As the ship glided into the docking area, the warmth of the early morning sun promised another a beautiful day. After a hearty breakfast on board the Oberoi Philae Nile cruiser, we were setting out on a visit to the Temple of Horus in Edfu nearby. Edfu is a small city of about 60,000 people located near Aswan on the Nile river valley. A morning tour to the Temple of Horus meant we could return to the shelter of the ship before the sunshine turned fierce in the afternoon.
From the top deck, I could see a couple of men were sitting in a cafe by the side of the road near a cluster of caleches in which the drivers were busy playing on their mobile phones. As the ship pulled up beside the Nile bank, the caleche drivers sprang to life gathering in a (somewhat) orderly queue by the gate of the dock. The process was hardly soundless because nothing in Egypt is done quietly. The drivers were yelling, the passing cars were honking and even the bystanders had something to say. It looked like a taxi rank. And, indeed it was.
The Egyptian Ferrari Experience
I was delighted to find that we would be taking one of the caleches to visit the temple of Horus at Edfu. Nicknamed Egyptian Ferraris, caleches are limited to two passengers. My friend Emily and I found ourselves with one of the younger drivers, Abdullah, and his horse, Ceasar. Abdullah was chatty and let us take turns sitting beside him up on the driver’s perch.
A frustrated F-1 driver, Abdullah negotiated the traffic clogged streets of Edfu expertly and quickly. Holding on tightly, we found the experience exhilarating. Nothing like the colourful chaos of Egyptian street life and traffic to clear away any morning sleepiness the double expresso had missed.
For a gallery of more street photography from Edfu, check out my Steller story.
The Temple of Horus in Edfu
Located only a few kilometres away from the Nile, the Temple of Horace in Edfu is not only the third biggest in Egypt but also the best preserved. The sands of time (literally) covered large parts of the temple so that only a small section at the top was left visible above ground. People used the above ground parts for shelter which is why the roof is covered in the soot of thousands of years of open fires.
A Tourism Industry in Flux
Tourism in Egypt is down 75% from the previous year. Having been to Egypt last April, I noticed for myself the difference. Everyone relying on the tourist industry in Egypt is suffering from the vendors selling tourist trinkets to the hotels and restaurants. For locals in small towns such as Edfu, any visitor is an opportunity to make a sale. They don’t know when the next set of tourists will show up.
In the outskirts of the temple, we soon found ourselves surrounded by hawkers who were mostly called Mohammed. Our group negotiated our way through Mohammeds 1 through 4 to find the temple itself near empty.
As we were entering a gaggle of school kids on a field trip were leaving. Some of them shouted cheery hellos and then scampered away giggling. Others were too busy comparing their lunch boxes and trading their contents. The youngest of the children were dressed as princes with paper crowns and kohl-rimmed eyes. They asked if they could take photos with us. I can’t imagine why I would possibly be interesting for a photo but was happy to oblige.
After the school children left, we had the gigantic Temple of Horus complex to ourselves. The decline in tourism has been a disaster for the economy, but it is a boon for tourists. Obviously, for the budget-conscious there are great deals to be had. Even better, in my opinion, though is a chance to enjoy Egypt’s treasures in tranquility.
It was an amazing experience to enjoy the grandiose carvings unmarred by the voices of a busloads tourists and their selfie sticks. I imagined the solitude was similar to how the early visitors would have found the monuments prior to the onset of mass tourism. You can stand around and examine details without someone in your way.
I know one of the major concerns with Egypt is safety. The Egyptian government seems to be on high alert in terms of security. We saw security teams everywhere. In addition, we were told about the out of sight security measures in place. For example, the city of Luxor has a security command centre with dozens of camera screens capturing life on the streets and the monuments.
Egypt has been a popular destination for visitors in the past and, no doubt, will be so again. I was delighted to have this window of opportunity to experience Egypt without hordes of tourists.
I travelled to Egypt as a guest of Cyplon Holidays. Four day cruises of the Nile River on the Oberoi Philae include visits to the temples with an Egyptologist and full board. Flights to Luxor and returning from Aswan can be booked via EgyptAir. For more information on Egypt, visit the Egyptian Tourism Authority’s website.