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Drifting on the Nile

The political turmoil in Egypt has cast a shadow on the country but nothing can dim the beauty and serenity of the river that gives it hope.

May I walk everyday on the banks of the Nile, may my soul rest on the branches of the trees which I planted, may I refresh myself under the shadow of my sycamore – An Egyptian tomb inscription, circa 1400.

Travelling through a city as historic, glorious and joyless as Cairo is at this point in time and yet to feel the freedom of the flowing waters — is the rousing feeling that the Nile, the world’s longest river, offers. It’s springtime in the country and every tree around the river is laden with fruit and flowers. For a country that thrives on tourists, there are hardly any around, the Arab Spring has dealt the tourism industry a blow that it is slowly recovering from. The locals tell us that the hesitation to travel here is still paramount among many and despite better conditions now, tourists have been slow to return.

But Nile seems like the answer to the uncertainty that prevails these days. If the city tells you of destruction and poverty, the beautiful river, with its blue waters, shimmers with hope, and even happiness. At the start it looks like a landscape that’s been uninterrupted for centuries. But then, soon enough, the eye travels to the concrete jungle that flanks its banks. The historical Tahrir Square, the graffiti created during the recent revolution, the Nile Ritz Carlton and the Egyptian Museum — the river goes by many such buildings.

However, it is only when the river reaches Luxor that it acquires an other worldliness to it. It’s cleaner, calmer, and surrounded by mountains of history. Luxor, the religious capital of Egypt during the New Kingdom, and the residence of the god Amon-Ra is a quiet little town. Most large cruise-liners are just docked near the boats, dilapidated and dirty. The ban on tourism in Luxor, which was imposed by many Western governments owing to the political turmoil in Egypt, was only lifted last November. We choose to take a felucca ride here. It’s better to drift in a felucca, a sailboat without an engine, than to take a motorboat ride or a cruise — we drifted along the river in the direction of the wind. It’s almost 4 in the evening and we go past the temples and buildings that house thousands of cartouches, myriad pictographs and hieroglyphic writings. Surrounded by the the tombs, the kings, the revolutions, the idea of pharaohs, the river is like history in motion.

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There are date palms, guava, mango trees and lush green vegetation on the banks of the Nile, just metres away from the Sahara desert that surrounds the entire city. Drifting in the felucca one sees the Valley of the Kings, a pyramid-shaped mountain that comprises over 62 tombs, most of which were plundered in earlier days for treasure. While most tombs, including that of the famous king Ramesses I, can be visited to see the intricate frescoes and chambers where the mummies and treasures are kept, boy king Tutankhamun’s tomb also contains his mummified remains, albeit only the head and feet, and is on display. An Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, his nearly-intact tomb, with all its treasures, was discovered in 1922 and survived because it was buried under king Ramesses I’s tomb. A little further down are the ruins of the Karnak Temple, arguably the largest temple complex ever built in the world. It’s hard not be awed by the scale and beauty of what one encounters — the huge columns with complex carvings, the corridors, the chambers, the murals and the sculptures. The remains have survived even after thousands of years. It’s not hard to imagine what must have gone on in the temples, thanks to the elaborate ritual scenes and mummification process depicted on its walls. But a visit to the temple on a moonlit night made matters more interesting. The elaborate sound-and-light show took us through the history of the temple and brought alive the ruins with music and stories of the times gone by.

Egypt’s energy comes from the Nile, a river that has seen the best and the worst of times. A walk on the promenade beside the river at night with only the happy hubbub of the river for company, one can see the magic of it. The moonlight shines on the water, glistening and looking all magnificent, even a little scary, as if it would put the spotlight on the secrets the river has swallowed.

First published on: 27-04-2014 at 12:18:50 am
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