Journal: Saturday 11 March 2000
The road to Dendera from Luxor follows the East Bank of the Nile northwards towards Qena. There are several small villages along the route, but as we were travelling today with the police convoy there was little time to admire the scenery. We left Luxor at 8.00am sharp with several other coaches and mini-buses as well as a few privately-hired taxis, winding our way through the suburban hamlets before we hit the first checkpoint and then the long straight road towards Qus, the first small town to the north of Luxor. For the first few kilometres the convoy sorted itself out – there is always a race to get to the front, each vehicle overtaking recklessly, often diving back in to the right lane between coaches just before a loaded truck screams past in the opposite direction. This is a two-lane road, but in Egypt everyone drives down the centre until they are forced to one side or the other by oncoming traffic. Drivers with nerves of steel will play a waiting game to see who will give way first and there are horns constantly blaring loudly. Gravel was scattered as the speeding convoy passed a donkey pulling a loaded cart down the edge of the road in the wrong direction and the driver turned and scowled, shouting something as our mini-bus edged past giving the unpredictable animal a wide berth. Our driver didn’t take part in the race to be first, preferring to hang back at a more leisurely pace but he was soon hurried on by a police vehicle for going too slowly, the captain leaning out of his window, waving his arms and shouting at us to get a move on. We sped through small villages, narrowly missing pedestrians trying to cross the road while mothers reached out to grab hold of tiny children and chickens and goats bolted for safety into open doorways. The villagers justifiably hate the convoys as much as I do and I’m never sure if their rage is directed at us tourists or the tourist police, but probably both.
When we reached Qena the convoy split up. Most of the coaches were making the journey through the Eastern Desert to Hurghada on the coast while our minibus and a few other vehicles crossed the bridge over the wide river to the West Bank and drove through the fields of sugar cane to Dendera Temple. Although our primary destination today was Abydos, the convoy stopped for a hour and a half at Dendera, so that’s what we had to do. Our French companions, Katrina and Danny, hadn’t been to Dendera before and they rushed off through the great tall gateway and disappeared into the huge facade of the Temple of Hathor to make the most of their visit, while Jenny and I hung back and ambled around away from the crowds. We had taken a day-cruise to Dendera last October, which didn’t feel like very long ago, so we spent most of our time looking at the various structures in the temple precinct, only going into the temple later to climb the winding staircase onto the roof for an overview of the subsidiary buildings.
Before long we were back in our mini-bus and on our way to Abydos. Many of the coaches had gone back to Luxor and the convoy now consisted of only half a dozen vehicles and a police truck that was in no particular hurry, so it was a much more leisurely drive. We had crossed back to the East Bank, only to cross the Nile again at Nag Hamadi where the bridge crosses a barrage and the river froths and boils around the massive stone supports below the road. We made a brief stop while the police captain bought some fresh fish from a stall on the bridge before driving on past the tall steam-belching chimneys of the Nag Hamadi sugar-cane factory and after another hour or so, arrived at Abydos.
The ancient town of Abydos (Abdju) was traditionally associated with the god Osiris and the religious significance of the site dates back to the very beginnings of Egyptian history when the earliest rulers chose to be buried in the desert necropolis in the sacred cult centre of Osiris. In the myth of Osiris and Seth, after the god was hacked into fourteen pieces by his treacherous brother Seth, Osiris’s wife Isis set out to find the parts of her husband’s body which were scattered all along the Nile. Each piece she found, she buried in a secret place until the body of Osiris could be reassembled. The god’s head had been found at Abydos, according to the legend and this was where Isis finally buried his embalmed body and he once more achieved immortality. Afterwards, Isis remained inconsolable and her grief gave rise to another story that her tears caused the annual flooding of the Nile. Since ancient times the rich and powerful men of Egypt wished to be buried at Abydos where Osiris himself lay and the ancient name Abdju has been interpreted as the ‘Hill of the Emblem’, referring to the grave of Osiris.
Whenever I go into the Temple at Abydos I am again awed by the superb colourful reliefs of Seti I and the fact that they have survived so well-preserved for all these centuries. I can stand and look at them for hours and marvel at the workmanship of each carved hieroglyph and the beautiful depiction of the King and the gods in the long columned Osiris Hall at the rear. I also love the dark interior of the Hypostyle Halls with their tall papyrus columns. But today we had only an hour and a half here and as this was Jenny’s first visit we walked right through the temple so that she could get a brief view of each room, before going out to the Osirion behind. Apart from the handful of tourists who came with the convoy, the temple was packed with Egyptian schoolchildren and I have to say I didn’t enjoy the visit as much as I could have done. No doubt I have been spoilt by the few days I spent at here in March 1999 with Robin, when we had the whole temple to ourselves for hours at a time. The only consolation was that Jenny, as well as Katrina and Danny, really enjoyed their time in Abydos and I was very glad we had been invited to share the adventure.
We arrived back in Luxor in the late afternoon. Our return journey was uneventful and I’m happy to say was more relaxed than the morning drive had been. We were able to enjoy the countryside with the golden reflection of a sinking sun on the ramparts of the hills that form a boundary with the desert beyond.