Modern luxury & traditional
faluccas cruise the Nile.

The next day I and other members of the group leave our hotel, The Sheraton, and fly to Aswan, Egypt’s southernmost city and the crossroads of the ancient caravan routes. We transferr to the pier and embarked on our cruise ship, the M.S. Tulip, for a sumptuous lunch. Accommodations on the three deck Tulip are superb, comparable to those at our hotel in Cairo. Later the group is taken on a  tour by felucca around Elephantine Island, once the center of modern Aswan. This is an exciting part of the program, followed by a tour of the Botanical Gardens of Lord Kitchener.

Our special coach's next stop is near the town of Aswan and the High Dam, which controls the Nile. The famous High Dam is an engineering miracle started in the 1960s, but completed in 1971, and containing 18 times the material used in the Great Pyramids of Cheops. The Dam is 11,811 feet long, 3,215 feet thick at the base, and 364 feet tall. Today it provides irrigation and electricity for the whole of Egypt.

The High Dam creates a 30 percent increase in the cultivatable land in Egypt and raises the water table as far away as Algeria.  It adds a whole new aspect to Egypt, and the artificial lake (Lake Nassar) is some 500 miles long. In Aswan itself, one can not escape the aromatic smell of exotic spices and fresh fruit and witness the overflowing crowds of the souks (markets), that are in fact, found in every town. At these markets, vendors put together what ever you need: spices and herbs, but the aroma is a tempting attraction for the group.

Kom Ombo

The group returns to the Tulip and after lunch sails on the Nile to the Temple of Kom Ombo, creating quite an impression on everyone. Regarded as unique in all of Egypt, it is shared by the two gods, Sobek and Haroeris. The town of Kom Ombo is about 28 miles north of Aswan. The Temple dates to the Ptolemies and is built on a high dune overlooking the Nile. The actual Temple was started by Ptolemy VI Pilometor in the early second century B.C. Ptolemy XIII built the outer and inner hypostyle halls. The outer enclosure wall and part of the court were built by Augustus sometime after 30 B.C. and are mostly gone.

Ancient carvings on the
Temple of Kom Ombo.

The Temple known as Kom Ombo is actually two temples, consisting of a Temple to Sobek and a Temple of Haroeris.  In ancient times, crocodiles basked in the sun on the river bank near the temples.

There are two entrances, two courts, two colonnades, two halls, and two sanctuaries. The left, or northern side, is dedicated to Haroeris (sometimes called Harer, Horus the elder), who was the falcon-headed sky god; to the right is Sobek (the crocodile headed god).

Temple of Edfu

The amazing feats of the Egyptians is beginning to sink into our minds as we view the architecture and amazing accomplishments around us, a fortifying feeling as we approach the Temple of Horus in Edfu, a well-preserved example of the period. It was built in three stages, with protracted intervals between: first, the Temple proper by Ptolemy III, then the outer hypostyle hall, around 140-124 B.C., and finally the perimeter wall and pylons.  There is a passage surrounding the sanctuary, accessing 13 small chapels, and another passageway completing the entire circuit of the enclosing wall. The Pharaonic architecture contributes immensely to fill in many gaps of knowledge about the Temple itself.

The Temple of Edfu.

Edfu was the Greek city of Apollinopolis Magna and a religious and commercial center, located about 33 miles south of Isna and 65 miles north of Aswan, it was also famous for the production of sugar and pottery.

To get to the Temple, the group is taken by horse-drawn carriages, which race each other. On arrival at the site, vendors surround us, shouting in perfect English, “check my wares”, “want to see my jubba of shalwar?”, “how about some souvenirs?”, “today is the day for bargains”. Sometimes the vendors throw Egyptian clothing to you and say it is a gift. Minutes later they show up demanding ten dollars. A favorite method they use is to ask if you are American or British, then quoting U.S. dollars for any item. If you say you are from India, they tend to leave you alone. My wife, Rasulan, and sister-in-law, Nazma, are the first to come upon this method of discouraging the hordes of vendors.

Temple of Karnak at Luxor

The Luxor Stelae..

We continue sailing to Esna, crossing through the Esna Lock to the monumental grandeur of Luxor. The Luxor area of Upper Egypt was known as Thebes to the ancient Egyptians, the capital during the Middle and New Kingdoms. Today it is famous for its architectural preserved examples and the nearby Valley of the Kings.

On the east bank is the modern town of Luxor. Running alongside part of the river bank and separated from it by the corniche is Luxor Temple, built by Pharaoh Amenophis III. The Luxor Temple was enhanced by such rulers as Ramesses II, Alexander the Great, and the Romans.  At the northern end of the town is the sprawling Karnak temple complex, built over a span of about 1,500 to 2,000 years. It is famous for its main Hypostyle Hall with 134 massive columns. The awe-inspiring Temple has us aghast, silent at times and vociferous in our praise of the marvels.

Despite its age, the Temple is still capable of overshadowing many of the wonders of the modern world.  The Temple of Karnak/Luxor is regarded as the mother of all religious buildings, the largest ever made, and a place of pilgrimage for nearly 4,000 years.

The Karnak Temples of
Luxor, ancient Thebes.

The major temples include the Ramesseum, the famous mortuary temple of 19th dynasty Pharoah, Ramses II.  Walking amongst its ruins evokes the nostalgia that even the mighty colossus can fall, and he was no exception.

We return to our floating hotel for a sumptuous dinner arranged by Food and Beverage Manager Mohammad Abdul Wahab, and a delightful session by Nubian dancers. Some members of the group join the Nubians on stage as they follow a beat that encourages participation.

The next morning after breakfast, we disembark from the Tulip and boards a tour bus traveling to the west bank of the Nile and the Valley of the Kings, where some 64 of Egypt’s Pharaohs have their royal tombs hewn into the sheer rock. The Valley of the Kings has recently been listed as one of the 100 most endangered sites by the World Monuments Watch, a program of the World Monuments Fund that is working to focus attention on the fragile condition of endangered cultural sites worldwide.

Scenes along the Nile.

Apart from the excitement generated as a result of the visits to the various temples, members of the group praise the Nile cruise, affording us the opportunity to view both banks of the Nile. I note the green vegetation on the west bank with thousands of date palm trees, corn, sugar cane and bananas. The custom-designed floating hotel is comfortable, with cabins accommodating twin beds with sufficient closet and storage space, a private bath with shower, television and a music system, an in-room safe, and a mini-bar.  The restaurant is elegant with an eager staff responding to every request with unbelievable swiftness.  The relaxed, intimate ambiance of the Tulip is complemented by the beautiful sceneries as we sail down the Nile.

The Tombs of Tutankhamun & Remses the Great

Above: Ramses The Great.
Below: Memnon.

The Valley of the Kings and Queens is of two components, the East Valley and the West Valley. We tour the East Valley. We wait as our tour guide, Ossama Abdel Hamid, obtains our tickets. Upon entering the area, we are relieved of our cameras and camcorders — no filming permitted.

One of the accessible tombs is of Tuthmose III at the far end of the East Valley, one of the earliest burial chambers carved in the shape of a cartouche (oval-shaped); its inscriptions are interspersed with stick figures. Climbing up the modern metal staircase outside and the descent into the tomb is taxing, depending on your physical condition.

Horemheb’s tomb relays a transition to the Ramses-style of tombs. A short distance away is the tomb of Ramses III. Ramses VI's tomb is a magnificent burial chamber with the broken remains of the large stone sarcophagus. Along the length of the chamber’s ceiling are two images of the sky Goddess Nut, depicting both the swallowing and rebirth of the sun disc.

The tomb of Tutankhamen, discovered in 1922 unfolded some 3,500 individual items, including precious stones and jewelry; its discovery shook the entire world. Archaeologists and others continue to marvel at the discovery, with praise given to English archaeologist, Howard Carter.

Colossi of Memnon

We are taken to the impressive and mind boggling Deir El Bahari mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut, an architectural wonder built against the backdrop of a looming cliff face, and its Colossi of Memnon, two huge seated statues of Amenhotep III, stare back at us from antiquity.

The Queen of Egypt — Hatshepsut

The Temple of Hatshepsut, one
of only a few female Pharoahs.

The architect of the Temple was Senmut, Hatshepsut’s lover and a member of her court who held more than 20 titles. Senmut designed the temple with rows of colonnades, reflecting the vertical patterns displayed by the cliff backdrop. The Temple is dedicated to Amon and Hathor, Hatshepsut’s claimed parents.  The sanctuary lies within the mountainside. Two ramps connect the three levels, and on either side of the lower incline are T-shaped papyrus pools.

The walls document Hatshepsut’s divine conception, her vote of confidence given by her father, her efforts to repair damage inflicted by the Hyksos invaders, the expeditions to Punt, and the erection of the colossai obelisks at the Temple of Karnak. In the manner of her father, Tuthmose I, who realized a temple was too obvious a place to bury priceless artifacts, the tomb of Hatshepsut was constructed in secret.

Golden Words of Wisdom —

Make sure that the right name is on  your ticket. In my case my ticket was fine, but my wife, Mohamed Rasulan Ali was written for Mr. Mohamed Rasulan Ali. On arrival at Cairo , the Immigration officer questioned the name as well as the Mr. in front of her ticket. It took more than one hour to resolve the matter; I even produced a photo copy of my wife's citizenship document and explained that Mohamed was her father's title.When she married me, she retained Mohamed and included Rasulan Ali. But we went around in circles. This could have been avoided in the first place if the ticket was written correctly.

That was only half of the problem, my trip was for Sept 14 to 21. Low and behold, the sponsors of the trip, Friendly Planet, had us down to leave on the 24th.This created another problem and one that the agent seemed reluctant to correct. He came up with the idea to put us up in Cairo at a hotel for US$100 dollars a night, later reducing this figure to $80, and then $60 a night. I was not going to pay even $10 a night for occupancy and went to the airport on the 21st.  I told the gate agent that I was appealing to him to leave on that flight as I did not know what the situation was in Florida, following four hurricanes.

So far, so good.

On arrival in New York, we thanked God to be back on American soil, but this only aggravated our experience. They kept us waiting for more than five hours. The Spirit Airline agent summoned the Port Authority Policy. Three of them turned up, fully armed, followed by a New York PD officer, with more arms that he could carry.  We kept asking what was going on, and the police officer said they were checking out the name Mohamed, which matched a name on the "no fly" list.  There are probably thousands, if not millions, of Mohamed's in the world, but we were singled out for special, secondary security screening.  We sat on the floor with people looking at us as though we were criminals or had committed some felony. It was not a good feeling. We missed the flight but caught another in the evening, after five hours of delay! These are some of the pitfalls that are taking place on a regular basis in the U.S., in the name of security.  I wish other travelers will not have to go through such a harrowing experience.

I stare with amazement at the size of the two Colossi of Memnon, both 75 feet high, weighing one thousand tons each. Ancient Egyptians called the southern of the two statues, “Ruler of Rulers”.  Some Egyptians call them "el-Colossat" or "es-Salamat". They are made from carved  blocks of quartzite quarried either at Giza or Gebel es-Silsila.

It is a memorable trip, superb, exciting, as well as educational. We met Egyptians, young and the not so young, who gazed at us and at the type of clothing we wore. Some would approach us with the commonly heard term “Baksheesh” (give me some help), and in many cases the response was automatic.  Members of the group would give a U.S. dollar, about six Egyptian pounds, to the outstretched hand.

Food, especially lamb, is readily available and cheap, when compared to prices in the United States. During some of our stops we would gaze at a group of men smoking the water pipes while others chiseled away at a piece of rock, fashioning something for sale.

Some kids, some as young as seven or eight years old, would offer some trinkets to us for one dollar (U.S. of course); they were quick to guess where we were from. Some of them were aggressive, and on one or two occasions, security police point them the way out of our area.

You do not get the feeling that these people are oppressed, but that they are facing financial and economic pressures.  The regular request for assistance comes from the children, not the adults, even though one suspects that they too, welcome it.

Before boarding Egyptair for our return to the United States, members of the group expressed thanks to our guide, Ossama, recognizing his tremendous knowledge and experience, and praising him for his patience and tolerance — natural traits lingering from the ancient past.

— By Edwin Ali, Jetsetters Magazine Middle Eastern Correspondent.

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