Category Archives: CulturalScapes
A morning in Alaska is a wonderful treat to wake up to. The first rays of light ignite the sky in wonderful hues of orange and blue. Last night, we were too tired to drive outside the city and shelled out $7 to park in a parking lot. It now seems that the price was a good one to pay for a nice sunrise overlooking a stream. I should add that the stream is directly below the hill where we have spent a wonderful night.
The morning is rather early – the sun comes up at about 5:30AM, and plenty of local birds chirp to greet the new day. The days are rather long too – last night the sun went down at about 10:30PM – much later than when the young boys and girls packed the local bars and started grinding on the dance floors. We enjoy the smell of fresh air and our first morning in Anchorage. The RV was comfortable to sleep in and quite spacious to move about as well. Freshening up and making breakfast was as simple as in the comfort of our home. I quite like the idea of traveling like this. Omelets and cereal is on the menu, and we have a full plate.Tags: alaska, anchorage, CitiScapes, CulturalScapes, Landscapes, RV
It has been a while since we traveled through as picturesque a land as Alaska is. I’ve heard an awful lot about Alaska, its meadows and glaciers, but it is a land that has eluded me for atleast a few years now. the trip has been in the making for a good 7 years, and I am glad to be on a plane to wander the land for myself.
There is no plan for the trip – I should actually say that the only plan is to take an RV and wander throughout the state – or as far as the roads allow us to. It should be a first class adventure and we are prepared to boondock along the highways or on the “Bridge to Nowhere” – we ar prepared to look out for wildlife and for 20 hours of sunlight but as I realize after the trip, no amount of preparation can prepare you for a trip of a lifetime through one of the most precious and pristine landscapes on the earth.
I board an early morning flight to Portland, OR with a long layover before departing for Anchorage. The Portland airport is small, but has some nice restaurants for a quick breakfast. I lounge around and read a book – it is William Dalrymple’s The White Mughals - an excellent travel companion, sipping a whole lot of coffee to keep me awake for the long days ahead.
Before long, I am on board to Anchorage – the flight is uneventful except for the last half an hour when we cross over the Kenai peninsula and the Kenai Fjords – it is a breathtaking sight from the air. We coast along the Turnagain Arm and had I not lost myself in the moment, I would have fired up my camera and gone clicking. Nevertheless, the pictures are etched in my brain and can be recalled at a moment’s notice. The weather in Anchorage is perfect at 60F at 4PM in the afternoon. The air feels damp and I am told that it has rained for the last 32 days consecutively – a record of sorts in Anchorage. I take solace in the forecast for the next 10 days which looks bright and sunny.
I make my way to pick up the rental RV from ABC Motorhomes. It is the first time I have rented an RV and it takes me a little while to get used to the humungous dimensions of the vehicle. The rental staff is extremely friendly – and it is one of the few customer service transactions that you remember for a long time. The RV is a modified Ford F150 with a huge container attached to the chassis and equipped with all amenities I’d like to see in my own home – a TV, DVD player, refrigerator, 2 queen sized beds, a generator, cooking range, microwave, and of course a bathroom and shower. slowly, I make my way to a nearby Walmart and safeway to pick up some groceries and essentials for the trip – I have been advised that a mosquito repellant is a necessity and I make sure I have enough of it.
I make a quick stop at the airport to pick up my wife and our travels are underway. The air is still moist from the rains and there are some dark clouds in the sky. It is almost 10PM, and the sun is still about 20 degrees about the horizon, but since the rays are slanting, the temperature is not much higher than 50 degrees. The whole sky is golden in color and it is a beautiful sight. Towards the east, we can clearly see a rainbow that contrasts magnificently against the golden evening. We drive around downtown Anchorage and reach a parking lot just overlooking a hill with a clear view of the sunset. It costs us $12 to park for the night and it is short walk to the downtown. We walk to the downtown after sunset and it starts to drizzle – although the sun has gone down the horizon, the light does not fade away until much later.
We enjoy a nice dinner at Ginger – a contemporary thai restaurant in the heart of the downtown. The food is excellent and so is the service. The tandoori chicken skewers are awesomely fresh and a perfect pre travel dinner for us. elsewhere in the downtown, people are lining up outside clubs for a wild Thursday night of dancing and partying. We are too tired to join the crowd and decide to call it a day. On board our RV, we fire up the generator, and settle down for a cozy night’s sleep.Tags: alaska, AlaskanScapes, anchorage, CitiScapes, CulturalScapes, fjords, ginger, Kenai, Landscapes, rainbow, RV
We are aboard the EgyptAir flight from Aswan to Cairo – predictably it is an hour delayed, but we have ample time to make our connection at Cairo. But before I leave Egypt, the spellings again catch my eye and it is a befitting last post to an excellent vacation.airport, aswan, CulturalScapes, egypt, EgyptianScapes
When we left Cairo, we had a one way ride to Luxor – and had hoped to catch a flight back from Aswan to Cairo. So we venture out into the city to look for flights. We take a horse carriage from the docks to the town center and are immediately transported into a Victorian era- far from the maddening pace of our modern day cities, and the internet generation. Though it is almost 45C outside, we are well ensconced under the shade of the carriage and it costs only LE20. We are shocked to see that most of the shops are closed – even the EgyptAir office is closed for the afternoon. Someone lets us know that the office will open back at 6PM, when the weather is more conducive to business – no wonder the markets are then open late into the night . However, a guy walks up to us and says he can help – and takes us to a booking agent in one of the alleys. The booking agent tells us that the only available flights are on the 15th morning – and has 2 seats on the business class. With no trains either, we are stuck in Aswan. EgyptAir is notorious for its flight delays – and if we this flight is delayed for some reason, we may miss our connection back to India. The booking agent asks us when our flight from Cairo departs – 1PM I reply. He quips back that even if the EgyptAir is delayed by a few hours, we will still have ample time to make our connection. We mix some relief with our stress, and decide to take up on his expensive offer. We hitch a taxi ride back to the docks to leave in time for the Aswan Dam.
The Aswan Dam is a huge struc ture – and it actually collectively refers to 2 dams – the high and the low dam. When it was constructed, it displaced over 60,000 Nubian people from the Nubian deserts and submerged numerous archeological sites. It was constructed with massive aid from the Soviet regime, after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal. The dam’s reservoir, aptly named Lake Nasser, is one of the longest manmade lakes stretching more than 550 kms and extends from Egypt into Sudan, where it is called Lake Nubia. Several ancient archaeological sites were dismatled block by block and put together again – including the temple of Abu Simbel. There are no roads connecting Egypt to Sudan, and the only way to travel is by air or through ferries on the lake.
In the evening, we take a tour of the Aswan bazaar – the Bollywood influence is still significant. Amongst the littany of souvenirs clamoring for attention, we were really impressed by 2 young boys who made a living out of sand art. The younger one worked for the Egyptian Army and was home for a few days assisting his elder brother. These folks are adept at stuffing sands of different colors into bottles of various shapes to form miniature landscape arts depicting various desert scenes, camels, sunrise etc. For a few pennies more, they will even write your name on the inside of the bottle that you can preserve for eternity. The sand is topped of with camel milk which helps to form a rock solid art. So impressed was I that I offered a LE50 bakhsheesh to the boy – and he was overjoyed with it. It was then that I realized that local Egyptians are a poor lot of people and LE50 goes a long way. The t-shirt and souvenir vendors who sell their wares at a high markup of LE50 are not only fleecing the tourists, but also form a very small section of the society – I am sure that the profits are divided amongst the few powerful regional lords who we never see or interact with – and the front face at the shops do not get anything at all. Economic disparity has and always will be the bane of human existence.Tags: aswan, CulturalScapes, egypt, EgyptianScapes, oberoi, sand art
A relaxed morning again – it has started to feel like a vacation now that we dont have to get up at 5AM to avoid the tourists everywhere.We sail to Aswan in the morning and arrive there early enough at about 10 AM.
Our stops toway include the Temple of Philae and the famous Aswan dam – by this time we are worn out of knowing about ancient temples and mythology, and totally confused amongst the relationships between the Gods and demons etc. so much so that Tariq’s explanation is starting to get predictive as well. As we visit the temple of Philae – tariq starts off on his usual note elaborating about the temple when he suddenly shifts his gears and tells us what he has been telling us for the past 3 days – and which I can very well imitate in his thick Egyptian accent – here goes his famous rant: ” Only 43% of the hieroglyphs have been deciphered so far – and we know very little about the history of the Egyptian pharaohs. When we started deciphering hte hieroglyphs, we did not know how to read them: left to right, right to left, down up, up down…that is why even after 200 years of discovering the Rosetta stone, only 43% of the hieroglyphs have been deciphered. ” Much to the amusement of the fellow travelers, I complete the sentences for Tariq – much fun was had at his expense (for which he would receive a handsome tip)
Nevertheless, The Philae is an important archeological site – the temple was dedicated to Isis, and finds mention in various ancient writers accounts. After the construction of the old Aswan dam, it was submerged under water. In 1972, a UNESCO project relocated the temple to its present day site. Monuments of various eras, extending from the Pharaohs to the Caesars, occupy nearly their whole area.aswan, CulturalScapes, egypt, EgyptianScapes, oberoi, philae, sailing
The Kom Ombo temple is an unusual one in the history of Egypt – it is the only temple that is dedicated to two gods – the southern part for the crocodile god and the northern part to another goddess. The temple is perfectly symmetrical along its central dividing line and every detail on the two halves is matched meticulously – so that none of the gods is superior to the other. The temple is well preserved too and more than 300 crocodile mummies were excavated from the site.
Crocodile was also regarded as the god of fertility and life – and the temple bears engravings that reflect the healthcare available during the time. This scene shown below is of a nurse on the left and a druid giving a potent medication to a patient. This could also be interpreted as an ancient hospital process. It is a fascinating tale of medical evolution.
At the Oberoi Philae, tonight is billed as the “Galabiya Party” where guests on board are expected to dress up like an Egyptian, and party into the night. There is a small market between the temple and docks – just parallel to the river and we venture out to shop. We have been warned that bargaining is the key to a good price. As we roam around, we find that the locals here are not as friendly – two women from our group were manhandled. I realize that the economy of the region depends on tourists buying stuff and trinkets from them, so they may not like to bargain, but to be rude and misbehaving with women, is surely not the best way to attract a sustainable tourist culture.
Back at the ship, we do have a good time at the galabiya party. They have organized some games, and we find ourselves winning the first 3 of them in a row – so we take a break and let the others continue. After a tiring night, all we need is a good karkaday and we are all happy to call it a night.Tags: CulturalScapes, egypt, EgyptianScapes, FaunaScapes, kom ombo, nile, sailing
It was a relatively calm night onboard the Philae yesterday – the dinner was a formal affair, with a black and white theme – so everyone had to wear a combination of the colors. A nice touch. As we entered our cabin after dinner, it was a pleasant surprise to see decorations – apparently the cleaners rolled up the towels, pillows and other available objects in the room into various animal shapes. Here is an example of the elephant that we found on our bed.
This morning is relaxed – we woke up as the boat left Essna and it is pleasant sailing during the mornings. Even though it is hot, the river has a cooling effect and laying around on the deck or in the pool is a nice refreshing feeling.
Edfu is a few hours of sailing from Essna, and we get some time to catch up with fellow travelers – our companions are a mid 40s British couple, a honeymooning couple from New Jersey, an elderly and charming British couple, another honeymooning couple from Lebanon, a British guy working in Cairo and his girlfriend, and another elderly Dutch couple. We are the only ethnic Indians on board – even though the Oberoi Philae is an Indian ship. Egypt has historically been friendly with India, and everyone knows about Bollywood even in these interior parts of Egypt. They have a full blown Bollywood movie channel on board the Philae and the ship serves at least one Indian dish at every meal.
We disembark on the west banks of the Nile for the first time – the temple of Edfu is located very close to the docks. The temple of Edfu is the second largest in Egypt after Karnak, and is the best preserved of them all. It was dedicated to the falcon headed God Horus – and took more than 200 years to build. The engravings on the walls depict the age old battle between Horus and Seth – which was of course won by Horus. Tariq, our guide is a funny character – to make the history of the temple easy on all of us, he decides to stage an impromptu theater with all of us as actors. I am playing the role of Seth – the evil one- and after a battle with Horus (the Brit working in Cairo), I am killed off – much to the pleasure of the audience. I must say that this is the only piece of Egyptian history that is vivid in my mind – much thanks to Tariq’s inventive play.
Architecturally, the temple is similar to the one at Karnak, and it is the hieroglyphs that make it more interesting. Several scenes are depicted in the engravings. These engravings are at times an inch deep – it just makes us wonder about the effectiveness of the primitive tools used by the artisans – and their dedication to imp lement the pharaoh’s vision
.CulturalScapes, edfu, egypt, EgyptianScapes, nile, oberoi, sailing, temple
Back on our boat at the Oberoi Philae, we finally set sail on the cruise – it is a hot afternoon and we are on our way to the port town of Essna. An interesting part of the cruise is how the ship navigates through the canal locks – it is the first time I have witnessed a lock crossing – and I must say that it is an engineering marvel. Not to be outdone by the very pushy Egyptian locals who can sell their wares at every available opportunity, we notice a swarm of them on tiny boats encircling our cruiser – they are selling everything from t-shirts to galabiyas (an egyptian dress for men) to belly dancing costumes, and even pottery and jewelry. They throw their wares up to the balconies of interested buyers, the buyers haggle for a good price and finally throw them the money back – it is a sight that I am sure we will never find anywhere else in the world!I leave you with a priceless picture !Tags: CulturalScapes, egypt, EgyptianScapes, essna, oberoi
Oh and by the way, last night was our first on the Oberoi Philae and after a sumptuous dinner, we were pleasantly surprised when after the dinner, the entire crew of the boat burst out into singing and dancing to celebrate our honeymoon. there was cake and champagne, and a lot of merry was made until the late hours of the night.
Hence, the sloppiness this morning is apparent – we were ordered to report for breakfast at 5AM so we can leave the ship by 6 and be at the Valley of the Kings before the heat wave can strike us out of action. We pack some breakfast and head out along with our group and Tariq still in charge of the affairs. The valley is located on the west banks of the Nile and is about an hour and half drive away from the docks – and is further consists of a west valley and an east valley. This area has the largest concentration of tombs of pharoahs and as recently as 2006, new tombs have been excavated. Egypt’s most famous pharoah, Tutankhamun was also buried here and his tomb was found as it was when he was buried.
The valley is dominated by the peak of al-Qurn – it has a pyramid shaped appearance, and perhaps, thats why the pharoahs chose the area as a suitable burial ground. Most of the tombs are cut into the rock – it is a limestone valley. There are a number of tomb sites – but only a handful of them are open for public viewing – the notable tombs are those of Ramses III, Hatsepshut and Tutankhamun.The heat in the valley is killing and it is only 8 AM and we are sweating like anything – luckily there are water and Coca Cola vendors around and we are not left thirsty.
We ventured into a few of the open tombs and particularly the tomb of Ramses III was striking – it was splendid to see how well preserved the structure was. The dry heat of the valley’s climate has helped preserve the tombs for centuries – it is a thrilling experience to see history so up, close and personal. the image on the left is from Ramses III’s tomb – it depicts the famous scene of a goddess swallowing the sun – as an anecdote to nightfall, and on the other end she is seen giving birth to the sun in a sign of daybreak – thereby completing the everyday circle.
It’s superb decoration, rich colors, engravings and the artistic styles make for a sight to behold.We spent a good couple of hours going around the tombs and appreciating the arts.
The valley is also home to alabaster rocks – these stones have found usage in many daily artifacts since ancient times and a small scale industry thrives on them right here next to the valley of the kings. We stop by at a local alabaster workshop and see first hand how the stone is carved into decorative souvenirs and table lamps etc.
A short hop away is the Deir El Madina or the valley of the artisans – a trip to the valley of kings is incomplete without paying tribute to the folks who helped create the wonder that ancient Egypt is. It is a humbling feeling to walk through the valley of artisans – each family was allocated a small area to live in – not measuring more than 70 sq. ft.These artisans also believed in an afterlife – and gave all of their energies and efforts into building hte best monuments so that they can have a great after life.
Another stop on our itinerary today is the Madinet Habou – a temple built by Ramses III in Necropolis. It is a relatively small temple and shares a lot of architectural similarities with the temples at Karnak – our guide didn’t have much to say about the temples, and it was a quick stop. We stop by at a refreshment shop at the temple – and have our favorite Guava juice. On our way back to the boat, we make another quick stop at the Colossi of Memnon which are two massive statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep. Interestingly, the statues are shown in a seated position facing east. The statues are damaged beyond recognition – but it still doesn’t prevent the tourists from taking out the cameras and clicking away.Tags: amun ra, ArchitectScapes, CulturalScapes, egypt, EgyptianScapes, king tut, luxor, oberoi, ramses, temple, valley of kings
The city of Luxor seems friendly. Unlike Cairo, it is not overwhelming to step out into the streets. We are certainly pleased not to be harassed by people trying to sell us cheap memorabilia. Perhaps it is also because we are close to the Nile docks, and not at major tourist attractions. A sign outside a shop promises not to hassle us, so we walk straight in. True to their word, the owners do not bargain – a refreshing change indeed.
As the site of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, Luxor has frequently been characterized as the “world’s greatest open air museum”, as the ruins of the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor stand within the modern city. The Philae offers a well organized tour to the temples in the evening when they can be seen under the lights and it should be an excellent photography experience.
For now, we venture more into the small town of Luxor. It seems to be a modern city, but it is at once striking to see that the economy depends heavily on tourists. We spot a Pizza Hut and a KFC, and they are about the only restaurants open in he mornings near the docks. There are a lot of shops that sell trinkets and gifts from Egypt, as well as Alabaster stone artifacts and as this picture on the right shows, tourists can shop for all luxury brands under one roof and at huge discounts. And yes, they have the quality.
Egypt of course is famous for its papyrus as well. Papyrus was first manufactured in Egypt as far back as the third millennium BC. Nowadays, it can be bought off the streets, in big and small shops and is a favorite artefact for travelers.However, not all papyrus sold in Egypt is an original hand made piece of ancient paper. We are tempted to buy papyrus paintings and make our way into a shop in hte local bazaar – just steps off the docking location. The shop is rather large – something not apparent from its much smaller outer facade. Papyrus paintings are hung all around and clearly the shop caters to the whims and appetites of the tourists. The owner is courteous and we have a rather long conversation in broken English on the art of papyrus making. In the god old days, all papyrs was hand made – but after tourists infested Egypt in large droves, a small cottage industry took shape up north near Alexandria that automated the process. The synthetic papyrus is cheaper, stronger and the colors hold up for a lifetime. In contrast, the hand made papyrus is a dying art and very few artisans are helping keep the tradition alive. It was only revived in the late 1960s as a way to protect the ancient art forms. In short, tourists should look for the following tips wile buying papyrus:
1. It should be fairly opaque
2. It should have a criss-cross pattern
3. It should have a memory – so that if you crumble it, it regains its original form
4. Real papyrus is hand painted – to test this, apply a little water to the edges of the color to check if it comes off – if it does, you are looking at a real hand made painting.
Our shopkeeper is courteous enough to tell us about these minor details – perhaps we are his first customers for the day and he is eager to make a deal. This reminds me of the small shop owners in India – they routinely give a good discount to their first customers in anticipation of good business for the rest of the day. We are pleased by the artwork and buy up almost 10 paintings, in different sizes – they will make excellent gifts for family and friends.
It is a hot afternoon – the temperature is almost 90 degrees F (33C) and we make our way back. Back on the boat, we are served a sumptuous lunch, we meet some new folks on board and just relax and wait for the heat wave to die down.Tags: ArchitectScapes, ArtefactScapes, CitiScapes, CulturalScapes, egypt, EgyptianScapes, ferrari, karnak, luxor, papyrus