Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Epic Egyptian Experience - 20 January 2011

The next ruins we visited were in Abu Simbel, 3 hours away by bus. This meant that we had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 2 am, to be able to make it at sunrise. Of course, we missed the sunrise again, being in the bus. I was on the West side, so I had lots of shots of the fading moon instead.

The bus was much more pack than usual. I should clarify that this microbus, what we termed it, was a larger than normal van that had a 5 rows of 2-1 seats, and the passageway was made such that it could hold one more seat per row, which was what they did. If that wasn’t bad enough, I had to choose the seat where the wheel was, so I had no legroom at all. Fortunately I could not sleep, so I could constantly move as to not let my leg fall asleep, or cramps, or clots.

And it being a 3-hour ride, with no stops in between, we had to put our bladders to the test. All I could think of was that the human bladder can hold 600mls and the kidney produces 60mls an hour of urine. Technically we would be able to hold for 10 hours. Of course, statistics never do us justice.

Abu Simbel ruins were worth it though. Again the ruins were reconstructed from another site a few meters below, now submerged underwater by Lake Nasser. To think that we drove 3 hours and we were still at the lake made by the dam at Aswan.

One of the 2 temples had the 4 large statues of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramesses II, that were 3 stories tall. It was not as big as Mt Rushmore, but putting into consideration that these were built in ancient times without the use of modernized tools of today, it really is a marvel. Not only was it a temple dedicated to Ra-Horakhty, Ptah and Amun, and to Ramesses himself, but the temple was made as a symbol of supremacy over the surrounding area, to make the population feel puny and insignificant standing beside them. I dare say that they achieved their goal.

The second temple a few hundred meters away had 6 smaller statues; this time was of Ramesses II’s wife, Nefertari, portrayed as Harthor. You were still dwarfed by the size of the statues. Like the other statues, these also were entrances to a temple inside. Photographs were strictly forbidden inside the temple, but they had similar layouts. The temple had different chambers with pillars and walls full of engraving and hieroglyphics. They probably told glorious tales of the kings and gods.

The perimeter of the ruins had a fence, patrolled by guards both on land and in the lake. The Tourism Police was what they were called. Taking bribes was their job, after looking after the place from actual thieves. They would offer to take your pictures, for a small price. They will offer to take you to forbidden areas for a price.

After an hour, we started our way back to the microbus and it was another 3-hour journey back to Aswan. We arrived back at the hotel just in time for lunch. We said goodbye to our fellow companions from the microbus and quickly finished what was left on the buffet table. Shortly after, the cruise set sail.

Did I mention that our hotel was on a cruise ship?

The “Aton” was the name of our cruise ship, one of over 400 such ships going up and down the Nile. Our ship was not as lavish as some others, but it was still deemed as a 5-star hotel. The ship was not as big as ocean liners, but would probably fit 5 stacks of 9 average size busses. The top deck was carpeted in synthetic grass with a small swimming pool at the front. There were also many chairs for sunbathing under the Egyptian sun and watching the scenery passing by. Despite cruising slowly along the Nile, it was so stable. If you kept still for long enough, you could feel the engine churning, but otherwise, indoors, you would not know that we were actually moving.

Our next destination was the town of Kom Ombo, housing another set of ruins, a temple for both Horus and Sobek. Much to my dismay, we did not wait for the guide to explain what was going on. So we ended up exploring aimlessly around the ruins without knowing what the temple is for. We eaves drop on the other tour groups, their guides explaining various bits of information here and there. Eventually, I managed get an accelerated explanation from our original guide. He described the Egyptian calendar, which was engraved onto one of the walls. It turns out that the Egyptians also had 365-day calendars, also divided into 12 months. However, they had 10 days in a week, and 3 weeks in a month, with the extra days for God celebrations. Their calendar also corresponded with the seasons, such as for harvesting.

It is interesting to know that an ancient civilization like this followed a solar cycle, rather than the lunar one that we see in almost all the other civilizations. The lunar calendar was probably easier to follow on a daily basis and the moon phases are easily predictable. However when you worship a sun god, like Amun-Ra, I guess you should follow a solar calendar instead.

Ra soon set on us, and it grew dark, so we had to make our way back to the cruise ship, and before we knew it, we set sail again down the Nile.

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