Nile Cruise

This was our first experience on a Cruise.

Day 1 – 27th December 2019

We got ready inside the train and had our breakfast. Mummy had to do her Friday puja, so she somehow took a bath in the train washroom. I googled Santoshi Mata katha on my phone and mummy did her puja in the train. She had already asked the managers to get banana for her. This was our jugaad moment. We reached Aswan Railway Station by 8:30am and boarded our bus.

Our 1st stop was Philae Temple which is an island temple in Aswan Low Dam, downstream of the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser. We had to take a boat ride to the temple. Philae was originally located near the expansive First Cataract of the Nile in Upper Egypt and was the site of an Egyptian temple complex. These rapids and the surrounding area have been variously flooded since the initial construction of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902. The temple complex was dismantled and moved to nearby Agilkia Island as part of the UNESCO Nubia Campaign project, protecting this and other complexes before the 1970 completion of the Aswan High Dam.

Philae in Greek or Pilak in ancient Egyptian, meaning ‘the end,’ defined the southernmost limit of Egypt. The construction was started by Ptolemy II and completed by the Roman Emperors. The walls of the temples at Philae are covered in ancient hieroglyphs. Amongst the large carvings of the gods of Ancient Egypt are the inscriptions in the ornate pictorial alphabet, telling the stories of this civilisation. The emperor, wearing a double crown, is depicted offering food and wine to Gods & Goddess. The speciality of hieroglyphics here is that they were the last to be written by the Ancient Egyptians.

The temple was dedicated to the goddess Isis, the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. The story is based on Osiris Myth which is the most elaborate and influential story in ancient Egyptian mythology. It concerns the murder of the god Osiris, a primaeval king of Egypt, and its consequences. The god Osiris is murdered and dismembered by his brother Seth who usurps his throne. Meanwhile, Osiris’s wife Isis searches for the fragments, collects them together and with her powers brings Osiris back to life, allowing him to posthumously conceive their son, Horus. The remainder of the story focuses on Horus, the product of the union of Isis and Osiris, who is at first a vulnerable child protected by his mother and then becomes Set’s rival for the throne. Their often violent conflict ends with Horus’s triumph, which restores Maat (cosmic and social order) to Egypt after Set’s unrighteous reign and completes the process of Osiris’s resurrection. The myth, with its complex symbolism, is integral to ancient Egyptian conceptions of kingship and succession, a conflict between order and disorder, and especially death and the afterlife. It also expresses the essential character of each of the four deities at its centre, and many elements of their worship in ancient Egyptian religion were derived from the myth. 

In its prime, it was considered to be one of the most sacred of all temples, by both the Egyptians and the Nubians. This was because they believed that Osiris’s heart had in fact been buried on the island where the temple stood.

There is another famous story associated with Philae Island. It is one of the stories from A Thousand and One Nights that took place on the island. It is a love story of the brave Anas El-Wogoud and his beloved the Princess Ward. The tale recounts that the Princess Ward had been imprisoned by her father, the Sultan, in one of the towers of an abandoned castle in the middle of the Nile in the Land of Crocodiles. Anas, the enamoured, risked extreme danger and reached her by crossing the water on the back of crocodiles after beseeching their sympathy. This part of the story is likely inspired by the famous iconography of the temple which shows Osiris in mummified human being form lying on the back of a crocodile. At the end of the story, the two lovers are reunited and Anas returns her to her land and married her with the consent of the King. 

In the central court of the Temple of Isis, the mammisi (birth house) is dedicated to Horus, son of Isis and Osiris. Successive pharaohs reinstated their legitimacy as the mortal descendants of Horus by taking part in rituals celebrating the Isis legend and the birth of her son Horus in the marshes. The second pylon leads to a hypostyle hall, with superb column capitals. This temple was reused as a Christian church, with crosses carved into the older hieroglyph reliefs, and images of the Egyptian gods carefully defaced. Beyond lie three vestibules, leading into the Inner Sanctuary of Isis. East of the second pylon is the delightful Temple of Hathor, decorated with reliefs of musicians (including an ape playing the flute) and Bes, the god of childbirth. South of this is the elegant, unfinished pavilion by the water’s edge, known as the Kiosk of Trajan (‘Pharaoh’s Bed’). Looking at the architecture and the artwork on the walls, it seemed Egyptian enough to us. But it was pointed out by Shrief that the columns had flowers carved on the top section which was a clear sign that much of it was built by the Greeks, trying to impersonate the Egyptians.

We then went to see Aswan High Dam & Lake Naseer. High Dam is an embankment dam built across the Nile in Aswan, between 1960 and 1970. Based on the success of the Low Dam, then at its maximum utilization, construction of the High Dam became a key objective of the government following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. With its ability to better control flooding, provide increased water storage for irrigation and generate hydroelectricity, the dam was seen as pivotal to Egypt’s planned industrialization. Like the earlier implementation, the High Dam has had a significant effect on the economy and culture of Egypt. 

Lake Nasser is a vast reservoir in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. It is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. Strictly, “Lake Nasser” refers only to the much larger portion of the lake that is in Egyptian territory (83% of the total), with the Sudanese preferring to call their smaller body of water Lake Nubia.

Next, we went to see the building known as Symbol of Friendship. The Egyptian Russian Friendship Monument (also known as the Lotus Flower) was erected close to the Aswan High Dam in 1971 as a gesture of thanks to the Soviet Union, who helped finance the dam. It is 230 feet tall and represents the five petals of a lotus flower. The centre pylon features both the Egyptian and Russian coat of arms. There is an observation platform, which offers excellent views of the dam and Lake Nasser.

Finally, we checked in to our cruise called Hapi V named after God Hapi (the God of Nile). We had lunch and took some rest in our room.

In the evening, we started our trip to Nubian Village by boat. We paid $20 each for this trip. The journey to the village was picturesque. We stopped on the way on an island to enjoy sand dunes before proceeding to the village.

The Nubians were an ethnic group coming from southern Egypt and northern Sudan, who during history started several settlements along the Nile River. During history, the Nubians typically blended and merged with the Egyptians during the Pharaonic age. In fact, many ancient pharaohs were of Nubian descent, and their legacy has inevitably lived on. They have their own unique spoken language which does not have any script.

The people of Nubian Village have turned their houses into restaurants & shops. We were taken to one of the popular Nubian houses. They sang their folk song and danced for us and we joined them since the beats were quite groovy. Then they served us tea and we were free to roam around their house. The Nubians keep crocodile as a pet in their house and we were offered to hold baby crocodile in our hands. Vibhi was the brave one among us. Their houses had a dome structure and were painted colourfully with patterns. Inside the house, the walls were painted blue and had paintings all over it. After exploring their house we went back to our cruise.

Day 2 – 28th December 2019

We woke up at 4am and got ready for our trip. The cruise provided us with packed breakfasts. We saw the sunrise on the way and stopped to stretch our legs.

After a long journey, we finally reached Abu Simbel at around 9am. We paid $60 each to visit the temples. The Abu Simbel temples are two massive rock temples. They are situated on the western bank of Lake Nasser. Abu Simbel temples were built by King Ramses II. They serve as a lasting monument to the king and his favourite queen Nefertari (Nefertari means Beautiful of the Beautiful; Nefer means Beautiful & Nefertiti means Beautiful is coming) and commemorate his victory over the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE. It was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, as well as to the deified Ramesses himself.

Ramesses II (variously also spelt Rameses or Ramses) also known as Ramesses the Great, was the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt. His Egyptian name was rꜥ-ms-sw which meant Ra (Sun God) is the one who bore him. He reigned Egypt from 1279–1213 BC (66 years). He is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom. Construction of the temple complex started in approximately 1264 BC and lasted for about 20 years, until 1244 BC. It was known as the “Temple of Ramesses, beloved by Amun”.

Over time, the temples fell into disuse and eventually became covered by sand. The temple was forgotten until 1813 when Swiss orientalist Jean-Louis Burckhardt found the top frieze of the main temple. Burckhardt talked about his discovery with Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni, who travelled to the site but was unable to dig out an entry to the temple. Belzoni returned in 1817, this time succeeding in his attempt to enter the complex.

The temple complex was relocated in its entirety in 1968 under the supervision of a Polish archaeologist, Kazimierz Michałowski, on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir. The relocation of the temples was necessary or they would have been submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser.

Abu Simbel contains two temples, carved into a mountainside. The larger of the two temples contains four colossal statues of a seated pharaoh Ramesses II at its entrance, each about 69 feet (21 meters) tall. The length of the beard on the Pharoah’s chin represents the length of their reign. Since Ramses II ruled for 66 years, he has a long beard on his chin. Carved around their feet are small figures representing Ramses’ children, his queen, Nefertari, and his mother, Muttuy (Mut-tuy, or Queen Ti). The rock below his feet depicts Ramesses’ conquered enemies, the Nubians, Libyans, and Hittites. The entranceway to the temple was built in such a way that on two days of the year, October 22 and February 22, sunlight shines into the inner sanctuary and illuminates three statues seated on a bench, including one of the pharaohs. Historians think these dates mark his coronation and birth. Passing between the colossi, through the central entrance, the interior of the temple is decorated with engravings showing Ramesses and Nefertari paying homage to the gods. Ramesses’ great victory at Kadesh is also depicted in detail across the north wall of the Hypostyle Hall.

Also, Abu Simbel has a second, smaller, temple that may have been built for Queen Nefertari for the worship of the goddess Hathor (goddess of the sky, of women, and of fertility and love). Its front includes two statues of the queen and four of the pharaoh, each about 33 feet (10 meters) in height. The prestige of the queen is apparent in that, usually, a female is represented on a much smaller scale than the Pharaoh while, at Abu Simbel, Nefertari is rendered the same size as Ramesses. The walls of this temple are dedicated to images of Ramesses and Nefertari making offerings to the gods and to depictions of the goddess Hathor.

On the way back, we stopped for washroom break where we saw a Mirage. A mirage is a naturally occurring optical phenomenon in which light rays bend via refraction to produce a displaced image of distant objects or the sky. I had read about it in school and had seen a few mirages that looked like wet patches on the road but this was the 1st time I witnessed such a huge mirage with my own eyes. It looked like an enormous lake and reflected rocks around it. 

On our way back, Shrief told us lots of facts about Egypt. Ancient Egypt was divided into 2 parts: Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Since the Nile flows from South to North, Upper Egypt is actually South of Egypt and Lower Egypt is North Egypt. Both had its own king but was later united by pharaohs. So all the statues and images of pharaohs depict them wearing a double crown representing their control over both parts of Egypt. 

Egypt’s long and rich cultural heritage is an integral part of its national identity, which has endured and often assimilated, various foreign influences, including Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab, Ottoman Turkish, and Nubian. Egypt was an early and important centre of Christianity but was largely Islamised in the seventh century. The country is majority Sunni Muslim (estimated to be 85-90% of the population), with the next largest religious group being Coptic Christians (with estimates ranging from 10-15%).

From the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century, Egypt was ruled by foreign imperial powers: The Ottoman Empire and the British Empire. Modern Egypt dates back to 1922 when it gained nominal independence from the British Empire as a monarchy. Following the 1952 revolution, Egypt expelled British soldiers and bureaucrats and ended British occupation, nationalized the British-held Suez Canal, exiled King Farouk and his family, and declared itself a republic. In 1958 it merged with Syria to form the United Arab Republic, which dissolved in 1961. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Egypt endured social and religious strife and political instability, fighting several armed conflicts with Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, and occupying the Gaza Strip intermittently until 1967. In 1978, Egypt signed the Camp David Accords, officially withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and recognising Israel. The country continues to face challenges, from political unrest, including the recent 2011 revolution and its aftermath, to terrorism and economic underdevelopment. Egypt’s current government is a semi-presidential republic headed by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

After a long bus journey, we reached our cruise. We had lunch and rested while the cruise sailed for 2-3 hours.

We reached Kom Ombo at 5:30pm. The Temple of Kom Ombo is an unusual double temple. It was constructed during the Ptolemaic dynasty, 180–47 BC. Some additions to it were later made during the Roman period. The building is unique because its ‘double’ design meant that there were courts, halls, sanctuaries and rooms duplicated for two sets of gods. The southern half of the temple was dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world with Hathor and Khonsu. Meanwhile, the northern part of the temple was dedicated to the falcon god Haroeris (Horus the Elder), along with Tasenetnofret (the Good Sister, a special form of Hathor or Tefnet/Tefnut) and Panebtawy (Lord of the Two Lands). The temple is atypical because everything is perfectly symmetrical along the main axis. There is a calendar that shows the figures for the days of the month and the hieroglyphs for the inundation season, Akhet. On the thirtieth of the Season of the Harvest, one can see the hieroglyph for the Season of the Emergence, which indicates the end of the harvest season. The next day is Akhet. The place was too crowded so Mummy, Vibhi & I were following one couple from the group. Later we realised that they had been separated from the group and since we followed them, we were separated too. We searched for others from our group and finally joined them. In this confusion, we missed the calendar engravings. 

In the complex, there is a Nilometer which was a structure for measuring the Nile River’s clarity and water level during the annual flood season. If the water level was low, there would be famine. If it was too high, it would be destructive. There was a specific mark that indicated how high the flood should be if the fields were to get good soil. The most elaborate design involved a channel or culvert that led from the riverbank – often running for a considerable distance – and then fed a well, tank, or cistern. These nilometer wells were most frequently located within the confines of temples, where only the priests and rulers were allowed access. The nilometer at the Temple of Kom Ombo is a particularly fine example which has a deep, cylindrical well and a culvert opening in the surrounding wall. I was too scared of dropping the phone that mummy took the picture from her phone.

There is a Crocodile Museum in the complex which displays a few of the three hundred crocodile mummies discovered in the vicinity of the temple.

After this, we went back to our cruise for dinner and danced for a bit in the disco room with people from Bus 1 & 2. Finally, we slept while the cruise sailed to Edfu.

Day 3 – 29th December 2019

We woke up early morning and waited for the horse carriages. After a little wait, we finally got a carriage and proceeded to Edfu Temple. It was still dark so we decided to take a picture with the carriage while returning. 

This Ptolemaic temple, built between 237 and 57 BC, is one of the best-preserved ancient monuments in Egypt. Preserved by desert sand, which filled the place after the pagan cult was banned, the temple is dedicated to Horus, the avenging son of Isis and Osiris. Edfu was a settlement and cemetery site from around 3000 BC onward. It was the ‘home’ and cult centre of the falcon god Horus of Behdet (the ancient name for Edfu), although the Temple of Horus as it exists today is Ptolemaic. Started by Ptolemy III (246–221 BC) on 23 August 237 BC, on the site of an earlier and smaller New Kingdom structure, the sandstone temple was completed some 180 years later by Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos, Cleopatra VII’s father. Two hundred years ago the temple was buried by sand, rubble and part of the village of Edfu, which had spread over the roof. The excavation was started by Auguste Mariette in the mid-19th century. Today the temple is entered via a long row of shops and a new visitors centre that houses the ticket office, clean toilets and a cafeteria.

Beyond the Roman mammisi (birth house), with some colourful carvings, the massive 36m-high pylon (gateway) is guarded by two huge but splendid granite statues of Horus as a falcon. The walls are decorated with colossal reliefs of Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos, who is holding his enemies by their hair before Horus and is about to smash their skulls; this is the classic propaganda pose of the almighty pharaoh. Beyond this pylon, the court of offerings is surrounded on three sides by 32 columns, each with different floral capitals. The walls are decorated with reliefs, including the ‘Feast of the Beautiful Meeting’ just inside the entrance, the meeting being that of Horus of Edfu and Hathor of Dendara, who visited each other’s temples each year and, after two weeks of great fertility celebrations, were magically united. The second set of Horus falcon statues in black granite once flanked the entrance to the temple’s first or outer hypostyle hall, but today only one remains. Inside the entrance of the outer hypostyle hall, to the left and right, are two small chambers: the one on the right was the temple library where the ritual texts were stored; the chamber on the left was the hall of consecrations, a vestry where freshly laundered robes and ritual vases were kept. The hall itself has 12 columns, and the walls are decorated with reliefs of the temple’s founding. The antechamber gives access to the sanctuary of Horus, which contains the polished-granite shrine that once housed the gold cult statue of Horus. Created during the reign of Nectanebo II (360–343 BC), this shrine, or house of the god, was reused by the Ptolemies in their newer temple. In front of it stands a replica of the wooden barque (boat) in which Horus’ statue would be taken out of the temple in procession during festive occasions.

After visiting the temple we started walking back to our chariot stand with the group. Papa was talking to some uncles from the group, so we proceeded with others. On reaching the chariot stand, we waited for Papa but could not see him with anyone. We started asking others whether they had seen him. One of them said that he stayed back to wait for us because he didn’t notice us leaving. So we asked Santu uncle (manager) to look for him. He returned and said he couldn’t find him in the temple and he was always the last to leave a place. But we were not sure where to search for Papa, so we left Vibhi at the chariot stand in case he comes there. Mummy & I went back to the temple to look for him. He was obviously not there but I got a message from one of the girls from our group saying Papa had reached the chariot stand. In this confusion, most of the chariots got booked so we had to take a tuk-tuk back to our cruise because we were late. Finally, we were not able to take pictures with the chariot.

We returned to our cruise and had breakfast while the cruise started sailing to Esna. After breakfast, we went upstairs and spent our time on the deck. The deck had a pool and sunbathing seats on one side and a coffee shop with tables and chairs on the other side. Mummy and I clicked lots of pictures on the deck since it was our last day on the cruise.