The land of the pharaohs has fascinated and inspired my imagination since I was a young lad. So, once upon a time, long ago, I took a trip of a lifetime with an Egyptologist and toured this majestic country for three weeks starting in Cairo and traveling south to the Aswan Dam down the fertile Nile River valley. Along the way, the monumental Egyptian antiquity grandeur captured my heart at every stop.
I visited the Great Pyramid of Giza and crawled through the royal tomb up close and very personally. For a sawbuck ($5 U.S.), I climbed in and lay down inside the huge granite sarcophagus of Pharaoh Khufu, AKA King Cheops. (No longer permitted.) This is where his mummified remains were entombed 4,500-years-ago. (See photos accompanying this column.)
Khufu ruled in the 25th century BCE. His Pyramid is the oldest and tallest of the three pyramids at 450-feet, with about 2.3 million blocks of hand-cut limestone. I entered the massive edifice through a small opening on the side, about 50-feet up from the Sahara Desert plateau, clambering over the sizeable exterior stone blocks. It was there that I started my genuinely extraordinary interior pyramid journey.
A slender passageway compelled me to duckwalk because the tunnel was less than 4-feet tall. The passage later opened to the lengthy, tall, slanting Grand Gallery. Besides this corridor, there is little open space inside the structure until you reach the King’s Chamber, which is the absolute heart of the Pyramid. No colorful hieroglyphics on the bare walls render the cavity a solemn eerie venue. The space is lined with dark granite blocks and nothing of prominence.
Bare light bulbs were strung on exposed wires along the chamber wall, which aided me in noticing a young, enigmatic, industrious fellow standing next to the open sarcophagus. He spoke English. If I gave him $5 bucks, he would take a photo of me with my camera lying down in the stone coffin. Of course, I took him up on the bargain. No other tourists were in the chamber, so I lingered in the stone casket for a time and prized every second.
Whatever riches and the king’s funeral gifts inside the Great Pyramid were stolen by raiders long ago, even the mummified remains of King Khufu, or Cheops, have never been found and are presumed to have been robbed from the sarcophagus in which I laid.
In Cairo, my hotel, the Mena House Oberoi, was across the street from the Great Pyramid. The suite I stayed in was a portion of the apartment British Field Marshall Montgomery used during the war in Africa. From the window and balcony, I looked straight at the grand Pyramid. The historic hotel has been the center of many world peace talks during periods of war. Besides Monty, other famous people staying at the hotel in the room include Agatha Christie, Cecil B. DeMille, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Charlton Heston, and Roger Moore.
When I visited Egypt, I was serving as a police commissioner in the U.S. I carried my badge and I.D. creds on the trip. The Egyptologist guide would introduce me to the security officers at every ancient landmark we visited. These sentinels treated me like a royal when I presented them with my I.D. and passed them a business card—the brotherhood of the badge. They gave me the extraordinarily private “friends and family” tour.
I sat on Queen Nefertiti’s regal throne, walked through secret passages, crawled along tunnels, and touched beautifully carved, gloriously colored hieroglyphic walls in temples, legendary shrines, and tombs across Egypt. From Luxor to the Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel, Philae, Edfu, and the splendid colossus of Karnak, I experienced these monumental crown jewels privately from the inside out. Occasionally my privileged security officer tours ended up on the roof of these ancient structures, which tourists can only look upon from a distance. And what a view!
For over 4,500-years, the Pyramids of Giza have captured the imagination and enduring allure of the world’s people. Ancient Egypt, the glorious land of mysteries and treasure, is filled with religious history, monumental architecture, colossal temples, and the enormous Sphinx. The Giza pyramids are the most famous of all the ancient monuments and the only remaining wonder of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Award-winning columnist, Jerry Wilkerson lives in SaddleBrooke. He is a former press secretary for two U.S. Congressmen and was a correspondent for Chicago CBS radio and the Chicago Daily News. Wilkerson is a U.S. Navy veteran and served as a police commissioner. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.