Firstly the train journeys in other countries are always an interesting experience, and the 11 hours from Cairo to Luxor didn't disappoint. I'd read online that if you book a ticket at the station through the ticket booths you'll be sold a night ticket on the tourist train which costs around $100! BUT this is easily avoided by going to the self serve ticket machine and buying a ticket yourself.
It's fine to do this, no ones going to stop you. The rule is presumably there to make tourists spend more money. So for E£57 I had a ticket to Luxor. Unfortunately the train at night was fully booked when I wanted to leave so I ended up “wasting” a whole day on the train. Perhaps this could've been easily avoided had I not been lazy the previous day.
Arriving at Luxor around 11.30PM I was eager to get to the hotel and sleep. This wasn't to be as I had a blonde moment and somehow walked right past where I was staying...TWICE! Before heading to a café with WIFI to track the place down, to realise I'd walked past it! Genius.
The first stop in Luxor had to be the Luxor temple. Built during the New Kingdom for worshipping the gods and dead Pharaohs after the ancients decided to start building their tombs and temples separate so as to prevent tomb raiders from stealing the gold inside. Previously they'd been built together, thus the location of the dead Pharaoh and all his treasure was publicly known.
So they began building them separate, the tombs on the west bank of the Nile in mountains and the temples for daily worship of the gods on the east bank.
The temple is absolutely stunning! The entrance is flanked by four statues of Ramses II each about 10M high. Just behind them is what the ancients called a pylon. It's a huge wall, in this case around 20M, with all manner of carvings on. The one at Luxor temple depicts Ramses II's military career, including the battle of Kadesh.
The next area is the courtyard where the common people would worship the gods. Huge statues of Pharaohs and gods surround the area. Massive pillars are in the next part, even with parts of the old roof still intact. Standing around 20M high the room would've been quite extraordinary in antiquity.
The Luxor temple is regarded as the world's biggest open air museum.
What strikes me the most about the temples is there's barely an area of wall that hasn't got some carvings on. Compared with other ancient sites I've seen in the past this is crazy, as most have big clear walls and the odd statue and carving. I've said it before and I'll say it again, these people were amazing!
The ancient entrance to the temple is a path with sphinx's either side, most of which are now destroyed. The path leads, or used to lead as I found out, to the Karnak temple.
I'd decided I'd spend the afternoon escaping the hot sun in the museum with it's A/C. Turns out the whole museum closes between 2-5PM I assume so the guards can have a sleep. It opens again at 5-9PM. Well thanks to their silly times they've lost out on my E£100, I wasn't really that bothered about going as it's meant to be quite similar to the one in Cairo.
Following what I thought to be logic, I thought I'd walk the 1.5km from Luxor to Karnak temple following the ancient path that's currently being excavated. Big mistake, it took around 40 minutes walking in heat that can only be described as walking inside an oven. When I got to the end I was on the other side of the wall surrounding Karnak, on the other side of the city to the entrance as it covers 2 square km.
I walked around to the entrance but there was only two hours until closing time and I didn't want to feel rushed. So admittedly in a big of a mood I stomped back towards my hostel.
When I eventually got to Karnak a day later, using sense this time and getting a taxi, it was the most amazing building I've ever seen in my life. The pyramids are amazing, but this is slightly more impressive to look at. Again similar in design to the Luxor temple, but better preserved. The middle chamber has the biggest pillars in the world, these things are around 4M in circumference and about 30M high. Again some of the original roof slabs have been restored and the underside mostly still has all the original paint! As my guide kept saying “remember you even have to repaint your house every 10 years or so”.
As with all temples in Egypt the middle section is the oldest part, with newer additions coming in later years. Not allowed access to anyone other than the priests and the Pharaohs the middle chamber is made entirely of granite! How these people managed to carve so intricately into granite is mind blowing.
There's a “sacred” lake which would've been used to wash away impurities, for good luck etc much in the same way modern Indians still use the Ganges. They built a tunnel underground to funnel the water out of the Nile into the lake.
Quite remarkably when I walked over to the Khonsu temple, not another tourist was to be seen. After talking to people no one seems to have taken the five minute stroll over to this amazing monument. Almost identical in design as the other temple at Karnak but on a smaller scale, the impressive thing is the colours. Which around the top of the pillars and the roof have stayed largely intact. Although some of the temple was closed off due to restoration work being under taken by USAID, which could explain why no one else was there, it was really cool to see and once again I found myself almost alone in another ancient structure.
In defence of Egypt's tourism industry I have come in the low season which also helps to explain the lack of tourists, but even in high season they don't get anywhere near as much tourism as most people would have grown up expecting.
Being very rough the morning after after spending the night in local English pub “the King's head” which was actually quite good and very reminiscent of a pub on the “ale trail” leading from Manchester to Yorkshire. I decided to spend the day in bed and go back to the pub to watch the football in the afternoon because I've not managed to catch much of this season due to Australia being the worst country on the planet for watching the premier league.
Finally I took a tour to the west bank to see the Valley of the Kings and a couple of other temples.
Usually I dislike tours, but as Egypt isn't really set up for backpackers sometimes you have to persevere. I paid E£265 for the tour which included the entrance fees which came to around E£194 so it wasn't bad value for money at all.
The Valley of the Kings is where the Pharaohs are buried, as I said earlier hidden away in secret so tomb raiders didn't know the location to come and steal the treasures inside.
There 62 tombs at the valley of the kings, although your ticket only permits you entry into three of them.
Dug into the surrounding mountains and formerly covered back up with stones and sand so the entrances blended into the mountain you have to give them credit. Some of the tombs go right back into the mountain, the most recently found one going back 200M!. The Pharaohs would've spent most of their life having the tombs built, but due to keeping the location secret meaning they didn't have many workers and over inflated egos and expectations on the longevity of their life most of the tombs aren't finished and you can see they've clearly rushed to put the finishing touches to the tombs when the Pharaoh died.
The painting inside the tombs is perfectly well preserved, literally all except one we visited which was opened by the Romans around 500 AD, the carvings and paintings look like they were done very recently.
Tutankhamen's tomb is here but requires and extra E£100 to enter is meant to be the smallest one, probably because he died when he was 19, 11 years into his reign. The other tomb you can choose to enter belongs to Seti I and, along with being the most recently excavated (finished in 2016), is the best preserved. But for $55 entrance fee I'll leave it to the experts. You're not allowed photos in the tombs obviously to prevent the flash from cameras ruining the colours.
The other temples were again similar in design to the ones at Karnak and Luxor so I won't go into too much detail. Definitely worth visiting if you're here though as the pylon is the best preserved.
Luxor itself isn't that great a place to be, the hostels are cheap and in an abundance, but the food is expensive compared to Cairo. The Pub definitely saved me from boredom though and allowed me to find people to socialise with, mostly the “ex pats” from home who live here for half of the year.
You can really see the people are suffering through lack of tourism here with their desperation in trying to sell things. Although being rude when someone doesn't buy something doesn't help because no ones buying it for sure then and they'll probably tell their friends when they get home and it might be enough to put some people off.
The valley of the kings used to see around 3000 tourists a day, now probably a lot less than 500 come through. There's a whole town on the west bank who are sculptors, with no one to buy their things, they're really struggling. I helped them out a little bit by buying a little statue of the god Horus, which by the way is nowhere near as good as the ones in the Egyptian museum created by the ancients.
The people here believe they are the direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians, but after so many invasions, the claim has about as much substance as me saying I'm a descendant of the Druids.
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