It had been early evening when we had boarded the luxurious Ms Royal Lotus cruise boat to sail down the Nile. The embarkation point had been crowded and passengers had moved about with bags, luggage etc in wide eyed wonder. Porters had helped them climb up into the rights boats and the blue water had hummed with activities. Our cruise boat, the Royal Lotus had belonged to the Mövenpick group and it had the right mix of luxury and convenience. The entrance hall had been plushly carpeted and a wooden winding staircase had lead to the upper decks. Pharaonic artifact and paintings had been discreetly thrown in and rooms had stood in rows in the decks above.
Our room had been in the top deck and complete with television, mini bars, safety deposit box, bathtub fitted bathrooms etc, it had had all the luxuries of a hotel accommodation. A huge bedside glass window had opened the river to us and I had caught two beautiful Nilotic sunrises while lazing against a pillow. We had sailed off shortly upon embarkation and soon the bustling frontier town of Aswan had been left behind. I had missed the lively town of Aswan for a few moments, but the excitement of the cruise had quickly overridden that feeling. Nile had lain broad and flat and the blue calm water had beautifully reflected its golden banks. Gently undulating rocky mountains had bordered along the river and palm trees, little villages and waving children had run along their base. Despite being winter, daylight hours had been long in Egypt and the sun had set at a leisurely pace.
With peak of the day’s harshness having softened into a long mellow evening, it had been very pleasant to relax at the topmost deck and getting acquainted with other excited passengers on board. The open top deck had held 2 swimming pools, a lively bar, sunbathing space and cute little clusters of wicker tea tables with matching chairs. Liveried staff of the cruise boat had waited upon us graciously and we had watched Egypt’s golden rural beauty float by with the sultry breeze. Sunset had been late and mild and dusk had fallen fast. A velvety dark night sky had been exquisitely cloudless and stars had shone in hard, brilliant glitter. The river and its land had melted into 1 singular belt of darkness and except for glowing lights of other cruise boats, Nile had been devoid of any illumination. Mohammed, our guide, who had accompanied us from Cairo had pleasantly introduced us to the land we had been exploring and his eloquent words had made Egypt all the more alluring.
Our Nile cruise although not very long, had been packed with action and various stop overs at Kom Ombo, Edfu, Suez Canal etc had been included before our last destination of Luxor. Among all of them, Kom Ombo had been the first to arrive and in the Nile darkness, the unique temple had looked large, brooding and intimidating. Dedicated to 2 ancient Egyptian gods, Horus and Sobek, Kom Ombo had stood at a bend of the Nile and it had housed a famous crocodile museum. Ancient Egyptians had feared and revered crocodiles in equal measures and the Pharaonic soldiers had worn their tough, knobbly hides as body armours. Their stealth killing skills had been directly associated with power and Komombo’s Crocodile museum complete with the reptile mummies, votive, tablets and carvings had given away its importance. Remnants of an ancient Sacred well which had stored Nile water solely to feed the Pharaoh’s crocodile pool had been found at Kom Ombo temple and the entire complex had emanated a creepy aura.
Situated around 4 kilometers away from the temple, the town of Kom Ombo had not been visible from the dark bank of the river and it had been a pity, since the destination had a reputation of being charmingly atmospheric. Strategically important during ancient times as a military base and trading center, gold and elephants had exchanged hands there. It’s location at the cross roads of Egypt – Nubia caravan route had turned it into a huge elephant depot and Ptolemy dynasty rulers had used Kom Ombo to train their African pachyderms to fight the Indian counterparts of the rival Seleucids. Some of Egypt’s earliest rock art had also been found around Kom Ombo and the painted carvings of gazelles, hippos, fish and humans with big butts had dated back to nearly 15,000 years. The nearby village of Daraw had held a large, lively camel market and the fertile alluvial soil of Kom Ombo had been lush with ripe sugarcane fields.
Predominantly occupied by fellaheen (farming) community, many Nubians who had been displaced by man made Lake Nasser, had also called it home and Kom Ombo had enjoyed a very pleasant reputation on the tourist radar. Unfortunately, I had no experience of the temple town’s pleasant aura and in the dark Egyptian night, only the riverine crocodile temple had been visible. Known as Pa- Sebek (land of crocodile god Sobek) in ancient times, Kom Ombo had been an ex Pharaonic capital too and proximity to the river had damaged and preserved the temple in equal parts. The result had been a stunningly photogenic ruined complex whose roofless truncated structure had taken breaths away. Kom Ombo’s beauty had lain in its perfect bisymetry and both the sides had been dedicated to different gods of various ruling periods. It had been a proper Ptolemic temple and it’s first sight of Gate of Neos Dionysos (although much disputed) had been dedicated to the great queen Cleopatra’s father.
I don’t have much memories of Kom Ombo and the huge hulking ruins (plus mummified crocodiles) had given me jitters. Although, Mohammed had explained the importance of the neat structure of vestibules, main halls, inscriptions, carvings and sanctuaries, I only remember the jaw dropping depictions of ancient Egyptian medical prowess. They had stopped me in my tracks and from the symbol Rx, childbirth, C-section, various prescriptions to complicated surgical procedures, the outer corridor and precincts of Kom Ombo had been a huge open air encyclopedia of medicine. The falcon headed god Haroeris (Good Doctor) and his consort had prevailed everywhere and he had been yet, another form of the main deity of Horus. The shock of the medical progression of ancient Egyptians had left me awed and I had stumbled around the rest of the complex in a very dazed manner.
Kom Ombo, needless to say had been one of the biggest surprises and eye opening visits of my Egyptian trip and the partially skeletal temple had first given away the depths of the ancient Pharaonic society. Complicated, blood stained, warring, highly progressive, sexually upfront and very incestuous, the structured and bold ancient Egypt had been a far cry from the present scenario and once again, a strange familiar comparison with India had risen in my mind. I had been deep in my thoughts when the dark dungeons of the crocodile museum had displayed its mummified reptiles and they had been enough to send me back to the cruise boat in a hurry. That evening had deepened into a very dark night, when Ms Royal Lotus had drifted away from the banks and I had not been able to suppress a shudder, as the grim stately Kom Ombo had melted into the obscure horizon.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE