Sacred EgyptThis is a blog diary from the latest trip in 2007
Rising at 2:30 am to first get a taxi to Heathrow and then queue for an early flight at 6:15 am meant a very early start to the day. It was a split journey into Egypt, flying first into Zurich with Swissair before boarding for Cairo, which meant that we did not arrive until 2:20pm.
Cairo airport had changed since I was last here and this is symptomatic of much of Egypt and perhaps also many hubs of civilisation. The staff as always were very courteous and friendly but gone now were the numerous trolley boys ever anxious to convey your bags. There was less hassle perhaps but a little sad that this touch of being waited upon had succumbed to the norms of any international airport.
What had got much worse was the level of traffic. Leaving the airport just before 2:30, it took nearly two hours for a relatively short journey to our hotel, the Ramses Hilton, which sits close to the museum in the centre of Cairo. This is a very pleasant hotel, overlooking the Nile and if you are fortunate a room facing into the extensive garden courtyard area.
After checking in and sorting out the usual details of a short stay and a quick shower to freshen up, I decided that I needed a haircut. This proved to be an experience very different from my usual trip to the barbers. The guide price of 60 Egyptian pounds, about £5:50 in UK currency was cheap enough. The service on the other hand was far from cut price. Here was an artist complete with is apprentice, applying his skills with subtlety and care. I cannot claim to be very particular about my hairstyle; a haircut is a haircut to my untutored eye and as long as it is neat and tidy I am always happy. What I was treated to on this occasion was a feast of a haircut that included a cup of black tea endless care and attention to every stray hair, including those up my nose and in my ears and finishing with a warm towelled facial massage. Of course this raconteur knew that such attention would always elicit a handsome tip, which it certainly did in my case. And quite naturally he did suggest a whole range of additional services, such as shampoos, styling and facial treatments that would no doubt have taken several hours and cost large amount of money. These I very politely yet very firmly declined. There is great skill in extracting money from the unwary tourist so that the £5:50 would so easily have turned into £10:00, £15:00 or even £25:00 if one is not very careful.
After a very pleasant dinner we visited the Khan Kahili bazaar in down town Cairo. This is a well-known trading area, comprising hundreds of small shops in a series of criss-cross lanes. This is a focus for tourists and as such offers a bewildering array of goods to entice money out of our pockets. The colour, the numerous objects for sale, ranging from clothes, to jewellery, to reproduction statues all contained in medley of noise and bustle that is almost overwhelming. It is such a different way of life to what we experience in the UK. It is full of vitality and initiative but do not expect to travel these lanes without being accosted at every turn by those who want to sell you something. Or get you to sample some of the culinary delights which we eventually did before returning again back to our hotel.
I have been working on a theory that the Egyptian Royal cubit measure, which is divided into 7 hands, was to do with a simple conversion for calculating the circumference of a circle in relation to its diameter. In other words, it was a simple way of calculating pi (π), which at one time was considered as the ratio of 22/7. Based on this information an Egyptian surveyor could easily calculate that if the radius of a circle was one cubit then the circumference would be 44 hands (2 x π x r = 2 x 22 ÷ 7 x 7 = 44), a semi circle 22 hands and the quadrant 11 hands. The distance of 10.62 metres is approximately 143 hands. This would mean that the radius would have been 3.25 cubits and the diameter 6.5 cubits. The AE would have worked this out as 44 + 44 +44 + 11 = 143 (or 44 x 3 + 11). These are very easy calculations that would not require multiplication or division. Calculating back the other way a circumference of 143 hands would mean the cubit would need to have been 0.520 m. However it is normally estimated as being between 523 - 525 mm, so the cubit measure for the column would seem to have been a little too short. This difference could be explained by the work on finally shaping the column.
The temple as always was a pleasure to walk around and experience. After returning to the hotel and a pleasant lunch I went for a walk in the hotel grounds. There I met one of the chefs who was leaving the hotel via a rear exit. He offered to take me on a short walk into the village that adjoined the hotel.
Stepping into the village was a profound experience, for it allowed me to catch a glimpse into a totally different type of reality. The walk around the village was pleasant enough but being invited into the home of one of his neighbours was quite a shock. We sat, the chef, his friend and myself on a carpet on the floor in a very humble room and drank tea together, trying in broken English to share ideas. The room itself, no bigger than about 7ft x 10ft had a hard earth floor, bare brick walls and a tarpaulin for a roof. It was devoid of any windows and the main light came from a door less, doorway.
On my initial contact the chef had told me that life was very hard working in the hotel and he was soon going to leave to take up new employment on one of the Nile cruise boats. This he described as “very good”. It seemed that he felt bullied in his position in the hotel and felt very pleased to be moving into new work. His friend’s position was not so fortunate. For some reason that was very hard to understand with the broken English, it seemed that he could not easily get work because he had been made a scapegoat for some misdemeanour or grudge that had been held against him. Perhaps he or his family had offended one of the officials in the village. In addition to this his handicapped brother needed constant hospital treatments. Was this a sob story for a gullible tourist to elicit sympathy? I will never know but my sense was that he was genuine. What it highlighted was the enormous disparity between what we regard as normal and acceptable living conditions and what is found in the average person’s home in a place like Egypt. I wondered how the various waiters and staff must feel seeing all of the opulence and wealth displayed by the tourists. Did it breed resentment? The only thing I can say is that I have rarely felt other than a genuine warmth and hospitality in all of my dealings with these people. After my village excursion I returned to the hotel for a visit to the Luxor museum and then to the Luxor temple.
The museum is definitely worth a visit for any tourist in Luxor who wishes to know a little more about the ancient times. It is well laid out and has over recent years been extended making for a very interesting array of artefacts and statues. There are some exquisite works of art to be found here including a famous cache of the Luxor temple where a number of magnificent statues were accidentally uncovered in pristine condition, in 1997, after some excavation work. One of my favourite is the life size statue of Amenhotep III, one of the rulers of the 18th Dynasty. An inner dignity and power shines through the statue. Here was a king, whose power was absolute, yet carrying a sense of justice and humanity.
After the museum we headed to the Luxor temple, which is open in the evening bathed in flood lights. It s certainly worth visiting the temple at this time for it provides an atmosphere not present in daytime visits. The Luxor temple is a magnificent place, dedicated to the Theban triad of headed by Amun, but particularly to his consort the goddess Mut. It was built initially in the Middle Kingdom and then extensively rebuilt by Amenhotep III with a final addition by Ramses II. There is a peace and tranquillity within these walls that overrides the noisy bustle from the surrounding streets.
To be continued
Some interesting websites to visit with complementary
Does Egypt call to you? Then why not join us for this trip?
All material copyright David Furlong 2007