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the carnival of donkeys outside the Luxor temple, the antics of the curio-dealers, who make a counter of the ground, and the scamper through the peasants coming in to market, with their serious absurdities, is exhilarating even before you get to the sphinx avenues and palms innumerable of Karnak.
The temples of Karnak are the voyager's first banquet of antiquities, a Bacchanalian feast of them. They are spoken of as three temples; but the great temple of Amon-Ra takes in a dozen or two of smaller temples, like a viper swallowing her brood. I wandered about in it for a month without seeing everything.
It is a mile and a half round, and its highest point is more than a hundred feet high.
When Cook's tourists go there they follow his Prophet meekly round. The Prophet does not care for large effects much. He waves his hand round the principal buildings and names them; but he has the lues archeologica~he likes to show his knowledge as well as the temples; and for this purpose it is more convenient to dilate on some little detail like Ruskin's mongrel on Giotto's tower. At Karnak his favourite topic is the Botanical Catalogue of King Thothmes the Third, who had the family taste for expeditions to Punt. But perhaps it is best to show the temple in this airy way, because three-quarters of the people, who are seeing it, will never come back, and in this way you can show them the whole of Karnak between breakfast and lunch. A visit to the Luxor Market on the outside of the town (like the Ghizeh Market, but not so good), and the superb temple of Luxor, the grandest temple overhanging the water on the whole Nile, have to be got through in the afternoon.
By this time the feelings of the voyagers are so wound-up that on the next morning, though the start for the temples of Thebes has to be made at half-past eight, people are ready and hanging about for half an hour, before the Roman galley comes alongside of the very modern steamer, to ship them across the Nile to a shoal, from which another boat ships them to where the donkey-boys are gesticulating on the shore like golf caddies on a Sunday morning, while their donkeys are behaving like boys in church. There is no place like Thebes—for a donkey-ride. It is full of nice sandy tracks for a gallop, and the Colossi and temples are a nice distance apart from each other. There are curio stalls outside every temple, where you can buy mummy hawks for fivepence, and cats for a trifle more.
The Colossi are a distinct novelty for photographers, especially since you discover, when you get close to them, that they are covered with beautiful bas-reliefs all over, which has the effect of the tattooing on sailors. The inhabitants of Thebes, though they do a little picturesque agriculture, which is also susceptible of being photographed, at a small piastre for each exposure, regard tourists as their real harvest, and hang about, between them and what they have come to see, brandishing idiotic counterfeits of scarabs. But they all come into the day's outing with the group of solemn temples called Medinet-Habu, and the big Ramesseum temple, and the little Der-el-Medinet temple. That is the second day's banquet of antiquities which Thomas Cook & Son serve up to their patrons, while the steamer is chafing against the swift waters of the Nile. You lunch on board the ship in order that you may visit in the afternoon the camel, buffalo, and donkey races held somewhere behind the Winter Palace Hotel in aid of Cook's Luxor Hospital. The commerce of Luxor is deranged on that afternoon; it is the local form of the Saturday half-holiday. Cook's offices close, that his agent may start the races, and receive Royalty, if there is any. As the money is needed for the hospital, not much of the two-shilling entrance fee is wasted on creature comforts. You know that there will be no rain overhead : a canvas screen in the right place keeps off the sun. One is badly needed to keep the north wind off, but that would get between the spectators and the races. The donkey-races are for visitors mounted on donkeys; but the residents always win them, because they have donkeys of their own who will do what they are told. No Egyptian saddle-donkey for hire ever obeys a tourist. They do not understand each other's amenities, the ass having been trained without saddle or bridle. There is also a donkey-boys' donkey-race, in which they ride each other's donkeys, with their faces towards the rudder, and the last is first. Camels hardly understand races, but they leg it when they get excited, and most of the riders slip over their sterns before they reach port. At any rate, they run straight, whereas buffaloes have not the most elementary ideas of a fair start, and dive about in every direction like the cockroaches, which the cheated lodger released in the grasping landlady's house. They are ridden by fellahin. Twelve men could not prevent one from starting at the wrong time, and nothing short of a firework under its tail would make one start at the right time. The buffalo pitches like a tramp steamer, and always does the wrong thing. If the Egyptian is disparaging the intelligence of his servant, he does not call him a donkey or a goose, he calls him a gamoose, which is, being interpreted, a buffalo.
You did not even have a chair for your two shillings, but dozens of chicken crates were dumped down in a field, and these and the screen constituted the grand stand. Everybody seemed pleased, though there was hardly any entertainment except seeing each other, and they had been seeing each other every minute of the day for nine days; and then they went back to tea, at the ship or the hotel. The whole thing rather reminded me of the enterprising American Presscutting Bureau, which, whenever you have a new book announced, sends you this notice temptingly baited with grammar
To-day we have filed under your name I items. Did your clipping Bureau supply that many reviews ? (Other mentions are not gathered except on order.)
" Are you curious to see what you have missed ?
“Send 10 cents and we will forward, or, if you are now convinced that we are, as claimed, the most complete concern in our line, send 5 dollars and be regularly enrolled on our books until we have sent 100 items."
The next day's excursion, which starts half an hour earlier and also crosses the Nile in a galley to donkey-caddies on the other side, is the tour de force of the trip, for it embraces 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.