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Published: February 27th 2011
Sanctuary, Edfu Temple
With awesome artiificial lighting.
It was another freezing night on board the felucca and we were in fact, sailing when I woke up.
Despite the freezing conditions, I wasn't happy to be getting up. I had still not caught up any of the sleep that I had lost travelling to Egypt
Breakfast was nice again, that tea is nice and sweet. Not so nice was the spot we got off the felucca - like a lot of places in Egypt, you could swear it was a rubbish tip. Litter and pollution is so bad here.
We were then on the bus to the first sight of the day, Kom Ombo Temple.
The history of Ancient Egypt is arguably the most famous in history and is divided into several dynasties of ruling families. Kom Ombo Temple was built during the 32nd and final dynasty of ancient Egypt - the Ptolemaic Dynasty, where the ruling family were in fact, Greek.
Construction on the temple started in 180BC although much of the temple has been destroyed over the years by both man and nature. The most interesting thing about the temple was the fact that it was a "double temple". The southern part of this completely symmetrical temple is
Pylon At Edfu Temple
The impressive gate to the temple.
dedicated to three gods; crocodile god, god of fertility and creator of the world Sobek; the goddess Hathor; and the moon god Khonsu. The northern part of the temple is dedicated to the falcon god Horus; the sister god of Hathor, Tasenetnofret; and the "lord of the two lands" Panebtawy.
Many of the friezes were intricate, especially for something so old
, and Sam's knowledge of what the pictures all meant was very impressive. All of the pictures meant something, told a story or symbolised something. And they were carved everywhere. Amazing, really.
Our next stop was Edfu Temple.
Much bigger, better preserved and all round more spectacular than Kom Ombo, Edfu Temple was also built during the Ptolemaic dynasty although it is about sixty years older.
The temple is dedicated to Horus, like one half of Kom Ombo Temple.
The main entrance certainly takes you aback.
There is a bit more to explore within Edfu and the size of the temple reflects the more prosperous times during which it was built. There are a few tunnels and chambers and a huge courtyard beyond the main entrance. Some of the lighting inside the temple is strikingly well done.
Other balloons lift off after us.
Kom Ombo, perhaps even more so, every single column and wall is completely covered in friezes and hieroglyphics and every picture means something. Apparently, the hieroglyphics give us information on myths, religion and language at the time, as well as details of the temple's construction, and scenes and stories related to Horus. Quite incredible.
Edfu Temple is the second largest temple in Egypt, and the largest dedicated to Horus.
On the way out of the temple we all decided to buy some traditional jellabiya
, a one-piece garment worn by many of the locals, for our Christmas Eve dinner and drinks at the local Irish bar in Luxor that night.
We all ended up buying from the same shop who gave us special group discount. That didn't stop the shopkeepers trying to rip you off - I was given a price of 50EGP before Sam confirmed that we should in fact be paying only 40EGP.
As we were leaving Edfu, all tourists must run a gauntlet of shops where the shopkeepers are the most aggressive I have ever seen. Although I had got away relatively unscathed, other members of our tour group were getting approached by shopkeepers trying to convince
Great Hypostle Hall
Part of the Great Temple of Amun, inside Karnak Temple.
them to buy anything from postcards, calendars, clothing and other assorted trinkets. They would often grab your arm and were extremely persistent, even to the point where they followed you back to your bus. Like a fly that refuses to leave you alone. Even young Egyptian kids were at it, once we got back to the bus. So much hassle.
I also remember the refreshment prices at the store in Edfu being extortionate - 25EGP for a can of ice-tea, just under £3.
We were now on our way to Luxor, and our hotel.
Along the way, you could see the poverty that exists here. Small townships are full of dilapidated, incomplete buildings; every vehicle is extremely old and crusty; donkeys are still widely used, and bulls are used to plough fields rather than tractors.
Our hotel was very nice, even nicer than the one in Aswan, as this one was actually complete. It had multiple restaurants and an outdoor pool, clean modern rooms, and good service. It's location right on the Nile was pretty impressive too. We even had a plate of complimentary Christmas chocolates (of which the large chocolate Santa was glued to the plate resulting in
Hotel In Luxor
Courtyard, where Christmas performances and shocking karaoke took place. Nevertheless, the best hotel of the whole trip.
me picking up the entire plate while trying to pick up the Santa, crushing Santa in my hands, before dropping the plate onto the carpet).
We had some free time to kill which we spent having a late lunch at a restaurant down the road. The restaurant owner was very talkative and interested in what life was like for us back in New Zealand. He seemed very interested in talking about marriage and whether we could have girlfriends of our own choice back home. He also remarked on how there are so many more women in Egypt than men - despite the fact that I could count on my hand the number of local women I have seen while in Egypt. Just goes to show the difference in culture and religion here in Egypt, compared to Western countries.
The rest of our free time was spent buying trinkets for the secret Santa ceremony we were to have among our tour group. There were many such shops near the restaurant and we entered one of them. The object that caught our eye was a small statue of man with a huge, erect penis. Unfortunately it was priced at 50EGP, and despite
Kom Ombo Temple
Main entrance to the temple in Kom Ombo.
our attempts at bargaining him down, he wasn't budging. It would be an awesome secret Santa gift but it was about 30EGP higher than our budget and in any case there was only one of them. We decided to check out a store across the road.
The shopkeeper here was much friendlier and spoke better English. Rather than attempt to aggressively sell you things, this guy's tactic was to suck you into a conversation, usually about where you're from, in an attempt to make you feel comfortable in his store and to trap you in there. But you always knew that there would be a sales pitch just around the corner.
He also had the penis statue, but a smaller version, that we could buy for 25EGP. There were also some other items that he was getting Sags interested in.
Meanwhile, Davies and I went to the shop next door, where they also had the penis statues. They had multiple ones for 30EGP, but we decided that we should probably not all get penis statues and Davies decides to go with one.
Back in the previous store, Sags had managed to get some other Egyptian-themed small statues, while I eventually
Indoor Hieroglyphs, Edfu Temple
I *think* that the scene depicted is that of a funeral procession for a Pharaoh.
settled on a t-shirt depicting two humping camels.
Bargaining is hard work. I think I prefer seeing a non-negotiable price tag and deciding if I want to buy it or not. Especially if you get sucked in to having a proper conversation with the shopkeeper, you could end up staying in the shop talking for hours, eventually buying something out of guilt. At least they are friendly.
On the way back to the hotel, Davies and Sags get sucked into another shop by the offer of a cup of tea. They're selling trinkets for heaven sake, not mortgages. I'm over it, and want some rest before dinner so I continue back to the hotel - all the while being approached by shopkeepers and being shouted at by horse and carriage drivers on the road.
I decide I am absolutely sick of it already - I am relieved once I am back in the sanctuary of the hotel.
Dressed in our jellabiyas
we attract even more attention from the street hawkers on our way to the Irish bar where we are having our dinner. Horse and carriage drivers are desperately and endlessly hassling us to buy a horse and carriage
Streets Of Luxor
The street that Murphy's - the Irish pub where we had Xmas Eve dinner and drinks (and isn't there an Irish pub in every country) - is located, across the road from our swanky(ish) hotel.
ride despite the fact that we are running late and that the Irish bar is just a short 200m walk from the hotel. Sags eventually tells one particularly persistent driver that we might come back later.
Some locals applaud our costumes, others laugh at us. We don't particularly care. But after everything we had experienced in that one afternoon and evening in Luxor, we felt a little vulnerable.
Once at the Irish bar we meet up with Claire and Rebecca, who were on our tour of the Greek Islands
. We had kept in contact with them after Greece and we found out that we were on exactly the same tour of Egypt and Jordan, by complete coincidence. They were supposed to be with us on the felucca - but the snow in London meant that they could only get into Luxor that night.
Rebecca's boyfriend Paul was also with them, and it turned out that Dave from our felucca was in fact Paul's friend and that they were all meant to be travelling together. Also in the pub were people from both feluccas, those who had sailed down the Nile by cruise ship rather than felucca, as well as people who had skipped the Nile altogether and travelled by land. There
Three Wise Men
Dressed in our jellabiyas, Davies, myself and Sags wish you a Merry Christmas.
were also people who had just flown in from the UK as well. So our tour group had swelled.
Having had a big late lunch, we weren't particularly hungry and we were quite late for the dinner in any case, so we decided to just drink instead. Stella, (not to be confused with Stella Artois) the local brew, is a fairly bog-standard lager and we had a couple of bottles while shooting pool with Sam and Bonnie.
We then discovered that any hopes we had of having nice, long catch-up sleep in our comfortable hotel beds were dashed by the news that those of us going hot-air ballooning the next morning had to be in our mini-vans at 5am sharp - meaning a 4.30am start. We also discovered that the secret Santa ceremony wasn't tonight, so we had brought our gifts with us to the pub without having to.
Given our lack of sleep and early start the next day, we didn't linger around the pub for too much longer and we were in bed by 11pm.
In lieu of not being able to eat breakfast in the hotel the next morning, the hotel kindly provided us with a
On the ferry crossing the Nile to the balloon launch site.
"breakfast box" - a cake box that contained a couple of pastries, a piece of fruit cake, a bread roll, a tub of yoghurt (that tasted like sour cream), an apple, some sliced ham, some cheese and a hard-boiled egg. It was a bit of a feast but I wasn't complaining.
We were driven by mini-van for about ten minutes to the Nile where we boarded a small ferry, perhaps only slightly larger than a felucca. There were seats lined up against the edge of the boat and a table set in the middle, with cups, saucers, plates and cutlery. We were served hot tea, which again was nice and sweet. I could certainly get used to Egyptian tea. We signed our life away on a contract with the hot-air balloon company.
The boat ride across the Nile lasted only about five minutes before we were bundled again into mini-vans that took us to the balloon launch site. It was still dark and cold, the balloons lighting up like gigantic Chinese lanterns every time hot air was pumped into them.
The basket that would carry us all was a lot larger than I thought it would be - it was
Hot-air balloon workers randomly start chanting before we lift off - I assume they are blessing the balloon before flight.
basically a rectangle divided into four partitions, each partition fitting 7-8 people, meaning there were in excess of thirty people being lifted into the air in each balloon.
As we went up, up and away, the workers who had helped inflate the balloon suddenly started chanting, as if blessing our balloon so that no harm would come to it, or us.
Being slightly scared of height, I thought I might get jelly legs up in the sky, but I turned out fine, even at the highest points. I was more nervous about dropping my camera. The air up there was still as well.
But it has to be said that the view certainly helped. The floating lanterns that were the other balloons were a cool sight, as was the sunrise. Looking down at the Nile, you could see how dependant people are on it as the land either side of the river was all green. Beyond that, it was just desert. In that desert was group of rocky hills - the Valley Of The Kings.
Christmas morning spent in a hot-air balloon - a pretty cool experience.
We eventually landed in crop field and were greeted by a couple
Reminded me of the annual balloon fiesta held in Bristol.
of kids on a donkey as well as the balloon workers who immediately took down and put away the balloon. Their methods looked amusingly frantic as they all shouted at each other in Arabic.
As we got out of the balloon and waited for the vans to come and pick us up, more and more children started to gather in the field - all begging for money. The balloon guide tells us not to give them anything while at the same time telling them to scram.
As our van drives away, it is completely surrounded by a mob of children, banging on the van windows, looking desperately into our eyes. A couple of the kids run after the van as it slowly starts to pick up speed. All this in a crop field, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Surreal.
About fifteen minutes later we are dropped off in a carpark where we wait for the rest of the tour group who didn't go hot-air ballooning.
There too, is a kid carrying a red plastic bag, scavenging for food. A few of our group give him the undesired contents of their breakfast box and he's struck the jackpot. An
On the way to the Valley Of The Kings.
middle-aged man shouts at him to scram, and he scuttles away.
There are stray dogs sniffing around for a feed as well, but they refuse to eat my gift of an apple.
Half-an-hour later, everyone has arrived and is gathered around a huge herd of donkeys - this is our transport to the Valley Of The Kings. Everyone has a laugh when one of the bigger blokes in our group lumps himself rather violently on his donkey - I thought the poor animal's back was going to break - the donkey closes it's eyes and lets out a groan.
The donkey herders make a clicking sound with their mouths that gets the donkey moving along that I find impossible to replicate. Like a "kek-kek-kek-kek-kek" sound. My donkey ends up moving fairly fast and I make my up through the pack having started at the rear. Passing the excavation sites of a couple of ancient temples, it wasn't quite as exciting as our donkey rides in Santorini
but it was fun nonetheless. It sure beat walking.
As mentioned before, Egyptian history is split into several dynasties, and the Valley Of The Kings is where the Pharaohs and nobles of the 18th-20th dynasties (known
Two Huge Statues
Near the Valley Of The Kings.
as the time of the New Kingdom) are buried, between 1549BC-1069BC.
There are 63 tombs located in this rocky valley, including the tomb of the famous Tutankhamun.
Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in the Valley Of The Kings, so I leave behind my camera.
After passing through a small museum at the valley's entrance we then get on board a "tourist train" that takes you to the tombs.
The first tomb we visit is the tomb of Ramsesses II. Outside the tomb, Sam tells us about some of the hieroglyphics that we will see inside and what they mean. Inside, there is a long, downward ramped corridor that eventually leads to a huge, stone sarcophagus. Beyond the sarcophagus is a path with four spaces carved into the walls either side of it, two on each side, presumably for coffins. On all the walls are carved hieroglyphics, but the difference between the hieroglyphics here and the ones in Kom Ombo and Edfu is that the paint has still survived here and the hieroglyphics are painted all sorts of different colours - red, blue, yellow and green being the main ones. There are even small frescoes in places. The colour really makes
Valley Of The Kings
This is the only photo I have of the place since you weren't allowed to take pictures inside.
the place impressive.
About halfway down, I semi-seriously ask Davies if I should take some photos with my iPhone.
"Nah, respect the place", he answers. True. Up ahead of us it looks like Sags has followed my suggestion as he holds his iPhone up in the air.
Just as we get to the sarcophagus, we see a security guard remonstrating with Sags - he must've been caught taking photos. He is then lead out of tomb.
Back outside the tomb, Sam is giving us some more facts about the place when we see Sags being escorted back towards the valley entrance. He looks over at us a slices an imaginary knife across his throat. Ejected!
We arrive outside the entrance to the tomb of Merenptah, which Sam tells us has just reopened. He then tells us the story of The Curse Of The Pharaohs, where the people who excavated Tutankhamun's tomb all suffered untimely deaths by illness. Sam's theory is that they breathed in poisonous fungi or bacteria that had built up in the tomb over the centuries. He then recommends tombs that we should go and see.
With your entry ticket, you are allowed inside three different
Hieroglyphs, Edfu Temple
Amazingly intricate for something so old.
tombs, providing the tomb is open. Having already been inside Ramesses II, the second tomb we decide to see is the tomb of Thutmose (Moses) IV.
Needing to climb a staircase before descending the steep stairs on the other side, there is only room for one-way traffic in and out of the tomb and we have to wait as tens of people keep popping out. Once inside, it's pretty claustrophobic and you need to crouch. You then need to negotiate bridges and yet more stairs down to lower chambers - this tomb goes really deep into the earth. There are a couple of chambers down there, with all the walls completely covered in colourful hieroglyphics and paintings. It is super hot and stuffy down there, but is a pretty cool experience nonetheless.
We return to the tomb of Merenptah as our last tomb to visit. This one is a bit more like Ramesses II with a wide corridor leading down to a square opening halfway down, before leading all the way down to where the sarcophagus lies, 160 metres from the entrance. This one is a big one. Again, the corridors and chambers are completely covered in colourful hieroglyphics. While
Queen Hatshepsut's Temple
Built into the rocks, it looks impressive.
down at the bottom, the lights go out! It is pitch black for about ten seconds before the lights come back on, before going out again. It's hot down here too.
A minute later and the lights still haven't come back on and I start to get worried - we're a long way from the top and there must be a hundred people trapped down here, elderly included. I can't imagine the panic of everyone trying to get out in the dark. Thankfully, the lights switch back on. Davies and I think that it is now probably a good time to get out of there.
On the way back up, we pass Sags! He's somehow got back in! Good on him.
Back outside the valley, Sags explains to us that he was only holding up his phone for reception and that staff kicked him out despite him showing them he had no photos of the tomb. Once outside, he simply changed his clothes, changed his sunglasses, and put on a cap, disguising himself as he bought another ticket back in. Clever.
Our next sight of the day is Queen Hatshepsut's Temple.
Built into the rock on the other
These line the third level of Queen Hatshepsut's Temple.
side of the Valley Of The Kings, it looks quite spectacular. On closer inspection however it was a tad disappointing. With a long, two-hundred metre ramp taking it up to it's three stories, it looks like a palace, but is actually more of a facade. There is a courtyard and what is presumably the burial chamber at the top of the temple, but that is about all there is to the structure. On saying that however, some of the statued columns were impressive as were the hieroglyphics.
There are even some coloured frescoes that have survived the test of time.
All in all, very impressive considering the age of the temple, which was built during the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt.
As Sam explained to us, Hatshepsut was the wife and
half-sister of the Pharaoh Thutmose II. Although Thutmose II was the Pharaoh, Hatshepsut had always claimed she was their father's (Thutmose I) intended heir and was generally believed to be the pulling the strings during his reign. When Thutmose II died, his son to a minor wife (i.e. not Hatshepsut) Thutmose III, ascended the throne but was still a boy. As a result his stepmother Hatshepsut became his regent,
Sphinx-lined avenue towards the main pylon.
then co-regent, then declared herself Pharaoh, eventually making him the head of Egypt's armies. Dramatists would lead you to believe that she hated this bastard child, though this is generally not believed to be the case.
Known as "the Napoleon of Egypt", Thutmose III went on to create the largest empire Egypt had ever seen and is widely considered Egypt's most successful Pharaoh.
Sam then explained that as a result of his long standing resentment of Hatshepsut for declaring herself Pharaoh, Thutmose III then ordered the defacing of many of Hatshepsut's monuments, friezes and statues of her, including many of the ones here at Queen Hatshepsut's Temple, following her eventual death.
After that history lesson, we stopped by at a Nubian cultural centre - the Nubians being the native people of the area. We had a buffet lunch there which to be honest was pretty ordinary. The highlight - if you could call it that - was the milky, white and pink gooey jellies for dessert that tasted, like, well, nothing.
And our day still
After a brief stop at the hotel, we then continued on to Karnak Temple, the largest in Egypt.
Row Of Sphinxes
On the avenue in front of the main gate at Karnak.
A vast complex of temples, pillars, obelisks and other buildings, the place was absolutely crawling with tourists - the most we had seen in one place so far.
With two rows of sphinx-like statues leading up to a gate similar to the one at Edfu, you then passed through the gate and are met by huge
columns, completely covered in hieroglyphics, that were about thirty metres tall and three metres thick. Sam explains to us that these are the remains of the Great Hypostle Hall of the Great Temple of Amun.
Although construction started during the 18th dynasty, almost every pharaoh of the 19th dynasty (1292BC-1186BC) added to the construction of the site at Karnak.
Hatshepsut also constructed two obelisks here where one still survives and is the tallest surviving ancient obelisk in the world.
We didn't have long at Karnak so it was soon back on the coach to the hotel. On the way back we see another huge structure - Luxor Temple, which we were supposed to visit as well.
Normally I am all for exploring vast historical sites, but it had been a long
day and everyone was templed-out.
Which sums up how I am
Hieroglyphs, Kom Ombo
A broken column at Kom Ombo Temple.
feeling writing up this blog entry. Time to bring this history lesson to an end.
The story continues in the next blog entry.
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