Forgotten Pathways of Buddhism

Text and original photography by Jim McSweeney and friends.

Read the whole book click here in pdf















During the day


At night
















Egyptian Museum Cairo






Egyptian Museum Cairo, Saqqara






Sphinx, pyramids, Luxor Museum








Luxor Temple, Valley of the Queens,

Ramesses II and III, Workers Village







Temple of Hapshepsut, Valley of the Kings






Denderah and Karnak






Balloon and boat








Library of Alexandria, Dr Sahar Humoda

and Dr Jean-Yves Empereur









Catacombs, Pompey’s Pillar, lighthouse

and Alexandria National Museum







Flight to Athens






Acropolis and Agora






National Museum






Flight to Cairo and bus trip to Giza






Funeral for senior monk






Flight to Gaya and Meditation Centre


Bodh Gaya




Visit old friends and Mahabodhi Temple


Bodh Gaya




Bodh Gaya Museum and Mahabodhi Temple


Bodh Gaya






Nalanda and site museum, ancient chaitya

or shrine, Vulture Peak


Bodh Gaya





Big Buddha, temples of other traditions


Bodh Gaya




Patna Museum, Ashoka Pillar






Delhi Museum, book shops






Mathura, Agra, Taj Mahal


























This is the second book recording the pilgrimages of Phra Mana Viriyarampo, tracing the footsteps of the Buddha and the early history of Buddhism.


The first book, A Buddhist Pilgrimage to Northern India, concerned travel in India in February 2007 to places central to the life of the Buddha, including the four pilgrimage sites nominated by the Buddha, other significant Buddhist sites from later times, such as the Great Stupa at Sanchi and the caves of Ajanta and Ellora, and several museums which displayed Buddhist art and early coins.


This second book concerns travel in Egypt, Greece and India in February and March 2008, examining contacts of Buddhism with the Mediterranean world and two of the great powers of the early Buddhist era, Pharaonic Egypt and Hellenist Greece. These contacts were greatly facilitated and enhanced by the arrival of the armies of Alexander the Great on the north western boarders of India in 327 BCE, which opened up the trade routes to allow unprecedented freedom, safety and ease of movement of goods and people between India and the Mediterranean.








So far as practical, I have attempted to avoid repeating in this second book material contained in the first book. However a certain amount of repetition is unavoidable, particularly in regard to Alexander, Ashoka and Gandharan Buddhist art.



The Buddha nominated four sites that would be appropriate destinations for those who wished to undertake pilgrimages. Those sites were :-





Lumbini, in present day southern Nepal, where he was born;

Uruvela, present day Bodh Gaya, where he attained enlightenment;

Sarnath, where he delivered his first discourse after his enlightenment; and

Kushinagar, where he died.


The events which took place at those sites were at first represented symbolically, and later featuring the Buddha image.

( Left) Indian School – reliefs with symbolic representations of the Buddha – Sanchi

Queen Maya on a Lotus (Birth)

Bodhi Tree (Enlightenment)

Dhamma Wheel and Deer (First Discourse)

Stupa (Parinirvana)










(Right) Gandharan School – Bodhisattva and reliefs featuring the Buddha image

Bodhisattva (top left) Buddha with Hercules as guardian (top centre and right)

Birth (mid left) Enlightenment (mid right)

First Discourse (above left) Parinirvana (above right)




For many years, there was considerable debate amongst historians as to when and where the Buddha image first appeared, with a time frame mooted at around the beginning of the common era, and the location as between Gandhara and Mathura, although the weight of evidence favoured Gandhara.

As a result, the compromise or consensus view adopted by most commentators was that the Buddha image appeared at roughly the same time during the first century CE in both Gandhara and Mathura. It has now been established beyond reasonable doubt that the Buddha image first appeared in Gandhara early in the first century BCE and was not taken up in Mathura until mid to late in the first century CE.



It is widely acknowledged that ancient dates, especially BCE, are subject to a degree of approximation. Many of the sources we consulted give different dates for events including battles, births and deaths and the reigns of local rulers. Whilst there appears to be broad agreement in general terms, the variations can be quite large. For example, Menander, a Greek ruler of a large Indian empire including Gandhara, is considered to have reigned for some 20 to 25 years, but the commencement of his reign is given as early as 166 BCE and his death as late as 125 BCE, a period of 41 years. In addition, more recent field work, the translation of previously indecipherable scripts and advances in science and technology continue to challenge what was once the accepted view. Our knowledge and understanding of the past is a work in progress.




Our group consisted of Phra Mana Viriyarampo, Abbot of Sunnataram Forest Monastery, Phra Mick Ratanarape, Sayadaw U Adicca, Kim McSweeney, Secretary of the Monastery, and myself, Jim McSweeney, Kim’s husband. With the addition of Sayadaw, it was the same group as had travelled to India in 2007.


Sunnataram is a Theravadan Buddhist monastery of the Thai forest monastery tradition, located in Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, in the south east of Australia. Phra Mana and Phra Mick were both originally from Thailand, and Sayadaw was originally from Myanmar.


We experienced considerable difficulty in obtaining visas for Sayadaw, who was travelling on a Myanmar passport. This caused many changes in our plans and thus caused complications with airline and hotel bookings. Phra Mick was already in Bangkok, so four of us were flying out of Sydney to meet Phra Mick at Bangkok airport and fly on to Cairo. The decision to go to India was made late. Phra Mick was unable to obtain a visa in time, so Phra Mick did not accompany us to India. All of these complications caused problems which were never fully resolved in advance, and resulted in a few hair-raising close calls at check in times.


Through his network of contacts, Phra Mana was able to arrange for the infamous Omar of Egypt to assist us with our travel and accommodation in Egypt, and for Phra Sirichai, a Thai monk living and studying in Bodh Gaya, to join us and travel with us in India, as he had done in 2007.





Egypt has an area of about 1 million square kilometres, less than 15% of the size of Australia, or about the same area as New South Wales and Victoria combined. Only about 6% of the country is populated. 99% of the population live in the 40,000 square kilometres of the Nile Valley, which is for most of its length only 20 km to 50 km wide – the rest of the country is desert. 45% of the population live in urban areas. The total population is about 80 million, with 18 million in Cairo and a further 6 million in Alexandria, more than the entire population of Australia in the two major cities.


The nation is predominately Muslim, over 80%, mostly of the Sunni denomination but with a significant number of Sufis and a smaller number of Shia. The other major faith is the indigenous Christian denomination, the Coptic Orthodox Church.


Egypt is not a wealthy country. It had an unemployment rate in 2007 of 10% to 11% with about 40% of the workforce employed in farming. Many of the rural poor live on less than US$5 per day. However, at least in the areas where we travelled, there was not the same depth of absolute destitution that was so common in India. People at least appeared to have houses to live in and food to eat.


Tourism is a major sector of the economy.


The most striking aspect of Egypt was the desert. The Nile Valley was lush-green, rich and fertile, but all the water came from the river – there was NO rain. There were huge quantities of very fine dust blown across everything in just the slightest breeze with no rain to wash any of it away. Consequently, sweeping and shovelling away the dust was a perpetual activity.


Egypt 2500 BCE – from the delta to the first cataract just south of Aswan


The glory days of empire – conquered and vassal states north into

Palestine, Lebanon and Syria and south into Nubia, Sudan and Eritrea



We were in Athens for only three nights, and saw nothing of the rest of the country, except from the window of an aircraft. Athens is a major international city much like Sydney or Melbourne, and much the same size, but with the addition of its historic precincts and multitude of museums.


Greece is a small country, with an area of only 132,000 square kilometres, or a little over half the size of Victoria. Only about 25% of the country is populated, the remainder being mountainous. The total population is about 11 million, with about 3.8 million living in Athens. The next largest city of Thessalonica has a population of 750,000. Over 98% of the population belong to the indigenous Christian denomination, the Greek Orthodox Church.




Background information regarding India is contained in the previous book, A Buddhist Pilgrimage to Northern India.






The objectives of the pilgrimage were to research the early contacts of Buddhism with the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Greece. We were also intending to acquire further books on these and related matters for the Sunnataram library and objects for the planned permanent exhibition of early Buddhist history. The exhibition will be housed in one of the halls yet to be built as part of the cloister surrounding the Gratitude Pagoda, currently under construction at Sunnataram.


Part of this process involved examining symbolism and iconography, attempting to determine what may have been common, what may have been unique, and what may have been the connections or influences.


Buddhist symbols were, and still are, mostly traditional. At least some Buddhist symbols and motifs seem to have extremely ancient origins and to have been common to almost every known civilization. The meanings ascribed to the symbols may have varied from civilization to civilization, and even from time to time within any given civilization. In particular, religious symbols which may once have had great meaning and power revealed only to the innermost circle of initiates often became more widely used by the community of the faithful and thereby lost their secret exclusiveness, whilst others simply faded into disuse.


The library at Sunnataram contains a number of books describing and analysing Buddhist symbols, and we acquired several more on this trip. There are variations between the authors as to what symbols were specifically Buddhist, as opposed to more broadly cultural, and as to the meanings ascribed to the symbols. The following is a short compendium of the more frequently cited Buddhist symbols:-


lotus (birth)     bodhi tree (enlightenment)     dhamma wheel (first discourse)

stupa (parinirvana or death)     footprints     throne     pillar of fire     umbrella


triratina (triple gem)      lidded bowl or power box (vardhamana or srivatsa)

bowl and plant     brimming pot     lamp     fan     flag     drum     club     mirror

conch shell     fly whisk     sun     moon     water     vajra (thunderbolt)


svastika, arms bent to the right, and suavastika, arms bent to the left

(literally translated ‘let good things happen’ or ‘of good fortune’)


gold     pearl(s)     gem stone(s)     sandalwood


torana (gateway)     moonstone (semi-circular paving at an entry door or gate)


naga (snake, dragon)     lion     bull     cow     fish     twin fish     rooster     elephant     makara (dragon head – mythological animal with a head resembling that of a dragon, crocodile or hippopotamus and either a terrestrial or aquatic body and tail)


There were, and still are, two types of Buddhist symbols: the sacred and the auspicious. The sacred symbols, in the first group above, represent the person of the Buddha, with the first four symbols having specific association with four major events in the life of the Buddha. The Buddha was represented only symbolically for about five hundred years. Various explanations have been advanced for this, most of which are probably at least partly correct but not the full or only reason. The explanation which seems to carry most weight is that it was thought that as the Buddha had attained nirvana, he would not be reborn, he would not return to this life, and therefore it would be inappropriate to produce human images of him in this life.


In addition to symbols, deities, spirits and humans were also represented, in relief and in the round in stone and in metal. They included Bodhisattvas; devas (deities) and devatas (minor deities or guardian spirits); yaksas and yaksis (male and female spirits of power and security, wealth and productivity); dryads (forest deities and wood nymphs); gangas (dwarf deities usually representing strength); gate or entry or door keepers or guardians and chowry bearers (either deities, spirits or humans). Deities or spirits were often represented as flying, or with wings or with a halo to distinguish them from human figures.


However, Buddhist iconography was fundamentally changed for ever by contact with the Greek-based Gandharan school of stone work and metallurgy. The Indo-Greek descendants of the armies of Alexander the Great had become Buddhist or had at least absorbed the Buddha into their pantheon of gods over the course of several centuries. The Greeks had humanised their gods to such an extent that they thought of their gods as divine beings in human form. They expected to see their gods in human form and therefore represented their gods as idealised humans. Looking at it from their perspective, it may be more accurate to say that the Greeks considered their gods to have perfect immortal bodies, and that human bodies were but poor or imperfect mortal imitations of the gods. For the Greeks, it was quite natural to represent the Buddha in the same way as they represented their gods.


The first human images of the Buddha appeared in Gandhara in the first century BCE in both stone and metal, and included images on coins. Early Indo-Greek Gandharan Buddha images were modelled on the Greek god Apollo, and looked identifiably Greek in facial characteristics, and in both hair and clothing styles.


One of the earliest datable Buddha image appeared on a coin issued by Maues (reigned 80-58 BCE). Rulers of the Gandharan region both before and after Maues minted bi-lingual coins with their portrait or royal symbol on the obverse and any one of a variety of gods or religious symbols on the reverse, to demonstrate religious tolerance and to appeal to as many of their ethnically and religiously diverse subjects as possible, but Maues was the first to include the Buddha image amongst his selection of gods and symbols. Menander (reigned 150-125 BCE) used Buddhist symbols. Some historians consider Kanishka (reigned 78-120 CE) was the first to mint a Buddha image coin, because he appeared to have been the first to name the image (BODDO in Greek) thus putting its identity beyond doubt.


The Gandharan school also produced images of Bodhisattvas and devas. Many exquisitely executed Bodhisattvas images have survived in near perfect condition. Bodhisattva images were more flamboyant, more ornate than Buddha images, and are considered to be the absolute epitome of the Gandharan school. There were also panel carvings of scenes from the life of the Buddha, often featuring the Greek legendary hero Hercules as the personal guardian of the Buddha.


Once the practice of representing the Buddha in human form began, it spread rapidly and widely. By the mid to late first century CE, similar images but with more Indian facial characteristics and clothing were being produced in Mathura, about 150 km south of Delhi, and slightly later at Sarnath.


But there is an older and even more intriguing link. It is thought that it was the Egyptians who taught the Greeks to work the human form in stone on both the life sized and monumental scale. In about 660 BCE, a large contingent of Greek mercenaries travelled to Egypt. With the aid of the Greeks, Psamtek I (reigned 664-610 BCE) overcame his opposition and founded the 26th Dynasty. Prior to this   


Mathuran Buddha images


time, for a period of about 500 years, the Greeks and Egyptians had almost no contact. Greece was just emerging from a Dark Age which commenced around 1200 BCE with the collapse of the Mycenaean culture, followed by a period of widespread poverty and population decline. Now, Greece was re-emerging as an economic and military power and about to enter its golden age. With the encouragement of the grateful pharaoh, trade flourished, and so did the exchange of knowledge, technologies and skills. The Greeks were permitted to establish a trading settlement in the area which later became Alexandria. Greek scholars, teachers and philosophers visited Egypt, often for lengthy periods. The Roman historian Plutarch (46-119 CE) mentions that Solon, Thales and Plato visited Egypt and that Pythagoras studied the pyramids in great detail. Plutarch visited Egypt and wrote extensively on all aspects of Egyptian life, especially the religion and religious myths.


Some time before 600 BCE, the Greeks suddenly and for the first time, began producing life sized and slightly later monumental human statues in marble of near perfect anatomical correctness (page 97). They were distinctly Egyptian in influence, being formally and rigidly posed, eyes straight ahead and the arms by the side with the left foot forward. These kouri figures were soon followed by life sized and monumental marble and bronze statues of the stunning grace and realism for which the Greeks became renowned.


Alexander the Great (reigned 336-323 BCE) learned of the wonders of Egypt from his tutor Aristotle. He defeated the Persians in 333 BCE at Issus, which was close to the coast on the Turkish side of the Turkish-Syrian boarder. He then diverted from his pursuit of Darius III across Asia Minor and advanced on Egypt. He was greeted by the Egyptians as the liberator of Egypt from the Persians, who had invaded Egypt in 343 BCE. In 331 BCE Alexander became the first Greek pharaoh, to be followed on his death by the Ptolemies.




There were well established trade routes and extensive trade over great distances from the very earliest of times. These routes crossed deserts, mountains, forests, jungles, grasslands, farmlands, swamplands, rivers, lakes and oceans. In other words, no physical barrier was daunting enough to stand in the way of trade. Trade was subject to all of the natural risks – sand storms and dry wells in the deserts; altitude sickness, rock falls, avalanches, snow blindness and frostbite in the high mountain passes; attacks by wild animals and snakes; and storms and shipwreck at sea. Trade also faced the human risks of banditry on land and piracy at sea. Then there were the taxes extracted along the way in the forms of customs and exercise duties, tolls and tariffs. Despite all the obstacles and risks, trade thrived in times of peace and stability and never quite ceased no matter how turbulent things were temporarily, because the profits to be made were immense.



The Silk Road – around first century BCE to first century CE


Many wars were fought in the ancient world. There were wars of succession between rival claimants to a throne. There were boarder wars to protect against raiding by marauding savages. There were wars of conquest, where somebody set out to create or expand an empire, and the constant cycle of rebellions and reprisals within empires. However, many of the major conflicts between adjoining empires were fought for the control of trade, the trade routes, and the revenue that trade generated. Power was essential and power came first, but then wealth came from trade. Rulers knew or soon realised that trade generated wealth with less effort, less cost and less risk of insurrection than despotic exploitation of their own people. Egypt invaded Nubia to gain control of the Nubian gold mines and the trade routes to sub-Saharan Africa (gold, ivory and leopard skins), Punt (Eritrea) to gain direct access to myrrh and frankincense, and Lebanon to gain direct access to timber.


By the fourth century BCE there was a vast network of trade routes, with major trunks linking Japan and China in the east with Britain and Ireland in the west, with lateral branches reaching north into Siberia, Russia, Europe and Scandinavia, and south into the Philippians, Indo China, Malaysia and Indonesia (the Spice Islands), India, Arabia, Egypt and the east coast of Africa.


The fabulous and legendary Silk Road was itself a series of routes from China to the Mediterranean, extending some 8,000 km overland both north and south of the Himalayas (crossing high mountain passes and inhospitable deserts) and by sea via Java, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. The Incense Route ran from Arabia by land and by sea both west to Egypt and east to India. The Kings Highway ran from Egypt to Damascus and on to the upper Euphrates River. The Royal Road ran 2,700 km across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan to Pakistan. The Amber Road and the Haervejen were European routes to the Mediterranean. In India, there were two major trade routes. The Kamboja-Dvarati Route ran from Gujarat on the coast of north western India to north eastern Afghanistan and southern Tajikistan. It was the second most important caravan route of the ancient world after the Silk Road. The Great Trunk Road ran from Bengal in the east across northern India to Pakistan and Afghanistan.


Most traders operated over relatively short distances, usually allowing no more than a twelve month cycle for the journey out and return. A camel train, each camel carrying about 200 kg, covered between 15 km and 40 km a day, depending on weather and terrain, with a one or two day watering and rest stop every four or five days. This allowed for a typical journey of about 3,000 km to 5,000 km out and back, requiring about eight to nine months, after which the camels were rested for at least two to three months before the next trip. Trading ships relied on seasonal wind patterns, with the monsoons blowing north east from December to March then south west from June to September. Hence there were numerous staging posts, cities and ports along the trade routes where goods were exchanged. Almost none of the traders from the east ventured further west than the Pakistan-Afghanistan-


Egyptian-Indian trade routes in the Hellenist period

Tajikistan line, and similarly few from the west went further east. Trading ships very rarely crossed more than one ocean.


The catalogue of trade goods which moved across this network was as remarkable for its ordinariness as it was for its exotica.


One of the most commonly traded commodities was salt. Rock salt was mined in China, Russia, Germany, Austria, Poland and Taudenni in the western Sahara, 800 km north of Timbuktu. Egypt, Spain and China produced salt from sea water in solar evaporation pans. All types of foods were traded, including grains, nuts, olive oil, palm oil, palm sugar, honey, wine, salted and dried fish and meats and dried grapes, figs, peaches, apricots and dates. Livestock on the hoof, especially camels, horses and cattle, often travelled long distances, as did iron, copper, bronze, tin, zinc, woollen, linen and cotton fabrics, dyes, domesticated animal furs, skins and leather, lacquer work, glass and ceramics, timber and quarried stone.


The exotics included silk (China), spices (India and the Spice Islands), gold (Spain, Egypt, Africa and Siberia), silver, ivory (India, Egypt and Africa), red coral, pearls and mother of pearl (Sri Lanka), conch and other shells, amber, jade (Yarkand and Khotan near Badakshan), other precious and semi-precious stones, ebony, fired clay and glass beads, myrrh and frankincense (Arabia and Punt), musk, sandalwood and other aromatics. Badakshan in north east Afghanistan was the only known source of lapis lazuli in the ancient world. Lapis lazuli found its way to Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley and India. China imported jade and literally tens of thousands of what they called the Heavenly Horses from the Soghdians and Dayuans. Exotic animal products (rhinoceros horn, tiger penis, all manner of furs, skins, claws, teeth and feathers) and live animals such as peacocks, lions and bears were popular.


At that time, perhaps as much as 50% of total known world annual gold production was alluvial gold from Siberia. Much of this Siberian gold moved to the west via China and the Silk Road or more directly from Siberia into the north west of India.


Cedar from Lebanon was legendary for the height of the trees and therefore the lengths of the timbers that could be produced. It found its way to just about every corner of the known world, especially across Asia Minor and Egypt where timber was scarce. Weapons of the highest quality and finest workmanship were always in demand. Rhinoceros, hippopotamus and elephant leathers were in demand for military use.


Apart from the more obvious exotics, there was also a thriving and truly massive trade in what today would be cosmetics (especially perfumes) and pharmaceuticals. Medical knowledge was limited, so products known to be efficacious were in huge demand at any price, especially liquids, unguent and powders with basic antiseptic properties for treatment of wounds, burns, ulcers, boils and snake or scorpion bites.

There was also a trade in live plants. China exported mulberry, peach, orange and apricot trees, rhubarb, roses, peonies, camellias, azaleas and chrysanthemums, and imported fig, olive and palm trees, jasmine, pomegranates, flax and a wide variety of herbs and vegetables.


There were two previously unprecedented surges in trade across the ancient trade routes. The first occurred as a result of Alexander the Great establishing one single and powerful authority controlling the trade routes from Greece to India in 327 BCE and the second occurred following the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BCE, both of which achieved much the same outcome – namely the active promotion of trade at the highest political levels, and the elimination of many of the middle-men, taxes, bandits and pirates. But the true significance of the trade routes was not the movement of goods or wealth, it was the movement of people. Personal and diplomatic travel surged along with trade, and scholars, musicians, artists and craftsmen were free to travel as never before. With them they took their ideas, cultures, skills – and religions.




India was hugely attractive to the Greeks of Alexander’s time and subsequently to Ptolemaic Egypt, Hellenistic Asia Minor and eventually Rome. It is estimated that in the fourth century BCE, Egypt had a total population in the order of 7 million, the greater Greek areas of mainland, islands and colonies 3 million, whilst India had a population in excess of 100 million. The size, wealth and sophistication of India was extraordinary to foreigners encountering it at first hand for the first time.


India had the further attraction of being the major point of contact and staging post by land or by sea between China and the spice islands to the east and Asia Minor, Egypt and the Mediterranean to the west.


There are two well documented examples which give some indication of what was involved. The Romans developed obsessions for Indian pepper and Chinese silk. Pepper became an essential food item for the rich, and was consumed in vast quantities. The sheerest most transparent gossamer silk allowed courtesans to appear virtually naked whilst still conventionally fully dressed. The Roman historian Pliny the Younger (61-113 CE) calculated that, at the lowest estimate, the Indian trade was costing the Roman Empire 10 tons of gold per annum. This was equal to the entire annual production of the Roman gold mines in Spain. Economic comparisons so far back in time are so difficult as to be virtually impossible – strictly 10 tons of gold would be valued at about AU$500 million today, but would no doubt have amounted to many hundreds of billions of dollars in inflation adjusted historical equivalent purchasing power. Pepper was literally worth its weight in gold. The China trade in silk must have been even more costly, because repeated attempts were made in the Senate to ban silk.



The Buddha was born between 623 BCE and 563 BCE, with the latter date most often quoted. He lived for 80 years and spent the last 45 years of his life teaching in the central region of northern India along the Gangetic plain. The ruler of this area then was Bimbisara. Bimbisara became a Buddhist and was a friend and protector of the Buddha. His support was of great assistance in the establishment of Buddhism.


This was a time of religious ferment in India. The Hindu-Brahmin caste system had become rigid to the point of social dislocation. The Buddha expounded a simple but profound philosophy and rejected both the caste system and the blood sacrifices of Hindu-Brahminism. This gave Buddhism wide appeal. In particular, the rejection of the caste system made Buddhism popular with the merchants and traders and the artisans and craftsmen – in other words, the ‘middle classes’ of the more literate, educated, independently-minded and well-off if not exactly wealthy people, who were disadvantaged and repressed by the caste system.


The merchants and traders took Buddhism with them as they travelled and had sufficient wealth to build temples and monasteries and to support the monks who served in them. By the fourth century BCE, the famous university of Taxila, to the west of present day Rawalpindi in Pakistan, included Buddhist philosophy and studies amongst its courses, and Buddhism had become well established in Gandhara and Bactria (Pakistan and Afghanistan) before the arrival of Alexander.




Alexander conquered the areas then known as Gandhara and Bactria in 327 BCE. He and his army spent some time in the region, and fought several major battles in northern Indian, advancing through the Punjab as far east as the Beas River outside Amritsar. Alexander wanted to extend his conquests further into India, but his troops prevailed upon him to turn west and head for what they still considered as home. But not all of the Macedonians and Greeks who accompanied Alexander returned to the west. Military garrisons and civil administrations were established all the way along Alexander’s route. Alexander established a large number of entirely new cities, some 12 or more of which he named Alexandria. The men Alexander left in those locations were encouraged to marry local women, and settle permanently.


Following the death of Alexander in 323 BCE, the eastern part of his empire came under the control of one of his generals, Seleucus Nicator (reigned 331-281 BCE). In India, Chandragupta Maurya (reigned 340-293 BCE) defeated the heirs of Bimbisara to take control of the north eastern India, and then moved rapidly west, conquering some 16 of the small kingdoms of northern India, until he came into  


Place names of the north of India

Pakistan and Afghanistan

at the time of Ashoka

conflict with Seleucus. Both recognised that neither could realistically contemplate full scale warfare and that ongoing conflict was counterproductive. A truce was negotiated. Seleucus ceded Gandhara to Chandragupta, and sent an ambassador to the Mauryan capital city at Pataliputra, present day Patna. The ambassador was Megasthenes, and his accounts of his time in India were some of the best historical records of the period, even though the original work has been lost, and only references to it remain. The Mauryan and Seleucid Empires remained on good terms for many years – in fact for so long as they both existed.


Chandragupta has succeeded in uniting all of northern India for the first time, and the benefits to trade were enormous. The Mauryan Empire continued to expand, and reached its peak under Chandragupta’s grandson, Ashoka (reigned 269-232 BCE). Ashoka expanded his empire to the south and east. His conquest of the region of Kalinga, present day Orissa, was savage, even by the brutal standards of that time. Over 100,000 were killed, a similar number subsequently died of their wounds, and some 150,000 men, women and children were sold into slavery. Ashoka was shocked and sickened at the extent of the carnage, and vowed never again to engage in armed conquest.


In Ashoka’s times, a ruler would lead his army into battle, or at least be present on the battlefield. If a ruler were killed or captured, his army would stop fighting – there would no longer be any reason to fight or any one to fight for. The surviving soldiers of the defeated army would scramble to escape, to avoid being killed or captured and sold into slavery.


Also in those times, although cities were growing rapidly, for most people, life still revolved around the village. The villagers paid tribute (in cash or in kind, including providing recruits for the army) to the head man, who paid tribute to the mayor of the nearest town, who paid tribute to the district governor, who paid tribute to the regional ruler. In the smallest kingdoms there may not have been as many levels of authority, but so long as everybody paid, life went on as usual. If a ruler was displaced by a palace coup or an invading enemy, life might well continue at village level without most people even being aware of the change, unless the village happened to be in the path of the invading army. In the event of invasion, mayors or governors might sue for peace and agree to pay tribute to the invader rather than fight. Alexander ‘conquered’ huge areas by the acquiescence of the local political leaders. Similarly, a district governor might change loyalty and pay tribute to a more powerful or more threatening regional ruler. If mayors or governors decided to fight the invader, or to rebel against their ruler, then there would be no quarter. The invader or ruler needed to pay his army, and one of the cheapest and most effective ways to do that was to allow the army to rape, pillage and plunder. Mayors or governors who decided to fight knew the price of failure.


The reason Ashoka is regarded as perhaps the greatest of the early Indian rulers and is still revered in India today is that he devoted the remainder of his reign to the welfare of his subjects.


Ashoka became a Buddhist and actively promoted Buddhism within his empire, but did not attempt to convert his subjects to Buddhism by force. He ordered the construction of literally thousands of stupas and monasteries, and lavished huge sums of money on the running and maintenance of the monasteries. Ashoka also ordered the erection of a large number of tall stone pillars throughout his empire. The pillars were twelve to fifteen metres high and weighed up to fifty tonnes. They were surmounted by a capitol, generally in the form of an animal. On the pillars and other large slabs of rock, he had engraved edicts for the orderly and peaceful governance of his empire on Buddhist principles. Ashoka’s edicts are the first authentic records to be left by an Indian ruler. The most famous Ashoka Pillar carried the Four Lion and Dhamma Chakra Capital. The capital had four roaring lions seated back to back, surmounted by a dhamma wheel, representing the setting of the wheel of dhamma in motion and the spread of the dhamma to the four corners of the world. The remains of the pillar and capital were unearthed at the Deer Park in Sarnath in 1904 CE (page 157). The four lions were remarkably well preserved, but the dhamma wheel had been lost. The remaining four lions of the capital were adopted as the official emblem of the nation of India.


Ashoka was keen to promote trade and to maintain good diplomatic relations with the surrounding empires and then world powers. He was also very active in spreading Buddhism outside of his own empire. He dispatched large numbers of ambassadors and trade emissaries at regular intervals, and sent Buddhist monks as missionaries along with them. Ashoka’s edicts list the names of some of the rulers to whom he sent representatives, and the regions that they controlled. Included were Sri Lanka and Burma to the east, and the kingdoms to the west as far as the Mediterranean. Ashoka sent Dhamaraksita, who was described as being Greek himself, as his ambassador to the Greeks, who were identified as the Yonas. He also sent ambassadors to the Greek rulers of Egypt, Syria, Anatolia (Turkey), Cyrene (Libya), Epirus (Albania and north west Greece) and Macedonia. It is thought that many of these rulers sent ambassadors to Ashoka. Ptolemaic Egypt sent Dionysius to Pataliputra, who like Megasthenes before him, stayed for some years in India and was also known to have written an account of his experiences, although once again, the original work has been lost, and only references to it remain.




It is known that there were Indian trading communities in many of the major trading ports and cities in many locations throughout Asia Minor and the Mediterranean. These communities would have contained Buddhists, in all probability they would have been predominantly or even exclusively Buddhist. The larger communities would have been ministered to by Buddhist monks. There are references to a monastic community located on the shores of Lake Mariout just south of Alexandria in Egypt in the period from the second century BCE through to the beginnings of the common era. It is thought that this community may have originated from the Buddhist monks sent by Ashoka to Ptolemaic Egypt.


The Ptolemies wanted to make Alexandria not just the most important trading port of the Mediterranean, they also wanted Alexandria to be the cultural capital of the known world. Vast amounts of money were invested in the Library of Alexandria, founded in the third century BCE by Ptolemy II (reigned 285-246 BCE), which did become the largest, most extensive and most famous library of its time, and a truly legendary place of learning. Partial and incomplete excavations in 2004 unearthed a number of lecture halls estimated to have seating for over 5,000 students, with indications of further structures yet to be uncovered. The library attracted scholars from all parts of the known world. Given the extent of diplomatic contact and volume of trade between Egypt and India, it would be reasonable to assume that, like the university at Taxila, the library would have contained Buddhist texts and that these texts would have been widely studied.


So, there is evidence of both Buddhists and Buddhism as far west as Egypt and Greece from the time of Ashoka through to the beginning of the common era.


However, in regard to Buddhism in the west, there are so few relevant historical records available from that time, and so little relevant archaeological evidence remains, that it is difficult to say more that that.


The spread of Buddhism to the east to Sri Lanka and Burma and to the north to Tibet then east to China, Korea and Japan is well documented, not least because Buddhism has a continuous history as the major religion, or at least an active religion, in those countries.


In comparison, the spread of Buddhism to the west is at best a controversial area of the early history of Buddhism, generally not mentioned by main stream historians or even Buddhist historians. Some historians have hypothesised that the rise of Christianity and subsequent rise of Islam may have obliterated whatever traces of Buddhism there may have been. Amongst those historians who have attempted to examine this issue, there is speculation that there were subtle yet detectable Buddhist influences, or more broadly Indian mystical and philosophical influences, in the development of Greek philosophy. In particular, the Greek Stoics have been sited as being heavily influenced by Indian traditions.



In this section, I have recorded our day to day travels and activities, without lots of the boring bits. The section IMPRESSIONS FROM OUR TRAVELS covers other matters of interest to us that didn’t seem to fit into the diary.






We arrived at Cairo airport early in the morning. Omar our man in Egypt was in Luxor, but had made arrangements for us. We were met inside the terminal by our first Ahmed, Ahmed of Cairo or Ahmed I to distinguish him from subsequent Ahmeds. He was shortish, 30’ish, spoke perfect English and looked resplendent in a suit and tie, thick black rimmed glasses and a helmet of close-cropped black hair. Whilst we waited in the queue, Kim attempted to explain to Ahmed the problem of the Greek visas. Essentially, Sayadaw’s entry date to Greece was two days later than the other four of us. We needed to changes Sayadaw’s visa or all five of our airline tickets and hotel bookings. The terminal was modern and clean, spacious and not overly crowded, with plenty of well-armed security types in evidence, and we proceeded through passport control and customs smoothly and efficiently. 

You very quickly became aware of security in Egypt. There were a lot of men in black berets and black woollen military uniforms with automatic weapons and they were a highly visible presence wherever we went. One or more of these men were permanently on duty at the entry to hotels and public buildings. To enter, you passed through a metal detector and body search, and sometimes baggage x-ray. A huge number of Egyptians spend their entire working lives sitting behind a metal detector, waving through the tourists, especially pretty young women, and harassing those they disliked, mostly Egyptian taxi drivers and delivery men. Most of those in black were tourist police, but there sometimes appeared to be regular police or army or security people in black, although they usually wore different uniforms. It was difficult to tell, because they became agitated and vocal if you seemed to be looking too closely or paying too much attention.


Ahmed had a van and driver waiting. It was so early in the morning there was almost no traffic – apparently not the usual Cairo gridlock. Traffic was an intriguing mix of ultra-modern expensive luxury European and Japanese cars that had been polished and preened to perfection alongside cars, vans, trucks and buses that seemed to have just escaped the wrecking yard, and in the outside lane there were donkey carts. The trip to Giza took about 40 minutes, during which time Kim, Phra Mana and Ahmed continued to discuss the visa problem. The pyramids were visible from quite some distance, bobbing in and out of sight between the buildings. We booked in to our hotel, there was further discussion on visas, tickets and bookings, then Ahmed departed and we went to breakfast.


Ahmed had described the pyramids as being an easy 20 minute walk from our hotel. Kim and I could see them from our bedroom window. We set off on foot to have a bit of a look at the town on the way as we needed to attack an ATM and we needed to purchase phone cards.


At the last bend in the road and with the entry to the pyramid compound in sight, we were ambushed by a taxi driver. Did we want a camel ride round the pyramids? A certain member of our party just couldn’t get into the taxi fast enough. “Take me to the camels!” she cried. It was a small car designed for a driver and three passengers. With six of us, it was a tight squeeze. So we drove from the entry some number of kilometres round the back of the enclosure to the animal staging area. There were some pretty basic stable-like structures with lots of horses tethered to anything that didn’t move – guard rails, fences, posts or just nails hammered into the walls. The taxi driver obviously had an arrangement with one of the animal operators. We were delivered up to our operator, and commenced negotiations. We wanted camels – five of us so five camels. Aaah, but there was a problem. We were late, many people had been equipped already, and they had run out of camels. There were three camels and two horses. Of course, it was all a charade – they only had three camels no matter what time of day you arrived. Phra Mick and I settled for horses. How much? Oh, don’t worry, we give you a good price. Yes, but how much? Ok Ok – your guide will tell you. That decided, clambered aboard our animals, and proceeded some 200m down the road and round the corner.


It was at this point that we were told the price we would have to pay for either the short trip or the long trip. It was a trick we encountered often in Egypt – wait till the fish has well and truly swallowed the bait before you jag the hook.


We opted for the long trip, haggled just enough to show how tough we were, handed over our money, then set off under the guidance of Nasser on horseback, maybe on the right side of 40 but not by much, and two young boys on foot. The horse Nasser was riding was in much better health and condition than our mounts, and his saddle looked like it still had a full covering of leather, without the frame and the metal bits poking out, and into the rider, as mine did. The camels were in better shape than the horses, but they would still have raised an eyebrow or two at the RSPCA. The camel saddles actually looked well padded and quite comfortable. The camels were roped together head to tail and were lead by one of the boys. The horses were lead one in each hand by the other boy, until Nasser discovered that I could ride well enough to be left to my own devices.


On one side of the wall or fence of the pyramid enclosure, there was the town. On the other side, there was the desert. We entered the desert and approached the pyramids from the rear – the south. We were on a ridge (the Maddi Formation) some distance from the pyramids with a gully (wadi) in front of us between us and the pyramids on the next ridge (the Mokkatam Formation). We moved sedately from the eastern end of the ridge to the west, stopping for Nasser to take our photos with our own cameras at each of the famous vantage points for each of the famous views of each of the famous aspects. It was surprising just how different the pyramids in their various groupings looked when viewed from the different vantage points. The combination of distance and perspective created optical illusions as to their relative sizes and positions. From the last vantage point, the relative sizes of the three major pyramids appeared exactly the opposite of their actual sizes.


It was time to cross the plateau for the close up encounter. We moved down into the wadi and stopped to examine some of the tombs of the officials, then up the slope to the base of Pyramid 3 (Menkaure reigned 2494-2472 BCE, 65m high with 3 satellite pyramids). We stopped to examine the remains of the mortuary temple, including the largest blocks of stone that were visible in the Giza pyramid complex, some weighing over 200 tons. We examined the capping stones at the base of the pyramid and clamber up a few courses of stonework to the next famous vantage point for the next round of photos. We proceeded around the tourist trail, stopping at each of the viewing points and photo points, ending with the last photo stop at the Sphinx. There were a large number of the black uniformed armed men around, including quite a few mounted on camels. At Pyramid 2 (Khafre reigned 2520-2494 BCE, 144m high with one satellite pyramid, now almost completely demolished) we purchased extra tickets and ventured inside to the burial chamber. There was a long narrow passage of just crouching height, which first sloped down at about 20 degrees, then flattened out and then rose at again about 20 degrees before another flat section entering the chamber – a space 14.5m by 5m by 6.8m in height. The walls, floor and ceiling were unadorned dressed stone. The room contained the bottom half of a large unadorned stone sarcophagus – and nothing else.


We mounted up for the final time for the ride back to the staging area. On the way Nasser and the boys demanded further payments. Our other payments had been for the boss – the extra was for them and hadn’t they earned it and hadn’t we enjoyed our ride? We were stopped in an alleyway with not much prospect of getting out of there unless we dismounted and walked. Dismounting from a horse is easy, but dismounting from a standing camel is not. We paid, but we were learning fast.


Back at the staging area, as each of us dismounted we were escorted indoors. Would we like to use the bathroom? Would we care for a drink? When the five of us were assembled, we were ushered through to what turned out to be the sales room of a perfumery. We were seated around the walls on long café type padded benches, above which on all four walls were display cabinets containing dozens of bottles of perfume samples and hundreds of empty glass perfume bottles in a staggering variety of styles, shapes and sizes. The salesman of the day delivered a long-winded spiel on the traditional ancient products (hadn’t changed since Nefertiti), the manufacturing process (the lotus buds were crushed by hand by virgins on the night of the full moon), the health benefits (cures everything from head aches to heart attacks) and the sweetness of the fragrances (one whiff and your lover will go wild!). It was a spiel he had obviously delivered so often he was able to do so in his sleep, and indeed appeared to be doing so. The flatness of the delivery and lack of enthusiasm was putting us to sleep – and not assisted by our jetlag and lack of sleep in the last 48 hours.


We purchased a small quantity of lotus oil, just to get out of there without creating a fuss. Lotus oil is actually an excellent product with an appealing fragrance, and relevant to our research. We might have bought a wider selection of the range of products on offer if the approach had been more subtle and the salesman had known when to stop talking.


Our taxi driver was waiting for us. A short time later we found ourselves at a papyrus shop – obviously another of our taxi driver’s business arrangements. The head honcho on duty at the time delivered a spiel on how papyrus sheets were produced and demonstrated the process as he went. He stood behind a bench with a sink full of soaking papyrus stems, a sharp knife, a cutting board, a rolling pin and a small screw-down press. There were another two such benches in other parts of the shop, maybe for simultaneous demonstrations when the bus-loads of tourists arrived. Again, it was a performance that had been repeated so often that it was mechanical and there was complete indifference in the delivery. We wandered around the shop and were swamped by the younger sales staff who displayed persistence if nothing else. One of the younger men latched onto Kim and tried to steer her to the back of the shop with tender words and beseechments. We haggled a bit and purchased a bit. We were warned not to buy cheap stuff from the street stalls. They were not genuine papyrus – they were banana leaf and fell apart as soon as you bought them.


It was late afternoon and we were tied. We told our taxi driver that we didn’t want any more diversions, just straight back to the hotel. On the way, he quizzed us about our plans for tomorrow and our requirements for transport. We declined. “I have a wife and family to feed. I will drive you. I will bring two cars – my son will drive one. I will wait for you here under these trees. I will be here. Look for me.”


Back at the hotel, there was a courtyard with a number of shops. Those with that propensity went shopping while the rest of us retired to our rooms.




We were up early for the trip into Cairo to the Egyptian Museum. Transport had been arranged by Abdullah, an affable young man from one of the shops in the courtyard who spoke English reasonably fluently. There were two modern European cars and two drivers, each named Mohamed – young Mohamed (mid 20’s and enough English to sustain a conversation) and old Mohamed. (late 30’s and no English beyond the “Good morning – how are you?” sort of thing). Abdullah, Kim and I travelled with young Mohamed and the monks with old Mohamed.


The trip took about an hour. Egyptians drove on the right – or at least most of them did most of the time. Donkey carts and taxis in particular ignored this rule when it suited. Left hand turns were restricted with right turns and u-turns and roundabouts. Egyptian drivers were not afraid to use the horn, but its use was less prevalent than in India. Speed humps were liberally scattered about in the more congested areas. There were a lot of freeways in Cairo, the older more narrow ones with two marked traffic lanes and three lanes of moving traffic – often a tight squeeze, with plenty of evidence of bumps and home repair jobs on the older vehicles. At the side of the road, even some freeways, there was a sort-of integration zone between the traffic and the footpath or shops or apartment blocks or whatever else happened to be there. This was where the busses stopped, where the donkey carts were parked whilst the drivers sold their produce off the carts to the locals, and where the flocks of sheep and goats congregated.


The outer suburbs of Cairo looked like one huge construction site. There were literally hundreds of ten to fifteen story residential apartment buildings with the top floor still under construction and all the lower floors fully occupied. Every building had literally dozens of TV dishes poking out of the roof or top floor. Some of the shops were draped with red curtains and bunting for St Valentine’s Day, but it didn’t seem to be a hugely popular event.


We arrived at the museum at about 8.30am. Abdullah and young Mohamed drove Sayadaw and Kim to the Greek Consulate. Phra Mana, Phra Mick and I joined the large queue outside the gates to the museum courtyard awaiting opening time at 9.00am. Inside the gates there were ten or more of the men in black who put us through a full airport screening – metal detector, baggage x-ray, body search. We then had to check in our cameras (not allowed into the museum) and buy our tickets. At the entry to the museum, we went through the procedure a second time.


In the museum at about 10.30am Phra Mana was approached by a lady who identified herself as a Buddhist, and a volunteer worker at the museum. Phra Mana mentioned that we were seeking evidence of a settlement that may have been a Buddhist monastery located near Alexandria and dating from the second century BCE. The lady said that there was nothing like that in the museum itself, and offered to take us to the library, which was located in the same building. The library staff were very helpful, and suggested a number of books which might shed light on the matter. We examined several books they retrieved for us, and noted the publication details of a number of books that might be useful.


We returned to the museum. I’m not entirely sure why, but we now had a guide named Abdul, who took it upon himself to drag us from exhibit to exhibit and lecture us in far from fluent English, telling us not much more than was written on the display cases, if that – and sometimes something entirely different.


“This is Rosetta Stone. Most important stone in whole of Egypt. Why? Because now can read hieroglyphics.” Actually, it was a replica, the original was in the British Museum. Someone asked us how it worked, so we explained the three languages, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian demotic and ancient Greek. Yes, he knew all about that, so what? Well, they all said the same thing, so that when … Oh, they said the same thing? It’s amazing how easily we can miss just one piece of the puzzle, one link in the chain, and therefore fail to find the answer.


Sayadaw and Kim returned. They had not been able to change the visa, so we had little choice other than to stay in Egypt an extra two days and change the airline tickets and hotel bookings. We escaped the awful Abdul for lunch at the museum restaurant, where we met a family group of Singaporeans, one of whom had been on retreat at Sunnataram.


After lunch, Abdullah took Phra Mana and Kim to the Egypt Air office while Sayadaw, Phra Mick and I attempted to enjoy the museum despite Abdul’s worst efforts. Mercifully, Abdul decided to take us to the Tutankhamen section and leave us to wander at our leisure. Phra Mana and Kim returned and we continued to wander till closing time.


Outside the museum, Abdullah and the two Mohameds were waiting for us. We drove back to Giza. We declined the offer of attending the light show at the Sphinx and opted to retired early.




We were returning to the museum in Cairo, so it was another early start. Kim and I were subtly manoeuvred towards the car driven by old Mohamed. Unbeknownst to us, old Mohamed had taken a fancy to Kim and had insisted on the swap. We were starting to realise that Egyptian men were hugely attracted to western women, especially if they were slim, attractive and did not wear a burka. As it was Friday, the Muslim holy day, there was light traffic and the trip took only half an hour. We arrived around 8.00am. We were able to see more of the things we particularly wanted to see without Abdul. In particular, Phra Mana found many symbols and representations that resembled their Buddhist equivalents, especially amongst the exhibits from the Greco-Roman period. We purchased a number of books in the museum shop and in a shop opposite the main gate to the museum, including an excellent 631 page guide to the museum.


At about 12.30pm we drove south to Saqqara (Sakkara). There was an entry gate with a number of well-armed men in black on guard, then a kilometre or so beyond that to the right was the visitor reception centre. We purchased our tickets, watched a short film giving an introduction to and overview of the site, and wandered around the site museum – a small museum but worth visiting. We had coffee at the restaurant, and visited the rest rooms. The complex was modern and spacious with simple crisp square lines, rendered in a pale brown desert colour, and scrupulously clean and tidy.


We drove from the reception centre up onto the plateau to the next gate with more men in black. A guide somehow managed to attach himself to us. He was shortish, plumpish, late 30’ish and casually but smartly dressed in European clothing. We set off on foot to explore some of the early tombs of the nobles and wealthy. Our guide took us to two types of tombs. There were mastabas, which started as a simple mud brick structures above the burial and which over time gradually became more elaborate, with the construction of rooms with decorated walls, till eventually the pharaohs had imitation palaces and the nobles imitation houses. The other type of tomb we visited was entirely underground, consisting of several rooms, again with carvings and relief work and paintings on the walls.


Each of the tombs was guarded by a weather-beaten middle to older aged Egyptian man in a galabia and turban-like headgear. The galabia was a traditional neck-to-floor long-sleeved nightshirt-like garment. The turban was small and tight-fitting, almost always of simple white cotton, unlike the more flamboyant and much larger turbans of India. The attendants didn’t seem too happy to see us or to allow us access, but none the less expected to be paid a pound or two for doing so.


The dominant feature of the site was the first pyramid and mortuary complex built in stone – the Step Pyramid of Djoser (reigned 2630-2611 BCE, 62m high). We entered the rectangular complex at the south east corner via the original narrow doorway set into a restored section of the 10m high stone wall which originally surrounded the whole complex. Beyond the doorway there was a partially restored colonnade which lead to an open area with one wall running directly ahead (west) and another to the right (north), with the pyramid some distance off to the right. There were a number of smaller ruined structures along the two walls.


We spent some time wandering around and ended up at a small bazaar beside the pyramid. We bought enough stuff to bring a smile to the face of the stallholder. It was time to leave. Our guide announced that he would charge us X number of Egyptian pounds, which sounded reasonable until he added – each! As we had not been expecting to pay him anything at all, except perhaps a tip, this came as a rude shock, and Kim told him so in no uncertain terms. If he had expected to be paid he should have said so up front, not waited till after the event. Kim gave him X number of Egyptian pounds in total. He was not happy, and walked with us all the way back to the car park, maybe hoping for a change of heart from Kim, or maybe because that was where he would lie in wait for his next victim.


We drove back to Giza, and somehow managed to find ourselves in the sales room of another perfumery. The layout was almost identical to the previous one, and the spiel too was almost identical and equally poorly delivered, this time by the owner of the shop, a morbidly obese man in a short galabia, somewhat less than 1.6m in height but somewhat more than 160kg in weight – he had reached that stage where he had flab on his flab. Again, we purchased just enough to escape without causing a fuss. We returned to our hotel and again declined the offer of the light show.




We returned to the pyramids, this time by car and to the normal entry gate. We purchased our tickets and went through security. Only 100m to 150m inside the security gate and down a slight slope there was the well preserved valley temple of Khafre just below the right paw of the Sphinx, with the Temple of the Sphinx next to it and directly in front of the Sphinx. The valley temple included massive blocks of stone, some estimated to weigh 75 to 100 tons. The Sphinx was cordoned off within a separate enclosure, but we got a close side view of it from the causeway at the rear of the valley temple which once led up the slope to Pyramid 2. The road ran on the other side of the Sphinx, up the hill to the top of the plateau and the pyramids. We walked to Pyramid 1 (Khufu 2551-2528 BCE, 147m high with 4 satellite pyramids) and the Museum of the Solar Barque alongside it. It was necessary to purchase additional tickets to enter the museum. Inside there was more security, the usual baggage x-ray and body search. We had to put on cloth overshoes. We moved from security to the gift shop then to the lower level of the museum where there were photographs of the discovery and reassembly of the barque and a number of models and artefacts. The museum was build over the trench in which the barque was found, and a section of the trench formed part of the base of the museum. There was a spiral arrangement of galleries which allowed you to view the barque from above, the sides and below.


We wandered around the other parts of the site we had not seen on our camel ride. We would have purchased the extra tickets required to enter Pyramid 1 and clamber up the Grand Gallery to the King’s Chamber, but the pyramid was ‘Closed for Lunch’ or at least the entry booth was. In a country so dependant on the tourist industry, you would think it would be economically viable to run two shifts of ticket sellers and ticket collectors at the nation’s major tourist attraction and the one most easily accessible to the largest number of tourists.


We checked out of our hotel and drove to the airport for the flight to Luxor. We said goodbye to Abdullah and the two Mohameds, and gave each a small token of our gratitude – more for Abdullah and young Mohamed than dirty old Mohamed.

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