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Cruising the Nile River to Luxor

The Temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu. Photos by Bum Tenorio Jr.

A Nile River cruise is a journey of personal discovery. The grace and glory of Egypt nurtures one’s imagination and cultivates the heart. Along this meandering river, an ancient civilization flourished 5,000 years ago. And here, I watch the world float by as I join a cruise that sails from Cairo to Luxor on board the Nile Goddess.

The sun is setting when the Nile Goddess enters the ancient town of Luxor. My best friend Bum Tenorio is sitting on the upper deck, looking out the expanse of the Nile River, half-hoping that a Nile crocodile, the largest and most ferocious in the world, will appear somewhere. (We finished the duration of our five-day cruise without a single sighting of the Nile crocodile, except for the baby crocs that helped man a sari-sari store on our way to Abu Simbel. Oh, and the mummified giant crocodiles that we saw at the Crocodile Museum in Komombo.)  

I join Bum, a sunset lover, in his reverie. He is enjoying a hearty discussion with Muhamad, a friendly waiter of the cruise liner, as the sun sets. “Almost every person you meet in Egypt is named Muhamed. Say ‘Muhamed’ aloud in a restaurant, in a public place, and everybody will mind you,” the waiter informs. We all laugh. Bum shouts “Muhamed” and two more waiters come to our table. Even the fisherman in the river waves at us.

 “Our” Muhamed serves us hibiscus tea and regales us with facts about the Nile River. “It’s about 6,650 kilometers and we believe it is the longest river in the world.” Muhamed says the Nile lies in Kenya, Eritrea, Congo, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. “The Nile gives Egypt its ancient civilization.”

For a few more minutes before it docks, the ship sails through riverbanks, which are guarded by dunes that are swathed with date palm trees and cliffs that are bathed in the hue of golden honey. Water buffalos and camels crowd the shore while fishermen throw their nets as their children paddle. Now and then, we see loam houses, embedded in palm groves and sugar cane stalks.  The heat is on in Luxor, and even after the sunset, the night is shy to appear in Luxor.

 “Please, hurry,” Bum tells me as I dislodge myself from the Lazy Boy-like chair on the deck. Guests who are swimming in the pool in the deck ready themselves, too. We scurry to our cabin to freshen up. Bum is excited. So am I. Who wouldn’t be when one-third of the world’s antiquities can be found in Luxor, a town on the east bank of the Nile River in southern Egypt? Before we disembark, Bum brings with him Doraemon, a Japanese toy entrusted to him by his dear friend Rodge Valientes. (I tell you, Doraemon has more photos in Egypt than us in this whole trip!)

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At 38 degrees, the heat is manageable now. After a short ride on our private bus, we behold the majesty that is Luxor Temple complex. The start and climax of every journey to Upper Nile is the small town of Luxor. The great temples and funerary in Luxor are tributes to the advanced civilization of the capital Thebes (ancient name of Luxor) and were constructed approximately 1400 BC.

In Luxor, the antiquities seem to be as old as time. Several great temples on the east and west banks of Luxor are testaments to the genius and artistry of the ancient Egyptians. Shereen Touson, our highly knowledgeable Egyptian tour guide, tells us about the four major mortuary temples in Luxor, including the Temple of Seti I at Gurnah, the Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahri, the Temple of Ramesses II and the Temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu. She also brings us to the two primary temples on the east bank known as the Karnak and Luxor. The Luxor Temple, unlike the other temples in Thebes, is not dedicated to a cult god or a deified version of the king in death. Instead Luxor Temple was built as a dedication to the rejuvenation of kingship. 

“It is a common belief that Luxor Temple was where many of the kings of Egypt were crowned in reality or in concept only (as in the case of Alexander the Great who claimed he was crowned at Luxor but may never have traveled south of Memphis, near modern Cairo),” informs Shereen.

To the rear of the temple are chapels built by Amenhotep III of the 18th Dynasty, and Alexander. Other parts of the temple were built by Tutankhamun and Ramesses II. During the Roman era, the temple and its surroundings were a legionary fortress and the home of the Roman government in the area.

The magnificent columned halls of Karnak, which for many centuries functioned as the country’s central sanctuary of the god Amun, leave visitors in awe.

 

 

When we see the Medinet Habu Temple from afar, it looks like a honey-colored kingdom floating in the air. The temple houses the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III, an important New Kingdom period structure in the west bank of Luxor. Aside from its size and architectural and artistic importance, the Medinet Habu Temple, according to Shereen, is probably best known as the source of inscribed reliefs depicting the advent and defeat of the Sea Peoples during the reign of Ramesses III.

No visitor to Egypt should forget to visit the spectacular Valley of the Kings, which we visit the following day. The Valley of the Kings, standing on the west bank of the Nile, opposite Luxor, is where the glorious rulers of the New Kingdom were laid to rest more than 3,000 years ago. It was where in 1922, Howard Carter brought to light the legendary treasures of Tutankhamun, whose glorious funerary regalia continues to aspire a global audience.

 “This is a valley in Egypt where for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the kings and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom,” says Shereen.

Archeological diggings have been done in the area of the Valley of the Kings since the end of the 18th century. The ancient tombs and burial sites here never fail to stimulate the interest of many researchers. In the modern days, the valley has become famous for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun (rumored to bear the so called Curse of the Pharaohs), and is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. In 1979, it became a World Heritage Site, along with the rest of the Theban Necropolis.

The valley was used for primary burials from approximately 1539 BC to 1075 BC, and contains some 60 tombs, starting with Thutmose I and ending with Ramesses X or XI. The tombs house, too, the intricate hieroglyphs that tell the stories of ancient Egypt.

The Valley of the Kings also had tombs for the favorite nobles and the wives and children of both the nobles and pharaohs. Around the time of Ramesses I (ca. 1300 BC), the Valley of the Queens was also constructed, although some wives were still buried with their husbands.

We end the sightseeing in Luxor, hearts filled with gratitude for the ancient civilization that is Egypt. Aboard the Nile Goddess, while sipping hibiscus tea and feasting on fresh dates on the upper deck, we watch ancient Egypt go by. In this African country that tells the story of mysterious land where giant pyramids, colossal temples and giant statues of kings and deities that still stand as lasting monuments to its past greatness, we enjoy our close brush with 5,000 years of civilization.

Luxor and the whole of Egypt are waiting to be discovered. And the best way to discover this ancient civilization is by cruising the mighty and mysterious Nile River.

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For inquiries about tours to Egypt, call the Manila office of Royal Way Tours at 0919-4306630, 0915-8686895, 02-2634829. E-mail the author at miladay.star@gmail.com.

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