We took an overnight train from Cairo and went to Aswan. From there, a felucca took us to Kato Dool, a resort in a Nubian village. On the way the felucca broke down in the backwaters of the Nile (sketch below) but luckily all the crocodiles in the Nile had either been mummified or left out in Sudan.
There was a wedding going on in the Nubian village that night and it was rather crowded. The brown boy almost got caught in a camel stampede during the wedding procession!
Finally, the ancient ruins of Egypt began…we took a Nile river cruise, and drifted down the Nile, stopping to visit the ancient ruins as we arrived at the sites. First, we visited the Philae temple, our first glimpse of imperial grandeur on the banks of the Nile. Here’s the David Roberts painting of the wonderful colors of the pillars.
This wonderful itinerary had been devised by Mishta, who even managed to squeeze us in for a lunch at the Old Cataract hotel, where Agatha Christie had stayed, writing her Egypt novels!
From Aswan we took the 3 hour long drive over miles of Sahara desert to visit Abu Simbel. I have never seen anything like the majesty of that temple. Rameses not only succeeded in convincing the god and the Nubians of his might, he almost convinced me too, nearly 3000 years later! It’s a massive Santa letter to the god Ra Horakhty asking for more power and wealth, and in case the god forgets, the inside walls of the temple are covered with details of his request.
In between the historic ruins, we chilled out on the river boat, drawing the countryside that passed and some of our fellow passengers as they sunbathed.
I skipped Kom Ombo (and the crocodile mummies!) but saw Edfu and of course the Karnak temple in Luxor, the most magnificent of all the ruins. It was too much to draw, all that imperial majesty, transferring down across centuries to transfix us in our present. We could barely think of the past and future, we were so caught up in the sense of place of these ruins.
Finally the last site we visited was the Valley of Kings. On the way we saw the fabulous ruins of the Colossi of Memnon. In my humble opinion, at some point, the pharaohs realized that it was more cost-effective and scalable to build their tombs in a conveniently located, pyramid-shaped mountain instead. All the tombs were brilliant and beautiful. I was awe-struck at the colors and the massive systems that kept the same consistency of output, and the sheer volume of labor that pulled it off across centuries!
Throughout our fortnight in Egypt, these were the insights I took away about ancient Egypt –
- their fascination with death and mortality
- their use of visual language – for communication as well as regal branding (this surely has to be the earliest use of regal insignia and branding). The strong sense of graphic design that permeates even today.
- how they scaled their artwork and systems across centuries
- these feats of engineering and architecture that broadcast the imperial narrative across centuries. A most masculine testosterone-fueled architecture of phallic forms, in my opinion…(except for Hatshepsut’s constructions).
- And though defaced and obliterated, the need to adorn persisted through centuries till the present day – adornment not for vanity but as a way to worship, or appease, the prevalent religious faith…