By SHAARI MOHD NOOR
Even before the present security problems that bedevil this Egyptian province, not many Malaysians have ventured into the heart of Sinai. It is an arid and less populated piece of triangular land sandwiched between the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aqaba.
I had the opportunity to travel to Sinai with the help and guidance of a former Malaysian student who is a PR working in Cairo. It was in January 2008 that we arrived in the Egyptian capital. After a few days visiting the usual tourist spots in and around Cairo, including the pyramids at Giza, the Nile, and the cities of Alfaiyum and Alexandria, our group of 10 travelled eastward by coach, first entering Suez City before crossing the Suez Canal into Sinai Peninsula which is one of the westernmost parts of Asia.
The first stop was a spot that was a part of Bar Lev Line, once touted by the Israeli military as being impenetrable during the 1973 war with Egypt.
The lone Egyptian soldier guarding the place allowed us to enter the huge bunker still being preserved for show. Some of the Israeli military assets, like cannons and other weapons, were still there. The army uniforms were also on display. These items were left by the Israeli army in their hurry to escape the lightning attacks by the Egyptian army. It was said that the attacks were so intense that some of the Jewish soldiers having their baths ran helter-skelter – buck naked! –to a safer place
We then moved southward along the bank of the Red Sea and arrived at Hammam Fir’aun. It was a cave (grotto) where people could enter to experience the natural steam bath. This ancient sauna was a favourite of the Pharaohs who used to make visits during winter, hence its name.
Our next stop was Uyun Musa, a spring situated in an oasis where the Prophet Moses used to make a stopover on his journey in order to draw water from the well. We then proceeded southeastward, this time passing valleys sandwiched between treeless mountains until we reached our overnight stop, St Catherine, which is essentially a resort town nestled at the foot of Mt Sinai (Tursina). The route to this city was dotted with ancient landmarks mentioned in Al-Quranul- Kareem, the most notable of which is The Samiri. There was also the marking of Prophet Harun’s grave.
It was on the top of this mountain that the Prophet Moses meditated (munajat). The place attracts visitors of the three faiths – Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Thereis a shrine catering to them in this resort-town.
My wife and I did not climb the mountain as it was too arduous. The weather at that time was very cold as the night temperature went down to 0°C. To venture outside our hotel, we had to wear gloves and ski attire. However, it was a good experience to mix with people of different faiths but with a common purpose, that is, to visit this ancient place mentioned in both Al-Quran Kareem and the Bible, and probably the Torah (Taurat) too.
After two days at St Catherine, our group continued on our journey, now moving northwards along the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba until we arrived at the tourist resort of Al-Dahab. Here we crossed by boat to a small island on which stood the once-formidable fort constructed by Sultan Salahuddin Al-Ayubi during the war of attrition with King Richard of England. At Al-Dahab, we were led to a point on the beach that faced parts of the shores of three countries on the horizon, northeast, across the gulf. They are Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine.
The next day, on the way back to Cairo, we pushed northward still and arrived at a settlement right on the border of Egypt and Israel, before we turned westwards towards Suez and then to Cairo. And so ended our little adventure.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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