Temples, boats, and one very orange galabiya

Even though my official spring break was only about 2 weeks ago, this past weekend was time for another program excursion, a 4 day cruise on the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, with stops at temples and sites along the way. To maximize our time on the trip, our flight left Cairo at 6 am Wednesday morning, so we were in Luxor and heading to tour our first site at about 8 in the morning.

The first stop on our trip was Karnak temple, the largest temple complex in the world. Over the centuries, pharaohs kept adding onto this temple, so it grew to enormous size and has different structures from different kings right next to each other. Occasionally the adding on entailed dismantling smaller structures that had been built previously and using the stone to fill a pylon, but recently archeologists have retrieved these pieces and are working on reconstructing small chapels in an open air museum right beside the main temple area.

Like I said, the temple is huge and has a bunch of different parts, but one of the main areas is the hypostyle hall, which is sull of massive columns that are covered in hieroglyphs. In ancient times, the entire area was all roofed over, with small windows along the sides, so the entire room would be fairly dim, adding to the supernatural ambiance of the temple.

Because many parts of the temple were covered, originally by ceilings and later by sand or other construction, a lot of the original colors on the walls remains. I really liked the colors of this vulture, which, unlike currently, was considered a symbol of protection.

Besides all of the cool architecture and decorations, Karnak even had some fun rituals for us to take perform! Legend has it that if you run clockwise 7 times around this scarab statue, you will be blessed with good luck and fertility. I could probably use one of those more than the other, but I guess I will take what I can get. Like I said, Karnak is huge and I have a bunch of different pictures of different parts of the temple, which can be found on my album here.

After Karnak, we headed to Luxor Temple, which is located about 2 km away. This is the typical style of temple, with two large pylons with the entrance to the temple in between them. Temples were constructed on a single axis, with the chambers getting smaller and darker as one approached the rear and the main shrine to the gods. The majority of the people were not allowed to actually enter the temples, so the outsides were decorated with impressive statues and obelisks to show off the power of the king.

The next morning we headed to check out some of the royal tombs at the Valley of the Kings, where they have discovered about 64 burial sites, including King Tut. Unfortunately the area is very heavily traveled, so cameras are completely restricted and you can’t even take pictures outside of the tombs. The area is also swarming with people attempting to sell souvenirs to all the tourists, who are not few in number. The funny thing that I see about the tourists is that they are mostly older couples who I don’t think should be out in the sun too long… After the main valley we went to the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut, which was built into the cliffs of the valley. Though the original temple was destroyed about a hundred years ago by an earthquake, it has recently been reconstructed and is one of the more impressive and unique temples, in my opinion.

Queen Hatshepsut is famous because she was actually a king, one of the first women who ruled an entire nation. The pharaoh to whom she was married died with only a stepson as a male heir, and he was very young, so she ruled as a regent and pretty much kept him in the shadows until her death. She went so far as to depict herself as a man, with the false beard, to legitimize her rule and make a connection with the traditional style of representation. The statue here is of the king herself.

Our last stop for the day was the Colossi of Memnon, giant statues of Amenhotep III that used to be situated in front of a temple. Legend has it that cracks formed in these statues over time and that the wind used to blow through and make an eerie whistling sound, but they were repaired by the Romans and no longer do that.

This trip was especially awesome because of the huge amount of free time that we had. After the group tours in the morning, we were pretty much free to do anything we wanted during the afternoon and evenings. As I mentioned, we were on a cruise ship  heading south down the Nile, so we got to see some awesome views of the land on both shores of the Nile. It is really interesting how you can totally see that there is a very definite line between the green right on the banks of the river and the desert that starts very suddenly.

We were on a cruise ship with a nice little sundeck and pool, so I spent most of my time on the deck trying to get some sort of tan. In addition to the daily teatime and dip in the pool, I finally managed to get some reading done and definitely had a chance to just lay back and relax. The hour long full body massage that I only payed about 35 dollars for definitely helped some too…

Shot from the temple of Kom Ombo, which we were able to dock directly beside and pretty much just walk straight into the temple. This site was cool because it had a Nilometer, which was an ancient well-like device that was used to measure the height of the annual flood. Tax rates were set according to how high the river was, because the king reasoned that the farmers could afford to pay more on a good year. Interesting premise that takes the working people into account when thinking about taxation…

Our last full night on the ship was Galabiya night, which seemed to be aimed specifically at making tourists look silly. A galabiya is the robe like garment that is traditionally worn by Egyptians; you see them directly alongside people wearing business suits in Cairo. The normal galabiyas are fairly dull colored, but as anyone who is familiar with how I dress knows, I am not a fan of drab colors. The tourist galabiyas are more ornamented, and everyone in my program bought one to participate in the celebration. I felt so dressed up that it was like prom, so I had to take a nice photo to remember the night.

As I mentioned before, the majority of tourists that we saw were old Europeans, and our companions on the ship were no exception. I think everyone else on the boat was British, and only a few were under the age of 60. After a particularly fierce competition in some silly games, I was named the Pharaoh of the Potato, and ten women were selected to dance for my affection. Unfortunately only three of them came from my program, so the other 7 were members of the British tour group. Luckily I was saved from having to choose a favorite and was allowed to say that they were all winners, and we got a quick group picture.

The next morning we headed out to see some more sights, including the Aswan High Dam and the temple of Philae, which required us to take a small boat out to an island in the middle of the Nile. The temple was cool because it was basically the only thing on the island, although it was nt originally there; it had to be moved after the construction of the high dam because of flooding. The temple also had several crosses carved and an altar built inside of it after Christianity arrived to the area.

In the afternoon we had some free time to explore in small groups, and Ahmed and I decided that we were going to climb to the peak of this dune/mountain on the bank opposite where we were docked. After a short felucca ride, which is a sailboat with a triangular sail that is typically found on the Nile, we were dropped off and set off to explore some tombs, which were completely devoid of tourists, which meant that we got to take some pictures!

This is from the inside of one of the non-royal tombs that we visited. It is a typical offering scene and I was really impressed with the crazy amount of colors that remained. After we checked out these tombs, we headed to the side of the mountain and set off scrambling up the sandy slop from rock to rock, which I though was just the best thing ever. I will admit that it was pretty had work in the blazing sun, but the view from the top was totally worth it.

Panorama from the peak; you can really see how there really isn’t a whole lot once you get away from the banks of the river. On the smal island to the right side is the botanical gardens and a small Nubian village that some of the other people in my program visited.

We hung out on the boat till fairly late, because our flight wasn’t till late, so we were able to watch one last pretty sunset over the west bank of the Nile, known as the Land of the Dead during the Pharaonic times. I was pleased to see that they had lights all over what I had decided was my mountain, and I sat and red while overlooking a more naturalistic side of Egypt than I get to see in Cairo. The sweet break ended on a bit of a low note as our plane home got delayed until about 12:30, meaning that we didn’t get back to Cairo until after 2, meaning that I had been up for around 20 hours that day, and climbed a mountain. Either way, I think that is a pretty fair price to pay for the kind of relaxing vacation that we got on this trip and I totally would love to go on a Nile cruise like this again in the future.

Once again it is time to settle in to class mode, though I can still look forward to the upcoming trip to Siwa Oasis, which I believe will be another fantastic opportunity to get some rays and catch some Z’s.

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