A short one today. We are off to Dendara. To get there should be fairly simple. Train to Qena and then maybe walk the 4km to the temple. Maybe not.
Getting to the station at about 9:30 for the train, we found out we could not catch one until 12:00. We had been planing on going to Abydos, but now we had to re-evaluate. There was no point in hanging around, so we thought we would find the bus station. A carriage driver asked if he could help, and we said we were just going to the bus station. He wanted to take us, and to avoid this we went for a cup of coffee. While we were quietly enjoying this, the carriage turned up outside to wait for us with typical Egyptian determination. Giving in we asked how much to take us to the station. He started at 25LE but considering you can get a half hour trip for 5, we settled for that. Well, we didn’t particularly want to, but it did look as if the horse needed a good feed.
Loading ourselves in, he proceeded to take us around to the back of the train station. It would have been faster to walk! The drawback to offering a low, if reasonable price without knowing your destination is that you stand the chance of being dropped off in the wrong spot! This was not the right bus station. Jumping into a pick up truck used for shuffling people around the town we drove the kilometre or so to where we were supposed to be. They then tried to charge us 10LE for the trip. This is the first time someone has tried to charge us tourist tax for in town local transport. Needles to say, they didn’t get away with it. Still we were where we needed to be, and quickly found a minibus going to Qena. It was also full with us appearing, so off we went.
The drive out is about 60Km, so shouldn’t take too long especially considering the 90Km/h speed limit. Yet every time there is a road joining ours there are at least 6 double speed bumps. This we think is supposed to slow traffic to a crawl to allow people to join or cross the road. These are all the time, so in reality it took us 2.5 hours to get there! However we did get there.
Our next opportunity (trying to be positive here!) is to get out to the temple. Our guide book says it is only four km away, so we thought we would go for a walk around town, and hopefully in the right direction. Getting a taxi when we wanted to. Qena is a typical Egyptian city. All four or five story buildings, shops on the ground level, and where there are foot paths they are either taken up by holes where trees should be, or market stalls. The traffic is not too bad, yet the amount of noise it makes is astronomical. We have thought for a while that all Egyptians are deaf, and half blind. If there is the most remote and illogical reason to toot their own horns they will. Cars and people!
After wandering for a while in the direction we thought the Nile was and not finding it, we were approached by Yasser. He offered us tea, and we were willing to accept. Thinking of the Ali’s, Ahmed’s, and many others we have met in Egypt that we have enjoyed spending time with.
Unfortunately there was not a suitable tea shop anywhere near here, and we ended up almost back at the station. All the time it was “whatever you want. No worries” As long as it was the coffee shop he wanted! It turned out that Yasser was home on holidays from Hurghada. From the sound of it, the town is a favourite for Russians at the moment. Yasser was working with them as well. Learning Russian. After the tea, we tried to politely excuse ourselves to head out to the temple as time was quietly ticking away. Asking for the most direct route and wether there was a ferry or bridge, we were told no bridge and the ferry was about 1km away. He would walk us. After the kilometre passed, he kept asking if we wanted a taxi, but it should not be too far. Should it? About an hours walk! Huh? Soon we were in fields and Yasser was asking the farmers the direction to go. He had no idea.
By now we had realised that his English was tourist English, and not up to the task of helping us get to where we were going. This was proven when we ended up at a bridge! Bidding him good day in polite terms did not work, and when we finally got it across that we would proceed from there alone we got the kicked puppy-dog treatment. This is the look you get when you tell an Egyptian that has befriended you as a long lost relative that you do not want their company any more. A lot of Egyptians are very friendly, but as soon as you reciprocate, they cling on. Not the way the Moroccan touts sink their claws into you, but still very clingy considering you have just met them.
On the other side of the bridge over the Nile, we came to Dendera village. Asking the police here which direction to go, we were required to stop and wait. I think this is the first time they have ever seen a tourist appear walking along the road. It caused quite a stir and many phone calls. Apparently they were going to organise some transport for us. After the standard 5 minute wait of half an hour we again asked if we could walk. No we couldn’t, but we would be allowed to hitch-hike! As long as they selected the car. This was nice, and the poor guy selected by the police drove us the next couple of kilometres to the turn off. Here it was a simple stroll to the temple complex itself. A few more police along the way that were already expecting us and very friendly, then we were at the ticket office.
Now that we have arrived at the temple, I will not say much other than it is Ptolemaic (Greco/Roman) at the start of its construction and about half way through making it they stopped putting the name of the Roman Emperors into the cartoushes as the priests never knew how long they would hang around for, and did not want to keep changing the inscriptions. Considering none of them ever bothered to visit Egypt, let alone this temple it would not have mattered if they had put in “the known leader of the spaghetti eaters!” The temple is dedicated to Hathor. Whom we have nicknamed the party cow goddess, as she is associated with wine and depicted as a cow. The wife and wet nurse of Horus. In her younger days she had a bit of a violent streak and almost wiped out humanity before being introduced to Wine by Thoth. This then changed one of her aspects from the Lioness to the cat! All very confusing, but must have made sense at some stage. Here it is her motherly, nurturing and healing aspect that is represented rather than her party side. Except for one time a year…
The temple itself is surrounded by mud brick walls in fairly good condition, and although the carvings has been very heavily redacted, you can get a sense of the finery, due to the masses of inscriptions that cover everything from floor to ceiling. Inside there are many pillars with Hathor faces at the top. Similar to Phillae, and astronomical inscriptions on the roof. A legend states this is the birthplace of the New Years Celebrations that still happen today. One rocking party back then! Much of the colour remains on the roof after cleaning the soot of fires burnt here for hundreds of years. Apparently the sand made ground level a lot higher, and the soot build up is quite extreme. Clearly visible in the patches that have not been restored.
The layout is similar to most other temples and they claim that the blueprints were discovered on a papyrus scroll from when the Neterw (gods) ruled Egypt. There is one room on the roof consisting a circular zodiac with Cancer in the centre. With the procession of the equinox mapped out this would date that period to around 8-10,000 BC. Earlier than most reputable “Egyptologists” credit the start of Egyptian civilisation. However the conspiracy theorists love it. The thing I love about this is not the theories behind it, as interesting as they are, but the fact that Egypt sold it to the Louvre, and put in a plaster model. Completely black replicating the soot! To add lemon juice to the wound, when we were at the Louvre, it was not even on display! Needles to say that the most important thing in the temple is fake, and if you were going to fake it, make it look good.
The outside is as heavily decorated as the inside, and in much better condition, as a lot of it is still intact. Inside most of the figures have been systematically chiselled out. Quite nicely in fact. This is credited to the Christians, as there is a ruined church nearby, however if I wanted to destroy a pagan religion I would go at it with a sledgehammer and deface as much as I could. Text included. This is mostly fine work that has had great care and attention paid to it.
Around one side is the sacrificial lake, mentioned by Heroditus, but now just a dry dust bowl used for date palms. A few circular holes where wells apparently were and more ruins of other buildings adjoining the temple complex. Quite a site to see.
Back in the temple we could get down into some of the underground chambers. These were closed unless you paid Baksheesh, but when we were down there, some other tourists tipped the guy 10 euro to go in, so we didn’t feel guilty seeing what should be included in the ticket price. Here everything is still in perfect detail. Including some of the colour. It is an unmissable part of the complex. Due to the time it had taken to get out here, we were a bit rushed by the end, as closing time was 5pm and at 4:30 they started trying to get us out of there. Still it was a good visit. This was the first temple where we were allowed 1) Upstairs, 2) Underground, and 3) to take photos with flash! Of course, my camera battery went flat half way through….
Back out on the road, we found a taxi/pick up (I really don’t know what to call them. Oversized tuktuk or tray back taxi) to take us back to Qena. In town they dropped us off, and we started walking to towards where we thought the train station was. After a while, thinking we were hopelessly lost, we asked a man for directions, and unfortunately for us, he did not speak any English. We did think that we got the message through, and crossed the road to try and get a taxi. Another gentleman called out to us. We were going to ignore him, with the whole Yasser experience still fresh in our minds, but went over to see what he wanted. He wanted to help us!
On saying we were trying to get back to Luxor, with sunset fast approaching, he got our unspecified point. Saying he would help an to follow him, we again crossed the road. Thinking that he would flag down a car or bus and make sure we would get to the station, we were surprised when we ended up at his car! This man wanted to give us a lift. Who were we to deny Egyptian hospitality? Back down the path we had walked to get there, and past where we had been dropped by the tray back taxi, and on in the opposite direction. He took us all the way to the bus station. Whoever you are, 1000 Blessings be upon you! We have met at least one good and true person in every city we have been in, and you were it for Qena (The Bible story of Lot not being able to find a good person? He didn’t try hard enough!). This was perfect, and as we were leaving the city, we got to see the blood red sun setting behind the fields. This leads to the next point. We have never really driven at night in Egypt. It seems as if most people’s normal lights do not work. The colourful LED’s flash on and off with no problems, lines of them flickering from side to side on a car. But the typical low beam on every car is broken. There are only two settings. Off, or High. Most of the time the driver flicks between the two. It made an interesting trip for us, being unused to it as we are. On the trip we discussed how amusing it is for us to have culture shock in Egypt. Jordan? No worries. Morocco? Makanoushki! Egypt? WTF?! We thought it would be the opposite, still. She’ll be right. (We are still doing the blog, so we survived the two lane road turned into five in the dark.)