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Of all Egypt’s temples and historic sites, I find this one the most epic. It might be controversial, but I’m more impressed by this than the Pyramids, thanks to the vibrant inner-wall inscriptions, which the Great Pyramid doesn’t have. It’s also because of the sunrise – with peach hues bouncing off the stone, Abu Simbel is peaceful and beautiful. It’s easy to see why, twice a year – during its festivals in February and October – people come to see the new day’s sun pierce the main temple corridor and illuminate the inside. Rameses II had the tribute built so it would happen once on the anniversary of his ascension to the throne and again on his birthday (although, as the temple had to be moved to avoid flooding when Aswan’s High Dam was built across the Nile, it’s now a day later).

The Pyramids are still well worth a visit, though – the feats of ancient architecture are one of the world’s Seven Wonders for a reason. These enormous stone constructions rising from the desert on the edge of Cairo, guarded by the mighty Sphinx, are big and baffling. And when I arrive in peak season, the usually swarming tourist hotspot is dead. With less than 100 visitors (my tour group included), we have the Pyramids almost to ourselves: no queues, and no jostling to see them.

I am, however, stalked by the street-hawkers, or ‘hasslers’ (as my guide, Ahlam, calls them) selling postcards and other tourist junk. They shout “Michael Jordan”, “Shakira” and my personal favourite, “Spice Girl”, to get attention and flatter the group into making purchases. It’s not long before I encounter the old chestnut – “How many camels … ?”

It works on some, but I find it too intense and perfect a ‘look at the floor’ technique that means I’m quickly left alone. Others opt for sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting “la, la, la”, which conveniently translates to “no, no, no”.

A guy from my group foolishly engages in conversation and soon has his picture taken with a camel, which he is then led away on. He returns 10 minutes later with his wallet EGP200 (£20) lighter. On the desert side of the Pyramids, camel rides are EGP60 (£6), and the rest of the group jumps on smugly for an uncomfortable but awesome view of the Giza landscape.

Egypt has so many breathtaking ancient historical sites, I still feel slightly guilty for picking a favourite. The Philae Temple, built on an island in Lake Nasser near Aswan, is dedicated to Isis – the goddess of magic and life – and is also an awesome sight, as its clean lines and smooth intact columns reflect in the water.


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