Hot showers and brief getaways

For a long time she sat
On that cold-tiled floor
Water gushing onto her from above –
Through her hair right down to her knees,
Down her back and along her arms
The water gushed
All pain and feeling away…

Hot showers had a way of solving things
If only briefly…

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The Nubian on the Nile

Back from good old 2012. Had many photos in this series, one of which one a small prize. So i decided to do a photo story on this Egyptian, the Nubian salesman…

As you go ‘up’ the Nile (this is a unique river as it flows upwards – south to north) from Aswan to Luxor, there is a place called Esna where the water level suddenly drops. A ‘lock’ or an enclosure made on the river enables any vessel to sail without toppling – once a ‘ship’ is in the narrow lock, the water level in the lock is the same level as it was when the boat entered the enclosure, and then is slowly decreased so that it comes to level with the water on the other side (i.e. the side towards Luxor). Finally the vessel is released. This cumbersome process can take hours at times as vessels after vessels line up…

The Lock at Esna

Enter the mobile salesmen. The Nubians.

As our boat The Nile Festival (this vessel sadly caught fire last year – thankfully no one on board was injured) was entering the lock, we noticed dozens of ropes being lassoed onto our boats. Through the windows of our rooms, we could see ‘locals’ dressed in kaftans. However they didn’t seem to be your ordinary Egyptian.

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The boat-salesmen seemed to herald our way into the lock.

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The Nubians, as I later learnt, are from Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. These particular ones were from the little village nearby. They were ‘salesmen’, not unlike the jovial (sometimes irritating and persistent) ones we here in India come across. Each one was accompanied with another who was in charge of rowing. Once our boat proceeded into the lock, they didn’t let go. Instead they followed us, trying very hard to sell their goods, throwing them up onto the deck, three floors up and managing to catch cash and unsold goods that were thrown from above – all without losing any to the Nile.

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They had anchored themselves firmly to our boat

I saw this particular one through the window of my room. His sallow skin, cheeks sunken in, teeth stained with tobacco and eyes pleading with the tourists on the deck to buy his products. Though at first I was put off with the constant yells of “Senorita Senorita” in his ‘shrewd’, harsh voice, it was when I decided to really look at him that he struck me as pained, even scarred.

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Negotiations

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This was the photo that won me a prize 😀

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He was flinging things up at the deck
He was flinging things up at the deck

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When the lock opened to let us in, he too like many of his colleagues followed us right to the other side, until our boat, catching up speed, left the boatmen away…

Mummies in my closet

As is the norm after most of my photo-‘tours’, photographs from said travels usually lie forgotten on my computer. And since I’ve recently decided to revisit these albums, I’ve come across a lot of great memories. 

June 2012 was hot, sandy, and sweaty. But for a history undergrad this meant loads and loads of ancient history to be discovered! I visited Israel and Egypt that summer (an ironic choice of holiday destinations judging my people came to the Promised Land from Egypt!). And the timing couldn’t have been better – Egypt had just gone through a revolution: Hosni Mubarak was ousted and it was time for the Egyptians to vote for their first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi(after a year however, he too was overthrown). Interestingly we just managed to make our way out of Tahrir Square the day we went to the Egyptian Museum as protesters gathered and an hour later, that day went down in history.

After an hour’s flight from Amman (in Jordan), we landed in Cairo. For those like me who’ve grown up on Tin Tin, the sights are literally out of the comics and are also quite like India – minus the cows on the roads.

This camel-man resembles an average Egyptian from 'The Cigars of the Pharaoh'. He may just jump off and yell abuses in Arabic any moment.
This camel-man resembles an average Egyptian from ‘The Cigars of the Pharaoh’. He may just jump off and yell abuses in Arabic any moment.

Cairo or Umm ad Dunya – the Mother of the World – is said to have been set up somewhere around c. A.D. 959 by the Fatimid Dynasty, but the roots can be traced back to the Romans. They had built a fortress at the port of On which they later called Babylon. In A.D. 642 when Amr Ibn al-As conquered Egypt, he established the city of Fustat nearby and when the Fatimids came in from Tunisia, they spurned Fustat and built a new city believed to be Cairo. Many Fatimid structures like the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo remain today.

Our hotel was located just across the road from the Pyramids! Imagine my delight. But since we were whisked off to Aswan the next day for a three day cruise down the Nile, it was only until I came back that I would be able to gaze at these 4,000 year old structures.

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There are six pyramids in Giza, all which have outlived the other six ancient wonders of the world. The biggest one – the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) was built in c. 2570 B.C. As the name suggests, it belonged to Khufu. A tunnel has been dug out and visitors are allowed to explore the inside of the pyramid. A narrow winding path made for a five-foot-something person like me leads into the pyramid. No cameras allowed. On the right in a really really small steep hole with a wooden plank going all the way up. You literally have to bend at ninety degrees to climb up the tunnel, which seems to last forever. And just when it seems to get claustrophobic, you are in the middle of a small, dimly lit room – a red sandstone sarcophagus in the middle, empty, sadly. Outside on the eastern side of the pyramid are three smaller ones belonging to Khufu’s wives and sisters.

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Four Arabs sit in front of the Great Pyramids, unaware that they make my frame complete

The other pyramid looks bigger than that of Khufu but it happens to stand on a small platform. It belongs to Khufu’s father, Khafre and is the only remaining pyramid to have a limestone cap. A limestone coat is believed to have existed over the sandstone structures so as to enable them to gleam in the sun – this same limestone was later stripped and used in palaces and mosques. In fact it is believed that the pyramids had caps of gold too.

The third huge pyramid belonged to Menkaure or Mycerinus.  I was told that a foolish king had once blasted off a part of the structure with dynamite so as to recover gold from the tomb. According to the story, he dug out three separate tunnels but didn’t find his treasure all of which are now closed for visitors. A gash is apparent on one side of the pyramid.

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Egypt is known for its vintage cars. In the backdrop of this ancient automobile lies the pyramid of Menkaure, with the gaping hole that was once blasted off by a king.
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A guard walks around the pyramids, probably since security was tight what with ‘revolutions’ sparking off every now and then

Once you manage to get over the pyramids, there’s still one more thing left – the Sphinx. A little bus ride away from the Great Pyramids lies this feline-human looking structure. Known in Arabic as Abu al-Hol or Father of Terror, it was apparently dubbed ‘the Sphinx’ by the ancient Greeks as it resembled a mythical winged monster of the same name what with a woman’s head and a lion’s body.

The Sphinx of Giza is said to have been built in Khafre’s rule and was thus probably made to resemble him. It was between the 11th and 15th centuries that the nose was broken off; there is still a big question of who did it with many even maintaining that Napoleon was behind it. It truly is a wonder how these magnificent structures were set up and more so how they stand today. One of the reasons why historians who specialize in Egypt are called Egyptologists and not historians 😛

The Pyramids and the Sphinx at dusk.
The Pyramids and the Sphinx at dusk
Three of em together
Three of em together

It became difficult to pry me out of there, my camera clicking away in a frenzy. It was great that i was able to return the next night to watch a sound and light show against the backdrop of the setting sun and the mysterious 4,000 year old tombs. 

(Sources: Lonely Planet – Egypt and my memory)