Cruising the Nile on a Moonbeam
On the Crest of a Lightwave
There is more than one form of timelessness. If you and I could ride on the leading edge of a light beam we could cross the universe in less time than it takes to blink an eye. Our slow coach friends on earth would not agree though; they would say “But it took you almost three seconds to get to the moon, and to reach the end of the solar system will take you over an hour".
They will plot our route on their computers and say “To reach the nearest star will take you over four years and it will take you a hundred thousand years to cross the milky way. To reach the edge of the observable universe will take you a whole 50 billion years by which time the Earth and the Sun will be gone and forgotten".
"No", we will reply, "it all happened in less than the twinkle of an eye".
A photon moving through the vacuum of space at the speed of light experiences no time and will never age, but not all forms of timelessness are born of journeying at fantastic speed. Here we are concerned with a timelessness that is associated with the passage of great tracts of time, of hundreds, of thousands of years; but despite this very little changes. This is the kind of timelessness you can experience in Egypt and in the presence of a civilisation that stretches back over 5,000 years.
A Nile Cruise Package?
It was with some trepidation that I embarked on a holiday cruise down the Nile. This was the first time that I had ever taken a holiday that could be considered a “Package Holiday”. My general idea of a holiday is to do what I want, when I want and how I want. I had always arranged my own itinerary and that has always had a great degree of flexibility built into it, yet now I was setting off with a group of strangers with whom I would be cooped up for weeks. We would be herded around by tour guides, our meals would be at set times, and even during free periods our freedom to roam around unimpeded would be restricted. Hey ho, here we go.
Flight from London to Luxor airport, bus to Nile cruise boat the M.S. Da Vinci, all on board in time for dinner.
Nile cruise boats used to be known as floating hospitals due to the almost inevitable e.coli infections that infected so many of the passengers, but this one boasted its own purified water supply and anyway there was a ship’s doctor on board. A few people did become quite ill, though the doctor was able to cure them with an injection which cost £50 a shot.
Egyptology and the Temples
Our tour guides had an exceptional knowledge and an apparent love of Egyptology.
They escorted us around all the important temples and spent many hours educating us in their ancient histories. There is little point in repeating it all here as there are many excellent guides on the subject to which I could not even hope to add.
The temples we visited included Luxor temple, Karnak, Temple of Amun, Temple of Horus, Temple of Sobek and Haroeris, and the Temple of Isis.
To do them justice is far beyond the scope of this article and there are many resources available that can provide far more information and hyperbole than I am capable of, though for the sake of completion here are a few shots taken at various temple locations. However I will say something of a visit made to Abu Simbel..
The Night of the Moon Eclipse
On the night of the lunar eclipse we travelled from Aswan by coach across the desert to visit the temple of Abu Simbel. The moon appeared as just a glowing ember in the sky but the coach, which had joined up with others in an army escorted convoy, could not stop to allow photographs to be taken. Despite this a young woman sitting across from me and equipped with a very enviable Nikon camera was taking pictures of the faded moon through the glass of the coach window. Perhaps she was successful, but I was not.
Dawn and on to Abu Simbel
Then came a spectacular dawn which set alight the desert sands and before too long we had reached the tourist trap of Abu Simbel. There were so many people fighting to get in through the entrance to the grounds that our tour guide organised the fitter of us to get into a wedge formation and charge, barging our way through and creating a route for the rest of our party; the tactic was surprisingly effective.
I admit to being more moved by Abu Simbel than I had been by the other sites we had visitied, despite the crowds of visitors.
It seems that in its original construction the temple was oriented in such a way that, on 61 days before and on 61 days after the winter solstice, a beam of sunlight shines on the sculptures located on the back wall of the temple illuminating all but one, which is a sculpture of Ptah, a God of the underworld and who exists always in the darkness. But the temple today is not where it was built. Due to the flooding of the Nile caused by the the Aswan High Dam the temple was moved block by block to its present location.
The Timeless Banks of the Nile
Despite the wonderful sights and history of Egypt, the best part of the whole trip was just cruising, sitting on the sun deck and watching the world of the Nile drift by.
The northern Nile winds its way through the desert and the people of Egypt have been sustained by the river ever since the ancient times.
Without the Nile there would not have been an Egyptian civilisation. Thanks to the silt carried by its waters and deposited on the surrounding land by the annual Nile flood, the land was rendered fertile and was (and still is) used to grow flax and wheat, which were traded with surrounding countries.
The ancient Egyptians realised how important the floods were and appointed the God Hapi (the running one) to ensure that they happened on schedule.
Every day the sun god Ra would pass from the left side of the Nile to the right and so the left became symbolic of birth and the right symbolic of death and what lies beyond; the afterlife.
The waters allowed livestock to be farmed. Water buffalo, donkeys and camels were kept for their labour and as a source of protein.
Many of the buildings in the riverbank towns are in a state of considerable disrepair, though often they are proudly painted in bold and cheerful colours.
The towns and the people who live on the banks are sustained by the river in the same way in which generations before them were sustained.
Men fish and farm whilst the women tend the young children and use the waters for their laundry. They are used to and welcome the cruise boats, and frequently give a friendly wave.
The whole experience of watching this strange world go by as if it was all happening in a parallel universe brought about a feeling of peace and calm, of timelessness and continuity.
Stop-overs at the major towns were not so calm, and naturally one is continuously hassled by street traders, and some can be quite unpleasant though most are happy enough if you join in the game.
Any Old Iron
This little chap bravely swam out quite a long way to a small boat that we were using to cruise around some small islands. He grabbed on to a tyre on the side of the boat and entertained us by singing a number of traditional English songs.
Needless to say a quick collection was made for him and, gripping a handful of Egyptian pounds, he swam back to from where he had come; a brave little lad, but in his eyes there was an unmissable fear.
So hard do the workers work, and they are so quick to smile. This building site was amazingly industrious.
Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings which lies to the west of Luxor is also a place on which the centuries have had little impact. Here are the tombs of the Pharaohs which date back to the 16th century BC. The decoration of some of the tombs is breathtaking. They depict the journey the Pharaoh must take on his transition to the afterlife. Unfortunately no photographs were permitted.
We also took a flight to Cairo where we visited the pyramids and tasted from our local guide some of the unrest which later led to the almost bloodless revolution that happened in the streets there.
But you will have seen enough photographs of the pyramids and the Sphinx already so I will not bore you with more. If I were to show you images of Cairo then they would be of the City of the Dead, where the living cohabit with those whom have passed over; some by choice to be with the remains of their ancestors, but most because there is nowhere else for them to go.
But we don't want to end with depressing images, so we will return to from where we came. I will go back to my St Ives Apartment where, from its deck which overlooks the Celtic Sea, I will count in and count out the tides and pen some of my recollections of our cruise down the Nile on a moonbeam.