I've spent the last week fulfilling a long-held ambition by visiting some of the incredible historical sites in Upper Egypt. Looking at reports of weather back home, you won't thank me for telling you that daytime temperatures here have been around 85 F with glorious sunshine.

It won't help you to know either that I'm writing this column on a balcony overlooking the Nile. The base here in Luxor is perfect (much more in next week's travel column) and it's been very thought-provoking too.

England's civilised history is a scratch on the surface of time compared to the scale of things here. Some of the places I've visited were centres of historical tourism when the Romans were here two thousand years ago, and even their achievements failed to match what the Egyptians achieved over a thousand years before the birth of Christ.

The place, and atmosphere, most seared on my memory is the Temple of Karnak, but it's the human side rather than the buildings which make the biggest impact. An evening spent at the Sound and Light Show at Karnak was dramatic, and the experience cleverly brought out something even bigger than the awe-inspiring buildings.

Among the tales of empire and conquest three thousand years ago are littered the names of places which are at the centre of today's worrying news. The armies had different names, but much of the conflict then revolved around the Tigris and the Euphrates and much of what we now call Iraq. Long before the UK or the USA were on the scene, ordinary people worried about how the tinder box of their Middle East would affect their lives.

In the middle of all this though, one snippet from Karnak will linger with me for ever. Archaeologists had discovered some cylindrical cases which had survived down the centuries. Originally they had held papyrus sheets of poetry which had disintegrated to dust, but odd scraps did still exist. One was a few lines written by a young woman to the man she loved and spoke of him filling her senses like the breath of the wind on the reeds in the Nile. The thought that love persists, and empires don't, is a theme worth remembering.

I almost wished that today's world leaders with massive worries on their minds could take a few hours off and spend time at Karnak and feel what's real and what lasts.

All things must pass and, in the end, the real weapon of mass destruction is time.

Published: 16/01/2003