Monday, January 23, 2012

The Egypt Chronicles - Day 7

Day 7 was a day of leisure and unwinding. We had been sailing since dawn. Do you recall we had got off the boat at Edfu, and went into town, met a local policeman, eaten tuna sandwiches and called off what would have been a tremendous prank. We had to recall that, too, over a continental breakfast spread of croissants and brioches.

The room service was pretty active that day. They brought their creativity out by arranging the sheets like a swan, complete with a twisted corner making a strong sharp beak. I sat down on the bed to look at some pictures from last night, and there was a firm tap on my head - the 'bedsheet' swan had craned its neck and its beak tapped my head. Useless buggers, why couldn't they just fold it flat.

It was slightly overcast and the weather was not too hot. The cruise had arranged for a 'galabiya' party at the lounge in the evening. Dinner would be 'Oriental', they said. We thought Chinese, they meant Egyptian. A 'galabiya' is a singlet - almost like a maxi, but a lot more richer - worn over the head and usually with an 'arafat'. We would stop briefly at Kom Ombo today, before we sailed to Aswan.

Kom Ombo is unique in that its temple is dedicated to two Gods, which is unusual for ancient Egyptian traditions. It is also special as it has a lot of carvings depicting daily life. Mohamed showed us the carvings of the tools that were used back in the day, their records of healthy postures, childbirth and suckling, sowing and harvest etc. There were pictures of the queens of Upper and Lower Egypt anointing the Pharaoh, who was wearing the double crown - which looked like a bottle of champagne in its basket. There was Horus and another God, preparing the Pharaoh for his journey into afterlife. Some of the pillars were resplendent thousands of years after they were coloured. One can imagine how grand it would have looked in its day.

Outside the temple complex, hawkers offered us the 'galabiya'. Maybe it was the cruise, or maybe we were close to the Nubian land, but we did see that the hawkers here stressed on the 'galabiya' much more than they did in Luxor. Also, the dock near the Kom Ombo temple reminded me of the various ghats on the Tungabhadra. Or scaled down versions of the Ganga ghats at Haridwar or Varanasi. Yes, Cage, your scarf added effect. (Yes, Cage sounds like SK. It is too).

From Kom Ombo, it was non-stop sailing to Aswan, where we would depart the cruise. This meant that all of today was going to be on the top deck. So, after lunch, we sat on the deck, getting Mohamed to write our names in Arabic and Hieroglyphic. Mohamed was our 'Red', we could count on him to find things from time to time. He made some calls and arranged for some tuna, and because drinks were prohibitively overpriced on the boat, some drinks to go with it.

The sun had come out by now, and in the brilliant sunshine, the Nile shone like a bejewelled bride. We pulled some chairs and chatted for a while before everyone went off to do their own thing. I sat at the edge of the boat, looking at the boat make its way through the water. It was like seeing a giant life-size album of a crazy traveller. Some scenes were plaid, normal, just your day to day stuff. Some scenes were outright breathtaking, making you wish you could stop your boat right there and just keeping looking at the horizon for hours on end. Some were so flamboyant, it was hard to believe they were real. It must have been half a lifetime ago that I sat jobless like this, with nothing to listen, read or do. I remembered sitting on the footboards of the trains to Gujarat and Delhi, looking at the terrain change as we passed regions and states. It is ironic I did that, because back then I used to wonder when I would look at a foreign country pass by like this. I guess things came around full circle.

A felucca made a great shot against the dusty desert in the background.

I must have dozed off in the sunshine, because when I got up DT was reading everyone's palms, and I did not remember how it started. By the looks of it, she was pretty accurate. SK, SP, SS all had their few key things told. Then, as if reading palms were not enough, SK started reading minds. Well, not exactly minds, but people. And, he did read DT quite accurately.

The boat docked at Aswan, and Mohamed led us towards a felucca to go towards the other side where we were to see the museum. A felucca is a sailboat, depending only on the wind for propulsion. The felucca-wala was a rustic Nubian. He was thin and wiry, singing his way along as he pulled the sails to steer the boat. His young helper laid out some Nubian souvenirs for us to see and buy. Our fun and games were distracted by a young lad on a pair of floats paddling along our felucca. He sang popular rhymes and songs - Macarena - only, he sang them in French. We tipped him for his bit of time.

Then the wind stopped. We were just floating along with hardly any movement, literally feeling the wind blown out of our sails!! Mohamed arranged for a motor boat to take us to the other bank. From the bank, we walked a short distance to the Nubian museum in Aswan.

I was beginning to get a small headache - must have been the sun in the afternoon. My eyes were smarting and I just hoped something in the museum would catch my interest so I could get away from this unwell feeling. Alas, although the museum was well laid out, there was too much theory around "The Golden Land", and it hardly helped to draw me away from my headache, and SP and I were probably the first out of each spot that Mohamed stopped to explain. To add to that, there were a group of local students who were having their museum day out! I just ambled my way around the museum looking at various statues of Pharaoh Dont-Know-Who, the construction of the High Dam (which we would see tomorrow), the movement of the temple of Abu Simbel (again, something we would see tomorrow) and some such frap until the others were ready to exit.

Mohamed had a bus ready to take us back to our boat. There was a detour though, we had to visit a perfumery. I could not bear to sample any perfumes on top of the headache, which had become splitting by now, so I chose to stay back in the bus. A short while later, the group came back and we made our way to the boat in time for dinner. Tonight would be our last night on the boat, so
(i) we would have to settle the 'tibbing' for the boat staff. This tipping business is sickening, the recommended tip was about 7 USD per person per day, however, we felt it was an exorbitant expectation, and we ended up tipping as per services received and put it all in a single envelope from the 'SM Group'.
(ii) we would have to get up at 4 AM the next day to go to Abu Simbel by road. This was important as we would be part of a convoy and the convoy would leave Aswan at 5 AM sharp. Breakfast would be packed for us.
(iii) we wanted to make the last night on the cruise worth it. Mohamed's package had arrived.

Dinner was Egyptian, but I was surprised that there was no 'falafel' nor any 'pigeon meat'. There were a lot of people in traditional 'galabiya' outfits. Some had 'arafats' alone, and some, like us, were looking spoilsports. There was an anniversary tonight, so again, out came the drumrolls and the cake, and there was a traditional celebration. This time, I did take a video, here it is.

There was also a dance party in the lounge after dinner, but some of us (oh ok, I guess it was only me) chose to pack for the early departure the next morning. Although the food had helped, the headache was still bothering me, the music from the dance floor was reverberating between my ears, so I told SP that I would wait until the party died down to join the rest of the gang on the top deck, and hit the bed for a nap.

And that's how I missed the most defining night of the trip - something that I feel like kicking myself for! (SK, SP, S2K, SM, thanks I don't need you guys to do the honours. RA - don't even think about it, I'll not survive!).

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