Saturday, May 29, 2004

Egypt - Abu Simbel

I got up frightfully early in the morning without a complaint. I was going to see Abu Simbel. How could I feel bad? It didn't matter that I was still sick, tired from heat and lack of sleep. How many times in life does one get to see such monumental structure?
The flight to Abu Simbel was a very short one. We landed, directly boarded bus, and was there. We approached the site from the back so it was impossible to see anything, but a glimpse of the Nasser lake...then I saw. The colossal statues. I had read and seen many pictures about Abu Simbel, but I was not prepared for the sight in front of me.

Side view of Abu Simbel
What was I expecting? I am not sure, but not this. This incredible structure that is supposedly cut into the mountain in olden days. Of course, this temple too had to be relocated due to the flooding by the construction of the dam. That is something I did not know. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to move this incredible place.
The front entance of Abu Simbel
If "awe-inspiring" is what it was trying to achieve, Abu Simbel did just that. I can clearly see Ramses II's personality. He wanted to inspire and he certainly achieved it. As we walked into the temple through the seemingly narrow entrance (compared to the whole structure I mean), we come face to face with the colossal columns. The colors of ceiling reliefs are still visible and each columns, 8 total leading to the inner chamber is decorated with hieroglyphs.
The columns of Abu Simbel
There are images of Ramses II everywhere. The columns themselves depicted him...His power. I am told that the commoners could enter this part of the temple. It would have been like the people of Medieval era entering the Cathedral. How they must have truly believed the god-Pharaoh Ramses II.  

The columns of Abu Simbel
Past the columns, one can see the numerous wall reliefs of Ramses II's deeds...his battles, his victories, his power. Each relief tells a story. I cannot be sure how many of such stories are actually true, but even if they told half the story, how grand his life must have been?

Wall reliefs at Abu Simbel
One famous battle Ramses II had was that at Kaddish with Hitites. It is told that he had won the battle with the help of God Ra. The battle had been almost lost. He had been outnumbered...but he rode through, to the enemies, his shields shining, his stance never faltering... 

Ramses II at Battle of Kaddish
Another story of Ramses II's battle with Nubians. He is the mighty king. Even I started to believe as I moved from one scene to another of his valor. It didn't help that he was looking down from each columns and each wall.
The battle with Nubians
It is told that only two days out of the whole year, the sun goes through the temple. It shines into this inner chamber where four figures reside. One, of course is Ramses...a deified version of himself. The most extraordinary fact about this inner chamber is that the sun's ray only touches three of the figures. The dark god Ptah is never touched. The temple had been set on exact location and height to be able to achieve this. Even modern science seem to have failed on this. When the temple was moved, because of the height difference and slight change of location, the day that sun shines through the temple is off by few days.   

Inner chamber of Abu Simbel
Ramses II had many wives and many sons and daughters, but his first wife, Nefertari had been the one he never forgot. It is perhaps she who had made him have so many wives. He could not forget her. She had been older than him, but that had not mattered. She is only one who in the history who had been deified by her husband.

I cannot imagine such love. There are remaining records of love letters between Ramses and Nefertari. Love letters! Can you imagine? This is from the Pharaoh...the almighty king of Egypt.

The outside wall relief of temple of Nefertari

Nefertari's temple was on a much smaller scale, but still exquisitely beautiful. If the theme of the Temple of Ramses had been that of valor and power, her temple was that of beauty, refinement, peace, love...

Entrance to the temple of Nefertari
 Entrance to the temple of Nefertari
Inside the temple. the columns are decorated with the goddess Hathor, of song, love...The temple reliefs do not speak of wars...but instead of peace, music, love and forgiveness.    

Inside the temple of Nefertari
After the tour of both temples, we sat in the shade in front of the large man-made lake Nasser. The dam had created this and I wondered what still lay below the depths of those tranquil waters.

View of Lake Nasser from the temple
Books related to Abu Simbel

Friday, May 28, 2004

Egypt - Aswan

Our ship docked at Aswan very late at night or early in the morning. When I woke up, we were no longer moving. Our first day in Aswan started with the tour of the dam. I suppose some might find this interesting, but to me, it seemed like being hit with reality after days of living in the past. I couldn't really find enough enthusiasm. It had flooded countless temples and many cultures.
View of Nile near Aswan
Temple of Philae was located on a small island. One of many temples to be relocated due to the dam. We took a small motor boat through the Nile river there, a very unsteady boat. I think it was the most beautiful temple I have been thus far. Perhaps it has something to do with less heat and the cool breeze. We had not had such luxury for so many days that it almost felt as though we were transported to another world.
Temple of Philae from the boat
I was told that Temple of Philae is that of Cleopatra. If she had indeed built this temple, or even slightly supervised it, I could very well imagine who she might have been. I suppose so much is known about her, yet so little. Is it really for us to conclude who she was based on such little historical records?
Temple of Philae from the boat
This temple, like the others, had been a place of healing. They healed through tears here. I saw little windows on the walls of the temple where perhaps the priestesses stood and cried. How strange to have a job where all you do is cry?
Columns of temple of Philae
The temple was unfortunately heavily vandalized like so many others. Much thanks to the Christians who had dwelt there. How is it possible to destroy such beauty? I am sometimes amazed by the blindness of the people.
Temple of Philae
Inside the temple, we explored a little room, in the middle of which we all stood and put our hands on a significant stone slab of...the significance escapes me at the moment...perhaps luck, or more likely of healing and fertility. I am not sure if all the stories I were told during the tour were real, but I would like to believe them to be.
Temple of Philae
This temple, like others, were still being excavated, or being put together so to speak. There were places where we were supposed to not enter, but well, our guide was our key. We were able to see the little side temple, still being reconstructed. I am still quite not sure what it was used for. Perhaps the living quarters of the priestesses?
Temple of Philae
We lingered at the temple for a long time. I think there was just something that was holding us there...something I am unable to explain. Sometimes I wonder if I would not have liked to have been a priestess...of this ancient world.
Philae Temple from the water
As the sun slowly descended, we boarded a fellukah. It is essentially a sail boat that glides through the of the most peaceful ways to travel I believe. I can't say I would want to sail more than few hours in it, but it was nonetheless unforgettable experience. In the middle of our journey, we switched boats and went on our way to the Nubian Village.
Sites from the boat on the way to Nubian village
Nubians were those who were very much affected by the construction of Aswan dam. Their villages had been flooded and they were given free land to live on, but still, I can only imagine how much must have been lost.
The current of the Nile river was stronger than I had imagined. Our motor boat barely navigated upriver and I could only imagine how difficult it would have been to take a fellukah to where we were headed.
Nile Bank
As we traveled upriver, we occasionally spotted red sand bank filled with people and camels. I suppose that's what some of tourists do. Take a fellukah to the island and get a camel ride.
Although it was interesting to see so many people gathered about at a Nile bank, we decided to move on. The Nubian village awaited us.
Camels resting under a tree
I did ride a camel, near the sphinx in Giza. It was part of the whole package. I thought I would not like it initially, but I found myself getting comforted by the steady rhythm of camel walking. Camels are not really diligent creatures. Someone must constantly pull him or push him. Unless it felt like doing something, it sits and stares at you and refuses to move.
We did see a huge number of camels. One of which was running away...perhaps not. I only saw it walking as fast as it can (I don't think Camels really like to gallop) away from the civilization. A runaway camel...who would have thought?
Runaway camel
This one particular camel had a personality. Or rather, was very good at voicing his opinion about who he liked and who he didn't. He certainly did not care for the boy who was in our group. I think it stared at most of us with its peaceful eyes until he saw the boy. That's when he started yelping.
Camel at the Nubian village
Nubian village had a totally different atmosphere. We saw a woman covered in gold, one who is supposed to marry soon. She is supposed to show her wealth, so all her gold jewelry were visible. The Nubian tradition is to live all in the same house, looking at the same stars. They must have a really tight knit family. The villagers follow their own traditions, own music, own food...They have such different culture compared to Egyptians and all the other race.
Goat at the Nubian Village
Several of us decided to get a tattoo...more like henna I think. I thought I'd pass on that, but it was a lot of fun looking at other people who got them. More fascinating to see the liquid dry and is peeled off and the tattoo appears.
Nubian village

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Egypt - Nile Cruise

I was on the cruise, living on the ship, but the ship did not sail until after the day of the Valley of the Kings and Queens. We set out early in the morning, still hot. We were already tired from heat when we arrived at our first stop, Valley of the Kings. There were literally a valley of mountains, without any vegetation. In most unlikely places, we saw the openings of the tombs.
Valley of the Kings
The first tomb we walked into were striking in color, but much vandalism left me saddened. We were not allowed to take any photos so we tried to absorb it as much as we could by taking in sights like we breathed in the air.Each tomb we saw had various different themed wall reliefs and in various state of preservation.
Temple of Hatshepsut
Our next stop was to the Temple of Hatshepsut. She was a very famous queen who pretended she was a man. How brilliant would she have been to be able to claim pharaohship as a woman? It does not matter if the successor tried to remove all trace of her by vandalizing all her creations. Hatshepsut had built numerous temples and obelisks.
On the steps of Temple of Hatshepsut
It was little sad to note that this modern day temple was not a preserved temple, but a reconstructed one. I can't imagine what grudge her successors had harbored her enough to destroy such beautiful temple. It is grand structure cut into the side of the Valley, with wide stairs leading to the multi-tiered little chambers.
Temple of Hatshepsut
We walked to the top most level where we could see the still remaining wall reliefs of Hatshepsut, Tuthmosis (her co-regent and brother). I sometimes wonder if the marriage between brothers and sisters of ancient Egypt were indeed real or had been only symbolic. It is hard to imagine that race with such deep knowledge in medicine, art, much culture could not have known about consequences of marrying close relatives.
Relief at the Temple of Hatshepsut
We headed to the Valley of the Queens afterward. The tombs still held beautiful fresco, but the valley of the queens were quite different from the ones of Kings. Unfortunately, the most sought after tomb of Nefertari (wife of Ramses II) had closed recently. I had so wanted to see the woman who had inspired such a powerful ruler, but perhaps I have to wait until my next chance.Instead, we were able to see the not so well preserved tomb of a queen who had actually been executed for a murder, a tomb with actually preserved 6 month old fetus, and the tomb of the boy prince who had been killed at a young age.Such stories these tombs tell!Our Nile Cruise began in earnest after our excursion. The ship began to move by the end of lunch time and we were sailing down the Nile. It was strangely a soothing experience although the temperature was hitting almost 130 that day. We had a very nice several days in Egypt, but I guess the heat wave had been unavoidable.
Nile Cruise at the lock, Merchants
In no time, we were by the locks waiting for other ships to pass through. I was awakened from the nap by the noisy voices. Since I had gone to sleep while ship was sailing through the Nile, the sight of merchants on the boat shouting up at our ship was an incredible sight. I could not comprehend how it is that they were able to follow alongside the boat to sell merchandises. It was very silly of me.    The merchants who came on the boat were incredible. They would throw their merchandises to the people on the Cruise ship and those would be thrown back if they were not wanted, if someone wanted to buy, the money is thrown back. What a way to sell!
The view from the Nile Cruise
The rest of the voyage was not as exciting. We were due in Edfu in several hours and I spent peaceful hot hours on the deck observing the sights of daily lives along the Nile banks.
Edfu Temple
When we woke up, we were already docked at Edfu. We were taken to the temple by the way of horse carriage...little more hassle with the fee, but we arrived at the temple all in great spirit. It was temple built in the era of Cleopatra, the famous one. Much had been restored and it was in better condition than some of the other temples I'd seen.
Edfu Temple
As we walked through the grounds of the temple, we saw the flood meter which decided the tax and predicted the crop yield for the year. We saw the reminiscent structures of the very old temple that had once been there as well. The main entrance to the temple had a very well preserved famous statue of Horus. It is sometimes very strange to see the falcon wearing the double crown of Egypt.
Edfu Temple
Edfu temple was pretty, but somehow I could not muster enough enthusiasm to wander too long. It was way too hot and I was sick as a dog with cold. Still, I would have rather died than not to see it. So I dragged my body through the narrow temple structure, to the secret inner sanctum. I almost thought I might be cured by being inside once such a spiritual place where only the priests were allowed...but in the end, I still felt crappy.
Kom Ombo Temple
I had no idea Egyptians were able to do cosmetic surgery...mostly for the purpose of restoring lost limbs or eyes, but still. It seems almost unbelievable that such highly developed medical practice was in existence. Even the idea of birth control, surgeries had seem improbable...
Kom Ombo Temple
Yet the stories were all written there of the medical equipments, the treatments. Egyptians firmly believed in psychotherapy before the surgery. It is phenomenal! Curing people through happiness and music rather than through medicine. Only if we did more of that in our modern day medicine.
Kom Ombo Temple
I am told that the temples of Egypt are built at each Chakra point...and depending on which point the temple lies, they are told to cure different parts of body. The eyes, stomach, fertility...Is it possible that we are misinterpreting their wall reliefs? Such ancient civilizations with so much knowledge...where did it all disappear?
The wall relief at Kom Ombo Temple
Our last night at the cruise, we were treated to various dancers. One of which was a Sufi dancer. He was far more skilled than the one I had seen in Cairo, but Belly dancer left little to be desired.
Sufi Dancer

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Egypt - Luxor, Karnak

My days at Cairo were over. I flew into Luxor in the morning and checked into the Nile cruise. The tour started in the afternoon.
Luxor and Karnak was very close by. Once it had been connected by the avenue of sphinx. Even after spending several days in Cairo, the site of Karnak temple still inspired me. The ram statues that leads to the temple entrance, the colossal columns that supported the inner structure...the shadows created by these structures were a blessing. The heat was unbearable, but still it did not diminish the sights. Somehow it was fitting to be there in heat. The ancient Egyptians had done it, why could we not with all the modern advantages? 

Entrance to the Temple of Karnak
We had most marvelous guide. He had once worked with the U Chicago Archeology team. One is always amazed that all the guide one meets at Egypt had all really majored in Egyptology and some even excavated with top archeologists.
He explained to us that Karnak and Luxor are female and maletemples, connected by the avenue. I could only imagine. Who would havetraveled down that path?

The Ram Statue

Once inside temple, one founds oneself in the midst of sea of these colossal columns. Columns are surrounded by the walls of the temple. All are marvelously carved with hieroglyphics depicting the name of the pharaohs and stories of old.
In some column bridges, you can still discover the colors, preserved through time. The vividness of it will surprise you. It certainly surprised me. I had never thought the colors could be preserved for thousands of years.
The columns of Karnak temple

I was wandering through the columns feeling the occasional cool breeze when suddenly all around me became silent. There were tourists about, but I was in the midst of silence. A sudden cool breeze surrounded me and I sat, surrounded by the columns. I was transported to another time, same place yet there was absolute silence, perhaps a far away music.

Karnak temple columns with colored hieroglyphics

Karnak temple columns with colored hieroglyphics

As you walk through the ruins of temple, you come face to face with the obelisks at a random place. It is like someone randomly threw these colossal artifacts in one place and they were left at a spot where they settled. It is almost hard to believe they've actually excavated this place.

Obelisk at Karnak

Of course, the excavation is still constantly on-going. I doubt if there is any site in Egypt that is not still being excavated. In that sense, I can see the cause for such disarray, yet...I wanted to know what it felt to see the temples at the time it had been built. It is an unrealistic desire of course...especially since these temples had taken hundreds of years to build and never had they ever been in pristine condition due to that.
Obelisk at Karnak

The columns are not the only ones with intricately carved hieroglyphics. There are the actual temple walls. It will probably take forever to see all of them in detail and possibly one could end up with heat stroke if one tries to. I thought I could take a picture of at least few of them so that I can try to interpret what stories they were telling us. 
Wall reliefs at Karnak

From the sea of columns, past the obelisks, we find ourselves in front of a large pond. The Nile had once connected here and they'd raised the sacred geese. Strange, priests taking care of geese and geese being sacred animal, but that is where we were...the sacred pond of Geese.

From there, I roamed back to the sea of columns. I wanted to capture the wistful feeling I felt standing in the midst of it.

Yet more columns of Karnak temple

Luxor temple was very close, yet by the heat index, it was too far to walk there. More incredible colossal statues stood in front as well as the continuation of the avenue of sphinx. There was a relief of River god Hapi where we were told the stories of the reunion, the upper and lower Egypt, the harmony...I think Egyptians knew better than us what life was about.         
Relief at Temple of Luxor

Luxor temple had also taken several hundred years to complete. As you walk in, you can find each period of its history, including the one of Alexander the Great and its life as a Christian hiding place.

Luxor Temple

I don't know much about the story of Alexander in Egypt...something to explore. It is hard to imagine that this country had been occupied by many. These colossal temple and pyramids seem to always indicate to us that Egypt had been forever just that, but the story tells us otherwise.
Columns at Luxor was somewhat different from those at Karnak. There were no beautiful hieroglyphic decorations nor colors. They were simply nice columns of different design surrounding the main courtyard. There were no cool breeze, no sea of columns...I was slightly unhappy. I think it was more due to the extreme heat.  
Columns of Luxor

Another sound and light show...held at Karnak. There are numerous sound and light shows, but not one is same as another. At Karnak temple, we gathered together in front of the temple near dusk. Each stage of the show lighted different parts of temple. We followed the light and sounds.
It was inspiring to stand surrounded by those columns once more, but in darkness with only moonlight for the company.

Night at Karnak Temple