The Path of the Nile

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“…And now your eyes see it… layers of memory are ushered away to reveal kingdoms tasted in dreams long ago… Canyons of orange and beige roll down into empty dells of rust and bone; dusted staircases and shattered statues licked with gold. Pillars of alabaster split the horizon and strange mountains rise like chiselled breasts, mocking the sky. Kingfishers glide across braided ripples of copper and blue; crown of Ramses emblazoned by the fire of a sleepy star. Finally this land reaches out a hand to you, as time itself stops… a secret mark passed from the heavens kisses your brow. You have held all of this within your heart from the earliest days of boyhood. Even you had forgotten! This magical place. Land of kings, sand and stars. Your dreams upheld, an offering to the righteous sun; arms quivering. Swollen and full, you gasp. This is really happening. You are really here. The inner river finally reaches the outer shore; all tributaries aligned with the wide arms of the great valley…”


Dearly beloved, all things, especially the most sacred things, should be allowed to come to you in their own time. Never before or after. I learnt this a long while ago. Although I have to be reminded of it too, even with all the times I have witnessed this phenomenon unfold in my own life.

So many times I’ve had the chance to journey to “Kemet” – Egypt. The Land of the pharaohs, pyramids and desert sands. I’ve been all the way to the border in Israel’s Negev desert. But something held me from crossing that time… I remember my first solo trip outside of Europe was a toss-up between Egypt and India. I ended up choosing the latter. Many flights could have brought me here over the years… but I was always driven somewhere else instead.

For whatever reason, I waited. And waited… travelled to so many other places; seeing her vision reflected everywhere, in tiny details, waiting to be realised.


Anyone who truly knows me, anybody, knows how much this land has always meant to me. Ever since ever, I have been simply fascinated and obsessed with the lands clinging to the banks of the Nile. I would go as far as to say that Egypt is in my heart. But inwardly I knew I had to go at the right time, when the energy came to me.

I passed through this land last year on my way back from a job in Tanzania. I had a lay-over in Cairo, and needed to be out of the red zone for at least 10 days before heading back to Blighty. It provided a place to rest and ready myself for the journey back into Europe, and into the heart of the pandemic drama. It was the safest place I could have been. Hardly anyone was there. Tourism was almost ground to a halt. The hotels were cheap. Test centres were empty. Temples breezy and stark and spacious, waiting to be explored by this solo wanderer…

I can’t really explain how it feels to be in Africa during one of the most uncertain times in recent history, whilst rules are changing constantly, a heavy, almost tangible darkness looming over everything ‘normal’… you know you need to get home now, as your job finishes and visa ends, and yet no-one you know can give you any advice. Nobody is travelling. You feel like the last person in the world, trying to find your way through the dark. Africa is a different landscape, where viruses and the looming threat of death play a very different role in every day life, where information is less available and even less of a priority, where the chance of shutting down is impossible for the majority of the population.

Egypt felt like somewhere in-between worlds: out of Africa, creeping into the developed world, partly shut-down, mostly continuing as normal. Nothing is ever like it is portrayed in the media… so many times I have reached a place with a certain belief or opinion which is immediately shattered, the veil torn asunder. I was nervous about returning to the UK. The media was painting a grim picture of the situation there. It can become hard to know what to believe in such times.

But for whatever reason, I was here in Egypt for the first time, finally, after all these years of waiting. It was the most strange time, and yet, somehow, the most peaceful… the most wonderful.

It feels a lot less like I chose to come to Egypt, and much more as though Egypt chose to come to me.
And there’s nothing more to it.


“The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it’s going or from where it comes…”

Unlike most people who envision a trip to Egypt, my desire was never really to travel around the Pyramids, see the treasures of King Tut or frolic around in the crystal waters of the Red Sea (although I did nearly all of those things). For me, it was always about Luxor, and Karnak especially. I had this sort of vision, this clear image in my mind. There I was, standing in half light, half shadows, dressed in black, alone among the towering sandstone columns in the greatest temple complex ever built on earth. I had this image in my mind from when I first started travelling. It’s taken many years to finally come to me…

Karnak. Karnak. Karnak.
~ Nesut-Towi ~
“the Throne of Two Lands”
“the Most Select of Places”


Directly on the path of the Nile, the ancient capital of the Kingdom named ‘Thebes’ by the gentiles and ‘Waset’ among the natives, called also ‘No-Amon’ in the sacred texts of the Hebrews, was the bustling centre of Egyptian life. Luxor is a small, rural-feeling town in modern times. Its principal temples have been in ruins for centuries, probably close to two millennia, and I have always found the place deeply evocative.

There’s just something so fascinating about ruined places… it’s hard to put into words perhaps… I feel as though the many layers of pride, legacy, honour, power, greed, corruption, might and all earthly glory have been stripped away, the ancient gods crumbling and forgotten, defeated by time; the truth, the bare bones, sticking out of the earth in an array of worn sandstone towers and truncated blocks. The memory of every great and terrible period of earth’s history in the last three thousand years lingers here, sucked in by the skeleton-like temples and shattered halls of Ra and Amun, whispering to pilgrims and locals alike sweet tales of the past. Plagues and storms have battered these walls; bare they remain, like bodies all stripped of blood and colour, revealing root and marrow bleached ivory white in the sun’s glare, a folly to the Infinite God. It feels somehow akin to walking through the desert or an ancient forest – so many stories are held in the fabric of those places: floods and famines, times of green and times of drought, great migrations of animals, peoples, invasions of new flora, new armies, new life, constantly replacing and reappropriating the old. That’s how it feels to me. I believe everything holds memory. Perhaps Moses had once walked here, in his previous life as an Egyptian prince. And what of Joseph and his Egyptian lady? Perhaps their feet walked these pavements too… Many of my ancestors were here, that I am sure of… I can just feel it in my bones. My blood can be analysed and the footsteps of my forefathers brought to life by modern science. How could this not mean their living essence still exists within me? My body is made of all the deeds of all those who came before me, from the ashes of ancient woodlands, from the dust of past civilisations, of distant caravans and sacred oaths. Middle-eastern tribes have a shared heritage, as much as they try to define themselves otherwise.

Maybe, just maybe, if we listen closely, we can hear their voices singing into our soul, and into the wind which howls through the quiet places of earth…

***

So…

I was on an overnight sleeper train from Cairo. 12 hours to Luxor in the south. As I was boarding I noticed a foreign couple getting onto the next carriage. I wondered where they were from and what had brought them to Egypt (usual musings). After some time meandering back and forth I found my carriage, dropped my things and then this Russian guy is standing in my doorway. He’s obviously worked out I’m a foreigner too, and after a brief exchange he proclaimed “we have a big bottle of whiskey” which they had procured in some kind of duty free outfit in the capital. He was full of glee and smiling infectiously. I don’t usually drink so much, unless invited to, or for some event or occasion (although the odd night-cap is quite agreeable)… but that being said, to decline an invitation to the next cabin for drinks and chats with a Russian couple, in these circumstances, would be foolish I think. I always seem to encounter Russians whilst travelling solo. Sometimes, the wind brings you to places you wouldn’t expect. So I obligingly hopped over to their cabin, many inevitable ‘nips’ ensued, with laughter, stories from the road, from home, recommendations and a bit of tale-weaving from all… they asked me where I was staying in Luxor and I explained I hadn’t booked anywhere, and was hoping to wander around and find a place … although admittedly the prospect sounded tiring: I’m not as young as I once was.

They told me where they were staying. My heart dropped as it was a place I’d always dreamed to be, but I knew it was outside of my shoe-string budget. But with a bit of Russian persuasion and a few more Scotch whiskeys, I was convinced, and found myself booking a couple of nights myself! The prices were at an all time low, and had it been any other time in the world, I would not have been so lucky. Meant to be? Travelling is exhausting, and one learns quickly to grab any chance that comes. Bleary-eyed, the next morning me and my rucksack wearily trugged up the limestone steps and beautiful red carpets, to be greeted pleasantly by the door attendant, finally stepping over the threshold and into a bygone era, a golden age of travel, and into a different sense of living than one had become accustomed to after many months backpacking on the continent.

I welcome you to the legendary Luxor Winter Palace.


The staff were absolutely incredible! I arrived so early in the morning and all I could think to do was catch up on some sleep after such a terrible night rattling about on that dated (and cold!) night train. My room on the first floor overlooking the gardens wasn’t ready so they allowed me to use a wonderful little suite downstairs in the east wing to freshen up, rest and siesta. After such long and tiresome journeys across Africa, I cannot explain to you the feeling of having my first real bath in several months and sinking into soft white cotton sheets with a cup of real English tea. Absolute bliss!

I felt, if I could make the comparison, like a wanderer reaching The Last Homely House after years battling through the wilderness.

All the old European Royals and late 19th and 20th century aristos regularly took up residence here. Agatha Christie famously wrote Death on the Nile whilst staying at the hotel. And perhaps most famously, the Winter Palace is where Howard Carter first announced the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb and Lord Carnarvon was cut whilst shaving, which eventually caused his untimely death and the birth of the ‘mummy curse’ myths which remain popular till this day.

I felt as though I had entered a dream space, a kind of alternate reality created as a safe and familiar ground for me, a segue back into the aspects of European life I adore. I felt so comforted and cared for. I honestly could have stayed for a lifetime…


***

Some things are part of our destiny, perhaps. I feel as though I go around the world not simply to have wonderful experiences, to see the sights, do extraordinary things or conquer the world. I feel as though I travel to find lost parts of my soul, scattered in the wind. Travelling alone seems to help me remember who I truly am, and what I truly value in this life, a reminder of what is dear to me, and what is unnecessary ‘baggage’ placed on my shoulders by societal pressures and anxieties.

I sat on a little boat one evening, as the sun slowly sank down behind the West Bank of the Nile, with the Valley of the Kings beyond, watching kingfishers gliding and frisking in small groups across the rippling waters, the sounds of sleepy Luxor melting into the silence of dusk… I just knew I was supposed to be there; I felt as if I were watching a movie I hadn’t chosen for myself but was mesmerised by all the same, as these wonderful scenes unfolded before me, as if everything was animated by my presence, brought to life as a long-awaited welcome gift from Egypt. Me and this land made a pact long ago. Perhaps many moons before I blew a wish into the wind which finally reached these shores, and came back to me. Finally, finally, we were able to fulfil an ancient promise.

Luxor may have been a highlight of my time in Egypt, but it wasn’t the first place that came to me in this strange and hallowed land, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

“…You are ready to burst with joy, gratitude, a peace by another name. Some people say you’ve been here before. You answer only that you never left. A part of you has always been here, and a part of you always will be. It’s just that. Your soul knows it. You know it. This place is a part of you. The eternal you. The you that you’re always trying to return to… It’s taken many years, it feels like lifetimes. The earth has turned, borders have moved, but now finally your feet have found her sand, the passage written on the threads of your heart; the bond inked into your very blood. The heart of the earth, the land that whispered sweet bliss into your youth. How could you ever turn back, or forget her sweet smile? Now the long road of the pilgrimage meets the path of the nile …

Be well. Be happy. Be thankful. Be you. Jx

Thank you, God, for listening to my little prayers, for showing time and time again that You care down to the finest detail of my life, that my choices are important, and that, eventually, all good things are brought to life in Grace, against all the odds.

***

All photos were taken by me in Luxor, Spring 2021 (except from 5 photos. Can you guess which ones?)
Credits to my friend from the road – instagram.com/dashnak/

24 Comments

  1. Great pics, James
    Happy travelling
    “just a momentary speck in the universe flickering to leave behind a footprint on the sands of time”
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    You CAN…if you THINK you canHappy blogging/writing and all the best with your blog
    “early bird sleepy-head” craig

  2. Dear James.
    Thank you so much for sharing your Journey with us all! I, for one, deeply resonate with the lovely energies of this post. I AM deeply grateful for the experience, Dear.
    From my HEART to your HEART in Love,
    Betty

    1. Dear Betty,
      Thank YOU so much for your beautiful response, truly from my heart to yours.
      It is an honour to share reflections on some of what I have seen, with anybody willing to read it.
      Peace be with you. Always.
      James.

  3. So happy for you! What an amazing blessing and a dream come true. God obviously went before you and set up all the circumstances. How Wonderful! Thank you for spreading the joy; it is so contagious! Love the joy on your face in the video! Thank you for sharing such a perfect memory.

    1. Thank you, Gail. I feel that God had His hand in this too… and all my journeys. It nourishes me to think that the Spirit listens to the wishes of our hearts. Thank you so much for reading!

  4. Fascinating narrative of your visit to Egypt. Your reflections on your visit to the Temple of Karnak resonated with me: “There’s just something so fascinating about ruined places… Middle-eastern tribes have a shared heritage, as much as they try to define themselves otherwise.”

  5. This post was super nostalgic for me. I’m not as well-travelled as you, but unlike you, Egypt *was* my first trip abroad. That 180 degree in our experiences made me read this thinking of how I would view these sacred ruins through older eyes than I did in my early 20s. I know I’d definitely opt for the Winter Palace this time versus the pension that I stayed in on my first trip! I made friends who were staying there during my visit, and joining them for a meal or to watch the sunset was amazing!
    Perhaps if I nap today, or just whenever I sleep again, my dreams will take me back to Karnak and the haunting resonance I felt exploring the ruins. The drastic coolness of the shade provided by the remaining coverings and the incomprehensible durability of the paint where the sun has not reached it to bleach it away with centuries of exposure…
    Thank you for this treat!

    1. What a beautiful comment! I hope you make it back and get the chance to live out more dreams, especially the palace and temple… I love your description of the shady inner rooms and remaining paintwork… I could go on and on writing about it all… I have booked myself flights to go back soon. I really hope you can make it too someday soon!

      God bless my friend, Jx.

  6. Interesting article. As a graphic designer, might I make a couple of layout suggestions:
    Make sure your paragraphs are left justified instead of centered; it’s a more readable layout for large bodies of text.
    Caption each of your images with the provenance (where it was take, by whom it was taken, and when it was taken), and maybe a little about the scene captured in the image.

  7. This piece is exceptional. You have thoroughly taken me to this special place both emotionally and intellectually. To know the past and imagine our connection to it is what makes us fully human. To sense that connection deep in our ancestral DNA is a gift ❤️ Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much, Kris! Yes, I feel that too. We are experiencing the past as part of our every day experience, and through it we are fully connected to all eras of human life. Thanks for reading and commenting! Peace. Jx

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