Friday, March 16, 2007

A Journey Through Egypt - Luxor, The East Bank

26th February 2007

Early this morning we caught our flight to Luxor – a rather short flight – 1 hour to be precise. By 6:30am we were already in Luxor being received by our guide for the next part of the journey Ahmed, and by 7am we were at the Temple of Karnak. What a magnificent sight or site, whichever way you look at it! The Karnak site covers a huge area. One dynasty after another added to the temple of Amun, so that from its founding during the Middle Kingdom to the building of its outermost pylon during the 25th Dynasty, 1300 years elapsed!! A processional way lined with ram-headed sphinxes leads into the temple. They represent Amun, the primordial creation-deity and between the forelegs of each stands a diminutive figure of Ramses II, Amun’s representative on earth.

Once we cross the second pylon, we enter the Hypostyle Hall, the 19th Dynasty work of Seti I and Ramses II. Its forest of gigantic columns, some in the shape of open papyrus flowers and others as closed buds is probably one of the most spectacular sights of Egypt. Each of these columns are so massive, that apparently it takes outstretched arms of six people to encircle one. Since there were only four of us (including our guide Ahmed), we didn’t try encircling one.

An obelisk, raised by Tuthmosis I stands in the small courtyard between the 3rd and the 4th pylons. Between the 4th and the 5th stood two magnificent obelisks of Hatshepshut, daughter of Tuthmosis I. One remains intact at 29.5 meters, it is the tallest obelisk in entire Egypt. The other one has snapped into two – the upper portion lies at the corner of the Sacred Lake where one can examine the hieroglyphic inscriptions up close. Close to that is a giant granite scarab dedicated to the rising sun. Legend says going around the scarab gets boons – 3 times, good luck; 5 times, marriage; 7 times, baby! Spouse and I took turns to walk around the holy scarab…and no, I’m not telling you, how many times we went around the silly scarab!!

Next stop on the itinerary was the Luxor Temple. Its situated bang in the center of downtown Luxor, visible from all sides. The Luxor Temple, in my mind was a lot less spectacular, once you’ve seen the Karnak Temple. Yet the numerous colossi of Ramses II dotting the great court, his beautiful wife Nefertari standing knee-high at his side, cannot but inspire awe! It was built by two of the most famous Egyptian pharaohs - Amenhopis III, a magnificent patron of the arts whose 40-year reign was one of the peaks of Egyptian power, and Ramesses II, sometimes called the 'great builder'.

The temple was dedicated to Amun, the king of the gods. It survived as a temple under the Greeks and the Romans, and later became a Christian church - and now a Muslim mosque still nestles among its colonnades.

On the front of the entrance pylon of the temple, Ramesses II had carved the story of his great battle at Kadesh in Syria, against the Hittite empire, the battle which inaugurated the Egyptian empire in the Near East in the New Kingdom. He also had six huge statues of himself constructed in front of the pylon, along with two great obelisks - one of which was removed, and can now be seen in Paris.

The sight-seeing was over and it wasn’t even 10am. But you couldn’t guess that from looking at the sun. It was high and hot. We get into our van and head out to the docks to board our cruise-ship. The entire east bank of Luxor seemed to be chock-full of cruise boats. Most of them looked old and ratty and in major need of repair! I was getting scared about our boat…they did send us a picture, but it was so small that I couldn’t quite figure out the details. But when we reached our private dock, the sight of the boat took my breath away! Its not the massive cruise-ships that voyage the oceans; a new generation stern-wheeler Sonesta St George is truly beautiful! Inside was opulent and sometimes slightly over the top (if not bizarre) with Louise XIV furniture interspersed with Rococo flowers and Trompe l’oeil galore along with statues of Egyptian gods. But somehow in this setting it didn’t look that incongruous! Either I’m losing my taste or the jet-lag has messed up my brain! At lunch all the dining room staff fawned over me making me really embarrassed. Somehow word has reached them that I’m vegetarian and they were running helter-skelter trying to make sure that I get enough to eat!

I’m ashamed to say that yet again I indulged in a 5hr afternoon nap! Jet-lag I say!!! Dinner starts at 7:30pm here – slightly late for our usual time but that gave me an opportunity to loll about in bed a little longer before getting dressed in formal clothes to go to the dining room! At dinner the chef insisted on serving me something “Indian” despite my protests. His concoction was ghastly – beans and carrots in a thick sauce which had way too much curry powder and no salt! I’m really touched by the thoughtfulness of the chef, but the prospect of being subjected to such “Indian” fare everyday might keep me away from the dining room!

The after dinner entertainment consisted of a male dancer with twirling skirts which he took off and spun over his head like roomali roti! Pretty neat actually! What wasn’t neat was the belly-dancing act after that! We’ve seen some fabulous belly-dance performances in Seattle where one can’t help but gasp at the grace, the fluid movements and at the sheer flexibility of the dancer’s body! This girl was plain bad…had the appeal of a beer-bar dancer at the most!

Tomorrow we have yet another early start. Got to get off the boat by 5:30am. Gosh! What I wouldn’t give to sleep in late for a change! So good night – Ma Salaama!


White Magpie said...

Ah..I must accompany you or take you along with me for future trips. You describe so well. I barely do justice.

You don't feature in the pix?

Nautilus said...

@Magpie: Thanks. I'd love to take up that offer some know travelling as your personal scribe :-) Must mention here that I only travel first class and sleep in Presidential suites! Still want to take me with you??!!

I don't think any of the pictures to posted on the Egypt series will feature me! Or it might...who knows!