A brief note from what was a very underwhelming experience. Do not go to Giza with high expectations, at least not yet.

Mention Ancient Egypt to a layman, and he usually thinks of the Nile, the three pyramids and the Sphinx of Giza. 

Mention the same to someone who has visited the site over the last decade, you would be treated to an expression that oscillates between amazement and frustration. 

If the Ancient Egyptian society was built around oppressive preoccupation with the Pharaoh’s immortality and obsession with after-life, the re-awakening of the Arab spring during the early part of this decade confined its sense of purpose to an ideology that created division and political unrest, whilst retaining a frightening similarity to its own obsession with after-life. What followed was dwindling tourist numbers to a country that generated a large chunk of its revenue from tourism. 

It is cliched that history repeats itself: the political circus in Egypt, where every politician tried to outdo his predecessor in committing his life for an ideologically driven political cause, shares stark similarities to the beginning of the decline of the Ancient Egyptian kingdom. Many Egyptologists suggest that after Khufu’s Pyramid was completed, the kingdom grew weary with each pharaoh trying to outdo the other. Most died before their pyramids were complete. Never again did a pharaoh build his pyramid in titanic scales. 

So on a dusty November afternoon, when Rob Telfer and I found ourselves standing in front of the Great Pyramid, we were both amazed and perplexed by the sight that greeted us. Amazed because this was a structure of immense proportions that took over twenty-three years to build, 4500 years ago: this was an engineering marvel, no doubt. Perplexed because our view was blocked by at least twenty hawkers standing in front of us, waving one-dollar replicas of the same pyramid. If I was a lottery ticket on two legs, Rob was the treasure chest they had been craving for. 

Giza is a tourist district outside of Cairo. The streets outside the complex housing the Sphinx and pyramids are shabby and dirty with hawkers and young boys whipping their camels, offering rides for a cheap dollar.

It is cliched that history repeats itself: the political circus in Egypt, where every politician tried to outdo his predecessor in committing his life for an ideologically driven political cause, shares stark similarities to the beginning of the decline of the Ancient Egyptian kingdom. Many Egyptologists suggest that after Khufu’s Pyramid was completed, the kingdom grew weary with each pharaoh trying to outdo the other. Most died before their pyramids were complete. Never again did a pharaoh build his pyramid in titanic scales.

Since 2011, many western governments have painted Egypt in a shade of amber in their travel advisory guidelines. The sight of western foreigners implied an opportunity for locals to earn the extra dollar as self-professed tour guides. All you had to know was a sentence or two in English (one of them, invariably “I love America”, unmindful of where the tourist was from), and you were Howard Carter reborn.      

With such touts, being polite never works. In Egypt, more so, ignoring doesn’t help either. They are blessed with limitless stamina to stalk you wherever you go, or, more irritatingly, start narrating a tale of their fictional son or daughter undergoing a heart-transplant (often followed by a photo on their phone they thrust at you showing a picture of a young kid in a hospital bed that usually shows up as a standard result in a google image search). How many derivates of that tale have we heard as travelers? 

In such situations, being loud and rude helps. It really does. Just make sure whatever you do, you are loud enough for the other touts to hear. They will avoid you, as they did us eventually. I found this in complete contrast to my visit to their southern neighbors Sudan – apart from being bound together by an Arabic culture and Islamic faith, the Egyptians and the Sudanese have very little in common. 

The pyramids and the Sphinx were the biggest monuments any empire can command: a display of power, art, engineering and social organization few cultures can rival.  The Great Pyramid is said to be the most comprehensively studied building in the world. Stones for the structures were transported using canals dug along the River Nile, a lifeline that connected the old historic kingdom. 

Irrigation thrived and in an era before money, the barter system created the need to have people document their produce. Less than one percent of the people in the ancient Egyptian kingdom were literate, and as a result, the scribe was held in high authority by the society. 

There is no profession without a boss, except for the scribe. For he is the boss”, goes a famous saying, attaching importance to the power of the quill and papyrus.  

Rob and I climb through the belly of the Great Pyramid through an ascending corridor not more than four feet high and wide. We resist the temptation to crawl, given how humid and claustrophobic it was on the inside. The burial chamber at the top is dark and quiet. Ancient Egyptian culture coalesced around the worship of pharaohs, dead or alive. 

I couldn’t help but think how the ancient Egyptians have passed on their perceived traditions to have such profound effect on afterlife rivaling in direct proportion its meaninglessness in real life. 

Tourism has collapsed in Egypt. Commercialization, in a desperate attempt to win back tourists have transformed the pyramid complex into an unrecognizable junkyard. Light shows entertain guests every evening in the hope of earning that extra dollar, defeating the very purpose of those wanting to visit the monuments.  

It is about time Egypt learns from its historic ancestors. The seeds of collapse of the ancient civilization were sowed in this very soil where the culture believed that its dead kings must live forever. It may not be a bad idea for the fundamentalists to apply the same to their tainted ideologies.