Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Sometimes Overseas

A cousin and I took into out heads to see some of the historical places in the world that dated back to at least 500 BC. In that light, Machu Pichu in South America was "out".  There was no reason in fixing this at 500 BC - we just felt like it. Being over sixty five years age, we could indulge ourselves.
The first such trip - and it was a "trip" and a friend observed that it was more a "study tour" rather than a vacation - was to Egypt, in 2007. But this was Egypt with a difference - Egypt our way. Not for us the fancy eating places - we ate at way-side "dhabas" with their pickled onions and cucumbers, minced mutton steaks, the curd salads and "tandoori" bread. Also not for us the usual tourist beat: we chose Saqqara, some distance from Cairo,  where the "step pyramid" of Djozer,  a structure that predates the Giza pyramids by centuries, stands. It is here also that the "mustaba" or the cavernous burial sites (also predating the pyramids) are to be seen, with their elaborate bas-relief sculptures and the first frescos of the ancient Egypt's Book of the Dead.
Then it was on to Luxor and Karnac, and also Dendera. More on all that in the next post.

 Egypt is full of "off-the-beaten-track" places. We managed in 2007 only to visit a few of them. Reference has already been made to Saqqara that is about 35-40 kms from Cairo and is notable for Djozer's "Step Pyramid" that pre-dates the Giza pyramids. Close to Alexandria is an ancient burial site remarkable for its antiquity and underground crypts. Then close to Luxor (that has the "must-see" Karnac temples) are Medinat Habu, the mausoleum to Rameses III, the "Valley of the Nobles" (close to the Valley of Kings that is usually on the itinerary) where one may see some of the finest examples of frescos depicting day-to-day life in Egypt around 2000 BC, and Dendera, a very pretty and almost undamaged temple to the goddess Hathor with its fine frescos and bas-relief sculptures, including one of Cleopatra and her son, Caesareon.

Coming back to the "off-beat" places in Egypt, given below is a picture of the "step pyramid" at Saqqara, that was really to serve as a "proto-type" for the later pyramids in Egypt (even earlier was the "leaning" pyramid, where the alignments were not properly done, resulting in this structure leaning to one side). How the "step pyramid" was erected sometimes around 2600 BC without proper surveying instruments, relying  on something like a T-square, set-square and a plumb-line (to be seen in the museum at Luxor) remains a mystery.

The other very interesting place was the Valley of the Nobles, where mortuary chambers of some of the nobles Egypt of around 1200 to 1500 BC were constructed and were made attractive to the wandering
 soul of the nobles by beautiful frescos on the walls. These often depicted day-today scenes of singing and dancing, of duck-hunting in the marshes along the Nile, harvesting wheat. One such fresco from the tomb of Nakhte, one such noble, is reproduced below

We  visited Greece in 2009: another wonderful experience seeing all the historic sites some dating back to 1500 BC (well beyond our self-imposed threshold). A picture from the Athens Museum and one of the Minoan civilisation in Crete are given below. More will follow.


  1. How about some photographs? And a little more detail about these 'off the beaten track' sites would be welcome.

  2. How about some photographs? And a little more detail about these 'off the beaten track' sites would be welcome.

  3. About "off-the-beaten-track" places in general, there are umpteen of them. Specifically about Egypt, the three "off" places that we visited were Saqqara (some 35-40kms from Cairo), Medinat Habu (close to Luxor) and the "Valley of the Nobles" that is close to the oft-visited Valley of the Kings in Luxor but hardly ever visited. In fact our guide had to ask around to find out and we had to climb over the shoulder of a hillock to get to it. But it was worth it. Then there was Dendera. about 100 kms by road from Luxor, absolutely picture-pretty.
    I am not able immediately to give any picture from Egypt but may like to see two pictures I am posting from the Minoan civilisation in Crete, also seldom on the tourist circuit for those from India.