June 4, 2012

Arriving from India, 1823 | Egyptian Deserts

Arriving from India, 1823
Moyle Sherer

Arriving from India
Kosseir is a very poor-looking place, but its market is well and plentifully supplied. You drink the sweet water of the Nile, and eat of vegetables from the valley through which it flows. The costume of the inhabitants is dull; they all wear the robe of capuchin brown, common to the fellahs of Egypt, and everyone carries a long pipe in his hand. A few Turks or Arabs, in the employ of the Pasha, the merchants, and nakhodas, who frequent the port, and a few soldiers, enliven the bazaar, contribute to the support of a respectable coffee-house, and account for the existence of a sizeable mosque, of late erection, built of stone. In our evening walk, we found a garden some forty yards square, two trees, and a few wells of brackish water; we also saw a small Arab encampment, and some sailors at play near the gate, and a game not unlike trap-ball. One of these sailors had long full thick curls, one on each side of the head, very similar to those on the ancient statues of Egypt. ... We started the following morning about six. For two hours the land wind was cool enough; but as the sun gained power, the heat became scorching and oppressive. About eleven we halted under the shadow of a rock, and refreshed ourselves. In a northern country it is a “traveller in the day of the sun”, which conveys an image of joy and content. Here it is the traveller drinking his cruse of water under the overshadowing rock; the kneeling camel and the sleeping driver.

The road through the desert is most wonderful in its features; a finer cannot be imagined. It is wide, hard, firm, winding, for at least two thirds of the way, from Kosseir to Thebes, between ranges of rocky hills, rising often perpendicularly on either side, as if they had been scarped by art; here, again, rather broken, and overhanging, as if they were the lofty banks of a mighty river, and you traversing its dry and naked bed. Now you are quite landlocked; now again you open on small valleys, and see, upon heights beyond, small square towers. . . . Who passes the desert and says all is barren , all lifeless ? In the grey morning you may see the common pigeon, and the patridge, and the pigeon on the rock , alight before your very feet , and come upon the beaten camel-paths for food. They are tame for they have not learned to fear, or to distrust the men who pass these solitudes. The camel-driver would not lift a stone to them; and the sportsman could hardly find it in his heart to kill these gentle tenants of the desert; the deer might tempt him; I saw but one; far, very far, he caught the distant camel tramp, and paused, and raised and threw back his head to listen, then away to the road instead of from it; but far ahead he crossed it, and then away up a long slope he fleetly stole, and off to some solitary spring which wells, perhaps, where no traveller, no human being ever trod.


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