Cruising along The Nile - 1
Tourists bring in the butter and most of the bread for Egypt, a country more than amply blessed with treasures of the jawdropping kind. So its no wonder that the tourism industry is well oiled and in perfectly functioning order.
The Tour Agents are so efficient that it is more than amazing - its almost frightening ! From the time they pick you up to the time they despatch you home, they function with robotic precision . Right after the Hullos, they briskly rattle away answers to all questions you would ask, could ask, ought to ask , forgot to ask and never thought of asking. They even tell you when to have breakfast so that you can be in the hotel lounge when they arrive for the day's tour.
The Nile Cruise offered us the unforgettable experience of really understanding and appreciating the Six-sigma operational system of the Mumbai Dabbawallas. In the land of the everlasting Pharaohs, we were the Dabbas.
Main Agent greeted us at the Aswan airport and checked us into a pretty colonial type cottage by the Nile for the night and early next morning, bundled us and our luggage to a not-too-flashy, not-too-drab, comfortable boat early next morning. Our base camp for the next 5 days. That was the last we saw of Main Agent .
Agent 1 , who collected us at the boat's lobby, colour- coded us with little round stickers and loaded us into a luxury coach that took us to Site A.
" 45 Minutes! Departure by the Green Bus on the left of the Guard's cabin. " rang out the announcement and both ,coach and Agent, disappeared. This same was being repeated near numerous other arriving coaches .
By the time we had just about nodded, Agent 2 , holding aloft a little flag ( a scarf tied to a footruler ) had miraculously materialised at the entrance, shepharding all those who wore stickers of the same colour as his flag into one battalion, who would henceforth march behind that flag like the mice of Hamlyn .
Sightseeing done, legends heard, jaws dropped, pictures shot, we suddenly discovered at the exit that Agent 2 had vanished too ! So had most other mice who were with us. Everyone had a bus to catch. We scurried to our Green Bus by the Guard's cabin, where Agent 3 checked us off on a list on a clip board by merely looking at our sticker code. The Green bus contained a totally different set of people, all headed to Site B.
" One Hour ! Departure by Grey Coach near the Coffee Bar. "
Another flag ( a child's pink umbrella with kerchief tied to its end) loomed up and with some other new faces, we started marching behind the story spinning egyptian.
And so on, it went.
At the end of Site C, we were collected by someone with a familiar face - ah ! Agent 1 -who brought us to the wharf, where cruise boats by the dozen had anchored. They were all aligned, side by side, like a Navy Parade with narrow drawbridges connecting them.
" Fifth portal ! Good day !" Waved the agent and went poof !
We entered the first cruise, walked through its lobby, took the drawbridge to cross into the second cruise, walked through another lobby towards the farther bridge....and so on to our own.
We never had to worry if we would miss a bus or a guide or get lost in the maze of souvenir stalls. We would always be found, collected and deposited in all the right channels by the super efficient cogs of the amazing network. They say, in Mumbai, not one Dabba is misplaced. Same here.
The River bank temples built along the Nile at various periods of time are in different states of preservation. Some have had to get drowned when the Aswan High Dam was built. Those worth saving were saved ofcourse. The Philae Temple Complex on an island which got innundated was saved by building dykes around it and pumping the water out. Within this prorective fortress, the temple complex was dismantled totally into crates of numbered blocks. Transported to another island, Agilika, on a higher plane they were reassembled like giant Legobricks. The complex, started by the Ptolemies, contains temples dedicated to Hathor ( most ancient 380 BC) Osiris and Horus. Greeks have added their share of buildings and carved releifs. Later, Coptic Christians who occupied the temples left their mark by defacing symbolic imagery and establishing a chapel for Virgin Mary. This in turn was shut down by the Islamic conquerors. In one of the colonnaded inner halls of the Great Temple, we could see traces of colour ( some greenish blue and russet )on the lotus and papyrus motif decorations. How wonderful it would have been in that age !
The most handsome structure in Philae is The Kiosk of Trajan, standing close to the river.(above)
Temple of Edfu was begun in 237 BC by Ptolemy III and completed in 57 BC by Ptolemy XII. Phew ! Like Philae, it has collossal pylons and rich relief carvings. The centre of attraction here is the freestanding sculpture of Horus the Falcon.( below) The temple is the best preserved one from the Old Dynasty.
Temple of Kom Ombo , standing on a promontory by the bend in the Nile, is massive. It is a Double Temple, with two matching sets of structures built together like siamese twins. One side is dedicated to the Crocodile headed Sobek The Elder and his family and the other side is dedicated to the Falcon headed Horus the Elder. There is a complicated mythology involving the two and I am still confused if Sobek is good guy or bad guy. This temple is famous for the 300 mummified crocodiles offered to Hathor, of which we saw just one in a glass box. One wall has carvings of some curious looking things which the guide said were surgical instrumnents.
The cruise offered reasonably good food and , on the final day, some entertainment with whirling dervishes and belly dancers. As we had notified beforehand of our vegetarianism, the chefs took trouble to dish up things like plain pilaf , cinnamon flavoured roasted potatoes, green salads, far-eastern sambal and ofcourse the delicious falafel with Tahini laced sauce.