Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Epic Egyptian Experience - 21 January 2011

I have to say, last night was the best night on this journey so far. I guess that the 5-star conditions finally set in for me. Or maybe it was because I lack sleep from the long journeys, interrupted hours, and uncomfortable seats. I was dead tired, so much so that I could not hear my brother snoring at all. I didn’t even hear him get up, or his alarm ringing. I had a very comfortable bed with nice cooling blankets, and air conditioning, and I really wanted to just continue sleeping there. It wasn’t that I wanted to continue dreaming. Strangely, I was dreaming about hospital and work.

Anyway, my brother finally woke me up, as we were to head to our first stop of the day, the Temple of Edfu. The temple is also known as the Temple of Horus, where it was fabled that Horus resides.

Our guide also explained the basic layout of the Egyptian temples. The first thing you will see is the great wall entrance, or pylons. These walls were huge, with 4-6 flagpoles in front and murals carved into them, usually signifying the person who made it and who the temple was for. The pylons then opened into the open court, where commoners are able to congregate to pray or give offerings to the gods and priests. This court also would have a row of pillars just inside the walls of the temple. Another set of pillars is found in the Hypostyle Hall, which is a roofed portion of the temple, open only to priests and royalty. Then at the end of the temple, there will be a sanctuary, where the idol of the God would sit. In this case, there would be a statue of Horus sitting in an altar in the sanctuary. Variations of this layout would incorporate the side rooms for making perfumes, incense, surgical tools etc.

Every year, the priests would organise for Horus’ wife, Harthor, to be brought from her temple to meet up with Horus in his temple. During that time, there would be a large feast that would last a week, celebrating their reunion. Both of the statues of Horus and Harthor would be placed together in the sacred chamber and they would supposedly do what married couples do.

It is such an interesting concept that is polytheism. Just like the Greek and Romans, the Egyptians worshipped many Gods, in the forms of human like behaviour; Gods having wars with one another, killing each other, consummating and producing offspring. What was different was that the Egyptian Gods also had heads of animals, like Horus, Sobek, Bastet, Anubis. Each God had different rituals to them, which had to be done to the letter, as not to anger them.

The culture of the ancient Egyptians was so strong, such that the Greek and Romans who came to conquer Egypt were captivated by the culture and kept it going, despite them having their own believes and rituals to follow.

Then, suddenly about 2 thousand years ago, it all changed, polytheism was looked down on. The so-called Gods were too human like in nature, fallible. Perhaps their beliefs were shattered when they found another civilization that flourished under different Gods. So the idea of monotheism, where there was only one true God and this God is all encompassing, omniscient, omnipresent, Omni-whatever. And before you know it, Islam spread across the nation and stuck.

I find it surprising that Christianity did not stay long. Even though the Holy Crusade extended its reign and left their mark in the temples, Islam still prevailed. Perhaps by the time they reached Egypt, the Crusaders were corrupted and conquered with tyranny and corruption, instead of the noble idea that it was originally from. The temples were defaced, graffitied with their crucifies, and even the sacred temples were defiled by common folk entering them, pillaging and looting. The ceiling, as our guide pointed out, still bore the soot that came from the fires that were made by the Crusaders.

Even now, new graffiti can be seen added to the walls, despite all the signs as to not touch the wall placed everywhere. I would very much like my name to be on such a historical site, but don’t they ever think that if everyone does it, there won’t be a historical site any more?

Fortunately, most of the structure still remained intact. The magnificent front wall of the temple still stood strong, almost complete. The murals still retained most of their carvings and some even still have their paint intact.

I just hope that the amount that we pay to visit all these sites will be used for the restoration or protection of these ruins. Interestingly, the Arabic/Islamic countries only need to pay 2LE, or 1LE if they are a student. I cannot think of the logic behind that, but it does attract tourists from Africa and the Middle East, including Egyptians themselves. We joked about picking up Arabic, just so that we can pull off being from an Arabic country and only pay 2LE and avoid tips.

We learnt an interesting phrase from 4 local post-grads on holiday. “Ana Mesri” meaning, “I’m Egyptian.” They were in the same tour group as us, sharing the same guides. They were a friendly bunch, and we became friends. Being Egyptians, they were a source of useful information, like where to go, where to eat. My father would be sharing his frightful experience with the traffic in Cairo, and complain about giving tips everywhere, and listened to their explanation of their life in Cairo. Their presence definitely added to the experience.

It made me think about what I would be able to say about my own country. Honestly speaking, I have nothing nice to say about Malaysia, nothing good to share. Perhaps I could talk about the beautiful jungles and scenery, or wonderful food, which can all be found all over the world. To cut things short, I am not patriotic at all towards Malaysia and I am glad that I am not living there.

I guess one thing that I appreciated from Malaysia is that I learnt how to respect other religions, races, traditions and cultures, something even Malaysians don’t ever learn. When in Rome, do as Romans do… or in this case, ~Walk like an Egyptian~

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