Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The Great Galebaya Battle

Just before dusk the boat entered the locks on the Nile River at Esna and before we knew it a number of small boats approached. Each boat had one man rowing and another standing calling out to passengers on the top decks of the cruise boats while waving plastic bags containing tablecloths, galebayas (the national dress of Egypt) and shawls. In what seemed like a death defying act, the guys in the row boat grabbed onto ropes hanging from the side of the ship and then threw a rope to the next small boat to form a chain. The process then is that they throw the galebayas up in a plastic bag, and if you like it after a bit of negotiation you put your money in a plastic bag and drop it over the side of the ship and into their boat. If you don't move fast enough you're liable to get hit by one of the flying galebayas though some of the guys had amazing distance and accuracy when they threw the stuff up to the ships. For long after the boat passed through the lock we could still hear cries of “Lady, lady, hey meester” in the darkness. We docked that night at Edfu.

Next morning we visited the Temple of Horus (falcon god) at Edfu. This temple was built in 327BC. It had a magnificent sanctuary which looks like it is made of burnished metal but is actually highly polished stone. Assem our guide also pointed out the lion head water spouts that were used to drain water from the roof of the temple.

After some more cruising along the Nile, the next day we visited the temple of Kom Ombo which is an unusual site because it is the fusion of two temples, one side dedicated to Horus and the other to the crocodile god Sobek. Prior to the building of the high dam at Aswan, crocs used to be a major hazard for people along the Nile. Our guide told us that if you put a cat on the sanctuary stone of the Horus temple it will sit there happily, but if it is placed on the sanctuary stone of the crocodile god Sobek it will scratch and hiss and run away. Unfortunately no cats were at hand to test this theory. I’d heard a folkloric group playing on the way up to the temple but they were on their break when we returned. I went back to the boat while Colin took some sunset photos. He came back to get me as the band had CDs and DVDs for sale. We had only 10 minutes before the boat sailed but we ran back to the garden where they were playing and I was able to sit with them while they played and had a try at playing the rababa too. It was a great experience. In the evening there was a galebayas party on the boat with all the guests getting dressed up and Egyptian food on the menu for dinner. Colin’s green and gold “Aussie dishdash” was the hit of the evening!

Next day we went to the Aswan quarry to see what would have been the largest obelisk in the world at 42 metres tall, had it not fractured during the carving process. Next stop was a short trip by boat to see the temple of Isis at Philae. This temple was originally located on a small island in the Nile but to save it from the rising river levels after the building of the Aswan dam, it was dismantled. The original island’s topography was recreated on an adjacent island called Agilkia and there the temple was reassembled. Next we headed up to the High Dam of Aswan. The advantages of the High Dam are that there is no longer any annual flooding downstream, the farmers can get three crops each year instead of one, irrigation is no longer a problem and the crocs and hippos that were a danger to the residents are now all on the north side of the dam. The main disadvantage is that without the annual flood carrying the rich silt to replenish the Nile fields the farmers now have to use chemical fertilisers instead. The silt is banking up behind the dam and a further channel is being built to allow some of the silt to flow downstream.

During the afternoon we took a felucca trip to the Botanical Garden on Kitchener's Island in the middle of the Nile then on by boat to visit the Nubian village and have tea with a local family.

Yesterday was a big day. The wakeup call was at 4:15am so we could get to Aswan airport to catch an early morning Air Memphis flight to Abu Simbel. Colin and I were so far ‘down the back of the bus’ that we didn’t have a window! Abu Simbel is unique as its the only temple in Egypt where a pharaoh, Ramses II, has glorified himself as a god. The temple is located in the heart of what was once the nation of Nubia and is only 30 kms across Lake Naser from the Sudanese border. It was carved out of the rock on the orders of Ramses II and is most famous for the 4 huge statues of the seated pharaoh which flank the entrance. Inside the temple the entrance hall is flanked by enormous statues of Ramses, the walls covered with large carvings depicting his various military successes. Once, like all the other temples we’d seen the carvings would have been painted. The hall leads to the sanctuary, 65 metres from the entrance, which contains the statues of four gods including the self appointed god, Ramses himself. At the left of this quartet is the statue of Ptah who was the god of darkness. Twice a year at the equinoxes, the sun reaches into the depth of the temple striking the three statues including Ramses but somehow the ancient Egyptians did the calculations so the sun never shines on Ptah as he only likes darkness. Incredible. Next to the Ramses Temple is a temple dedicated to Ramses No 1 wife, Neferteri. Both temples were relocated in the 1960s to save them from the rising waters of Lake Naser.

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