Feature Story

Dendera in Egypt

Death at Dendera

by Kate Murphy


Below us, we had seen the twinkling street lights of Cairo and the floodlit pyramids and sphinx and knew that we would soon be descending to land at Luxor Airport. Passengers were beginning to stretch in readiness, and the cabin crew were making their last rounds, collecting rubbish, used coffee cups and the usual detritus of a five-hour flight, when suddenly over the tannoy came the voice of the pilot.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I’m sorry to tell you that, owing to a sandstorm on the East bank we are unable to land at Luxor and are diverting to Aswan. As soon as I hear anything more, I will keep you informed”.

A few minutes later he was on the air again and informed us that we would be met on arrival at Aswan by a representative of the travel company who would give us further information.

On arrival at Aswan, and after going through immigration we were met by a rather harassed rep from Nile Cruise Inc who told us that we had all been booked in to a local hotel for the night and that our boat ‘The Moon of Luxor’ was being fast-tracked up to meet us next morning when we would board her. Luckily she was the other side of the Esna dam when the sandstorm started, so there was no problem in sailing her straight up to Aswan. We rapidly collected our luggage and were driven to the King Tut hotel, a small place which was the only one that could accommodate us at such short notice. It would have to do for the night, at least there was somewhere to lay our heads and provide something to eat.

We were hurried into the dining room and told: “Just sit anywhere for tonight and tomorrow you will be allocated your seats in the boats’ dining room”. I found myself on a table with five other travellers – one rather large Welshman, who was already starting to moan about what had happened that we found ourselves in this position (as if anyone could control a sandstorm) and a youngish woman accompanied by two boys of about twelve years old. An elderly gentleman also sat down with us, and I mentally thought of him as ‘The Colonel’ for some reason. He was quite deaf and in consequence, raised his voice without realising it so the whole room could hear what he was saying.

We introduced ourselves quickly, and the young woman explained that she was a journalist and that she had brought her son and also his cousin, as company for him as they had been doing Ancient History recently at school and were fascinated by what they had heard about Ancient Egypt. Her name, she said was Magdalen Rich, but she wrote under the name of Lee which was her maiden name. The boys’ names were Richard and Patrick. The Welshman introduced himself as Owen and I as Kate Murphy but kept quiet as to my profession. The Colonel, in his rather loud voice, commented that the name of Lee was a familiar name to him as when he was a magistrate he had had to send to Crown Court, a certain Richard Lee. He remembered this particularly as he had heard later that the said Richard Lee had committed suicide in his cell before coming to trial for a murder that he always denied committing. I noticed that Magdalen was rather quiet at this point.

Food was soon forthcoming, although some of it was unrecognisable – but hey, we were in Egypt and didn’t expect fish and chips! So we tucked in and tried everything. Suddenly, from Owen, a strangled cry “There’s a worm – a worm in the food” and indeed, on the side of his plate there appeared to be something very small and wriggly.

We had never seen anyone make such a fuss. “Standards of hygiene in England so much higher”, “not acceptable”, “we will all die of food poisoning” were just a few of the remarks which spewed from the mouth of this rather gross man. He demanded first that the waiter be called, then the Head Waiter, then the Manager and the Tour Manager. Feisal, our Nile Cruise rep did his best to calm the situation down, but my remark did not improve matters that I had once found a snail in my salad while on holiday in the West Country! When asked, in a furious tone, by Owen, what I had done I replied, tongue in cheek, which I thought at first of keeping it for a pet, but on consideration, just hid it under a lettuce leaf and continued with my meal. I qualified this statement by assuring the table that I did check visually before I ate the rest! For some reason, this did not go down very well with the complainant, but my remark and things somewhat diffused the situation returned more or less to normal, although I must admit that not much more was eaten that night. After all the excitement we retired to our beds without further ado.

The next morning, over breakfast (luckily only continental) we were assured by Feisal that our cruise boat had arrived overnight and leaving the hotel we were bussed to the mooring place.

On arrival at the corniche, our first impressions of the ‘Moon of Luxor’ were good and this was verified as, crossing over the gangplank, we entered the reception area. From the reception desk two corridors led to the cabins, and in the centre of the marble-floored hall a grand staircase led up to the various decks. The first floor was the dining room, and a small shop then came another, not quite so grand, set of stairs to the bar and lounge area and finally a set of winding stairs leading to the sun deck.

We dutifully waited for Feisal to allocate our cabin numbers and when the luggage arrived, borne on the heads and shoulders of the crew, we identified our belongings, and they were taken to our cabins for us.

While all this was going on, Feisal gathered us together for our welcome meeting, which of course included the usual free drink… something pink and sweet – we never found out what it was.

He started off by apologising for the traumatic beginning to our holiday (not a mention of the worm) and explained that, owing to the fact that we were not where we should have been, the programme was going to have to be completely changed, but he would make sure that we would see everything that we had expected. As a bonus and to make up for yesterday, at the end of the tour, which would officially end in Luxor, he had got permission from the authorities to extend the cruise, by taking us up to Dendera to see the temple there. We would then return to Luxor to disembark. No extra day was going to be given, as of course all our flights, etc. had been booked in advance. It was very good news for some of us, as normally Dendera was now off the tourist agenda, owing to its position on the Nile, and the always present threat of terrorism. If staying in Luxor, it was possible to take a short cruise to the place, but tourists are very rarely taken there by road, and in fact, Abydos & Armarna have suffered the same fate.

As for today, he informed us that we would be staying moored at Aswan tonight and would be sailing at 13:00 tomorrow for Kom Ombo Temple and then on to Esna. Today, after we had settled in he had arranged a visit to Philae Temple and the High Dam and it should be possible, for anyone who wanted to go, to attend Sound & Light at the temple that evening.

Tomorrow, if we could bear to get up before dawn, the promised flight up to Abu Simbel to see the great temples there was on. We would be departing for Aswan airport at some unearthly hour, returning to the boat, ready to sail, while eating lunch.

As for now, he suggested that we retire to our cabins to unpack and freshen up, then meet up for an early lunch at 12 o’clock and we would be off to Philae at 13:00. He informed us that when we entered the dining room, we would be allocated to our dining tables, and would always be sitting with the same group. However, he added with a wry laugh, that if there were any real clashes, we could ask, discreetly, to be moved.

I was very impressed, on reaching my cabin to find how spacious it was and so very clean and tidy. The porthole was not one in fact, but a good-sized window overlooking the Nile, but I realised that when moored at some of the stops the view would not be so good, as sometimes the boats are moored next to each other, and one had to walk through other cruisers before reaching the shore. However, I didn’t expect to spend much time in the cabin, so that was not a worry.

I quickly unpacked, hanging my clothes in the good sized wardrobe, and inspected the shower & toilet, but resisted the temptation to have another shower (the heat was beginning to make itself apparent by now) as I had already had one at the hotel that morning.

By now it was 11:30 and getting toward lunchtime, so I wandered off to inspect the facilities of the boat. I climbed up the grand marble staircase, up the winding one to the covered deck and ended up on the sun deck, at the very top where the swimming pool was. To my surprise, it was quite large. Usually, they are so small there isn’t room to swim, only to splash about, so that was a pleasant surprise. There were ample sunbeds around this deck and lovely big yellow towels, guests for the use of. It all looked very promising.

Leaning on the railing at the rear of the swimming pool, watching the goings on at the quayside, was a youngish looking man of about my age, whom I did not remember seeing at the hotel or on the plane. As I approached he turned, smiled and said “Good morning” and I returned his greeting. He introduced himself as just David, and I responded in like manner as Kate. The usual chit chat of complete strangers ensued. “Have you been to Egypt before?”, etc…

A few moments later, a young lad ringing a handbell came wandering around the deck, and we realised that it must be 12 o’clock and time for lunch.

David, obviously well mannered, ushered me ahead of him and walked with me to the dining room, whereas we entered, the waiter, believing us to be together escorted us to a table set for six, already partly occupied by Magdalen Rich and her two sons. The spare place was filled after a few minutes by Feisal the Nile Cruise rep. “This is good”. I thought “We can pick his brains if need be”.

Most of the tables were set for six people, and I could not help noticing (probably because of his loud voice) the gentleman whom I had christened ‘The Colonel’ sitting at the next table, accompanied by Owen (the worm) and an innocuous couple, who introduced themselves as Avelina and Peter Connolly. The table was completed by a rather plump lady and her bored-looking daughter whose names I didn’t catch. The other tables were out of earshot, so we didn’t catch any other introductions at this point, but from previous experience, I knew that we would be chatting to others as the holiday continued.

Lunch was buffet style, and very good – I hoped that all the cuisine was going to be like this, as one could pick and choose what one wanted to eat and was not confronted by a plateful of goodness-knew-what. There were various salads and different meats, eggs and fish to choose from, but dessert seemed only to be fruit which suited me. Conversation at lunch was a little stilted, but we were yet to get to know each other, and the two boys were a little shy at first, although I suspected that they would surprise us all yet.

It was very warm as we left the boat for our trip to see the Philae Temple and then visit the high dam and we were glad of our sun hats, and in my case, a white umbrella which is one of my little foibles on holiday in hot countries. More than one person commented on it and asked where I got it from! If only, I told them, they knew the trouble I had had to track one down – it was not easy! A simple request, I would have thought, to obtain a white umbrella in England, but it wasn’t. I suppose the thinking behind it was that England is so grey so often, and “there is no call for them Madam!!”.

So, we climbed aboard our tour coach and made off toward the temple, which is on an island. When the high dam was built, more than one temple had to be relocated because of the situation, and Philae had been under water for some time. It was rebuilt on a nearby island, and to get to it we were transported in a small boat. It is a beautiful temple, and Feisal told us all about it as we drifted across the lake.

Philae is dedicated to the mother goddess Isis and is one of the three best preserved Ptolemaic temples remaining, the other two being Edfu and Dendera, so we were going to see at least two from the Roman period of occupation of Egypt. As previously noted we were lucky to be going up to Dendera, as it’s not usually visited. We had quite a long time here and once again Feisal did his job very well, explaining about some of the pictographs on the walls, and pointing out various things for us no note. However, he did not ‘over temple’ us on this our first shore visit, and we were not overwhelmed by the history. The heat though was another matter, and I noted the Colonel looking rather hot and bothered and mopping his brow on more than one occasion. He was a heavy man, with a rather florid complexion, and was often at the back of the group. I noticed a tendency to puff and pant a little sometimes but thought no more of it as he was a largish man, and Owen, of similar build, was also feeling the heat.

As we left the island, a pedlar jumped on to the boat with us, and was offering local-made necklaces for sale, these being composed of little beads strung into various patterns and they were so cheap and so pretty that he made many a sale, including about half a dozen, in different colours, to myself. Waiting on the quayside were other salespeople, and we all ended up wearing little beaded or embroidered skull caps!

Next, we went on to visit the dam, which is a major feat of engineering. For myself, I cannot raise much enthusiasm for building projects, as I had came to see the ancient sites, but I did gather that it had increased the total amount of arable land, but also caused problems, as there was no longer a flood time. The formation of the dam obliterated many of the Nubian villages, and I got the impression that not everybody thought it was a good idea in the long run, but there you go, it’s there now and always will be. We were offered the chance of a quick visit to a Nubian village, a tourist attraction set on another island, but declined as we were by now getting rather tired and rather looking forward to the welcome prospect of afternoon tea on the deck, a very civilised custom I thought. So, it was back to the boat, ready for a layabout before dressing for dinner.

This was our first dinner on the boat and very good it was. Same idea – a buffet, but slightly more elaborate than the lunchtime one and the catering staff were very creative with their ideas. For example, they had hollowed out a melon and filled it with hard boiled eggs, made to look like little chicks with little eyes and mouths and called it a nest.

We were a little more forthcoming at dinner time with our conversations, but mainly exchanging views on what we had already seen. I overheard slightly raised voices on the next table, apparently between Peter Connolly and the Colonel but did not get the gist of it. Probably, I thought, if I thought at all, it was just that the Colonel talked loudly because of this deafness.

I opted out of the trip to Sound & Light at Philae, as I had been before and wanting to go to Abu Simbel the next day, decided on an early night. The others on my table were planning to go, however, and said they would tell me all about it in the morning. Many of the travellers on the tour had not been to Egypt before, and, it being the holiday of a lifetime for them were determined to do everything on offer. After they had departed, I sat around for a while, had a drink at the bar. I eventually took myself off to my cabin and set the alarm for 3.30 am, which would give me half an hour for a quick breakfast before joining the others on the tour bus, which would take us up to Abu Simbel, travelling through the desert.

Everyone on the bus was very quiet when we boarded, and some went back to sleep. David had saved me a seat – he seemed anxious to have my company, but perhaps it was because we were two singletons. After a while, people gradually came back to life and were quite surprised to find that an armed guard was sitting on the back seat.

He only looked about sixteen years of age, and we hoped he had had proper firearms training. A truck containing more armed guards also accompanied us, and some of the holidaymakers began to feel a little disquiet, as we had not been warned, in advance, that this might happen. I had had a similar experience in 1996, when the bus I was on in Cairo had been escorted to the airport on departure, owing to a nasty incident in the city previously, when a tour bus was blown up and many tourists killed. Later, of course, the atrocity at Hatshepsut’s temple occurred, and since then security had been sharpened up.

The Temple of Abu Simbel is about 300 kilometres from Aswan, which is approximately 188 miles and it took us 4 hours to get there, reaching the site at 8 am, we averaged 50 miles an hour, and didn’t stop for anything (thank goodness for strong British bladders).

As we rounded the final bend, the full glory of the temple site came into view, and suddenly we were all very glad that we got up so early. This is one of the major sights of Upper Egypt and should not be missed.

Feisal hurried us off the bus and told us quickly that we only had an hour to look around, as the boat would sail at 1 pm, and it would take another four hours to return to it. This, to some, seemed like a very short time, but having been on a previous occasion, I know that one only ever got an hour there, even if flying from Aswan. Feisal suggested that we all found our way around, as we could not get lost (there is nowhere to go) and he would meet us promptly in one hours time at the bus and DON’T BE LATE!

Having been before, I headed straight for the refreshment booth, and got a drink to carry with me – David did the same, and as it was all new to him, he announced that, if I did not mind he would tag along with me and hope I could enlighten him a bit.

I didn’t mind, but Magdalen heard him and asked if it would be OK if she and the boys came as well, and I could hardly say “no”, so they joined us. There is only one thing one can say about this site, and that word is “wow”. I told my companions that it would probably be best if we just looked during our hour, and we could read all about it on return to the boat. There were many guidebooks on sale, and most people bought one, but the time is too short to read as you go. I just reminded my little group that the temples had been built by Ramses the Second to glorify himself, and to honour his favourite wife Queen Nefertari, whose tomb in the Valley of the Queens is sometimes open to the public and is very beautifully decorated. (Ramses the Second was very fond of himself, and built many edifices to make his subjects aware of him).

We duly gazed in awe at the giant statues of himself, and then entered the interior of the great temple, moving through the hypostyle hall to the very heart of the holy site, where stand four statues, one of Ramses and three of gods Viz Amen Ra, Harmakhis & Ptah. Twice a year, at the solstice the sun shines directly into the depths of this sanctuary and lights up three of the statues for about five minutes and then fades away. Strangely the figure of Ptah is never illuminated by the rays, and the locals say that this is because he is the God of Darkness. We did not, of course, see this phenomenon, as it was not the correct time of year.

Having paid our respects, we emerged from the interior into the brightness and heat of the sun outside and went on to visit the Temple of Hathor, that Ramses had built to honour his beloved wife. The unusual thing about this monument is the fact that Nefertari is portrayed as being the same size as her husband, which does not occur elsewhere in Egypt – he must have loved her very dearly.

Time was getting on by now, and our final visit was ‘backstage’ – it is possible to go behind the whole thing, and see how the modern engineers cut away the whole temple and removed it higher up the hill, out of the way of the flood waters of the new dam – a major feat of engineering. We entered through a small door and were instantly faced with hundreds of metal steps leading up to a viewing platform. As we were coming to the end of our visit many of the other tourists were gathered around us, and we were joined at this point by the man whom I had christened ‘The Colonel’ and also by Avelina & Peter Connolly. It was very busy, and we climbed carefully up the metal staircase until we reached the viewing point. I noticed once again that the old man had to stop at intervals to catch his breath and was a little unsteady on his feet.

The steps were, being metal, just a little slippery and suddenly with a slight gasp, the Colonel (I found out at that point that his name was Sir Joseph Browning) appeared to slip and tumbled down two or three steps. He did not fall very far as there were so many people on the walkway that the sheer volume of bodies impeded his progress. In fact, it was a miracle that no one else fell. David, who was close to me, helped him to his feet and one of the group, Savita by name, immediately stepped forward to help, explaining that she was a nurse. She and her sister were together on the trip but had not mentioned to anyone that they were nurses, as, she explained, people did tend to ask for advice when their profession was indicated, so they kept quiet, but of course medical training shot into action automatically, and she was only too pleased to help. We gleaned all this after she had done her bit.

The old gentleman was helped down the steps by herself and David, and after checking him over, she decided that no bones were broken, but he had had a nasty shock and had bruised his back as he fell.

This was not a very happy ending to our trip to Abu Simbel, and we were rather glad to get back on the bus for our long trip through the desert back to the boat.

Luckily one of the others had some painkillers with him and gave a couple to the old boy, who fairly soon fell asleep on the return journey.

We returned to the boat in time for lunch, and while we ate, the boat set sail for Kom Ombo for our late afternoon visit to the Temple there. This was much later in date than the one we had visited during the morning, being Ptolemaic and its dedication is to the two gods Sobek & Horus. As it has two dedications, everything is duplicated – double doors – double chambers and twin rows of columns. It would have been quite easy to lose one’s bearings here, but we tended to stick together, so no one got lost. Sir Joseph did not accompany on this trip – he was taking it easy after dinner on the deck, as he complained that his back was hurting him.

Two interesting things we remembered about this late afternoon visit were the mummified crocodiles on show in a side chapel – remembered I think because of their smell and some of the carvings on the walls. One was a perpetual calendar and the other a picture list on a medical theme – the birthing stool sticks in my mind. I also remembered to look down as we moved around, as in one particular place there are graffiti on the ground, apparently a game. The guide had explained that they had been scratched by patients waiting to be attended to by the priest doctors, as this site was a healing sanctuary in earlier years.

We left Kom Ombo just as the sun was setting over the West Bank of the Nile and a wonderful sight it was. The pink and blue colours suffused the sky and then suddenly the sun disappeared in a blaze of glory. Sunsets over the river are always spectacular, and this one did not let us down.

After our long and eventful day, we were rather tired, and after returning to the boat, most of us had a shower and then went into dinner, which as usual was very good. Our table was a bit subdued, as the boys had been quite upset at seeing the old gentleman’s fall and Feisal said that he would go and check on him after dinner to make sure he was OK as he had not appeared at the dinner table. He did so and returned to say that the Colonel appeared to be sleeping and that he thought it was probably best to leave him alone to sleep it off. He did not seem too concerned and, as he had probably had to deal with worse things during his time as a rep, we took him at his word, and decided to leave well alone.

As we left the table after dinner, I overheard Avelina at the next table comment to her husband that the old boy had not come to dinner, but thought nothing of it, except in hindsight, when, if I thought anything of it I supposed that it was a kind thought. However, she called him ‘That magistrate chap’ which seemed a bit odd.

David and I wandered up to the top deck, ordering a nightcap on the way past the bar (very civilised these boats – one only has to request a little something, and it’s there!). We sat on the top deck by the pool and chatted and drank, and then decided that tomorrow be another day. Moreover, we should be off to our bunks (which were not in fact, and being very comfortable beds), David decided that perhaps he should check on the Colonel on the way back, and peeped in, but he a was asleep, and although he had not had dinner the rest was probably good for him.

When we awoke in the morning, we found that we had sailed during the night and were passing the small village of Edfu. A stop here was not on our itinerary, but luckily I had visited the temple on a previous occasion and had admired the huge statue of Horus in the forecourt of the Temple. This is quite a sight, and it was a pity that we were not visiting it, but the trips ashore vary from tour to tour, and there would always be another holiday.

Today would be a sailing along the Nile day, watching the life on shore, and the other boats on the water, and just lazing about until we reached the town of Esna, where a visit to the Temple of Knum has been planned – we would reach there about lunchtime. Then, while the ‘Star of Luxor’ passed through the lock at Esna, we would be off on our visit to the Temple, reaching it by a unique form of transport called a caleche, which is a horse-drawn carriage.

Sir Joseph had appeared at breakfast, looking a little the worse for wear, but had made a good breakfast, although when up from the table he did appear a little stiff in his movement, but then I suppose I should as well if I had fallen on those metal steps!

Later on, David and I decided to try out the pool and were joined by the boys and Magdalen, and much to our surprise by the Colonel, who had decided that some gentle exercise might help his aches and pains. Savita said it was a good idea as swimming is very good therapy.

It was a lovely day, and many of the holiday makers had come up to lounge on the deck chairs and watch some of us at play. The atmosphere had changed considerably today, particularly as Sir Joseph had appeared again, without apparently having suffered any great damage, and a cheerful attitude ensued. Even Owen opened up and said that he might have a little swim in the pool (there was no room for many folks at a time owing to the size of it).

So the morning passed happily – David and I had a quite active splash about in the pool and then retired to the sun loungers to chat and get to know each other a little more. Meanwhile, the boys and others were in and out of the water, enjoying the sunshine and the chance of a little rest before our next adventure ashore.

Lunch was at 12 am, and while we were eating Feisal suggested that while we were ashore on our visit to Esna Temple, we should take advantage of the fact that the little town was famous for its sequin decorated garments. And then he sprung it on us that tomorrow night while we were moored at Luxor, that our planned visit to ‘Sound and Light’ at Luxor Temple was going to be in fancy dress! Normally, he explained, there would be a Galebeah party on board the boat, but he had thought that as we were planning to visit the light show anyway, to go in costume would be something completely different.

The boat slipped into the lock at precisely 1 pm and there, waiting on the dockside, where the horse-drawn carriages, known as Caliches. Much fun now ensued, as somewhat larger folk were pushed and prodded up into them. One has to put one’s foot on to the step, which is quite high and depending on agility climb up into the carriage. There was a bit of a mad scrum as the owners called out to us “This one Missy, madam – best horse here to pull you to temple”. Strangely the loudest cries were for the younger ladies and girls “Come up Miss – I give hand” etc… Sometimes ‘hand’ was on Missies rump as they helped them up!

David had managed to get in quite easily, and a hand from him was all that I needed. We were joined by Savita and her friend and were off immediately. Now came the fun, as the drivers vied with each other to take the lead. The sights and sounds as the party left the cornice was something to be remembered. Shouts of encouragement from the drivers to the horses and the shrill screams of some of the more nervous ladies rent the air as the tour commenced.

Meanwhile the deserted ‘Moon of Luxor’ seemed sad and empty as we looked back at her. It is not very far to the Temple of Khnum at Esna, but this did not deter the drivers of the Caliches from whipping up their horses, and consequently, we shot through the small village, scattering goats, chickens and even some of the locals as we went. We then went through the procedure as before, but this time descending from the carriages, which is in fact easier. The drivers were all yelling at us to remember which carriage we had come in (hoping for a tip on return of course) but I know that they had better memories than us and that they would collect their passengers when we all came out of the temple.

We then found that we had to descend a flight of mud brick steps. The temple is right in the middle of the village, and a lot of the local houses were destroyed, when it was originally excavated. In fact, archaeologists are still trying to persuade the local folks to move away from the area so that further exploration of the site can occur, as they are sure there are more remains under what’s left of the modern settlement.

The temple itself is Greek (one of the Ptolemaic ones we were promised). It is quite small and only took about half an hour to look around.

On coming out, we were, as usual, beset by the souvenir sellers, who were extolling the virtues of tablecloths and various other items made of cotton and linen. Not being tempted at this point, I decided that, as it was not very far back to the cornice I would prefer to walk back through the village and have a look at the souk, as I suspected that the prices might be lower than those outside the site.

On hearing this, Magdalen and the boys, Savita and her sister, and one or two others decided to join us (David being always by my side by now), and off we set on foot.

We had hardly reached the market when the rest of the party came (more calmly now) past us and called out various remarks like “See you in Luxor”, “Better you than me” etc. In fact, there was no hassle at all, and the villagers seemed pleased that we had decided to look at their market more closely, and perhaps make a purchase.

We were fascinated to see the locals going about their daily life – collecting water from the town well, for example in very large ‘Ali Baba’ type jars, and in one case a man was ironing with his foot, the old metal iron having been heated over an open fire. I will never know if he was, literally, disabled, as I did not like to stare too closely, but in fact, David managed to photograph him discretely, and when we managed to blow the picture up on our return home we could not see any evidence that he could not use his hands. In fact, he was using one at least to control the sheet that he was feeding under the iron. As for the water pots, they are universal – I have seen almost the same type in Knossos on Crete.

Savita and her sister wanted to buy a garment each to wear at the fancy dress visit to Karnak Temple, planned for the next evening and they were not disappointed. They both bought plain black dresses and overdresses composed entirely of sequins. These would be topped off by the local headdress which looks a bit like a wig made entirely of glass beads and comes in very bright colours, in contrast to the black dress. In the bright light and climate of Egypt, they look great, but I suspect, when taken out in England, they look tawdry.

Having made our purchased (I didn’t buy anything here – reason to follow) we continued strolling back towards the cornice and our boat, turning left on reaching the water – but shock – no boat! Moreover, no sign of the others in our party, no horses, no Caliches, in fact, nothing!

What we had forgotten, in the excitement of leaving in the carriages was that in fact, we were in the lock, and of course, while we had been away the ‘Moon of Luxor’ had passed through the lock.

Luckily she was waiting for us on the other side, but we did get a little ridicule from fellow passengers as we finally made it up the gangplank, puffing a little having walked rather hastily along the bank.

As soon as we had boarded, the ‘Moon’ set off immediately for her journey downstream to Luxor. Most of the party went up on to the sun deck, as we knew that tea and cakes were to be served at 4 pm – one of the more civilised aspects of cruising the Nile. As we sipped our lemon tea, we sat watching the life on the river bank as the boat slowly drifted along. Many of the local people live on the river bank, and we saw women doing their washing (no Persil for them), and fishermen bringing fish to the surface by beating their oars on the water.

Dinner would be at 7 pm, and afterwards, we were promised a slide show and a little talk about what we would be seeing tomorrow. There were no formal lectures by archaeologists aboard this particular boat, but Feisal was very knowledgeable, as are all tour guides who are usually young people with degrees in Egyptology. So, after a little sunbathing and chatting we departed to our cabins for a much-needed shower before meeting up again for dinner.

The Colonel had appeared for his meals by now and was feeling much more his old self, although as we not on the same table as him, we did not find out much about him as a person. The only clue was in his remark when in the hotel at Aswan about having previously been a magistrate. There did not seem to be much chatting at the table he was seated at – the large ladies daughter seemed always to be in a sulk, being a typical teenager, and Owen had been rather subdued after the worm incident. (He was probably turning over every lettuce leaf, looking for signs of infestation). The mother of the teenager, whose name turned out to be Sylvia, seemed to be a jolly lady, but Avelina and her husband did not put themselves out to be particularly friendly toward her, and in consequence, the table they were at was a lot quieter than ours.

Our table, having Richard and Patrick on it, was always lively, as the boys were interested in all that was going on, and having Feisal to tease and interact with there was never any need to try to get the conversation going. After dinner, we adjourned to the lounge and Feisal got out the slide projector and his collection of slides to show us what exactly we were going to see tomorrow.

We now had only three days left of our holiday and the third day was scheduled for our flight home, so we were going to have to cram the sights of Luxor and the West Bank into two days, as well as our promised trip up to Dendera. Feisal planned that on the following day, we would get up early (but not as early as we did to go to Abu Simbel) and go first to the West Bank to see the tombs of the Pharaohs. Going early was a good idea, as it got very busy roundabout lunchtime, and by being some of the first visitors, we would also miss the very hot atmosphere which prevails in the dusty Valley of the Kings.

All of the tombs are not open at one time, so it was pot luck as to which ones we would be allowed into. Everyone gets a ticket, which allows visits to three tombs, and the tickets get clipped as one goes in, so no one could cheat and try to get into more. Of course, most of our group wanted to go into the famous one, discovered by Howard Carter and Lord Caernarvon, but that cost extra and did not count as one of the three. We would also visit the Valley of the Queens on this trip, and I was planning to try to get a look at Queen Nefatari’s resting place, only to be told at the question and answer session, after we had seen the slides, that this tomb is now closed to the public permanently.

After Feisal’s briefing, we were free for the rest of the evening, and some members of the group went off to the little shop on board, where costumes could be hired, or bought, if wished, to kit themselves out for the moonlight visit on the following evening to Karnak Temple. As will be remembered, I did not buy anything at Esna, as I had brought my costume with me, which I had acquired on a previous occasion. However, David had not got anything suitable to wear, so we opted to buy a simple long gallabaiha for him, and a long white scarf of mine was pressed into service to make a turban. We spent what remained of the evening on the upper deck, idly chatting and looking forward to the morrow.

Next morning, after a somewhat early breakfast, we left the boat, which was moored on the East Bank, near some of the big hotels, and, walking a few hundred yards along the cornice we caught the first ferry across to the landing place on the West Bank. We were not the only folks who had decided to cross early, and the ferry was full, not only of tourists, but also local inhabitants who worked on the other side. There were vendors of cold drinks, carried on trays around their necks, (these reminded me of the old ice cream sellers in the cinemas back home), and young men holding artefacts under their robes, etc. No doubt they would be trying to sell to us in the Valley as “Genuine old carving, madam – only dug up yesterday in tomb” and I daresay some tourists would be conned.

On disembarking, we were greeted or rather accosted by many Egyptians trying to get our attention by offering donkey rides to the sites, and there were also bicycles for hire and even an offer of a camel ride. Having been down that road, I firmly decreed that we were going on the bus that the tour company had laid on for us! Off we rattled in the somewhat elderly conveyance, which had a modicum of air conditioning, rather erratic at times but at least it was trying to cool the air. We trundled along the road, and then turned to the left and there ahead of us was the familiar sight of the great Temple of Hatshepsut, which stood proudly at the head of the cul de sac. However, then suddenly, and without any warning, the bus executed a perfect three-point turn, and without further ado, headed back to the main road. “Well,” I thought, “maybe the driver prefers to go to the Valley first, and we will visit here on the way back”, but no explanation was given at that point.

Soon after, we arrived at the Valley but had to stop outside, on a new parking place which had been created since my last visit, and a little Noddy train had appeared to take us straight into the heart of the site. We clambered aboard, surrounded immediately by the souvenir sellers, whom we managed to brush off. On arrival, Feisal went to the ticket kiosk to get our tickets, which he handed out, and then we were free to visit any three of the tombs which were open on that particular day. David had never been in the King Tut’s tomb (62 – each one is numbered), so we bought an extra ticket for it, although I did warn him that there’s not much to see. I suppose the reasoning about it for him was the fact that an English man discovered it, and of course it is the most famous tomb in the valley, having been found intact.

Passing KV 5 on our left we meandered up to the cluster of resting places that are in that particular area and decided on our first one, which happened to be that of Rameses 6th which he had finished after his father had begun it. It is one which goes straight in, with no side passages to draw one away from the main drag, and is quite deep. It is KV 9 and is immediately above or next to 62. From outside it is very obvious why the debris from its cutting managed to cover the entrance to the famous one for so long. We descended the long corridor until we arrived in the burial chamber which is very beautifully decorated, all around the walls, and the ceiling is very noteworthy, depicting the sun being swallowed by the goddess Nut, and then being reborn the next day.

After coming out from 9, we queued for about ten minutes to enter the Tut tomb. Going down the sixteen stairs we felt we were following in the steps of Carter and Caernavon, and I quite expected someone to say “Can you see anything?” Alas, there are no beautiful things as they are all in the museum at Cairo, and we would not be seeing them on this visit, but an air of sadness still prevails, especially on looking at the one remaining coffin which holds the Pharaoh’s remains. On a previous visit, I remember thinking “Poor little boy, all alone here” Otherwise it is completely bare and empty, only a few paintings on the wall of the burial chamber.

After coming out of this site, many of the party went to the tea room, as it was hot and somewhat dusty in the interiors. David and I decided to go a little further up the valley and visit two other tombs which were open on that day via those of Sitpah & Tawosret which are further away, up a little incline. We had water bottles with us, as advised by others, as the hot conditions make one tired very easily and it’s a good idea to keep drinking so as not to get dehydrated. In fact, in Egypt, I never went anywhere without carrying some liquid refreshment. After we had had a look at the two other tombs, we rejoined the rest of our party. They were in the rest house and prepared to return to the bus and continue our tour by a visit to the workers village at Deir el-Medina, which was all that was planned for the day, as it was now getting very hot – this is the reason why many of the visits to sites are in the mornings. The little noddy bus did not take us back, and we walked through the bazaar which had sprung up since I was last there. The vendors did not seem so persistent this time – on previous occasions I had difficulty shaking off the sellers of souvenirs, but as they all have little booths to sell from now, they did not want to leave them. Alternatively, maybe it was because I was not alone but had a male presence with me!

On reaching the coach, we all climbed aboard, and the driver revved up the engine, trying to get the air conditioning going – it was a bit half-hearted but helped a bit. Anyway, off we went for a short visit to the village where the workers on the tombs had lived while cutting and decorating the royal tombs. The outlines of the village layout can be seen, and some of the walls are still visible up to about halfway. Feisal gave us a quick introduction to the site and added that if we could face it, it was possible to see some of the villagers’ tombs which were not open to view. As I had never been in one, I opted to go, and of course, David came with me, among others. Some folks reckoned they had had enough, but they missed a real treat. Not the easiest of sites to get into, unlike the tombs in the Royal Valley, but very well worth visiting. We went into two, both of which were quite small, and necessitated climbing down quite a narrow and steep entrance staircase, which was not very good underfoot. However, we made it safely into both and were so pleased as the paintings on the walls and ceilings were in wonderful condition. It took some time for those of us who did visit, as both tombs were small and could only really hold about four people at a time plus Feisal.

By now it was getting on for lunchtime, so the bus rattled its way back to the Nile bank, we climbed off, and boarded the ferry back to the East bank, and finally back to our boat. We were all quite ready for a cool drink and after a leisurely lunch retreated to the sun deck for a little more sunbathing.

Halfway through the afternoon, David suddenly sat upright and exclaimed that he had nothing to wear. I, half asleep said “Don’t be daft, you’ve lots of clothes” and then realised that he was talking about the evening’s outing in fancy dress – he was only half awake and had completely forgotten our trek to the little shop on board on the previous day. After that, it was time for the civilised practice of tea on the deck along with slices of cake and little biscuits. I sometimes think that on these full board occasions in hotels and on cruises they feed one to keep one quiet and occupied. I must admit that I enjoyed this particular practice at 4 pm, as it gave a 1920’s ambience to the holiday.

Before we knew it, the time had flown by, and it was time to descend to our cabins and get showered and changed into our costumes for dinner, and the trip afterwards. The Sound and Light at Karnak was to be at nine o’clock, and we were to eat first, and then make our way, by caleche again to the venue. The performances on different nights were in different languages, and tonight, after the English version had finished, the German one would take place, at about half past eleven. The passengers on the German-speaking boats would not return until gone midnight, and we were happy that ours was earlier as David and I had the bright idea of getting up early the next morning to make our visit to the Temple of Luxor, which was within walking distance of our mooring. It was not included in the set programme, as we were sailing to Dendera at 10 am, owing to the change in our circumstances as outlined at the beginning of our adventure.

By seven o’clock we were all ready to make our grand entrances, all dolled up as ancient Egyptians, or modern ones, depending on our costumes, and all congregated at the bottom of the grand staircase, posing in our finery, and having our photos taken by the resident photographer. Everybody joined in the fun, even the most stuffy of the passengers. Memorable were Richard and Patrick, who, declining the obvious Sheik-y type of costume had begged some old sheets off their cabin steward, torn them up, and having wrapped themselves completely, came as two old mummies! I caused a bit of a stir, as, normally having short hair, I appeared wearing a long black wig, decorated with gold plated beads, and a long white dress, plus some costume jewellery I had brought with me, this being the reason that I had not bought anything to wear at Esna! Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, laughing and commenting on the various costumes that others were wearing.

Time flew by, and soon we were off the ‘Moon of Luxor’ and clambering up onto our caliches with great merriment. No racing this time as we trotted sedately along the corniche to the courtyard of the temple of Karnak, climbed off our transport and gathered at the entrance gates. The Sound and Light show is very popular with the tourists, and many were waiting with us for the show to commence. I heard many comments on our party, as most visitors were dressed as they would usually be, and they were envious of our Ancient Egyptian costumes. Then, suddenly, the lights went out, the music started, and we were in the days of the Pharaohs. I had been before and knew what to expect, but there was many a gasp from the newcomers. It is difficult to explain the atmosphere as we walked through the temple, listening to the history, and seeing the spotlights hitting the statues, etc. as we followed the story. It was like being in another world, almost a dream. Time flew by, and before we realised it, the end came as we sat by the sacred lake and witnessed the end of the dynasties.

Very quietly, we filed out, found our drivers (really they found us!) and returned to our boat, replete with our new knowledge.

On return, some of us retreated to the bar for refreshment and a little chat about what we had just seen.

We had missed out on Luxor Temple, and as David had never been to Egypt before, he and I decided to be very bold, get up early and visit by ourselves the next morning.

Crack of dawn on our last day of the holiday, we duly did so, and crept off the boat at eight am when most of the party were sleeping soundly, walked a little way, and, tipping the guardian as the ticket office was not yet open, entered the temple for a quick look around. It was empty of other visitors, and would-be guides did not accost us at that time of day. Knowing a little bit about it, I was able to act as our guide as we walked around, looking at the gigantic statues, and seeing the mosque high up on one of the interior walls. Earlier there had also been a Christian Church in this temple. We also managed the walk along the avenue of ram-headed sphinxes which originally stretched from Luxor Temple to the one at Karnak. It was a very quick visit, and we promised ourselves that we would return on another occasion, and do it properly. We were also hoping to visit Karnak again during the day and have time to linger, and take it all in properly, as on the visit the previous evening to the Light Show we had kept moving and had not had time to stop and stare.

We returned to the boat and joined our friends at the breakfast table, just in time for the ‘Moon’ to slip her moorings and start our final journey up to Dendera.

As we breakfasted, we watched the activity on the banks of the Nile as it might have been two thousand years ago – the local peasant ladies washing laundry in the river and the small children playing at the edge of the bank. Dendera is about forty miles upriver from Luxor. After watching for a little while, I decided it would be a good idea to start packing some of my belongings away, to save time later as the plan was that after our visit to the temple we would cruise back to Luxor, have dinner on board and disembark ready for the evening flight back to the UK.

We would be having an early lunch on board, and then visit the site. The Temple at Dendera is Ptolemaic, having been built on an earlier site, and finished in Roman times. It is famous for its Zodiac, which, alas, is only a copy, the original being in the Louvre, having been removed by a French archaeologist in 1820. There are also many hidden crypts which were originally used by the priests of the temple as storage space. These we were eager to see but were informed by Feisal that only one was open to visitors and it was rather difficult to access and he would not recommend trying to get down into for anyone not supple of limb.

Lunch, as usual, was excellent, and soon after, the ‘Moon’ drifted slowly to a halt on the bank of the river, having passed under a bridge, and there we were, only having to step ashore on to a rather primitive corniche.

It did not take very long to reach the site, and Feisal gave us a quick rundown of its history before being let loose to wander at will. He reminded us that we did not have much time as we had to sail back up to Luxor and have dinner on board before departing for the airport and the flight home that evening.

David and I decided that we have to go down into the crypt that was open, and we were followed by others including Colonel Browning which we thought was not the best of ideas, but he would not listen and insisted on coming.

To get into this particular crypt, one has to sit down and slide forward, and down a step (a bit like the Blarney Stone, but in the semi-dark) we all managed it successfully, including the Colonel, although it was a bit of a tight squeeze for him. There was a guide already down there to show us the paintings on the walls and to extract baksheesh from us, and he told us of some of the other uses that the crypt had been used for, all those years ago.

Then it was time to go back up, and that’s where the trouble started. We had to sit down again on the bottom step, and wriggle our bodies back and then up, pulling our legs behind us. Most of us managed OK, but the colonel, being a large man had some difficulty and was finally extracted like a cork out of a bottle, scraping his back en route. His shirt rode up at one point, and I couldn’t help noticing a scar about an inch long on his left chest wall.

Back on the boat, he moaned about the pain in his back, and Avelina came quickly to the rescue, saying she had just the thing to help with this sort of thing. She said it was quite a new idea and had been very useful to her as she suffered knee pain sometimes. It was a little electrical gadget run by battery, and it delivered a short electric shock to the point of pain, and it had helped her out a lot. He decided to give it a go and then went off to his cabin to try it out. Meanwhile, we sailed for Luxor, David and I taking our last opportunity to have a drink on the deck as we watched Egypt float by.

Finally, we were back at Luxor, and the holiday was nearly over. Gradually we all assembled in the dining room one-by-one and then realised that the Colonel was missing. For some reason, it was Avelina who said she would go and look for him in case he had gone to sleep, but within minutes she was back, apparently shaken up and asked if someone else could come as she could not wake him. David went with her (he had kept hidden the fact that he was a doctor because he was supposed to be on holiday) and returned quite shortly with a grave look on his face to tell us that the old boy was dead.

Of course, the boat staff had to be informed, and the Captain said he would have to call the local police, as any death had to be notified. When they finally arrived, we were told that we would not be able to leave Luxor that evening after all, as the body would have to be examined for the cause of death, etc. The body was removed, and we were lucky enough to be able to stay on the boat overnight before the local authorities asked questions the next day.

It was a very odd night, most of us being unable to sleep for wondering what exactly happened, remembering the incident at Abu Simbel when he fell down the steps, and other little things that had occurred.

The next morning we were all called together and told by a local policeman that it had been decided that the Colonel had had a heart attack and that we were all free to go home on the next available flight.

It was a rather sombre departure, as although he had upset many of the party, it was a sad way to die.

The five-hour flight home soon passed, and we disembarked from the plane at Heathrow.

We had just passed Passport Control, and suddenly Avelina stumbled and almost fell. As she did so, she dropped her hand luggage and out fell a handful of papers including some newspaper cuttings and her passport. David hastened to help pick it all up, and without thinking, took in some of the facts in front of him.

First of all, Avelina’s maiden name was Lee, (she was the boys’ sister) and the cuttings were all about the boy who had committed suicide after being sent for trial by the Colonel, and finally one more newspaper article about the Colonel having been fitted with a pacemaker some time previously. David bundled it all up and gave it back to her, and she swept away with all the evidence. It was not until we were talking later that we realised what had happened and by then it was too late – she had planned it all and got away with it.

Of all the instructions given with a TENS machine it particularly states that it should not be used by anyone who has had a pacemaker fitted.


Dedicated To The Memories Of

JOHN PETER MURPHY
18th August 1942 to 28th May 1961

and

PATRICK BLANCHARD
(Great Nephew of the above)
23rd August 1993 to 27th July 2009

 


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