Home' Nova National : September 2010 Contents 12 © NOVA SEPTEMBER 2010
One evening while in Egypt
recently, I was granted
permission to spend time alone
inside the Valley of the Kings.
Well, not strictly alone. The rest of our group
was meditating inside the tomb of Ramses
the Sixth. The Valley was deserted because it
was outside normal tourist hours and, while
I felt totally alone, out of sight waited Farid,
our guide, and Ali, Inspector of West Bank
Archaeology. Four tomb guards and three
military policemen armed with sub machine
guns patrolled at a distance.
When we arrived, wind was hurling
twisters of sand with unrelenting force, but
luckily it soon died down.
The Valley of the Kings is a vast
mountainous wilderness of rock. Nothing
grows there. Everything is covered with small
stones, large rocks, gravel, pebbles, boulders
and the occasional shard of ancient pottery.
It's a bit like being on the moon.
After climbing part of the way up a hill, I
lay down on the bedrock, almost in a vertical
position. The mountainsides are very steep,
but I was quickly able to relax my body to
accommodate my uncomfortable "bed"
and succumbed to the awe that was quickly
The majestic mountain peaks towering
overhead were beginning to darken. The
sky, huge and empty, was turning indigo. At
the base of the hill facing me lay the tomb of
Ramses the Sixth. To the left, a track led to
the tomb of Seti the Second. Tutankhamen's
tomb was further away, to the right. Ali had
said to me earlier, "When you're inside the
Valley of the Kings, you are in the heart of
history. When you're inside the tombs, you
are inside the heart of Egypt."
The Ancient Egyptian kings were buried
with gold, precious jewels and splendid
garments to wear in the Afterlife. It is
recorded in the temples that they believed
death did not separate the soul and spirit
from the body; that the soul's departure at
the time of death was only temporary and,
for a short time, was flying around inside the
body of a bird. It was believed that, in time,
the soul would leave the bird and return to
its physical body, which had been embalmed
and awaiting its arrival. The process of
embalming lasted for 70 days and involved
rubbing the corpse with unguents and oils, in
particular an essence called "M^um". After
being embalmed, the bodies were wrapped
tight in swaddling cloth before being placed
inside magnificent gold caskets.
The idea of mummies lying inside the
mountain upon which I rested, awaiting
the return of their souls, was mind blowing
My thoughts wandered to modern
Western society and how so many of us go
through life sleepwalking, driven to make
more and more money in order to buy
houses, cars, fashionable clothes, boats and
holiday homes, exhausting ourselves in
the process. We sleepwalk through life, in
automatic gear, programmed to accumulate
as many material possessions as possible so
that we can feel happy and believe we are
in control of our lives. But when we do get
Jo Buchanan shares her rare, and awe inspiring, experience
of being alone in the heart of history.
them, we find we are still not content. So
we try even harder, never really attaining
the happiness we believe these material
possessions will provide.
Usually, it's not until we are faced
with sudden tragedy that we "wake up"
to ourselves; wake up to the things in life
that really matter -- our health and spiritual
wellbeing and the health and wellbeing of
those we love.
As I watched the swoop of a hawk
overhead, I imagined how miniscule I
must appear to the bird, how tiny and
unimportant. I became aware that my entire
physical body had become numb. I could
no longer feel my hands or arms or legs or
where my back and head connected with
the rock face. Then, as I thought more about
the hawk, I began to feel my spirit soar
and figured I could probably observe my
physical body from afar. But as I looked
down over the mighty cliffs and gullies, I
couldn't find myself anywhere.
When my time for meditation and
reflection was over, one of the military
policemen began climbing the hill to help
me descend. As we slipped and tripped down
the vertical rock face, I kept bumping into
his sub machine gun. Each time it happened,
we both laughed nervously. The thought
occurred to me that if the gun did go off and
I was forced to exit this world here in the
Valley of the Kings, at least I'd be in excellent
Farid called my name, waving me over
to where he stood, directly opposite the
mountain range that contained several royal
"Look Jo! Look along the top ridge of the
mountain...do you see the pharaoh sleeping?"
As my eyes followed his finger, I could
see what he was talking about. The massive
ridge, sculpted naturally by time and
winds, bore an uncanny resemblance to an
enormous pharaoh lying asleep, arms folded
over his chest covering his heart. If it hadn't
been pointed out to me, I'd never have
noticed. But now that I could see, it was
mysteriously and heart-thumpingly obvious.
I'd have handed over every last cent I owned
to be permitted to photograph it, but I
didn't dare to ask. Cameras at that time were
forbidden in the Valley of the Kings. There
could be no favours.
"You see," said Farid, "The pharaoh is
not dead. He is just sleeping."
As we headed for the minibus, stars began
to appear in the sky. We said goodbye to the
tomb guards, who would soon enter a couple
of black holes in the mountainside that
looked like gouged eyeballs which served as
their sleeping quarters at night.
I felt I had learned a lot simply by being
in this sacred place. But I had no idea what.
Hopefully my subconscious would release it
one day. Maybe in my dreams.
The Sleeping Pharaoh
'The thought occurred to
me that if the gun did go off
and I was forced to exit this
world here in the Valley of
the Kings, at least I'd be in
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