Unseen Egypt: Pyramids, Desert mountains, Dahab, and the wonders of Nabq!

May 31, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I'm extremely fortunate in that during my half a century of existence, I've been privileged to have travelled extensively. Not quite to all 5 continents mind you, but to many countries the globe over, finding myself in beautiful locations which, as an amateur photographer, I have very much enjoyed.  For pure photographic joy, no trip comes anywhere near as close to what I regard as my most exhilarating photography day ever, which was spent in an extremely hot, remote, government protected nature reserve called, Nabq

PyramidsThe Pyramids just outside Cairo

Nabq is situated 30 miles North of Sharm-el-Sheik opposite Saudi Arabia on the shores of the South Sinai desert, and I was lucky to have been taken there by a wonderful human being, and my very good Egyptian friend, Ahmed.

This blog tells a little about my visits to Egypt: Cairo, the pyramids of Giza, the national museum and other locations such as Ras Mohammed, though I write a little more about the most beautiful location that is the Nabq Protected Area.  Traveling to Egypt is a wonderful experience, and I recommend it to anyone who appreciates ancient history shrouded in mystery and intrigue.  I include a few images from my trip, but more images from Nabq are featured, as it was by far the most memorable and profound experience from any of my [at present] four trips to Egypt.

The Great Pyramids of Giza

Of course, one can't possibly visit Egypt without taking in one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, eh! The pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Giza, together with the Sphinx are a truly incredible sight and should not be missed.  If you're holidaying in Sharm-el-Sheik it is a gruelling 7 hour trip by bus - we managed a private beautifully comfortable air conditioned mini bus for our recce, and for the extra room alone for sleeping whilst on the journey, it was worth the extra expense.  As for the pyramids, boy oh boy, they are huge, and I mean incredibly MASSIVE!! I have no idea of their actual height, but they really are immense structures.


Another notable piece of information, is that the pyramids are located on the edge of the Sahara Desert only a few miles south of the immense city of Cairo, and the shot you see here actually looks towards the city itself, but as the pyramids are slightly higher and sit up on a hillside, the city is below the image horizon (check the smog over Cairo).

It is certainly a very hot and humid experience, but well worth the trip on the back of a Camel or alternatively in a horse drawn carriage from where you enter, to get to them.  I'd suggest this is somewhere not to miss out on if you are in Cairo. 

Pyramid ViewGreat Pyramid of Giza The layers of stonemasonry are incredible.

Given my slight fear of total blackness, I didn't venture down into the claustrophobic and constrictive shafts into the depths of the pyramid as the rest of my family did, but though not for me or the faint hearted, I am reliably informed that this too is well worth the experience!

While in Cairo we also visited the Egyptian National Museum which at the time was exhibiting the remarkable Tutankhamun collection, though I must say that though it was touted as such, I am not 100% convinced and remain sceptical what was on display was the actual bust of the teenage King Tut himself. I can't see that such a priceless relic of ancient Egyptian history being on display in a mildly protected, thin wooden case!  it's not just King Tut though, there are countless other relics to see during a visit to the museum, and the mummy house is one that you should try to get to. It is a considerable additional expense, even after paying to enter the museum, but again well worth it. The mummified remains of dozens of Egyptian Pharaoh's, Kings and Queens are preserved in an air conditioned, humidity controlled environment and with the informative explanations provided adjacent to each cask, makes for a very interesting extension to your visit.

Egyptian National MuseumEgyptian National Museum in CairoAt the time housed the bust of King Tutankhamun

To add very quickly... well worth seeing are also the traditional shopping markets with their fine carpets and rugs, modern retail malls, oh, and and an authentic meal on a boat on the Nile was very nice, too! Anyway, enough about Cairo!

Nabq Protected Area

Back now to what I would class as my most amazing photography day in all the years I have enjoyed photography. On the coast, 30 miles North East of Sharm-el-Sheik is an area protected by the Egyptian Government, and it was only due to my being with Ahmed (an Egyptian National) that I was granted access.  After over 120 minutes travel time from my hotel in Sharm-el-Sheik, over sand dunes and ever rougher terrain, having stopped and chatted with some friendly Bedouin én route, we eventually arrived - exactly where, I don't know, but we had arrived!  And to say the area was magnificent is an understatement.  I was captivated by the fauna, the mangroves, sea life and sheer beauty of the entire area.  OK, I guess you know by now that I loved it there!

Desert DunesDesert DunesHigh Contrast Image DragonFlyDragonFly in the desert EelEgyptian Eel!









Out at the edge of the reef sits a rather ugly shipwreck that we didn't manage to get to it as the sea became a little choppy, we did however get to within 50m of it before we had to stop.  


Nabq is located 30 miles NE of Sharm-el-Sheik (see URL to Google Maps) and if you zoom in and look closely you will be able to locate the shipwreck on the Google satellite view.  I thought it would be interesting to show how it appears in reality too, so here's the satellite view, with Ahmed in the actual in-the-water view pasted on top!

There's also plenty of bird life around, with Purple Herons, Ospreys and an abundance of additional smaller waders that I was sadly unable to identify.

I appreciate this isn't to everyones tastes, but to me it was heaven! Slowly ambling around in 360º cloudless clear blue skies, knee to waist deep in water at a temperature akin to a hot bath, 40º air temperatures, amongst the brightest coloured fish imaginable, eels, mangroves, sea snakes and coral - was incredible. Nobody else about for miles and miles; tranquility at its peak indeed.  We spent a good 6 hours here, just walking in the lagoons, snorkelling and generally admiring its beauty.

MangroveSand flats, Coral and MangrovesBeautiful Nabq Protected Area
If snorkelling is fun, snorkelling off the edge of the reef is some serious fun - that's if you're brave enough to have a go! It is really a magical experience as it is the start of some very deep water, with the reef plummeting to depths of thousands of feet. 
Osprey at the Nabq Protected AreaOsprey at the Nabq Protected AreaOsprey Down into the Deep!Down into the Deep!John Burns Photography
The image on the right shows the view looking down into the drop off, where I was only a short 10m or so away from the reef edge.  This is undoubtedly the deepest water I have swam in!! As one looks down, the light simply fades away into the depths, quite eery indeed, especially knowing there are apparently many species of shark around the area!
For me too, seeing several Ospreys was a tremendous sight. I haven't had the privilege of seeing one in the UK, so to spot several during the course of the day as they went about their business scouting for fish at the surface of the lagoons was a real treat! I was surprised they allowed me to get quite as close as I did for this shot! 

Dahab and the Incredible Blue Hole

A little further North from Nabq (and also inaccessible from there as you need to take the inland desert road) is the diving haven of Dahab.  Known for being one of the top spots for diving in the Red Sea, it is also home to the infamous Blue Hole.

Dahab Blue Hole - 300 feetDahab Blue Hole - 300 feet

The Blue Hole is a 300' deep sheer cavern located just a few metres off shore, where speciality divers pit their wits agains the perils of deep tank diving.  Sadly though, as many as 150 divers (possibly more) have succumbed and lost their lives here in the last 10 years alone, with possibly the most famous being the Israeli-Russian diving instructor Yuri Lipski. Yuri sadly filmed his own demise on his unaccompanied dive when he reached the bottom, as he struggled against Nitrogen narcosis at a depth of over 300 feet.

There is a plaque in his honour at the site, as well as plaques for all the other divers who have tragically lost their lives at the Blue Hole, whilst enjoying the hobby they love.  The depths of the blue hole can be seen in the image. I swam across the top and admit to feeling a certain unease as I did so. Seeing and reading the memorials on display didn't mar my trip to Dahab, but it did serve as a stark reminder to the dangers of the oceans. Not much else to see or do at Dahab, we did a camel ride along the beach (something as a male I will never, ever do again!!) and we ended up eating a gorgeous seafood meal in one of the many seafront restaurants.  The trip back through the desert though, was very hot and uncomfortable.

Mount Sinai - Atop the Gods!

Another trip that almost killed Ahmed due to the steepness of the downhill stretch of the walk, but absolutely worth it - a hike, an ascent of 7,500 feet to view the incredible sunrise on the top of Mount Sinai.

Gloden Hour sunrise at the top of the moutnain of the 10 commandments - Mt Sinai, EgyptGloden Hour sunrise at the top of the moutnain of the 10 commandments - Mt Sinai, Egypt

Personally, for me the trek of around 8 miles or so was not tremendously difficult, but some might consider it a challenge and quite difficult, especially if wearing slip on shoes or flip flops! I mean come on.... you don't climb a 7,500' mountain in flip flops without expecting to experience significant pain and discomfort. So, in a word, don't! if you plan on seeing the sunrise at the top, you will need sturdy trainers at the very least to attempt this climb. Mount Sinai Desert SunriseMount Sinai Desert SunriseOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunrise on the top of Mount Sinai is a sight to behold and well worth the long day and very early midnight departure from our hotel. Arriving at 'base camp' a few hours later you are greeted by a tour guide (who incidentally, IS wearing nothing on his feet but sandals), and in the pitch dark, you immediately head off along the slopes of the lower mountains and into the desert. Dark it is. Very dark. Only the stars and moon in the totally clear skies provide you with just enough light to see where you are stepping.  Tribesmen and Bedouin are ever present with their Camels offering to take one up the slopes sat on their back, errrm, no thanks, my already-injured-from-the-Dahab-camel-ride man parts wouldn't have permitted that, regardless! The lower slopes are a trick, making you think that the ascent will be a shallow one. Oh no, not at all. You will soon be walking up quite steeply, on a clear path, but when 500m or so from the summit, you start having to climb large boulders and rocks to make progress.  Arriving well in time for the very impressive sunrise, a slight relax at the top, and then you make your way back down again.  Easy really, but I am particularly glad I did it.  The dip in the pool on arrival back in our hotel was sublime!

Inside Peace Mosque, Sharm-el-Sheik

Mosques in Egypt are sacred places, and any you pay a visit to will have specific areas where you are allowed to look around.  Photography is limited in any mosque, as are times when access to the specific areas is allowed - this is due to the Islam, call-to-prayer.

Peace Mosque, Sharm el SheikhPeace Mosque, Sharm el SheikhPeace Mosque, Sharm el Sheikh

However, once again, my wonderful friend, Ahmed, made it possible for me to gain access to areas where I would normally not be permitted - and by him speaking with the Imam, I was for a short time only, allowed inside the heart of Peace Mosque, in front of the barriers.

Guess what this is....?Looking up at the ChandelierIt's the roof of the beautiful 'Peace Mosque', in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

So, a quick change of clothes to more respectful trousers rather than shorts, at the personal invitation of the Imam, I spent a glorious 10 minutes wandering around areas I was extremely honoured and privileged to be able to see.  Very peaceful, tranquil and utterly beautiful.  Something I will never forget.

The second image here is the view from beneath, looking directly up at that incredible chandelier. A very moving 10 minutes.

Ras Mohammed and the Soldiers!

Another day was spent with Ahmed, this time heading West out of Sharm-el-Sheik, to another remote area called Ras Mohammed.   Ras MohammedRas MohammedDeserted beaches a' plenty Quite desolate and quiet, we set off in the hope of obtaining some tranquil deserted beach shots - I managed a few before one of the scariest moments of my life.  The entire area looked like this! Quite the opposite of the man made shingle-sand beaches of Sharm-el-Sheik, these beaches were all natural, thin sand, with nobody about for miles and miles.  Or so we thought! Ras Mohammed beachesRas Mohammed desert beachesDon't venture here, it's a dangerous army patrolled place.

Quietly walking along the beaches looking for shells and interesting seascape vistas etc, we heard shouting, aggressive shouting... and appearing simply out of nowhere were two heavily armed Egyptian soldiers, yielding rifles, approaching us! "Arms in the air" was the instruction... I duly obliged, without fail! As you can imagine, no further pics were obtained from Ras Mohammed that day, all ended well with Ahmed explaining who I was and what we were doing there, they let us on our way.  To say I did my load... is an understatement! 

Apparently, the area is awash with Sudanese drug smugglers and is heavily patrolled by the Egyptian army.  We saw no signs or barriers as we approached the area in the car, and simply drove along the beach side roads until we found somewhere to stop.  My advice - don't be fooled by the aqua blue waters of the Red Sea, or the golden sands of the desert beaches - simply don't go there, it's dangerous, very dangerous.  I was fortunate to have a friend who is an Egyptian National with me, and goodness knows what might have happened if he were not there. Neither soldier spoke any English, and initially were extremely aggressive to both Ahmed and I.

And finally...

There really is loads to see and photograph in Egypt.  I had a photography acquaintance tell me once that he hated the place. Said it was a filthy dirty mess. I feel quite sorry for him, sad that he missed out, because how wrong he is. Sunrise from the Sinai DesertSunrise from the Sinai DesertSun rising over Tiram Island, Sinai.   Egypt, though currently blighted with conflict, is a country where there are treasures to behold, beautiful beaches and vistas to see, deserts, mountains and peaks to visit - and if you do decide to venture there, you too can catch yourself a desert sunrise such as this.

AhmedAhmed on top of the world!Summit of Mt Sinai, Egypt

I must also say that I would not have been able to capture so many images, or visit so many obscure and wonderful locations if it were not for my good friend, Ahmed, without whom much of this would not have been possible.  He looked after all of my family each time we visited, and after four visits to Egypt, we remain very good friends and I very much look forward to meeting him again on my next trip.

Thanks Ahmed!


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