Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hi there! Just back from a 4 day Nile Cruise a sailing trip through Ancient Egypt’s history. It was an awesome trip except for a wretched stomach that marred my last day a wee bit. I have, subsequently been told, that this is supposed to be the finale of the trip – an upset stomach. The remedy? None of the fancy medicines that doctors prescribe but a cup of hot, steaming Turkish coffee with lots of lemon juice! Inshallah, the next time!

The ship / boat itself was lovely – a luxury cruise ship with a lounge, bar with a dance floor, wood and marble paneled lobbies for each floor and beautifully appointed rooms. It had a scrumptious dining room – wood paneled with shining chandeliers, over 20 covers of 6 seats each, Turkish carpets, formally laid out table with the most gorgeous tableware and snow white napkins - it reminded me of the Titanic (on a much much smaller scale) which was not very comforting! However, the Nile at this time of the year is a gentle river and the sailing was so smooth that one had to look out of the window to remind oneself that we were sailing!

We boarded the ship at Aswan after having flown an extremely crowded Egypt Air flight. The domestic airport at Cairo is like an overcrowded DTC bus at this time of the year. In the Easter break, all of Cairo heads off to either Hurgada, Sharm-el-Shaik, Marsalam or Luxor / Aswan, if not overseas.

Our first visit was to The Temple of Philae, which is dedicated to the ancient Egyptian Goddess Isis. Isis (one of the oldest deities of ancient Egypt) was the mother of the great Egyptian god Horus and was revered as the great protector, prayed to for guidance, and for peace. In fact she was subsequently worshipped by the Greeks and Romans as well!! As a result, this temple was actually converte into a Church for Mother Mary!!

Many Egyptians come here to offer prayers so that the Goddess bestows on them the good fortune of progeny. Unfortunately, parts of the etchings on the wall were defaced during the Roman occupation. This was one of the last strongholds of ancient Egyptian religion which continued to flourish here into the 6th Century. When the Temples where finally closed 550 AD, it ended 4,000 years of worship of the pagan gods in Egypt.

With moonlight gently lighting up the shores of the temple, we heard the sound & light show, which is structured as a dialogue between the river Nile, and goddess Isis and traces the history of Egypt through the story of Isis. Listening to the show, it suddenly struck me that back home rivers are treated as female ( the mother, the giver of life) but here the Nile is male. Maybe a reflection/indication of the fact that ancient Egypt was essentially a patriarchal society?

Next stop was the Temple at Kom Ombo which is actually two temples consisting of a Temple to Sobek (Crocodile headed god) and a Temple of Horus (the falcon headed sky god). Since Nile was infested with crocodiles, the ancient Egyptians worshiped Sobek in order to appease him (the crocodiles), and, to insure the fertility of their people and crops. They would keep crocodiles in pools (oh oh!) and temples and ornamented them with jewels! The highlight of the visit were the mummified bodies of 3 crocodiles which are on display!!

The temple of Horus at Edfu, the Karnak and Luxor temples at Luxor were equally awesome albeit similar in structure. The etchings, while similar to a layman’s eye, tell myriad stories to Egyptologists and people who can read hieroglyphics.

One of the best parts the trip was the visit to the tombs of Tutankhamen, Rameses IX etc at the Valley of the Kings & Queens which were breathtaking. Not in the structure (in that respect Philae or Edfu are striking) but in the nature, clarity and colours of the etchings on the walls. The walls in the tombs have managed to preserve 3000-4000 year old colours in the etchings, which in places are still very bright!

Standing at the Edfu temple at night, I could not help but remember our carvings at places like Ajanta, Ellora, Khajrao which are probably more life like and intricate. But then you realize that these structures and etchings are twice as old as Khajrao / Ajanta and yet so detailed and so sturdy that they have stood the tests of time. On the other hand the Mohanjodaro / Harappa civilizations were perhaps even more advanced – they had the first plumbing system in the known history of mankind, ancient Egypt had the next. Thinking about this, kindles a sort of kinship with the Egyptians. We share so much history and are so similar in so many ways – two of the earliest ancient civilizations, emotional people, family oriented, friendly, proud, argumentative! Perhaps I’m more Egyptian by temperament than I realize!

The Karnak temple has etchings which depict medical instruments used by the ancient Egyptians. These appear to indicate that they undertook surgical processes to cure complex human illness like tumors etc– makes you realize that man is destined to reinvent the wheel time and again. Millions of years ago, our ancestors knew much more than what it took us years and years to discover. Guess that is the cycle of nature , the nature of time...

Unfortunately, over the years settlements have come up around these temples burying other tombs and treasures in their wake.

As the trip came to the end, sitting out in my cabin’s balcony with the twinkling lights of Luxor lighting up the shores, watching the Nile flow into the night, I could not help think about how the shores of the Nile must have resounded with the chants of the ancient Egyptians as they gathered to pay homage and offer prayers to this river of life….

These photographs will give you an idea of why I was so mesmerised and wrote such a long post

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