing the face of Sphinx flooded by the morning sunlight was on our agenda for this morning and it was great to see what we longed for. 

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The Sphinx

After pyramid, Sphinx, the mysterious limestone statue with the head of human and body of lion, was the most appealing structure in the complex of Giza. Later we noticed small statues of Sphinx in different ancient temples of Egypt, but this one is the biggest and the oldest among all. Though, Khafre’s pyramid, seen behind the Sphinx looked almost of same size, but actually the pyramid is 10 times bigger than the Sphinx.

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The Sphinx in front of Khafre’s Pyramid

On previous afternoon when we entered through the backdoor and went directly near the pyramid of Khafre, we initially could not see where the Sphinx was and later found it situated far away. The back side of it’s head looked like a small ball from there, though the Sphinx is actually as tall as a five storied building.

We could not reach close to the Sphinx, as a boundary was there encircling the statue. We started to stroll towards Khafre’s pyramid. Even at this early morning sun was absorbing each drop of water from our bodies. Thankfully we had plenty of water with us but at the end of 3 hours all of that got exhausted.

The pyramids were covered by limestone plaster, which had been destroyed by the invaders of following eras, who snatched those plasters to use in their own castles. Only outer casing on the top of Khafre’s pyramid was left unchanged. But, thankfully, they failed to remove even a single stone from any of the great pyramids and that is the magic of this wonder.

Just like three queens’ pyramids near Menkaure’s pyramid, there are also three pyramids of queens in front of Khufu’s one. One of them was made in the memory of Khufu’s queen-mother  Hetepheres I.Being smaller in size, those subsidiary pyramids were easy to be destroyed by the attackers. Their plasters, along with the stone blocks were looted and now they looked like stones piled up haphazardly!

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Queen’s Pyramid

 

Before being there, I assumed that there was nothing except the pyramids and the Sphinx in this Giza complex.But actually this area, specially the area between the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre is full of tombs (called mastaba) of noble people and boat pits. They are so tiny compared to the pyramids that they remain unnoticed in any photograph of this premises.

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Mastabas and Other Ruins

To provide support needed in afterlife numerous items of utility and amusements were kept with the mummies in the pyramids and tombs, but due to inadequacy of space for placing any boat there, they dug five pits outside the pyramids to bury the boats.

Boat Pit
A Small Boat Pit

A huge ship, sealed into a boat pit was excavated in intact form at the foot of Khufu’s pyramid. It was made with the intention of carrying the resurrected Pharaoh Khufu along with The Sun-God ‘Ra’ across the heaven, so this is called solar boat. It was identified as one of the largest, oldest and intact vessels of antiquity. In modern days, that ship has been reconstructed and exhibited in a museum made beside Khufu’s pyramid. There we found the original boat pit protected by the stone blocks. This ship was a perfect demonstration of how the royal ship of 2500 BC looked like. Redundant remnants like wooden pieces and cords from the original boat were displayed along with the photographs of the excavation and reconstruction.

There are two common misconceptions about pyramids. First, mummies can be seen still now inside the pyramids and second, the presence of hieroglyphics, the ancient Egyptian inscription, on the inner walls of the pyramids. All mummies found inside the tombs and pyramids of Egypt had been removed and kept in the museums for proper preservation. And the inner walls of the pyramids were formed by stone blocks having smooth surface, but without any engraved picture or writing, unlike other ancient tombs. There exist a number of mastabas, the flat-roofed rectangular shaped Egyptian tombs with underground burial chambers in the complex of Giza, especially on the eastern and western sides of Khufu’s pyramid. High officials and minor royalty of the Old Kingdom had the privilege to be buried here, near pharaoh’s gigantic memorials. A very  few of those were open to the visitors, and there were some ‘unofficially’ open tombs, that means whenever we approached to any of them, a guard with a key appeared and said he would unlock the tomb in return of ‘baksheesh'(tips). We did not let ourselves get trapped and visited only three open to all tombs. These were decorated with painted reliefs, hieroglyphics and rock cut statues of the deceased ones with their family members. We got idea about the life of common men of that era from the engraved scenes like funeral procession, hunting, preparation of food and drink, presentation of offerings, musicians and dancers on the walls. 

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Hieroglyphics Engraved on Outer Wall of a Mastaba

We saw visitors making queue in front of the pyramids to enter inside, but we did not joined them. We have already experienced the inner chambers of the red pyramid of Dahsur on the previous morning, and since all the pyramids have almost similar inner structures, therefore, there was no need for a repeat venture.

The base of the pyramids have four sides and we discovered this fact while encircling Khufu’s pyramid. I went close to those huge stone blocks, touched them and felt thrilled. They were of my height. I stretched my hands on both sides to hold one of them, but could not, as it was wider.

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Stone Blocks Bigger than Me

Almost 2.3 millions blocks, each weighing an average of 2.3 ton(did not count or weigh; Wikipedia said) went into the building of Khufu’s pyramid. History  preserves the facts of royal  sponsorship, but the Herculean effort of the common men (may be slaves) remain unrecognized who had carried those huge stone blocks, placed one over another following all logistics so accurately and connected them so firmly, that they have been able to endure all natural forces for 4500 years. These ageless homes for dead, which are alive so long, are the proud evidence of human’s collective superpower and it’s our pride to be a part, however insignificant may be, of this mysteriously endless journey of the pyramids! 

 

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Pyramid Complex of Giza : Tips for Your Best Experience

Pyramids of Giza : How We Came?

Saqqara : From Where the Journey Begins… …

Dahsur : A Journey towards Perfection

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Egyptian Museum, Cairo : A Self-Guided Visit (Part-2)

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