Egypt: Double exposure

By Chris Sisarich

A camel driver touts for business at the great pyramids of Giza near Cairo. Photo / Alan Gibson
A camel driver touts for business at the great pyramids of Giza near Cairo. Photo / Alan Gibson

So there I was, in the middle of a Sydney winter, sitting in a hotel room editing photos, when out of the blue came an invitation to shoot a new tourism campaign - four weeks, all expenses paid, shooting the most stunning locations in Egypt.

A dream assignment.

It wasn't my first trip to Egypt, having travelled there backpacker-style about 15 years ago. I've always been fascinated by the "old world", which meant Egypt was one of those countries I really had to see. Back then I did things rough, staying in two-star backpacking joints and really getting the dirt between my toes, but I missed out on travelling to Cairo and always knew I had to go back.

And wouldn't you know it, my first stop in this trip was Cairo - and this time I was lucky enough to be doing it in five-star comfort.

Flying into Cairo, I couldn't believe how densely populated it is. It's home to about 18 million people, and it felt like it. The city is a heaving mass of people racing in every direction.

Every evening, the banks of the Nile welcome thousands of revellers on more than a hundred party boats; a sea of pumping party music, light shows and general madness as each vessel attempts to outshine the next. It is a scene of utter chaos and a cacophony of sound, and I loved every minute of it. This is a side of Egypt I hadn't seen as a backpacker moving through the tourist traps and back alleys, and it's a sight not to be missed.

But you can't go to Egypt and miss the postcard-famous sites - especially when you're being paid to photograph them; so my next stop was the Great Pyramids.

I'd seen countless photos, sketches and paintings of this particular Wonder of the World, so to say I was pretty excited about finally getting in amongst it would be a gross understatement. And if I already thought being paid to be here was a sweet gig, come 4pm the crowds were moved away from the entire site so we could shoot with a clear view. What an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To be (almost) alone in a place so loaded with history and spirituality is eerie, exciting, and so surreal that I had to stop shooting for a while just to really appreciate how incredibly lucky I was to be there.

But there was more to come. Our next stop was Luxor, just as rich in history and incredible photo opportunities. Travelling along the River Nile is an experience in itself, as I took in the huge sections of super-lush vegetation en route to the Great Temple and The Valley of the Kings. We stayed at the Winter Palace, a grand old hotel with what must be the biggest and most beautiful foyer I had ever seen, with hallways that seemed to never end.

Next up were the two 3000-year-old temples at Abu Simbel, surely among the most magnificent monuments in the world. Their removal and reconstruction are an historic event in itself. When the temples (280km from Aswan) were threatened by submersion in Lake Nasser, with the construction of the high dam, the Egyptian Government secured the support of Unesco and launched a worldwide appeal to save them. During the salvage operation from 1964 to 1968 -

the two temples were dismantled and raised more than 60m up the sandstone cliff. A remarkable feat of engineering.

We shot the temples from aboard the MS Eugenie, a luxury steamboat which comes complete with a mosaic-lined swimming pool and three bars.

But, in a trip filled with incredible sights, my personal highlight was the White Desert, which we reached after an arduous 10-hour drive south west from Cairo.

When you're that far into the desert the scenery can get a little monotonous, but then you arrive at this incredible spot and you can't believe your eyes. In the middle of nowhere, this is a snow-white wonderland filled with incredible rock formations which, oddly, give it the look of an arctic landscape.

The White Desert is a vast expanse, starting at the western banks of the Nile and continuing well into Libya. It's often referred to as "the desert of deserts" and it's a world of desolate beauty - one of the few places in Egypt where you can go for days at a time without seeing a soul.

We stayed close by at the five-star Al Tarfa eco lodge, located at a nearby oasis. Relaxing after dinner with a whisky in my hand and a 360-degree view of the incredible scenery, I remembered why I'd been so impatient to return to Egypt. It's a land of contrasts - the scenery, the people, the culture - and one that can't be missed. And the one travel essential you can't live without here? A camera.

Photographer Chris Sisarich is a judge on season two of New Zealand's Next Top Model, which starts on TV3, Friday August 6, 7.30pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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