One of the great journey’s to be had while in Egypt is to travel the length of the Nile, south to north, on board a traditional sailing vessel known as a felucca.
Aswan is a small Egyptian city relatively close to the border with Sudan. Surrounding the city are rocky hills, almost pink in color; one of which contains the mausoleum of Aga Khan lll, the 48th Imam, who died in 1957.
The Blue Nile cuts through Aswan’s center and under the bright midday sun she shimmers and glistens with a gentle relaxed beauty; like that of a tidal pool or crater lake. The water itself reflecting the appearance of a thousand diamonds mounted atop a vast fluid sapphire.
Dotted throughout this section, the river hosts dozens of tree covered islands that lend further to its overall allure; enhancing the richness of a land once ruled by pharaohs and sultans with their hoards of gold encrusted jewels.
Aswan proved to be a city that appreciated a more relaxed way of life. The polar opposite of its big brother Cairo. Here you can stroll down the boardwalk alongside the Nile and even though hawkers still attempt to make sales, their numbers are few, and their style less abrasive.
It is a city in the desert and therefore a kind of oasis. With a river through sand dunes guided by the arch of palm trees; swaying not from wind but from strong thermal currents.
I spent my days in the company of sugar filled tea drinking Egyptians, the memory of Aga Khan, and the final resting place of Abu Simbel; massive temples located on the western bank of man-made Lake Nasser.
It was my departure from Aswan that was to be the highlight. I had booked passage on a felucca along with several other travelers; all from England. All in all there was 5 of us. The trip was to take us down the Nile, north towards Edfu and Esna, with the final destination being Luxor.
I had wanted to go all the way to Cairo but there is a lot to see in between so cut the sailing short and would eventually head to the Read Sea; but that’s for later.
Our captain was named Abdullah; really.
He was a friendly chap who smiled constantly except when he barked orders at his young assistant. Then his smile became more a sneer of disdain that righted itself when his head redirected toward us.
Abdullah cooked our meals and guided us up the Nile. At night, as the sun sank below the horizon, he would stretch out with the rest of us to soak in the beauty and sheer magnificence of a countryside he had undoubtedly seen a million times before.
Relaxation came easy and soon turned to sleep as the suns crest was no more.
Early morning brought us alongside the ancient town of Edfu and the archaeological ruins that remain. As with Esna we explored the carved rocks and marveled at these structures that only an active imagination could bring into focus.
Walking in places steeped in historical significance can be intoxicating. Your imagination can get you to that high faster and with added clarity. To me this is exactly how you put the pieces of time back together as you stand in venues of greatness.
Luxor, our final stop; the resting place of kings and queens including Hatshepdut and Tutankhamen. It is here that you come face to face with mythology and fact.
It is here you separate extra-terrestrial assistance from the grit and fortitude of man.
I rented a bicycle and rode it onto the ferry to cross the Nile. Awaiting on the other side were scores of children selling warm drinks that were supposed to be cold and unexpected fields of green, flowing creeks, and forests that provided adequate shade from the early morning sun.
These natural luxuries would not last.
The terrain, upon first incline, changed to the more barren beige of dust and desert. My bike groaned and creaked in unison and with each completed cycle of the wheels we found ourselves climbing steeper.
The Valley of the Kings and Queens was the destination but getting there was a trek.
Desert sun is oven hot.
Riding the bike soon became walking the bike and eventually I was in sight of the entrance. The famous valley that laid claim to some of the most intriguing characters in Egyptian history; the boy pharaoh among them.
Leaning my bike against a wall and paying baksheesh for its continued protection I entered through a crowd of guides touting their services. I declined, opting for a more peaceful morning of exploration free of chatter no matter how based in expertise it was.
Of course the hawkers were not silent; never. Offers to sell me priceless artifacts taken from looted tombs came thick and fast but all in a whisper. Rocks picked from the ground suddenly became worth their weight in gold as storied historical eras were attached to them by teenage boys looking to find a “mark” and extract some cash.
Traveling in Egypt is a balance of awe, wonder, and turmoil, where keeping your wits sharp is essential to enjoyment. The game of travel is like sleeping with one eye open.
I meandered through the crevices of the valley where in some places the opposing walls were only feet apart; eventually delivering me to my ultimate destination…the tomb of Tutankhamun…King Tut.
Spacemen helped build the pyramids.
Entering the long descending corridor the walls contain a conspiracy theorists treasure trove. Hieroglyphics depicting what could easily be interpreted as flying saucers, aliens standing side by side with Egyptians, and images of future inventions.
Guide delivered assurances to the contrary refute all theories too radical. We all would like to think, I think, how cool it would be if the men from outer space had come down to Egypt and assisted in the building of great monuments and provided knowledge about tools and weaponry beyond the radar of the time.
The fact is that the truth by itself is amazing enough. There is no need to look for inter-galactic conspirators. The feats of the Egyptians stand the test of time in both durability and intrigue. From the pyramids of Giza to the Valley of Kings and Queens in Luxor, the ingenuity required is astounding.
Descending below the scorching desert floor the air becomes cooler with every step.
As the light of day diminishes it is replaced by the flicker of candle sconces along the tunnel walls. This in turn breathes additional life into the hieroglyphic drawings; within an instant you find yourself the central character in any one of a dozen famous movies flirting with the romance of tomb raiding and archaeological treasure.
A wide crevasse opens up beneath and your footing, on the rickety swing bridge, feels less confident by the step. Beyond this last barricade to prevent plunder is the inner sanctum; the tomb of Tutankhamun.
It was much smaller that I had anticipated.
But the importance of being here, in this place of history, was not lost on me. Gone were all the treasures; stolen many decades ago. The floor and walls were barren and compiled of hardened mud. The sarcophagus lay as it was found in 1922, or so they believe.
I spent as long as I could in there; taking it all in. In front of me was the burial place; around me was the tomb of a man who lived in 1332 BC. At one stage this room was filled with Egyptian loyalists burying their King.
There was some heady imagining happening; I was in full mind churn mode.
Exiting the tunnel I was spent. There was no real need to visit any more sites. The other Kings and Queens paled in comparison. It had been Tut that had occupied my youth. Leabank Primary school had honed a gift of curiosity and now I was standing in the shadow of its subject.
The journey back to Luxor was literally a breeze; all downhill to the river.