The River Nile flows from South to North, from Sudan to Egypt with great tranquility and peace that it would be very hard to ever imagine it’s flooding! However with the changes of time, and perhaps geography, we know for sure that the landmasses in terms of continents are constantly shifting even if extremely slowly. The 7000 km long river touches upon it’s course several monumental wonders of Ancient Egypt. Monuments that were built very many years ago by empires who were highly advanced and mostly worshiped the Sun-God Amun Ra and his various other entourage Gods. The Goddess Isis, the God Horus, the crocodile God Kom Ombo, make for several important figures whose praises and stories are captured in hieroglyphics across monuments in Egypt. Building mostly with sandstone with dashes of marble, the temples pay an ode to different Gods. How they were built may be a tad clearly that the Pyramids, considering the proximity of the river and the advancement of time, the discovery of various instruments, but their sheer size and measure are truly captivating and magnificent. The powdery blue skies serve a perfect canvas to the golden sandstone structures while the river is a perfect medium to observe the very many temples dotting the bank.
Checking into Solaris-II a magnified house-boat is one way to embark on the Nile Cruise. What immediately strikes is the quietness of the river, in absolute ease the river that is much too shallow in parts flows effortlessly in a contrary direction and empties itself in the Mediterranean sea. While several dams have been built across the river, to mostly harness its energy, serving to light up several smaller towns in Egypt, the Aswan Dam is the most popular, besides being an engineering marvel. The Dam filters out crocodiles that are rampant in the Nile causing the last stretch of the water-body flowing from Aswan to Alexandria extremely tidy, filtering out the man-eating water-creature and allowing for an extremely delightful and tourist friendly experience, across Egypt. The cruise-boats that follow the course are akin to houseboats, that can ply the relatively shallow river. Equipped with restaurants, lounges, sometimes a shallow wading pool and a well stocked rooms the boats are luxurious, comfortable or bare, suiting a range of budgets and requirements. The best way to experience the Nile though is on a felucca! Also fondly referred to as the whispers of the wind. Capturing the wind the feluccas are sailboats, harnessing power to skim delicately across the water. The picturesque scenery across the riverbanks are dotted by two major towns, Luxor and Aswan and innumerable smaller places host to brilliant monuments. The Lake Nasser created when the river’s course was changed in the 1960’s to save the monuments of Abu Simbel from sinking forever is touted as a brilliant exercise carried out by UNESCO to save cultural heritage. The 3 lakh off stones were cut and reassembled on a hill at a height of over 136 feet. Abu Simbel is one of the most exciting and ingenious archaeological exercise carried out to save the rocks from oblivion. However, I was left wondering what if, Abu Simbel could have been kept underwater and visited by people underwater through scuba-diving attire! That would have been quite an experience. Just as I thought otherwise of the mammoth effort of UNESCO, several people over time have critically looked at the building of the Aswan Dam and the act of changing the course of the Nile. They claim that it has badly affected climate, geography and taken a toll on the financial balance-sheets of the country!
While sailing from the city of Luxor to Aswan, the first stop along the way are the temples of Karnak and Luxor. Luxor was once called Thebes, but over time it’s name changed to Luxor, meaning the palace of the king. It probably got it’s name from the architecture extravaganzas in the area. The Karnak temple was built for the Sun-God while the Luxor temple was built for his queen, both the temples are accessible through a pathway guarded by half lion and half man sculptures all across the way. The half-man, half-lion mythical creature, also called the Sphinx, is symbolic of the most popular creature, one that has the head of a man and the body of a lion, making it extremely powerful. The Hypostyle hall marked by giant columns is my personal favorite of the temples. Seen both in Karnak and Luxor, it is much bigger in the Karnak temple than in Luxor. Before entering the hall, one can view sculptures of the young and insanely popular Egyptian King Tutakhamun whose tomb was discovered by Howard Carter, filled with precious materials and the 11 kg golden mask. Though he died at a very young age of 19, he is vastly remembered for his highly glorious tomb and princely belongings. The Hypostyle hall is filled with huge stone columns that must have once been support to the roof. The proportions are gigantic and the columns are filled with hieroglyphics all along. Obelisks carved out of a single granite piece make for interesting symbols made to tell a story and string along everything that the emperor would like to convey. Efforts of France, working in tandem with Egypt are visible in the Karnak temple. The temple is also home to a scarab, one of the ancient Egyptian’s symbols of good luck. Circling the scarab over 7 times we were very happy to know that some good luck may well have rubbed off onto us!
The Valley of Kings, across the river is a series of tombs that the kings built of themselves under hills, barren and brazen. The conservation efforts at the Valley of Kings is stupendous and still underway. The walls of the tombs are filled with plastered hieroglyphics completed in pastel and pretty shades of color. Today the tombs are easily accessible, through narrow passages that terminate into chambers where once the mummified bodies were stored with other articles like food or precious metal. The ancient Egyptians believed in the requirement of the bodies in future lives and preserved them carefully, while also handing to it food, money and other things they believed would give them a head-start in the life to come! Little did they know that all their efforts would be in vain. The human body does not rise again. I cannot help but reflect on how a couple of centuries later our proteges will wake to establish that the soul too does not rise again, as we Hindus believe, but our chapters end in totality with our last breath! There is no last life, or karma, or reincarnation of the soul. And when they do, they may just marvel at our stupidity as we may do of the ancient Egyptians! Built to serve mainly as tombs or temples, most monumental architecture, except for the Eiffel Tower(;)) is meant for religious or death, two greatest fears of man. Monumental architecture seems to be nothing but man’s ode to his greatest fears, or lets just say with fear as a driving factor, man has built the most stunning and magnificent edifices! To witness and experience though, the Valley of Kings is awesome just as is the temple of Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut was a Egyptian queen, rather ill-behaved (well well-behaved women hardly make history), dressed as a man and ruled Egypt by hook or crook. The temple of Hatshepsut against a giant rock was a beautiful piece of architecture and for some inexplicable reason my most favorite memory of the entire trip. The light was marvelous, the proportion was marvelous, the building in tandem was marvelous, the restoration was marvelous, infact every single aspect of the temple of Hatshepsut was marvelous. It is built in white alabaster stone, a type of marble and it reflects sunlight, the high cliff with equal elan, is robust and brilliant at every level. A gem of a piece of architecture that is now being restored by a Polish team. The quarters built for the team at a safe distance from the monument is so cozy and wonderful too. A case of a thing of a thing of beauty being a joy forever. It was indeed my happy place!
Other temples along the journey are the Horus temple in Edfu, the Kon Ombo temple, but after the point all the other temples start to resemble each other. The proportions are so different from what we witness today, so sturdy and robust they have stood the test of time and bring out a completely different perspective to the way we see buildings. While the world is filled with gorgeous architecture, soothing naturescape and brilliant engineering marvels, egyptian structures, that lack finesse draw out a rare brilliance and are probably the only structures in the world that live up to the title of wonders or monuments. Mostly because they were built at a time when the world was not completely evolved with tools and equipment, and we have no clue as to how they built them all. The pyramids are much older than the buildings along the Nile, which display Greek influence. The greeks also plundered the monuments and broke parts of them over time. The rather peaceful Nile, the sandstone stories are all a part of a glittering history that is missing from the country today. Modern Egyptians grapple with many issues of a falling economy, revolution, strife and worry. The cruise ships that carry wide-eyed travelers are also badgered by hawkers who try to sell shawls, towels with souveniers, throwing them in plastic bags to the top decks and asking for tourists to part with some money, throwing the money back in the plastic bags! Its unbelievable when the plastic bags miss their mark and fall in water, only to be rescued by the hawker. The dire need, the lack of employment or sheer laziness are certainly causes of concern in a country so fraught by violence, trouble and pain. It’s history is awe-inspiring, and as a learning may only display the futile attempts of man to hold on to life. If history had to teach us anything, it would be to enjoy the moment, living in it with gusto, for we cannot defy nature, the call of time, the effects of aging, the idea would be to ensure that the present, the ultimate gift that we all have is to be lived taking in every moment, for the moment is all we have. Any amount of preservation did not allow the pharoahs or emperors to hold on to their bodies, the mummified bodies rotted anyway, the only things that remained untarnished were precious metals which sparked robbery, thievery and usurping of goods. While each body looks different filled with muscle and mass, once dead all the mummies rot to similar sizes. We may well know that there is no after-life, no way to hold on to the physicality of the body or life which will all change in due time. There may be Gods, but still do not know for sure. There may be none. We may be today as deluded as the ancient egyptians in believing in souls and the like. Life that flows through us is all we know there is, and once the battery runs out, we die. Something that calls for no fear or tribute. Having lived once and well is good enough. Even as history teaches us maybe we must pour our efforts into building monuments that not only mark God or death, temples or tombs, perhaps what we need are stadiums and theaters, giant-wheels and lively streets, fun spaces and cozy homes, libraries and art galleries that spark the life in us, that celebrate with gaiety life, completely unfringed by fear, so very well. The attitude of infectious enthusiasm signals a life well-lived, deeply felt and fraught with fun and laughter. What I learned from this open history chapter was how inconsequential we all are in the greater history, what we could only aspire to be is the best version of ourselves and focus on enjoying our lives, in leisure and pleasure, working hard and smart, fulfilling ourselves in the bargain. Life is meant to be lived, not stored in jars or mummified, and it’s important to know when it’s over, it’s over and let it go!!
P.s. Like they say, man and God met and they both exclaimed, “He made me”!