Page images
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

the long donkey-ride through the Eastern Valley to the tombs of the Pharaohs and the ride, over a break-neck path on the edge of the cliffs of the Sahara, down to Der-el-Bahari, where lunch at Cook's rest-house assumes a much greater importance than the paintings of Queen Hatasu's imports from Punt, in the oddest-looking temple in the world. The keenest tourist is blasé by the time that he has seen the tombs of five Pharaohs, each about three hundred feet long, and frescoed with a panorama of the passage of Osiris through the underworld, and the passage of the Pharaoh under similar conditions, and his judgment before the throne of Osiris. But the tombs are glorious, if their designs are apt to repeat themselves, and that ride over the last spur of the great desert, coming down upon the temples of Thebes and the Nile, is so exhilarating, that one cannot enjoy anything after it, except lunch.

At Thebes the voyagers get a little out of hand as archæological students. The whole three days at Luxor are a delirium of excitement and exercise in the gay sunshine of an Egyptian winter.

The next day the tourists settle down again into eager sightseers at the Temples of Esna and Edfu, and they go wild with delight over the twin Temple of Komombo, standing up on its headland like the Temple of Juno at Girgenti.

Only at Assuan does their enthusiasm dwindle. After Assuan, in the changed steamer, they are on a wilder and rockier Nile, gliding through mythological and mysterious Nubia--once the world's land of gold, where all the temples are nodding over the river, and the villages look as if they had been built by the Pharaohs, and the people as if the Pharaohs had left them there. In Nubia the blackamoors try to sell you the jewels they are wearing, and you begin to see strange reptiles in the fringe of castor-oil plants at the high water-mark,

But at Assuan the voyagers are apt to get under the influence of the Londoners seasoning there, who consider sight-seeing unimportant compared to the great business of sport and society, of which the brilliant Cataract Hotel

is the Egyptian capital. The interest of the voyagers in the Nilometer and the excavations on the historical Island of Elephantine is obviously languid-to the untutored eye and the sensitive nostril the latter are as bad as a dust storm; the mud-brick houses of the ancient Syene to the Scottish sportsman look like dwindling peat stacks.

You can see Philæ, of course, without losing caste, because Philæ is used for picnics, and you need not look at anything particularly, when you go to see it. It is Philæ. There is Pharaoh's Bed sticking out of the water, and the boatmen give you a Central African music-hall performance as you row past it, and you land and go on the roof of the other temple, and, if you are having a real picnic and are not a Nile voyager, you have lunch and don't look at anything.

At Assuan people are apt to forsake the soul-boat which has brought them up the Nile dreaming among the imperishable monuments of the Pharaohs, and plunge into the cataract of pleasure at the chief hotel, and forget that they have any minds till they get back to Luxor, where the atmosphere of antiquity is so stimulating, that even a fool tries not to look foolish instead of pitying the wise.


Life at Luxor

L'Egyptis you go to uassiuana yointerneta radisyour

Assuan is a winter paradise in

Assuan you meet all your Society friends again, and play golf or tennis as if you were in England. You do, it is true, take donkey-rides in the desert, and you do a little bargaining in the bazar every day. But you do everything with one eye on the other English people. You are as much under observation as you are on Cook's Nile steamers. You have to dress as much as if you were on the Riviera. You are considered unreasonable if you will not make a fourth at bridge or a foursome, when you have made up your mind to hunt for inscriptions among the granite quarries of the Pharaohs and the tombs of the Turks.

At Luxor it is very different. The Great Winter Palace Hotel, the sister house of the Cataract Hotel at Assuanthe creation of the same proprietor, is the headquarters of Egyptian explorers and excavators, as well as the headquarters of the half of Society, which finds Assuan too hot, and not enough change from the arduous round of trivial tasks, which it has to go through at home. Therefore there is an atmosphere of the wonders of Egypt about the place, and an intellectual and an interesting Society, as well as a fashionable and titled Society.

Most English people would, I think, prefer the climate of Luxor to the climate of Assuan. It is not so fiercely hot, though it is warm enough for the Garden of Eden and the costume of Eve. At Luxor you cannot help thinking about ancient Egypt.

The temple, built partly for Alexander the Great himself, at Luxor, is the greatest building overhanging the waters of the Nile. Abu Simbel is a rock-temple, hewn out of a cliff. Right across the Nile from the Winter Palace is the plain of Thebes, with the mortuary temples of the Pharaohs, and the rocky spur of the Sahara, which conceals the marvellous tombs of the kings. And you can canter in a quarter of an hour to the palm groves, which make Luxor the Eden of Egypt, and contain the world's greatest temple—the gigantic sanctuary of Karnak.

The young Englishmen, who are excavating in the ruinfields of Thebes and Abydos, make a point of constant visits to the Winter Palace at Luxor: it prevents them from feeling the loneliness of the desert oppressive ; and the invasion of excavators fresh from their work makes the hotel a very interesting place to the wholesome tourists who go to Upper Egypt to revel in her antiquities, and not merely in her climate. It is, at the same time, the presence of the idlers, which makes the Winter Palace such a tonic for excavators. The splendid specimens of young Englishmen, the delicious and deliciously dressed English girls, who adorn Upper Egypt in the winter, generally go there solely for sunshine and sport, though they are quite ready to go to a temple, if it entails a long donkey-ride, and they may be brought into line with sightseers by a passion for photography or spelling cartouches.

At Luxor nearly every one who can afford it goes to the Winter Palace. The winding white terraces stretching out in front of it, as they do in front of the châteaux of French kings, are such fascinating places for tête-à-tête teas, and strolling in the moonlight, or the after-breakfast sunshine, on the rare days when you can spare the cool of the morning for anything but expeditions. While you are at tea, you look across the Nile to see the sun setting on the ruins of Thebes, and the afterglow firing the Sahara. In the moonlight you look at the silver mirror of the immortal river, the transparent silver of the Theban hills, the black ghosts of Arabs on the land, and gyassas on the face of the waters. In the earlymorning sunshine you are désenchanté if you look at anything

except the well-groomed young Englishmen and the pretty girls, in adorable summer frocks, who are lazing about, mostly doing something to a camera. For the white road from the Winter Palace to the Luxor Temple is an orgy of touting and advertisement.

First, at the foot of the steps of the Winter Palace, there are the dragomans, beautiful people in snowy robes, with fine black cloth mantles. They proceed to give you a number of false impressions, the first being that they are under the same obligation not to advertise or try to get their money as physicians and barristers. Yet they are willing to risk professional opinion in order to place their inestimable gifts at the service of one, whose knowledge of Egyptian antiquities would make him really profit by their explanations. Secondly, they are so dignified that you would believe them to be, at the least, Ulemas of El Azhar.

Beyond these courtiers are donkey-boys. Luxor donkeys are not allowed to ply for hire like a crawling cab. Their cabstands are pounds at suitable points, and there the donkeys have to remain till they are wanted.

Unfortunately there is no pound for the inhabitants of Luxor, who fill the entire street in front of the Winter Palace, and walk beside, in front of, and behind every foreigner, who comes out, all talking at the same time, all wanting to sell their services or something equally undesirable, all thrusting themselves in between you and your friend, or the object at which you may be looking, in order to secure your attention. You have to hire one to keep the rest away-Joseph, the donkey-boy, was my fly-whisk for these human insects.

If you venture near the Nile you are pestered not only by boatmen but by the water-carriers, whose proper function is to fill a water-skin for half a small piastre, but who prefer to strike attitudes in the water to earn large piastres from American camera-carriers. Beggars there are, of course, in every stage of decomposition, far worse than the journalists in a state of decomposition who come, smelling of spirits, to authors' houses, and say that they have been on the staff of such and such a paper, forgetful that there are telephones,

« PreviousContinue »