This post should have by rights been my first blog entry, back in November, for it was after my trip to Upper Egypt that I felt I had truly “arrived” in Egypt. OK so I may be repeating myself slightly, and may have said the same after my first trip to the pyramids, but the whole Nile cruise experience seems to have trumped even that. Mummies, hieroglyphs, the Valley of the Kings, Egyptian temples. All of it, every bit as impressive as the hype had led me to believe — for the jaded and non-believers, let me assure you that there is NO such thing as hyperbole or anticlimax when it comes to the wonders along the Nile.

I took this trip over Thanksgiving break in November, a solitary party of one because most of my AUC friends had opted for the Red sea monasteries. In doing so, I redeemed myself in the matter of holding off on the pyramids — I was the first one from our gang to make this trip. Of course they were going to be around over Christmas break, I wasn’t, and so I seized on this window of opportunity.

In the obscenely early hours of the dawn I boarded a plane and flew down to Aswan. One noteworthy detail from the flight was the sight of the country as we descend toward land. I couldn’t get a photograph but it’s quite amazing to see this narrow ribbon of green wind its way through the vast expanse of the Sahara. No more than 50 miles at the widest, the ribbon — bisected by the Nile stretches for several hundred miles from Cairo down to Aswan (where it widens to become lake Nasr). As with the pyramids, the sight brings a jolt of awareness of the history and geography — narrow as it is, the Nile has watered and sustained civilizations for 5000 years. WOW!

I took the Presidential Nile Tours, (not the famed “Cook’s tours” that so raised Amelia Peabody’s ire) because that’s what the AUC travel office set me up with. Good bang for the buck — got a good overview of the important sites, and can now go back on my own to see things I missed or want to have more time for. We had a nice guide, Bessem, who named us the “Pharaohs,” and I got to meet some nice folks, notably a fellow nerd-by-inclination-and-profession, Andy a geographer from Georgia who was travelling with his wife, and a pair of South Africans from Cape Town, Mandy and Konrad. They were the folks I hung out with most during the trip.

The first picture here is I took was from the High Dam in Aswan, the beginning point of my journey downstream (yes, once again, the Nile flows from South to North, and I don’t know why that factoid still gives me cheap thrills! ). This is a view from the south, looking Northward, to the South is Lake Nasr (or Nasser) the artificial lake created as a result of the damming. Now, the High Dam is a newer structure begun in the sixties and completed rather more recently. The “Aswan Dam” that I learnt about in Grade IV is the older one I think, which was built at beginning of the century and then raised twice, before the idea for the High Dam was conceived. Quite a feat of engineering itself, the High Dam also instigated other remarkable feats of engineering such as the dismatiling and moving, stone-by-stone, and rebuilding some of the ancient temples. The most famous of these is the Abu Simbel temple (which I have not yet visited) but hope to in October. Meanwhile there is an interesting website about the dams (strangely enough through a website of an STS course, which was not by design) that you can link to by clicking on the photo.

The Temple of Philae

From the moment I stepped on to a felucca to be taken over to the island in the middle of the Nile, where the temple of Philae is now located, everything about this first Egyptian temple experience was steeped in romance. The original location of the temple is now submerged, sacrificed to the dam. The highest points of the hold island are still visible from the current temple — I tried but could get a good photo. Luckily the powers-that-were moved this temple (dismantled the original and rebuilt here stone by stone) to the island on which it makes its home today. Actually the island is a part of one of a cluster. Stepping of the boat, I was amused and pleased to see the legend “Welcome to Biga” scratched (or painted) on the rocks of a neighboring island. Biga was familiar to me from Mahfouz’s book as the dwelling place of Rhadopis, whose story I have mentioned before.

Philae itself is a beautiful temple, offering samples (and to me my first glimpses) of giant hieroglyphics on the temple walls and Hathorian columns (see flanking pictures). I think it’s a relatively new temple, by Egyptian standards, or at least is a temple that was re-built during Greco-Roman times. Apparently it also fun to see this island by evening when it’s lit up in crazy colors, but we went in the morning and so missed that experience. Ours was the short cruise so Elephantine Island as well as the famed cataracts were also not on the agenda, but that’s what next times are for!

We sailed sedately down the Nile from Aswan to our Kom Om Bo that afternoon. The view is not very varied, but nice nevertheless — a short stretch of green with dates palms and other crops near the water and then the vast expanse of desert farther out on both sides. Some of the scenes were rustic enough to make me think that I could be in Dame Agatha’s novel, Death (or was it Murder?) on the Nile, the one set in ancient Egypt. Other times, especially when I heard the accents of the bulk of the tourists on the boat, I felt more as if I were in the other novel.