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On Way to Luxor: Glimpses of Edfu and Esna

Abhishek Kar

The evening at Kom Ombo in southern Egypt had been quite hectic and swayed by the boat, our floating hotel, we slept like babies. So, when the phone next to my bed rang, I literally jumped out of my skin. Oh God! The alarm had either not worked or I had not heard it, so now the Tour Manager was frantically trying to wake us up. It was time for us to disembark − to visit Edfu.

It was no doubt a different kind of embarking. So far we had been using the right side of the river Nile, since to the ancient Egyptians the right side symbolized life and the left dealt with life after death. But now we were about to get down from the left since Edfu is one of the few temples built on the left bank of the river and that too in honor of Horus, the God of Life.

The early rays of the morning sun greeted us as we walked down the ramp on to the river bank and for the first time in Egypt it was not shinning in our face. A little walk took us all to the massive stone structure, built in the Ptolemaic period. Our guide told us that this would be the last stop before reaching our final destination Luxor and also that there we would not get any time to visit the local market. I dislike shopping and was thus perhaps the only one really happy once the announcement was made!

Edfu. The majestic pylon was enough to take one’s breath away, as we all entered the temple. Imagine the entire structure had once been totally engulfed by an impenetrable sea of sand, the tip of this massive pylon somehow managed to jut out. At the entrance there was a big statue of a falcon representing the falcon-headed Horus and it was a real crowd-puller as everyone wanted to click a pix with it. There were several groups of tourists from different countries who had come, so our guide had to walk in front of our group with a small red flag. We moved on slowly and entered a pillared hallway. The ancient hieroglyphics on the walls and pillars made everyone look upwards and either stare or click.

I came to know that this was the most well-preserved temple and also the second largest one after the one at Karnak. The desert sand had kept it in a near-perfect condition, safe from the ravages of time and nature. Apart from the ancient alleys and walls of the temple, one of the major attractions was an ark. This boat was not just painted on a wall but was also there for all to see. It is impossible for me to describe the sudden rush of humanity towards the area that housed the ark. Forgetting all about decorum, etiquette etc. every one, young and old, men and women, began to display sheer muscle power.  Many, like my mother, didn’t have to make the effort to walk up to the front to see the boat. They were just pushed forward. But no one fell as there wasn’t enough space for a human body to fall! Who said that we Indians push our way through wherever we go? I saw all, white, yellow and brown, doing just the same! It was a miracle that no one lost his or her mobiles or cameras in the crowd. I was one of the most fortunate ones who could go right up to the last point effortlessly and click from the best angle because I was just behind a seven-footer muscular Afro-American and who could stop him from going right up. He cleared my way without realizing it!

I had seen scarabs in hundreds in the film Mummy Returns and now they were there all around, etched on the walls. We were told that at certain periods of time, the carvings and hieroglyphics were targeted due to religious beliefs and attempts had been made to erase them from history, either by force or arson. However, several remained unharmed and we were lucky enough to see them. Our guide Adeel pointed out a Nilometer which looked quite different from the one which we had seen earlier at the temple of Kom Ombo. This actually turned out to be an important and usual feature of all structures built near the river banks.

After coming out in the open, we could see Feluccas cruising down the river on one hand. Suddenly I felt a chill run down my spine. Was this the same scene that ancient Egyptians too had viewed thousands of years ago? We were looking at a rich cultural heritage, which has been gifted back to us, after getting lost in the desert during the passage of time and it really is our duty to preserve it for a thousand more!

What I did not like were modern amenities like a car park and a tourist center, all those somehow clashed with the old-world atmosphere. On top of it were the trinket vendors who brought us rudely into the present. I have rarely seen sellers so persistent and I am sure that they would follow unwilling tourists till the poor souls plunged right into the Nile to escape their clutches! Somehow I dodged them, took a different route and succeeded in reaching the boat just in time for lunch, which incidentally was the best spread during our river cruise.

The cruise was not yet over and something else awaited us all. It was the Esna lock. Here boats have to wait at the lock-gate till the two different water levels are at par and then only the boats are allowed to pass. Naturally all the passengers, some armed with video cameras, crowded on the deck to see this ‘balancing’.

The remaining part of the cruise was quite uneventful till we docked at Luxor, our final destination. This is where one says goodbye to the boat and cries, “Hello” to the buses once again. It had been a long day and I too was bone-tired. Nothing seemed more welcome than the soft bed in the hotel room. Still, I couldn’t help going out on the balcony to see if the river was still visible. There is something about the Nile, let me tell you, and one just cannot help turning around to catch a final glimpse and strain one’s ears to hear the waters say, “ Please do visit us again!!