Another article in our OBT series.
Our experience in Egypt so far had been hard at times, as told in Egypt – Part 1.
Emerging from our new digs in Aswan, we turned the corner and began to connect with the ancient temples and tombs as we hoped we would when we started planning this tour.
Aswan – Philae Temple
First, we went to the temple of Philae, which is on an island in the lake created by the Aswan Low Dam, built by the Brits in 1902 at the First Cataract on the Nile. Through the inscriptions on all of the temples we visited, we began to piece together the mythology of the ancient Egyptian religion and their gods. Temple inscriptions often include information about everyday life and religious practices along with descriptions of the exploits of the pharaoh who commissioned the temple, an early form of propaganda. The Philae temple is dedicated to Isis, the wife of Osiris and the mother of the falcon god Horus. It would take far too long to impart the stories here, so I won’t say any more than that.
Later, we took an afternoon cruise upriver to a Nubian village on an island in the Nile.
The Nubian people are spread between Egypt to the north and Sudan to the south. They tend to live in villages, on islands in the Nile, amongst themselves, in buildings made with mud bricks. We toured the village and had dinner prepared by a local family on the roof of their home. The meal was among the best we had in Egypt, rich with flavors, textures, and colors. It was a real treat.
At 5 am the following morning we started our long bus ride to Abu Simbel temple. Our first stop was at a gate with lots of other buses a little before 6 am, we were all waiting for the road to open. We were told we would convoy but the 3-hour drive quickly devolved into every vehicle going as fast as they wanted. The main temple was constructed by Ramses II and it is very impressive, with 4 very large statues of Ramses seated outside.
There is a second, smaller temple to his favorite wife Nefertiti. The front features 2 standing statues of her and 4 of him. It’s good to be the king, boy did this guy have an ego. The temple is next to Lake Aswan, which extends into Sudan, with beautiful and reasonably well-preserved inscriptions and pictures inside. It was worth the early rise and long bus ride, although flying would have been better.
These temples were some of 22 ancient temples moved before they were covered by Lake Nasser, which was created by the construction of the Aswan High Dam. The project to move the temples was funded by several countries, including the US. In appreciation, the countries who helped fund the moves were each given a temple. That is how a complete Egyptian temple came to be in the Metropolitan Museum in NYC.
Sailing on the Nile
Our whole time in Egypt, we heard about the Nile, which is extremely important to the Egyptians. What better way to experience the Nile than to sail down it on a traditional boat called a Felucca, where the entire deck was covered in mattresses. In addition, the captain had to manipulate the beam for the mainsail to get under a bridge. It was a complicated maneuver, especially considering tacking. We stopped on the shore downriver, in a reportedly croc-free section. Some of our group chose to swim in the Nile; Diana and I settled for walking in the shallows. The whole day was wonderfully slow and peaceful.
Luxor – Kom Ombo
Leaving Aswan, we drove to the temple of Kom Ombo, which is unique in Egypt for being an asymmetrical double temple. The northern half of the temple is dedicated to the falcon god Horus and the southern half is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek. Each half has a complete set of halls and chambers for its god. Horus is the god of kingship while Sobek is the god of fertility. There are several scenes on the Sobek side displaying what Navin Johnson in The Jerk was told was his “special purpose”. We also went to a museum with a bunch of mummified crocodiles.
We moved on to Karnak, a site in Luxor with several temples, most notably one dedicated to the sun god, Amun-Ra. The temples here were developed over many centuries and show an evolving story over time. Many of the scenes involve Pharaoh Thutmose III and his stepmother, Hatshepsut, who reigned as Pharaoh when Thutmose III inherited the throne at age 2. Beyond the hieroglyphics, there is an interesting backstory regarding defaced images of Hatshepsut. Current thought is that Thutmose defaced her images when he took the throne from her, to delegitimize claims of Hatshepsut’s children so Thutmose’s son could claim the throne. The site has the Hypostyle Hall, with its impressive 134 columns, some over 60 feet tall. Film crews have used this location in the past and left their damage. But, since they paid, money makes problems go away but doesn’t restore the original site.
We returned to our hotel by taking a ferry across the Nile. In front of us was the Luxor temple, but we had had enough. However, at night, we could see from the avenue of the ram head Sphinxes all lit up, from our room. One such avenue connected the Luxor and Karnak temples. I got a nice sunset video of the Luxor temple and the Nile.
Valley of the Kings
We set out early the next morning for the Valley of The Kings, another highlight of the trip.
There are many colorful, well-preserved tombs that can be toured. The tombs of Ramses III and Ramses VI were quite stunning. This is also where King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922. Work on other tombs continues today.
There are also several locals who have acquired an informal “franchise” to certain off-limits areas which they can show you for a small consideration. Palms needing to be greased abound.
Next, we went to the Temple of Hatshepsut, a large, wide temple against a hill. It has many columns facing the front, presenting an official-looking façade. Again her images were chiseled away and replaced with ones reflecting the greatness of Thutmose III. Nothing lasts forever.
Egypt proved challenging and rewarding for us. But, our tour was a bit downscale versus what we had southeast Asia, especially regarding accommodations. Going for the pricier tour would have been a better choice for us. The ubiquity of smoking also proved a challenge. It was common for us to actively seek out a place to eat in a restaurant or sit in a hotel lobby where we weren’t quickly engulfed in smoke.
However, the antiquities we saw were stunning in their scale and condition. It is impressive how well they have withstood time.
Which of these attractions compel you to visit?