Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Journey Through Egypt - Edfu & Kom Ombo

28th February 2007

I feel like a human being today! The few extra (precious) hours of sleep in the morning has finally rejuvenated my tired soul!! This morning we anchored at Edfu. Without wasting any time, we immediately head out to the Horus temple in a horse drawn carriage. The driver was ancient and the horse emaciated! We clip-clopped through the small town of Edfu towards the temple complex. Edfu could easily have been mistaken as old city area of Hyderabad – the only difference is that Edfu is a lot cleaner than Hyderabad! Sonny boy complained loudly at the foul smell the horse emanated – we should take him back to India soon…he’s getting too used to the antiseptic environment in the US.

There were many entrances to the temple of Horus – but all the gates were closed save one – which made us walk through a series of souvenir shops and rather pushy salesmen! It was extremely annoying and sometime down-right nerve-wracking to say the least!!! We finally made it to the temple complex and what a magnificent sight it was! Temple of Horus is probably the most well-preserved archeological site in entire Egypt. In fact so well preserved it is that the temple almost looks like a set from some big budget Hollywood historical! Inside the temple, all the chambers are still there with their roof intact – giving us a glimpse of its actual grandeur!

Though younger in age (built in 237BC) than some of the other sites we saw over the last few days, it is no less awe inspiring or beautiful! Lot of the carvings inside the temple has been defaced by the early Christians in Egypt who were on a crusade of orts against paganism. It amazing to think that vandalism in the name of god has been practiced since time immemorial! Countless works of ancient art has been destroyed in the hands of religious fanatics all over the world! My mind keeps going to the Bamiyan Buddhas and their destruction by the Talibans. I wonder if Egypt, as an Islamic state, would ever consider destroying these temples of pagan gods?! Probably not – billions of dollars coming in from 9 million tourists a year makes it worthwhile to practice tolerance and secularism!

After lunch we sailed for Kom Ombo, another port upriver. We passed the idyllic Egyptian countryside, dotted with lush green farmland and palm trees on the banks of Nile and dry, arid desert land just beyond with dark brown mountains looming in the horizon. We pass villages of mud-huts painted blue – they look dusty and desolate under the hot sun. Fishermen throw nets into the Nile from their white painted sail boats known as Felucca. It makes such a picturesque setting, but life must be really hard for these people. Egyptian countryside is really poor and every year more and more people leave their villages to seek fortune in big cities like Cairo and Alexandria.

We reach Kom Ombo right after sunset. Its supposed to be one of the most important ports on the Nile owing to the large sugar factory located here. But you couldn’t guess that from the state of the dock! It’s a mess!!! Boats were parked 7-8 deep and we again trudged through lobbies of 8 different boats to get to the shore. The temple of Haroeris and Sobek is located right off the dock accessible by a few flights of stairs. This is yet another exquisite example of Ptolemaic architecture and looked even more spell-binding in the evening with all the strategically placed lights on. It was once a famous hospital in ancient Egypt and the very first documented cataract surgery was done in the halls of Kom Ombo. Sculpted wall relief include one showing ancient surgical tools, bone-saws and dental instruments.

Coming back to the boat was yet another nightmare. It seems that the traffic volume dictates the parking spot for the boats. In the one hour that we spent at the temple, our boat had to move away. So when we came back to the dock, the Sonesta St George was nowhere to be seen. The acrid smell of burning diesel hung in the air and the hawkers selling sub-standard souvenir created a terrible racket! Keeping spouse and a half-asleep sonny boy on the lookout for our boat, I decide to go for a walk. That was a very bad decision – I realize within a minute. Hawkers mill around me brandishing their special wares – camel bone jewelry, ghastly belly-dancing costumes, towels with King Tut’s face printed on them, hieroglyph-printed sarongs, Nefertiti’s bust, granite obelisk, fake turquoise scarabs and cheap Galabiyyas – I walked into a nightmare with my eyes open wide! Smelly men in skull-caps and dirty Galabiyyas jumped into my line of vision - so close to my nose that my eyes blurred! “Indiaaah! Namaste! Amitabh Bachchan!” they shouted trying to attract my attention. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and to save my sanity I quickly retraced my steps shaking my head vigorously and screeching “La shokhran! No – don’t want! Don’t touch me!! Get Lost!!”

Finally I find spouse carrying now-asleep sonny boy still waiting for the boat! The Japanese tour-guide who sits at the table next to ours in the dining room finds us – she was herding a gaggle of Japanese tourists to the nearest coffee shop where everyone’s to wait till the boat moors again at the dock. Just few minutes back, we refused Ahmed’s invitation to join him for Turkish coffee – I kept praying that we don’t bump into him at the café. A band of folk musicians were playing loud music and traveling from table to table looking for baksheesh. I already had a pounding headache and that music made the pain so bad that I had to grit my teeth and squeeze my eyes shut in order to ignore the cacophony! An orderly from the boat found us before the musicians could reach our table – thank God! I might have punched them in the face or something! The trudge back to the boat wasn’t terrible, but again we had to cross four other boats in order to reach ours – I’m getting used to it now!

Tonight the dining room hosted an Egyptian themed gala. It totally made my day. The falafel was great; so was the lentil soup, hummous, babaganoush, mousaka and the baklava was simply sublime! After dinner the party shifted to the lounge upstairs where most of the people showed up wearing cheap Galabiyyas bought off the street vendors, pretending to be Arab sheiks! It was surreal – almost like being at the pajama party at a retirement home! Grey haired, moldy old-fogies shook their replaced hips and gyrated to thumping Arabian music wearing long night-shirts!! I was too depressed to linger – spouse was half asleep anyway and sonny boy passed out cold at 7pm…there was no reason to sit around and watch old European women rub themselves against the good-looking young stewards! Ewww! It was time to retire for the night!


Shreemoyee said...

Wow lovely pictures and I am following your Egypt series with interest. I had been wanting to write a rajasthan tour series for ever, hopefully I will do that soon.

kaushik said...

Was just reading The Alchemist and then i hit upon this. The photos are quit amazing. Visiting these places just gives me goosebumps when I think how long they have standing.

Nautilus said...

@Shreemoyee: Thanks! And write the Rajasthan series fast or I might beat you to that one :-)

@Kaushik: Thanks for dropping by.

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Bob said...

Nice posting on Rajasthan tourist attractions. Rajasthan has special place World Travel Map.
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