Saturday, 13 February 2010

Enchanting Egypt

One of my dreams finally came true, which was landing on the African continent for the first time. We spent around 6 days in Egypt and decided to use a tour guide service as we were informed that information at the sites were in arabic and its very difficult to commute the places on our own. Upon arrival in Cairo I was struck by the metropolitan atmosphere of the city. There are over 20 million people in Cairo…it is the largest city on the continent of Africa.

On day one, I was in front of the pyramids of Giza with Soumya, my wife. I lost my mind when I finally saw the pyramids (Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure) and the Sphinx. I just couldn’t believe that they have been there for thousands of years. The desire for eternity was the driving force behind the construction of the pyramids, its the technological mastery that makes it a true wonder. Built as tombs for kings and sometimes queens, these world-famous monuments did not stand in isolation, but were designed as part of funerary complexes that included shrines and temples, where priests would summon the spirits of the royalty and make offerings to ensure their immortality.

Next day we awoke disgustingly early, in order to catch our 5:30 flight from Cairo to Luxor. In case you don’t know what early is, that is 3:30. In the morning. We left for the airport, and arrived early enough to have to wait an hour and a half for the flight.

We arrived in Luxor and checked into our hotel. Luxor is indeed much nicer than Cairo. For one, it is far greener, and has much more agriculture. Secondly, the Nile plain looks better here. We checked into our hotel, and had a cup of tea, being able to catch the tail end of breakfast.
The first thing we went to see was the Karnak Temple. It has a total of 134 HUGE pillars, meant to represent papyrus flowers. It also has a couple of giant obelisks, and the obligatory statues and walls. We wandered around there for a while, then headed towards Luxor temple. A good portion of it is destroyed now, but there is still enough of it to see that it must have been very impressive in its day. There were large pillars and huge stone statues everywhere.

In the evening we sailed on a fairly traditional Felucca. Its canopy covers 3/4th of the boat. Felucca sailing was great and we experienced some beautiful sunsets over river Nile.

Next day we visited the Valley of the Kings. Its really incredible…unfortunately, no pictures were allowed. It is in a barren area of mountains of limestone and absolutely no vegetation. But in this valley there are thousands of tombs buried…most of which have not been discovered yet. Several of these tombs have been discovered by mistake. When a new King takes power one of the first things they do is commission the creation of their own tomb…life after death was an obsession. They take years to carve into the mountain and they vary in size…but all have a long passage way from the entrance and several small chambers off the passage way that leads to the burial chamber. It is difficult to imagine the amount of work that went into these as all along the long passage way and in each chamber the walls and ceilings are covered in hieroglyphics that tells the story of the person buried in that tomb.

There was only one queen who had a temple built so we stopped and saw Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple. She had an awful step son who had here killed so he could rule and then he defaced everything that honored her.

After an exhausting day exploring Luxor, we packed and went to the train station to get onto our transport to the Aswan. At last, at about 7:45 pm, the train pulled up and we on board, squeezing through the narrow seat with 20 kg bags in tow and Egyptian men smoking in rail bogies like chimneys. We arrived at Aswan around 11 and was transferred to the hotel. The tour guide here convinced us to drop Abu Simbel trip as it was planned very early next day morning. Instead he managed to squeeze in Nubian museum, Philae Temple and High dam in the schedule.

Next day morning, we visited Nubian museum where we could see lot of ancient egyptian monuments including a mummy. Next stop was to Agilika Island to see the Philae Temple. This temple, was relocated as part of the Aswan High Damn project. We took the flight back to Cairo and next day morning was our flight to London.

Overall, Egypt was incredibly interesting! They are simply the greatest monuments I have ever seen. I doubt whether anything my generation build will be left standing and be admired in the year 7500 AD.

Life is never dull…unless you let it be!

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