Ross School

Saturday, March 6, 2010



Although I had been awaiting our cruise down the Nile with great expectation, I hadn’t really anticipated what a magical experience it would be. I am not sure if I can really convey in words how spectacular the setting was. Sitting at the bow, flanked on two sides by small farms and great stretches of reeds, I could almost imagine myself in ancient Egypt. Then there was the great river itself—broad, deep, of an almost imperial majesty defying its polluted condition. The timelessness of the landscape deeply moved me.
Though the journey was fantastic, the destinations were also fascinating. We hit the highlights of ancient Egyptian temple architecture, starting with the island of Philae and culminating in the masterpieces of Karnak and Luxor. The sheer massiveness and resilience of these places boggles the mind. More incredible was how the Egyptians managed to use stone blocks, normally a heavy element in buildings, to create places of remarkable lightness and airiness. They are not only impressive, but actually aesthetically stimulating to be in. Like the landscape surrounding them, the temples of Egypt have an aura of eternality.

I woke up in the morning. Through my window I saw the Nile. I looked from the water to the dock. Watching people trying to sell various pamphlets on the gods and goddesses of Egypt. I realized what an economic divide there is in this country where poverty is so predominant and the main source of revenue is tourism. These vendors depend upon tourists for their survival.

The first temple we visited was beautiful. It was the goddess Isis's temple at Philae on an island called Agilka. It was crowded with people, some seeking spiritual guidance, others looking for knowledge. Everyone has something in common; we're all searching for meaning. Its hard to find meaning in the midst of herding tourists.
We returned to pass the people begging for some sort of munificence and returned to our boat which proceeded down the Nile. I laid on the top deck gathering sunlight. he fine line between fertile land and desert became clear; it is the battle between the two brother gods Set of the desert and Osiris of the Nile. It's interesting to see the landscape that gave birth to a culture, a religion, a faith. Inspiration comes from an amalgamation of previous events. History brings us closer to the present and in this way this trip is a sort of journey. It is a journey towards understanding who we are in order to help. "Know thyself in order to serve".
We proceeded to our second temple on the Nile, the Temple of Kom Ombo, dedicated to the crocodile god. We saw a sacred pit where crocodiles were kept in ancient times. I didn't see any on the Nile but had hoped to. Our guide explained that the High Damn and the locks prevent the ones prowling around Lake Nasser from making it further down the Nile. We also came to understand that hieroglyphics and symbols were a sacred language used to communicate with the gods.
Our last temple of the day was the one to the great god Horus at Edfu. It was nighttime and everything was lit up. Seeing the massive structures lit with shadows has a really lasting impact. The ceiling was filled with black residue left from the burning fires of the homeless people who inhabited the temple in its transitory period between being a sacred space and a homage to the new tourism. Inside the temple we saw Alexander the Great depicted as the son of the Egyptian god Amun. In this depiction, we see the Greek and Egyptian cultures next to each other, sharing the same myths and practices. The Macedonian king was directly integrated into the ancient Egyptian pantheon. A new period of Greek scholasticism combined with ancient Egyptian tradition spread a fusion of culture and ideas across the wide stretches of Alexander's empire.


The Nile is truly the thoroughfare and breadbasket of Egypt. Over 90% of Egypt lives along the Nile. Without it, Egypt would be another Libya or Algeria and not home to several advanced civilizations. The banks of the Nile are very inhabited. Of the 120 miles we cruised between Aswan and Luxor, there was not a single patch of land not occupied by homes or farms. Especially farms. The Nile provides nourishment in the middle of the desert. This is why so much of Egyptian mythology revolves around fertility and the Nile.
Unfortunately, the Nile is no longer what it used to be. For millennia, the annual flood dictated the schedule of all Egypt. However, the construction of the Aswan High Dam ended the flood cycle. As a guide put it, Egypt was no longer responsible to the fluctuations of the Nile, but to the world economy. Also, the Nile is dirty. Very dirty.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are moderated. If you don't see your comment post right away, that is because an actual person needs approve your post. Thank you for commenting.

Ross School