Introduction to Pyramids

There is a place in Sudan where you can sleep amongst pyramids.

You will find it near a small village called Bejarawiya, about 200km north of Khartoum. Here lie the royal tombs of the Kingdom of Kush, whose southern capital was nearby at the ancient city of Meroe. The Kushites once ruled over Egypt, their empire extending all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. They revived the Egyptian burial custom of building pyramids, using them from the 3rd century B.C. as monuments to Meroe’s kings and queens.

You can get to the Meroe pyramids by catching an Atbara-bound bus from Khartoum. About three hours outside of Khartoum, the bus will drop you on the side of the highway in the midst of a stretch of seemingly uninhabited desert. Although you will likely be the only tourists to visit the site that day, a man with a white camel will be waiting by the side of the highway to offer you a ride to the pyramids, which you will see rising out of the sand a few hundred metres ahead of you.

You will be left free to wander around, to touch the pyramid walls and the hieroglyphic Meroetic script carved into their temple chambers. You will clamber over sand dunes and find several temple doors blocked shut by piles of accumulated sand. You can sit on a temple step, eating an orange and drinking warm water, and cursing the Italian graverobber who came along in the 1830s and chopped off the tops of the pyramids in his search for treasure. You will be alone for hours, except for the site manager who comes along with a knife to cut (it seems) branches from a bush to light his fire that night.

The site manager will ask you whether you will spend the night at the Meroe pyramids and whether you have brought a “small house” (gesturing a triangle shape) with you. You will tell him yes, although you have no intention of setting up your tent in this heat, but instead plan to sleep out in the open under the desert stars. He will tell you that you can sleep “anywhere over there”, which includes the site of an old collapsed pyramid. Towards dusk, you will see him untie his donkey from a tree and head toward a cluster of houses in the distance.

You will be left alone for the night. You can lay out your bed directly on the sand at the foot of the pyramid, feeling serene and secure in the Sudanese wilderness. You will gaze up at the sky and wonder why there are so many satellites up there. In the middle of the night, you will begin to feel a small desert chill and reach for your silk sleeping bag. Sand will begin to gently blow, and then blow stronger and stronger. You will enclose yourself tightly in your sleeping bag, folding its seams under you, as you find yourself in the middle of a violent desert sandstorm. You will laugh and be scared, marvelling at where you are and wondering whether it will get worse.

Dawn will come and the wind will die down. After your night at the pyramids, you will shake some of the sand out of your ears and head for the highway to hitch a ride. A camion will stop to pick you up, and you will soon realize that it has a top speed of 40km/hr. It will take 7 hours to travel the 200km back to Khartoum, yet the kindness of the driver – who will buy you breakfast and tea on the road, and refuse any payment when you disembark – will make you feel ashamed for wishing that he had never stopped for you.