The end of our desert odyssey brought us to the town of Luxor. Located on the Nile river, as are most of the population in Egypt, it is famous for a number of ancient monuments. These include the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, The Temple of Queen Hatshepshut, Luxor Temple and the Karnak Temple complex, as well as a few other temples and monuments scattered around the place. We were to have two nights in the city at this stage of the trip before moving, but we would be returning for a day later on.
Obviously a city like this is geared up for tourists and there wasn't a shortage of things to do. Our guide firstly gave us a walking tour of the town, pointing out the major features such as the McDonalds, the train station, the cleanest toilets and the shopping bazaar. We then jumped in a fleet of horse drawn carriages, which are a Luxor specialty apparently, and headed to the massive Karnak Temple complex.
Once there we were joined by an Egyptologist guide so that we would have a better understanding of exactly what we were looking at. Of course most
of what he said I have already forgotten (if you really want to know some of the details of the place you can go here
) but what remains is the sense of being overawed by the scale of the place and, not unusual in Egypt, the amount of work that went into these vast temples, all in the name of worship to their kings and gods.
The temples of Karnak cover the incredible area of 62 acres, but probably the most famous feature is the Great Hypostyle Hall. This was built approximately 1300BC and is considered 'one of the world's greatest architectural masterpieces'. As soon as you walk inside this hall, the massive columns dwarve you and you are left wondering how people who lived so long ago were able to build such magnificent buildings. When it was first built the windows in the ceiling would have produced some amazing lighting affects, filtering through the forest of columns and illuminating the deep relief carvings covering both the columns and walls. Now the ceiling is gone, but there are still dramatic affects visible.
Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, while also having a great sense of humour (he's used
to Aussies) and gave us an insight into the period surrounding the building of the complex as well as what if would have been like back then. We also had time to ourselves to wander amid the ruins, trying to capture something of the scale and grandeur of it all, which is very hard to do.
The sun set while we were there and our carriage ride back to the hotel was aided by street lights. Our drivers took us through some of the smaller shop lined streets of Luxor whjich were narrow and busy, full of people doing their daily shopping for fruit, vegetables, meat, clothes, hardware, anything. There were also plenty of little tea rooms and cafes which were busy with people enjoying a drink and the company of their friends, or watching the soccor on a TV. It was great to get such a look at life there, even if it was from a horse carriage. We then had an early night in preparation for a big day.
We were up well before dawn and had a quick breakfast before walking the short distance to the banks of the Nile. We boarded a small motor
boat to cross to the western side as the sky was beginning to lighten. A bus then met us and took us away from the river into the surrounding farm land and towards the mountains that form the edge of the Nile Valley at this point. These mountains also contain the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and other temples as well. These crowded grave sites are on this western side of the river because of the ancient Egyptians association of death with the setting of the Sun. The Sun was their main deity, represented by the god Ra, and their whole lives were dictated by the path of the sun and the flow of the Nile.
As we drove through the fields in the pre-dawn light our attention was drawn to a hot air ballon, glowing red as it's burners filled it's interior with the hot air necessary for it's flight. This was to be our destination this morning - a hot air ballon ride at dawn to view the features of the area. This is a popular activity and there were about half-a-dozen ballons slowly being filled in different areas of the fields. It was
the first time Karen and I had been in one so we were a little nervous. We shouldn't have been though as it was a fantastic experience, although the noise of the burners the first time they were fired up as I stood directly beneath them gave me a bit of a fright! We got to see a fantastic view of the area and the many temples and monuments there as well as the sun rising through the haze in the east. A beautiful time.
We touched down on the edge of a sugar cane field and were then taken back towards the river by van. Our morning wasn't over yet though and we were soon greeted by a herd of donkeys that were to be our transport to the Valley of the Kings. What's the matter with a bike, I say?! Oh well, when in Egypt...
The donkeys proved to be not too stubborn and obviously knew this well worn path. The hour long trek was done in a pack with the donkeys occaisionally breaking out of their slow trot to something more of a canter, but they would soon subside back to a trot. The 'saddles'
were reasonably comfortable, but there were no stirrups so the legs began to ache after a while. But the sun was shining and the donkeys had enough survival instinct to keep them out of the way of the traffic, so we made it to the valley in one piece.
The valley is a dramatic landscape of barren rocky hills and small cliffs, and now with large entrances to the once hidden tombs cut in at various spots. There are approximately 20 tombs in the valley with a new discovery being made just a few months ago. We were able to go inside 4 tombs and we saw some amazingly detailed carvings and paintings that depicted the passing of the deceased ruler from this life to the after life, and all the rituals and movements that accompany that. The tombs generally consist of a corridor, then a couple of halls before reaching the final tomb where the mummified body would finally lie within it's coffins.
Along with the body, hundreds of objects would also be buried, for the dead to use in the afterlife, as they believed. For this reason the location of the graves was supposed to be
a secret, to help prevent robberies. The workers who built and decorated the tombs actyually lived in their own community, seperate from everyone else to help prevent the locations becoming widely know. However, corrupt local officials are believed to have contributed to every grave being robbed soon after being used. Every grave that is except one. Tutankhamon has become famous not because of a distinguished reign as pharoh but because of the untouched state of his tomb and associated treasure. This tomb is also in the Valley of the Kings, but is fairly unremarkable because all of the treasure has been removed to the museum in Cairo.
Following this we boarded a bus back to the river bank where we enjoyed a lunch at a Nubian restaurant that was delicious, before re-crossing he river. After s short rest Karen set out to find some bargains in the bazaar while I got a haircut and made use of the bikes for hire to cruise around the city checking out a few more of the back streets and getting a bit closer to the people. Again, it was not a late night as we were leaving early the following morning for
Aswan, but we had time to burn some CD's of photos and get some more felafels for dinner.
What has been interesting in Egypt is the opening hours of the shops. All the cities we have been in are very busy during the day, and even up to late at night, but can be a bit slow to get moving in the morning. 24 hour internet cafes and digital imaging labs are not uncommon, which is great for the overseas traveller.
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