If I were to ask you which country in the world has the most pyramids, what would you guess? Most likely, if you were like me, you would say Egypt.
We then would be put into the same group of being wrong. It’s Sudan.
Sudan’s history is tied with the ancient history of Egypt. Additionally there were times when the Egyptian seat of power and cultural practice were situated in the heart of Sudan with the Nubians and Kushites.
It is the presence of the Nile, providing the lifeblood and transportation route that has served as a binding thread for the two countries.
It is situated next to present day Karmia and the ancient ruins of Napata is Jebel Barkal, a landmark that dominates the area with its ruined temples and perfectly preserved pyramids. The holy mountain of Jebel Barkal was believed to be the home of the god Amun and heart for the throne of two lands, Egypt and Nubia.
In the heat of late afternoon I set off from my hotel aiming for Jebel Barkal. It looks close, but the heat is draining. A young boy invites me to hop on the back of his bicycle; with both of us laughing, he peddles down the quiet empty street. After six blocks I slip off the back and give him a high five before departing.
A rickshaw pulls up next to me; I hop in and point in the direction of the mountain. Even though I am on a small budget, one has to be smart about the right times to spend it on a ride, like when it is 115 degrees outside.
My new ride takes me to the edge of town. From there I walk.
On the west side of the mountain is the royal cemetery, a group of pyramids that date back to the third century B.C. Wandering around them, I marvel at the design and note how steep the sides are. I make a decision not to climb them, and make my way to the mountain.
Standing at the base of Jebel Barkal, I scout out a route to the top.
Scrambling over loose stones and rock, I weave my way to the top of the mountain to spend the evening as the guest of Amun. Sitting on a stone ledge, I am rewarded with a magnificent view of the Nile, lined with green palm trees filled with dates. A distinct border between two worlds becomes clear, one green world with water, the other brown world without.
With only the sound of wind to accompany me, I watch sun set over the desert between pyramids, a fitting way to end the day.
Stepping across the hot red sands of the Royal Cemetery of Meroe, I am rewarded with more pyramids.
I am told Sudan has approximately 260 pyramids. Which means one could spend lifetimes exploring them.
Walking around the Meroe pyramids is a real treat. I am the only person here, and feel a sensation that I am discovering a long hidden secret. It is just the pyramids, and me, alone in the heart of the desert.
Once my Indiana Jones moment is done, I walk back to the road to figure out how to get to a place where I can sleep. Suddenly a pickup truck pulls up, inside are two policemen.
“Where is your permit?” asks the one in the passenger seat.
I have no permit.
“Where is your permit?” he asks again.
Realizing this is going nowhere fast, I give him the worthless photo permit I acquired in Khartoum. He looks at it for a few minutes and then says, “You cannot stay on this road for long. It is not permitted.”
“No worries,” I respond.
Suddenly I found myself longing for just the pyramids and me, alone in the heart of the desert.