So now was the time to move to the water! What this means is that I was now on my way to a Nile Cruise, which basically was one that moves down the river and stops at various spots and my intent was to see all the spots along the way that were possible. Taking my leave from the oh-so-like home Cairo via air, I made my way to the river dock some distance out in a bus and then after dumping my stuff in the teeny cabin of this thing that looked like a restored old Mississippi gambling riverboat, went up to the open top deck to sit back and take in the Nile.
Now I don’t know how to describe it to you guys, but the Nile is really something else! Ok, admittedly a fair part of this has to do with the fact that when I see the Nile itself my overactive imagination kicks in and pictures all the stuff from Moses turning the waters to blood and all the rest, but its still a beautiful sight to behold (specially at sunset, as you could discern from this here picture!) So there was little else to do and the day was young, so it was off to the grand temples of Karnak and Luxor, which – if nothing else – you’ll have heard the names of in The Mummy.
This temple complex was one that was built over a massive amount of time, even by Egyptian standards. It was started in the 16th century and then was in construction through the rule of almost 30 Pharoahs, and was dedicated to the “Theban triad – Amun, Mut and Menthu (father, mother and child). Amon-Ra was actually two deities – Amun and Ra. Now this temple was built as homage to Amun and his family, but only the precinct of Amun is open to tourists, and it is the largest. Amun was the “god of air” and was the most revered of the gods and his wife was Mut, the mother from which the cosmos emerged. Over time as gods began to change and peoples allegiance began to shift around (it happened quite a bit…) Amun was absorbed into Ra, the sun god, most people associate him with the “Eye of Ra” which is a very recognisable symbol, and Mut was merged into his wife Hathor. There was a lot more shift back and forth in the Egyptian pantheon, which I’ll leave of for now, but eventually these gods were all merged or replaced by the more well known lines of Osiris and Isis and their kin. Ok, history lesson over!
Back to the real – As you move around the precinct of Amon-Ra, its astounding to see the remains of the massive columns and imagine what it must have been like to see them all as they were when they were whole and pristine. I loved this shot of the sunlight shining through the remains of some windows. Each and every column and every wall is covered in hieroglyphics and stories and such and its absolutely fascinating (more so if you understand what some of them mean, but that’s a personal thing…) there’s the massive obelisks built to the sun lord and in the old days they used to be topped by a unique amalgam of metal and would glimmer and shine in the day like the sun itself! As you move further you come to the vast lake that is one of the things for which Karnak was most well known and the priests housing complex beyond.
Now one of the funny things here is a scarab on a small pedestal. Unlike what Hollywood would have you believe, scarabs were a serious good luck symbol to the ancients and in fact didn’t climb under your skin and eat you alive… anyway, people are told by guides that if you walk around the pedestal 3 times clockwise and make a wish, it’ll come true, and so I had to wait for the better part of 20 minutes for the huge wall of tourists walking around it like idiots to get a decently clear shot of the thing – so you guys should appreciate this one!! While the crowds were milling about the place I strolled around to get a decent shot of the whole complex from a small rise and saw what must have been the precinct of Mut, closed of course, and started chatting with a guard standing there to keep tourists away while restoration efforts were underway. With a little playful banter, a smoke and a smidgen of baksheesh I found myself sneaking into the less occupied part of the temple and managed to sneak a couple of shots before making myself scarce, happy to have pulled it off.
Taking my leave of Karnak – and it was hard! – Next up was Luxor, the smaller of the complex. Now there’s little left of it today, but all the temples in this entire area used to be interconnected by broad avenues, all lined by the sphinxes and these avenues used to be for religious processions. Today you can only see traces of these paths, one of which is right outside the entrance to Luxor. Back in the day this path was used yearly in the Opet Festival during which a cult statue of Amun was carried from Karnak to here to be with his consort Mut for a time, a celebration of fertility – for this reason the temple was also known as the ‘Southern Harem’. Outside the temple walls are two statues of Ramses II that stand guard over temple and the huge pylon that he had constructed and the walls have large carvings of Ramses’ victories, most notably his win at Kadesh (legendary battle, but I wont delve there at this point).
A curiosity of note is that long before this temple was excavated, it was almost completely buried and a Muslim holy man had a shrine of sorts built for him, which people still visit (on the left here – closed to tourists) and sits what is now atop a wall of temple (back then at ground level). Inside it is not as massive and elaborate as Karnak, sure, but by itself is a magnificent place and strolling around it was a great experience for me.
Finally it was time to head back to the boat and prepare to set out. I reached back and we had a “captains invitational” dinner for the whole boat in the bar/sitting room/dance hall. The highlight of the evening was a dervish dancer who put on a great show and though I tried to get a decent picture, the guy was moving so fast that I just couldn’t get a decent bloody focus! This was followed by the main event, a belly dancer, but I was sorely disappointed to witness a chubby east European girl doing a very passable and almost sad excuse for one. Ok, admittedly since I’ve seen genuine and amazing belly dancers in the middle east a few years back, it made me a little over critical, all the other people on the boat really enjoyed it and some of the older gents actually joined in as she went up to them and I found myself enjoying the spirit of the evening.
Being a bit of a loner, I stuck around so long as it was interesting but then ordering a nice big beer, I headed out to the deck and found myself a quiet corner. Floating down that huge river, with the sounds of night and the beautiful Egyptian night sky above me, I sat and contemplated a great deal (that is a different matter entirely, and much too long for now) and eventually called it a night since the next day promised to be a bloody long one! (and it was… you’ll see…)