Forever new and old,
Among the living and the dead,
Its mighty, mystic stream has rolled.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1807-1822
Stewart Goes Walkies is pleased to have another contribution from our friend, Allen Lai.
Funnily enough, writes Allen, my first introduction to the Nile was a James Bond Movie, “The Spy Who Loved me”. There was this scene when Roger Moore woke up aboard a Felucca and stepped ashore to the hustle and bustle of an ancient town. There was something in that scene that I felt was magical and incredibly powerful. Forty years later, I finally had the chance to travel down the River Nile and to see and experience the historic and cultural wonders of Egypt.
The Nile took me into a timeless Egypt untouched by tourism. Most Egyptians live traditional lives on land made fertile by the river. Plowing with oxen, sowing seeds by hand, harvesting their crops, fishing with lines and hooks, nets on small sampan-like boats, they farm and fish as they have through the millennia. In a way, life seems to change little since the days of the Pharaohs.
My trip started in Aswan, this ancient city is famous for its stone quarries. It was here where all the statues, obelisks and monolithic shrines, pyramids throughout Egypt originated. The first historic site I visited was the Abu Simbel Temple.
An early morning drive across the desert.
We started before dawn as it’s a 4 hours drive to get there. The highway was new and well-constructed but there was very little traffic on it. When the sun rose, we stopped by the roadside and watched rising from the desert. It has that eerie feeling, it’s quiet and there we were, as far as our eyes can see, we were in the middle of nowhere, in the cold, alone, getting that little warmth from the sun’s ray. We were in fact, experiencing what the Egyptians have for thousands of years.
Continue on the road, we stopped by a roadside tea house, the one and only between Aswan and Abu Simbel. We were able to get a cup of warm tea and use the washroom. When we departed from the hotel, we all got a packed breakfast. But we were too fussy about toasted bread and drink in a tetra pack. We were to give it to the shop to dispose of it. Unexpectedly, it created a small commotion. They were so happy to receive it. Then we realised, that life here is tough there. What they felt was like us back in the 60s, every little thing counts. We are so used to our material lives that we stop appreciating all the little things.
When the sun was up, we started noticing small open waters and hills on the far horizon. We were told that it was a mirage, an illusion that happens when light passes through two layers of air with different temperatures.
We also noticed an armed security vehicle was tailing us. As the border with Sudan is not far away, there were conflicts from time to time and apparently, our bus had to be given the green light by the police before we departed. However, what is unsafe in the political situation was compensated for by the friendly local people.
Abu Simbel Temple
It was two massive rock cuts from the 13th century BC, dedicated to Pharaoh Ramses II. He ruled Egypt with an iron fist for 66 years, from 1290 to 1224 BC. He has been described ostensibly as a genius, a tyrant, a great ruler, the Napoleon of ancient Egypt. The original twin temples were carved out to commemorate his victory at the battle of Kadesh. It bears two engineering wonders.
The first is solar alignment. It was carved out that, biannually, on 22 October and 22 February, the sun shines directly into the temple’s sanctuary which will put light on three of the four statues in an inner chamber, but leave Ptah, the god of darkness in the dark. There’s a ceremony on those days to celebrate.
Second, because of the construction of the Aswan High Dam, in 1968 the entire complex was relocated, one cut at a time, 65 meters higher up and 200 meters further inland.
It was abandoned and buried by sand over the years since the 6th century, and was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer in 1813. The four huge statues are the three gods and Pharaoh Ramses II put himself among them. Ironically, an earthquake in 27 BC, dislodged Ramses’s upper body which landed at his feet, during the relocation, they decided to leave it as is. Being there in the early morning, standing underneath those huge statues, was a magic moment.
Another 4-hour drive back to Aswan where we boarded the River Cruiser, Ms. Concento. A four-day cruise costs around USD620 these days. But it was worth every penny. Our first stop was Kom Ombo Temple, which was a distance of 50 km.
Kom Ombo Temple
The Nile has always been the lifeblood of the Egyptian people. They rely on the river and weather for their harvest, and therefore, their livelihood. So it is in their very nature to worship the most powerful animal that lives off the air and water. The Kom Ombo Temple worships the God of Crocodiles and the God of Falcons. Since it is a Double Temple, it is atypical because everything is perfectly symmetrical along the main axis. It was constructed around the 4th-1st century BC. Much of the temple has been destroyed by the Nile, earthquakes, and later builders who used its stones for other projects. Only in 1893, the temples were cleared of debris and restored by Jacques de Morgan. During the excavation, hundreds of crocodile mummies were discovered near the entrance to the temple.
The hieroglyphs on the wall show evidence of math, counting, calendars, medicine, and much more. Two of the most interesting finds are a detailed description of how women give birth and the tools being used. The other one is of more interest to men. It is a picture of a penis and surgical tools, said to be for the extension of the penis. The second possibility was that they were used to cure men’s urinary problems. I have not been able to find out the truth of this but most of the people said it’s for the first reason.
Leaving Kom Ombo, we continue on the Nile river for another 60 km. to Edfu.
Edfu Temple .. Temple of Horus
Constructed in 237 BC, it is the largest temple dedicated to Horus an ancient Egyptians’ protector, usually depicted with a falcon head and a red and white double crown.
In the vast breadth of the history of Ancient Egypt, this temple is quite a newbie. Over the centuries, the temple became buried to a depth of 12 meters beneath drifting desert sand and layers of river silt deposited by the Nile. Local inhabitants built homes directly over the former temple grounds. Only the upper reaches of the temple pylons were visible by 1798. In 1860 Auguste Mariette, a French Egyptologist began the work of freeing the Edfu temple from the sands.
As a result, the Temple of Edfu is nearly intact and a very good example of an ancient Egyptian temple. The inscriptions on its walls provide important information on language, myth, and religion during the Hellenistic period in Egypt. And it is here that a lot of unexplained phenomena were recorded. This leads to many heated discussions about the existence of Extraterrestrial life forms, Aliens, and the Lost Continent of Atlantis. This discussion deserves a chapter on its own to do justice to these subjects.
Disembarking from the cruise ship, we were received by a column of horse carts which took us to the temple. It’s a familiar scene from the James Bond movie, except, the character is no longer Roger Moore, but me. (The next best thing – SGW)
Passing through the ancient city along the way, feeling the rocking motion of the horse cart, listening to the sounds of the horseshoes, an occasional shout from the horseman, and the sound of people running around on their daily chores in the early morning, it’s as romantic as can be, except, the place is poor. Through decades of political instability, poverty is everywhere. On top of that is the pollution. Being very dry, waste does not decade here. Once one disposed of anything, if it is not either buried by drift sand or carried by a flood, it’s going to stay forever.
The 12 stories towering pylons were visible from a distance away. It is very impressive standing there under the entrance. The temple’s looming sandstone walls are covered in giant hieroglyphics and dazzling friezes that ape the patriotic decorations of earlier pharaohs. Within its vast chambers, strolling under colossal gateways and wandering ant-like through its hallways that seem to been created for giants, you really get a feel for the all-encompassing power of Egypt’s rulers.
After Edfu, we returned to our cruise ship to continue our journey to the next destination, which is 110 km. away, the very famous temple at Luxor.
Once again Stewart Goes Walkies is very grateful to Allen for his excellent memoirs and the accompanying photos. We will continue his travels in Part 2.
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