On our next holiday from the embassies and language schools of Cairo, we set out to break the world record for the number of temples and tombs visited in four days. Our destinations for this was the area around Aswan and Luxor, referred to here as Upper Egypt.
Once again we opted for the time and money saving option of nocturnal transport, this time a train. Frustratingly tourists are only permitted to buy tickets for one train a day, which only has first class carriages. Therefore, it was far from cheap, but still represented good value for a thirteen hour journey and was one of the most luxurious trains we have ever been on. The reasoning behind this travel restriction is supposedly security based. However, this appears to make little sense, as this train would surely be the most obvious target for a terrorist attack and the safest option would probably be to stow away on another train with the locals.
Once safely in Aswan we were struck by how different it felt to Cairo and found it far more reminiscent of what little we had seen of Sudan, which given its location is perhaps not surprising. Our arrival
was somewhat tinged with sadness as we mused over what might have been and the sense of achievement we would no doubt have felt, had we arrived in Aswan on the ferry from Sudan as originally planned.
Our first activity in Aswan was the seemingly obligatory trip on a felucca. This was generally quite enjoyable, although the time spent actually sailing and the accompanying breeze, were far more enjoyable than the sights we visited; a botanical garden and our first of many temples.
Our main reason for visiting Aswan was as a base to visit the temples of Abu Simbel. In order to do this we needed to join a tour for the four hour trip south through the desert to the Sudanese border. Once again for similarly illogical security reasons this journey can only be done as part of a convoy, which inconveniently leaves at 4am. Fortunately, the temples were sufficiently impressive to justify both the long journey and the early start. Carved into the mountainside and beautifully situated on the shores of Lake Nasser they were built by Ramses II. Clearly not the modest type, the main temple is fronted by four, twenty metre high statues
of the pharaoh.
The sheer size of these statues contrast with the minute detail of the inner chambers to make for a truly remarkable temple. However, to us engineers, equally impressive is the fact that the temple was relocated in the 1960s. After the building of the Aswan High Dam, the entire mountain was painstakingly dismantled, moved and reconstructed a safe distance away from the rising waters of Lake Nasser.
Having seen the main event, our tour also took in a few lesser attractions on the way back to Aswan. The first of these was the aforementioned dam. Sadly, even as engineers, we struggled to sum up much in the way of enthusiasm for looking at this big wall holding back the Nile. Our next stop was very much back on the Pharaonic trail and involved a short boat trip to the also relocated Temple of Philae. Although not as famous as some of the other temples in the area, it proved to be one of the more impressive.
Our final stop, the Unfinished Obelisk, left us fairly underwhelmed. This truly did what is says on the tin and was an obelisk that, you guessed it, hadn’t
been finished. Had a flaw not developed in the granite during the process of cutting the 42m structure from the quarry, then it would have been the largest single piece of stone ever handled...... but it did, so it’s not!
The next day we travelled to Luxor. Needless to say, on the way we took in a couple of temples; Kom Ombo and Edfu. Although temple fatigue was beginning to set in, they were both very impressive and made pleasant stops to break up the journey.
On arriving in Luxor we visited the Temple of Karnak, in our opinion the best that Egypt has to offer. Which was a bit of luck given that it was our sixth temple in three days! Far more than just a temple, the sheer scale of the complex and the degree to which it remains intact were breathtaking.
In need of a break from temples, the next day we focussed on tombs and visited Luxor’s drawcard, the fabled Valley of the Kings. For the sake of convenience, we organised a trip through our hotel. Unfortunately, for the first time on this trip we were given no choice but to have a
guide with us. Although fairly interesting, we were reminded why we generally steer well clear of guides and prefer to see things at our own pace.
The Valley of the Kings is renowned for being home to the tomb of Tutankhamun, but is also the final resting place of a plethora of Pharaohs. On our guide’s advice we elected not to pay the extortionate extra fee to visit the most famous tomb, given that we’d seen all of its treasures a few weeks beforehand in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. However, the three tombs we did look inside, were truly impressive. The walls are adorned with all manner of colourful painting, which have retained remarkable lucidity given that they are thousands of years old. Unfortunately, no photography is permitted in the tombs and, unusually for Egypt, this is strictly policed. Something that one irate tourist we saw having his camera confiscated, will no doubt attest to.
Our tour also took in a couple more temples (numbers seven and eight for any one who’s counting). On returning to Luxor and before boarding the night train back home to Cairo, we had also planned to visit Luxor Temple. However, we
opted to not make it nine temples in four days and made do with taking a few pictures of the beautifully lit temple from the outside.
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