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Crusing down the NileNov. 3-8, 1998  Nile Cruise, Egypt

The canopy that provides my shade squeaks and groans as it flaps up and down in the stiff breeze of the oncoming wind. The grinding of the tether as it rubs against its metal skeleton is the only sound I hear as we drift, with the current, slowly and peacefully down the Egyptian Nile. A strip of palms line each side of this mighty river, for she is the blessed mother of all life, forcefully and defiantly ripping her way through the scorched dessert sands of the Sahara, North to the Mediterranean Sea. There is an occasional whistle or shout of greeting as the gallabiya (robe type garments) clad fishermen or farmers look up from their activity to wave hello to our passing boat.

The stip of green that lines the NileAll of life in Egypt, both past and present, is centered around the currents of the Nile. It alone dictates the story of the rise, fall, and rise again of this, one of the world’s oldest lands. It is nothing short of an inexplicable blessing of nature that the Nile has not simply dried up, but instead stubbornly survived, and been a key part of, the thousands of years of drastically changing landscape that has literally moved mountains. Moved mountains of sand that have, and certainly still do, hide the 40-60 foot high monuments and temples underneath them. Although hidden, all is not hopeless. For we know that, if they do exist, they are most certainly within the confines of the Nile Valley. In new as well as old, the valley is the hub of all activity. Almost all of Egypt’s 58 million people live in the valley. A refreshing green and pleasant sight, fields of cotton, corn, and sugar cane grow in this stretch that is 15 miles at its widest, and 300 feet across at its narrowest.

One of the many detailed reliefs inside the Kom Ombo TempleAfter flying in from Cairo, we begin our journey at the start of the Egyptian part of the Nile. The river is really born from the waters of Lake Victoria, Tanzania, but her journey across Egypt begins just outside the city of Aswan from the feedings of Lake Nasser, the largest man-made lake in the world, bordered on one shore by the Aswan High Dam. We land Aswan airport at 6:30 that morning. Our luggage is taken to the ship, as we board another plane for the 30 minute flight to Abu Simbel.

The awe-inspiring Temple of Ramses IIAs we get off the bus, our guide instructs us to walk around the huge hill of sand, as he will join us there. We do as we are told, and as we turn the corner - there it is. The larger than life and ah so awe-inspiring, Temple of Ramses II. It is this site that many consider the most astounding of all of the ancient Egyptian monuments.

Carved relief showing Ramses II being blessed by the godsAnd at this moment, I fully agree. The four colossal statues of this, the most vain of all the pharos, stand (actually he’s seated) 65 feet high to face the rising sun. What makes this temple particularly fascinating (aside from its sheer magnitude), is that its unusual facade was carved out of a single piece of rock, rather than constructed from many large pieces. Not only is the temple’s facade a work of extraordinarily sophisticated stone masonry, but the interior, also having been hewn from solid rock, rather than constructed from blocks, displays very impressive skill (as well as patience).

The first chamber of the Temple of Ramses IIPenetrating into the heart of the mountain, we find the sanctuary at the far reaches of the temple where the ‘miracle of the sun’ takes place. These early engineers were so sophisticated that they built this small room at exact angles so as to have a narrow ray of sun reach over 200 feet into temple to bathe three of the four seated gods (Ptah, the god of darkness was purposely excluded), one at a time, for about 6 minutes each, twice each year.

Twin feluccasWe spend that afternoon taking a relaxing cruise on one of the local feluccas. Totally wind-powered and nearly completely unchanged in design since the days of their invention, these silent craft provide the perfect means of transport to explore the upper Nile on a more intimate level.

Serenaded by a young boy in his box boatsDuring our excursion we are occasionally serenaded by young boys in their box boats who take a break from their rowing (and bailing) to hitch a ride on our boat and sing us a tune. Nightfall sees us to a local coffee house where we comfortably lounge around and sample some of the local refreshments - Dom and Yenson - while I happily puff on my apple tobacco filled water pipe, or shisha.

Sipping Dom and Yenson while happily puffing on a shishaThe next day, a short cruise down the Nile brings us to the temple Kom Ombo. This double temple (dedicated to both Sobek and Horus) is situated high upon a mound above the river bank. Sobek, the crocodile god, was paid homage by the sacrifice and mummification of hundreds of his real-life counterparts, the crocodiles of the Nile.

The double Temple of Kom OmboA few of these ancient croc mummies are still in their original places in one of the shrines of the temple.

Our next stop was Edfu and the town’s beautifully preserved Temple of Horus. The Ptolemies spent over 100 years building this massive temple to the falcon-headed Horus. A few more hours down the Nile brings us to the temple of Khnum laying in what is now a large hole about 30 feet below current street level.

The courtyard of the massive Temple of HorusAmong the temple’s more interesting decorations are those of graffiti carved in the temple courtyard by Napoleon’s soldiers in 1798. In a way, it is comforting to know that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  It's facinating that human behavior is still the same in a lot of ways, even after 200 years.

The sheik and his belly dancing brideUpon our return to the ship, the agenda for the evening lists afternoon tea, dinner, and a late night gallabiya party.  It seems that those who would like to participate (and everyone is encouraged to do so), are invited to show up in the ship's lounge adorned in the dress of the native Egyptians, past or present.  Well, Laura and I would never turn down such an invitation, so we busily set about in preparation.   The end result was a very fashionable (if somewhat flashy) sheik accompanied by the most beautiful of his harem, a most stunning belly dancer.  It wasn't long before everyone got into the spirit of things as the crew helped the party along by sponsoring games and dancing contests.  Although it made for a long day, fun was certainly had by all. 

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Last modified: August 19, 1999    Photographs and text 1998 Scott and Laura Kruglewicz. All Rights Reserved.

 

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