Tag Archives: oberoi
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
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 Temples of Karnak are famous the world over – and it is billed as a highlight of our cruise. It is therefore natural to be excited about being here, and soaking in thousands of years of history in one glimpse. The temple complex is said to be the most visited tourist spot after the pyramids at Giza.
At about 4:30PM all our fellow passengers assemble in the mail lobby area – and are rather quickly and efficiently divided up into groups of 10-14 people and armed with a local guide. Our guide is named Tariq – he is a young guy, touching his 30s, recently married and lives in Cairo. He is about 5’5″, athletic, well attired, sports black sunglasses and fluent in English. He takes command and we follow his lead into a small bus. It is 38C outside and we are glad that the bus has a functioning AC .
The temples are about 10kms from our dock – and it is about a 20 minute drive. Along the way we encounter some VIP movement, which prolongs our journey. At the temple, we are greeted by throngs of tourists – it feels like a country fair – I estimate that there are about 5000 people at the site.Nevertheless, we are enchanted by the ambiance, and by the exemplary architecture in front of us – It is an imposing structure – like a fort, the external wall is perhaps more than 300 feet wide and there is only one entrance. It is flanked by a statue of Cleopatra on the left and two huge guards on either side. A large obelisk in the front completes the entire picture – this is one of the largest obelisks ever constructed and stands almost 30 meters tall (about a 100 ft.). What immediately strikkes us is the straightness of the structure. as if a plumb bob was hanging out of the sky. It is a pretty picture under the artificial lights at night.
The outer facade belies the huge inner courtyard and even larger structures hidden inside. The scale of the architecture is simply mesmerizing. What is again apparent is that the ancient Egyptians spent their lives building huge temples for their Gods in the belief of an afterlife – while spending their lives in almost complete penury. This is in direct contrast to modern day consumption dictated by capitalist ideas – present day consumption (with accumulated debt) is rewarded today.It is estimated that almost 30 pharoahs contributed to the building of this great temple.
The temple is dedicated to Amon-Ra, who was the most powerful of the Gods – imbibing virtues from the sun god and other natural elements. The word “Tutankhamun” literally means “the living form of Amun”. Inside the temple, there are innumerable columns richly decorated on the top ends. Unlike the monuments in lower Egypt that are made up of limestone, the temples of Karnak are made up entirely of sandstone. the sandstone was transported from Silsila about 100 miles south of Luxor. The main hall inside the temple is known as the Great Hypostyle hall – it has 134 columns that represent the papyrus flower. The columns are linked through architraves – each weighing more than a 100 tonnes – it is still a mystery how these were lifted to such great heights and how they were arranged in perfect symmetry. The pillars themselves are richly carved and decorated with Hieroglyphs. Each pharoah added his own set, according to his beliefs, and recorded his own history of the era.
There is an unfinished obelisk in the compound – it lies flat on the ground and provides a good photo opportunity for innumerable tourists to touch its tip.
Outside the temple, there are several avenues of gods and goddesses – the main avenue is lined with rows of ram headed sphinxes. It links the precinct of Amun with the main temple.amun ra, ArchitectScapes, egypt, EgyptianScapes, karnak, luxor, oberoi, pillars, temple, Uncategorized
We have arrived a tad bit early – around 8AM – the boarding time printed was 12noon. Nevertheless, we are warmly welcomed on board, despite the fact that the previous passengers are still disembarking. We are escorted to the lounge by no less than 3 escorts – and served a chilled Karkaday. This is perhaps the most attractive looking drink I have ever had – reminds me of the Indian drink Rooh Afza, a rose flavored sweet and refreshing summer drink – a deep red infusion of hibiscus flowers, it is a really refreshing drink. Although a bit on the tangier side, the drink is very refreshing. the locals claim that the drink calms the nerves, and after the long train ride, I can’t disagree with them.We hang out around the pool area until a suite is available.
The Philae is a small ship, but one of the most elegantly decorated boats I have seen. The lobby is stately, every cabin comes with a balcony for an excellent view of the Nile, and we are told that it is the only boat on the Nile that has its own dock at every port. A cabin is quickly readied for us and by 9AM we have showered. the sun is shining bright, and we are sure that this will be a real hot day. Since we are early, there are a couple of hours to kill before the rest of our fellow passengers arrive. We dress up casually in a pair of jeans and t-shirt and head out into the city of Luxor to interact with the locals.Tags: egypt, EgyptianScapes, karkaday, luxor, oberoi, philae
Here is a recommended listing of things to do in Cairo – whether you are on a short trip or long, this will serve to plan your itinerary and give you a good cultural expose to the wonderful city.
1. Visit the Pyramids and the Sphynx in Giza. There are a number of hotels in the vicinity of the pyramids, so if it fits your budget, stay close to the pyramids. The closest hotel is Mena House Oberoi, and it is perhaps the best hotel in Egypt. Le Meridian is about 1 km away and is in walking distance. Be sure to request a pyramid view from your room. Go early to avoid the tourists. Return in the evening for the fabulous Light and Sound Show. Have dinner at the Mena House Oberoi.
2. Carry a water bottle with you everywhere and drink from it frequently.
3. Wander aimlessly around the Khan el-Khalili marketplace. You don’t know what you may buy. Do bargain for the prices.
4. Visit the al-Azhar mosque to get a glimpse into the Islamic world of Egypt and for a historical perspective.
5. Enjoy the views from the citadel – camp out in the early afternoon, and enjoy the expansive view of the city.
6. Walk through the City of the Dead. It is generally safe to do so in daylight and quite a different experience.
7. Ditch the tour guide and spend a cool afternoon at the Nilometer – and by the banks of the Nile.
8. Take a detour and head towards Saqqara and Dahshur, to see the Step and the Bent Pyramids. Go inside the pyramids at Dahshur, to avoid the crazy tourists in Giza.
9. Read up a guide book or online resources and visit the Egyptian Museum. This way you will avoid paying the tour guides (who don’t really know everything) and make it a more interactive experience for you.
10. Head towards the Old Cairo and pay a visit to the Church of Coptic Christians and the Ben Ezra synagogue.Tags: cairo, egypt, EgyptianScapes, giza, nile, oberoi, pyramids, synagogue, Top Things to Do