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It was worth their efforts, as these delicately preserved bodies are among an estimated 5000-10,000 mummies, including nobles and kings, that sit in tombs deep in subterranean sediment.

It is possibly the largest mummy necropolis in Egypt – some of the mummies found so far wear golden masks and have magnificent designs of ancient Egyptian gods on their chests, while others are coated in plaster, covered with linen or lie in terracotta sarcophagi. 

Despite that huge amount, fewer than 100 mummies have been successfully unearthed because of restrictions around their rate of decay once above ground.

I feel amazingly lucky to have seen them here, not to mention excited about the next 48 hours in the desert.Back in the truck, the driver cranks up the Arabian hip-hop and proffers a fresh bag of sun-sweetened dates.

“They’re straight from Bahariya’s palms,” Nelly explains, bobbing her head in time to the thumping bass.

“Good energy for sandboarding – this is one of the best spots in the Sahara to try it.” 

This is news to me – I hadn’t banked on any adrenalin sports in the middle of the desert, but it seems our tour group have decided otherwise.

So with that, our driver pulls a hard left and swerves confidently on to the sand in the direction of some giant 100m dunes a couple of kilometres ahead.

Well, when in Rome, I tell myself.Our jeep whips through the powdery sand like a knife through warm butter and we’re there in a matter of minutes.

Boards in hand, we trudge clumsily up the dunes, our feet sinking into the soft sand – it’s murder on the thighs.

It takes a Herculean effort to reach the top, but when we do, we’re rewarded with staggering views of the empty Saharan panorama.

We are the only ones here – which I have to admit totally compensates for the lack of ski slope-type lifts, although they would have come in handy.

I’m first up, kicking off my flip-flops and promptly burning the soles of my feet on sand that’s been baking since sunrise in 40˚C and then some.

But I ignore the pain and, stepping on to the sandboard, launch myself over the crest of the dune, sliding down the slope at top speed with sand spraying out behind me.

The wobbly ride finishes when I fly head first into a great big bank of the yellow stuff. At least hurting yourself is (more or less) impossible here. 

Dignity abandoned, I wade up the dune for a second go, bending my knees much lower this time like a surfer, so gravity and stability work in my favour. It’s great fun, even if completely exhausting in these temperatures. 

When we get back to the jeep, I immediately plunge my feet into the giant icebox containing our supplies, the skin already puckering from what felt like walking on hot coals.

I’m in serious need of healing, so it’s a good job we’re only an hour’s drive away from Crystal Mountain, the next stop on our itinerary.

Although its origin is disputed, many experts say it has a sub-volcanic vault dating back to the Oligocene age (that’s a whopping 23 million years ago).

This natural wonder is composed of glimmering calcite and anthracite crystals, plus a limestone cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites created by what Nelly refers to as “the sun’s alchemy and lots of hydrothermal action in between the different layers of chalk, limestone and coal”.


Big trip to Egypt: On a camel safari into the Saharan wilds, we discover mummies and surreal white lunarscapes
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