Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Imaginative Traveller Egyptology Guide - Saleh

Imaginative Traveller are proud to say that Saleh Shaalan Mahmoud has been one of their Egyptology guides since the company opened it’s doors in 1991. During this time Saleh has graciously welcomed thousands of guests to his kingdom - the fabulous temples of Karnak and the historic West Bank of Luxor, Egypt.

Born in a small village inside the precincts of Karnak Temple, the young Saleh played hide and seek with his friends, around the monumental columns of the Hypostyle Hall. His passion for Ancient Egypt developed in these early years through involvement with the archaeologists who were working on the temple. Saleh joined them as a 'basket boy' clearing the mounds of rubble from the excavations. Through this work he learnt English and also gained a small income to contribute to his schooling. In 1954 his family moved out of the temple but Saleh's association with this magnificent complex has never ended. His father had worked on British Naval ships until 1947, and when he returned to Egypt he started working within the temple. Saleh's brother was an excellent artist who also worked alongside the archaeologists on the renovation of such beautiful monuments as the White Chapel of Thutmosis Ill. So as Saleh says a love of ancient Egypt is in his blood.

Kashka Lantis had the chance to catch up with this captivating character recently, in a small garden restaurant in Karnak, right on the banks of his beloved Nile. He met her dressed, as usual, in a traditional Egyptian galabeya, turban and carrying his trademark accessory - one of his many smart canes.

Saleh can you tell me how you ended up working as a guide?
When I was a young boy living in the temple I saw a lot of guides and really admired their knowledge and their passion for the subject of ancient Egypt. I loved studying my country's history and also could see that being a guide was a wonderful chance to meet people from all over the world. So after I finished High school I started working in the Public Relations department of Luxor Council and I went to night school for 3 years studying to be a guide. I worked for a number of companies and then joined Imaginative Traveller in 1991.

What do you enjoy most about being a guide?
Well first I love the subject, it is so vast, so fascinating. Then I love meeting people from all around the world who are interested to hear the wonderful stories of the Pharaohs and their times. I love it so much when people ask me their questions. Really I am at my happiest when I am guiding a group, it's a big part of who I am.

What period in Egypt's history do you find most interesting?
I think the New Kingdom or the period of the tomb builders is a most important time as Luxor became the capital of Egypt and famous Pharaohs such as Thutmosis I, Hatshepsut and Ramses all reigned. The one Pharaoh that I feel was most impressive is Thutmosis Ill. He was a great man and brilliant military leader and this is why we call him the Napoleon Bonaparte of Egypt, he is one of my favourite characters.

You have guided literally thousands of people through the amazing sites of Luxor. Are there are some experiences that stand out in your memory?
Well I enjoy meeting everyone but I have had the privilege of guiding some distinguished people. I was guide for Prince Charles in 1976 and then Lord Mountbatten. I also guided for the Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam and his wife. One of my most wonderful experiences was my involvement with the movie 'Death on the Nile' which was shot here in the 1970's. I guided some of the cast through the temple and was an extra in the movie. I enjoyed talking to the actors Peter Ustinov and David Niven, they were such gentlemen. But really I don't mind who I have with me on my tours because for me everyone is an important guest and I want them all to have a wonderful experience of my country and its treasures.

I believe you have had some experiences of sharing your passion for the ancient world outside of Egypt?
I visited the UK and France in the 1980's where I was a personal guide for a group when they visited the amazing Egypt collection at the British Museum and at the Louvre in Paris. Then I was very proud to be chosen as the Egyptian delegate to attend the 1989 conference of the World Federation of Tourist Guides Association. That was a wonderful experience and an hcnour.

When you are not guiding do you have any other commitments?
Yes, I have been a member of Luxor City Council for many years and am the chairperson of the Subcommittee of Culture. This committee considers aspects of management of the antiquities but also considers the preservation of local culture. I attend a range of monthly meetings and day to day I often have people coming to me for advice and information about a range of things that impact on their lives. I love being able to help people and to contribute to my community.

When you are not working in these various capacities what are you doing?
Well I have a large wonderful family who I see a lot. I had 7 children and now they have given me 13 grandsons and 4 granddaughters and there are 4 more babies on the way! As you can guess the house is often full of noise and laughter. I have always loved to read and now I have a laptop I have a great time reading about the world but mostly my favourite subject ancient Egypt.

What does the future hold for you?
More grandchildren no doubt! Seriously though, I would say I will be happiest if I am fit enough to keep guiding with Imaginative Traveller for a long, long time to come.

Saleh is just one of a great team of guides that welcome our guests to the fabulous sites of Egypt, should you have the luck to visit Egypt be sure to keep an eye out for the striking figure of Saleh walking proudly through the temples and tombs of his ancestors.

Here are a few of our tours that visit Luxor, who knows you could have Saleh as your guide!

Jewels of the Nile - 14 nights/15 days from GBP640 per person sharing (excl Local Payment)
Nile Valley and Red Sea - 14 nights/15 days from GBP599 per person sharing (excl Local Payment)
Nile Safari - 7 nights/8 days from GBP425 per person sharing (excl Local Payment)
Nile Rover - 7 nights/8 days from GBP299 per person sharing (excl Local Payment)
Magical Egypt Family Tour - 7 nights/8 days from GBP440 per person sharing (excl Local Payment)
Treasures of the Pharoahs Family Tour - 11 nights/12 days from GBP640 per person sharing (excl Local Payment)