20.08.2011 - 25.08.2011 38 °C
On our last morning in Aswan, we all got on two feluccas which would take us down the Nile, for three days, towards Luxor.
These wooden sailing boats have been traditional modes of transport in Egypt for thousands of years. No engine on board, just the breeze and a canvas sail. The slow pace and rocking motion of the boat was so relaxing, I spent quite some time dozing in the warmth of the lazy Egyptian summer. We played cards, drank beer and enjoyed having absolutely nothing in the world to do.
Horse getting a wash.
Every so often, we’d go for a swim in the river. In the heat of the day, the water was wonderfully refreshing.
The mast had to be lowered to get under this bridge.
At night, we moored up on the river bank, chilled out some more and enjoyed fantastic food, cooked on the boat. It was warm through the night; not quite 35 degrees at 2am (as in Sudan), however sleeping bags weren't needed at all. On the second night, the boat guys set up their shisha pipe (“hubbly-bubbly”) and we sat around chatting – very mellow.
On the third day, we got off the boats and onto a coach which would take us the rest of the way to Luxor.
We visited the Temple of Horus as Edfu on the way.
Every inch of this huge temple is covered in intricate carvings and hyrogliphics. It’s unbelievable how this was built over 2000 years ago and yet is so well preserved. As with historical remains all across North Africa, the extremely dry climate prevents weathering. Most of the damage on these sites was done by Coptic Christians, defacing what they saw as heretical, blasphemous images of ancient gods they did not believe in. It’s tragic how these monumental feats of ancient engineering, which have stood the test of time for so long, have been vandalised in the name of religion.
The sanctuary, in the very heart of the temple.
Bats nesting inside one of the rooms.
In Luxor we stayed at a hotel, in the centre of the city, within walking distance of many of the sights.
Oasis had a deal with another company, meaning that we were able to do a balloon flight over the West Bank very cheaply. It was a sunrise flight, meaning that we had to get up at 4am ...
I’d never been up in a balloon before and was rather excited.
Queen Hatshepsut’s temple. The Valley of the Kings is just the other side of the mountain behind.
It’s silent and very peaceful in the air, when the pilot isn’t firing the burner – then it’s incredibly hot and loud.
Sunrise over the West Bank.
From the air you can clearly see the extent of irrigation, as green fields give way to dry, dusty desert beyond the limit of the Nile-drawn irrigation ditches.
On the way down, our basket brushed the top of a palm tree and just missed a power pylon (less than a metre below – all planned I’m sure…). The landing itself, in some random field, was surprisingly gentle.
From here, we went to the Valley of the Kings. In the visitor centre there is a brilliant 3D model of the valley, showing the location of all the tombs and how far they go down. No photos, unfortunately. We went inside Rameses IV, III and IX’s tombs. I was utterly blown away with these, especially the first one. I’d expected them to be dark, hot and claustrophobic with not much to see but was very wrong. The interiors are wide, spacious and extremely colourful.
Again, thanks Google Images:
Every wall is painted and carved; it’s a real sensory overload – simply too much to take it all in. Over 3000 years old, some of the paintings are so well preserved they look almost new. Being sealed underground meant that many of the tombs are in a similar state to how they must have been when the Pharaoh died. Without the treasure, of course. Most of that is in the Cairo and British Museums.
Unfortunately though, here too, many of the paintings have been vandalised by religious fanatics, mainly in the form of faces being meticulously chiselled away (above). Again, these things have stood the test of time, only to be smashed up by a bunch of religious nutjobs.
Later on we visited the nearby Valley of the Workers. Contrary to what I’d assumed, the workers who built the Pharaohs’ tombs were not slaves, but highly respected master craftsmen. The Pharaohs were so concerned about having their tombs made as perfectly as possible, to allow passage to the next life, that they showered the builders with riches to ensure they did the best job. One wrong hieroglyphic and the Pharaoh couldn’t make it to the next life, apparently. As such, the workers lived a rather lavish lifestyle and even built tombs for their families and themselves.
Queen Hatshepsut’s temple.
It’s incredible how so much colour and detail is still clear today.
Egyptian McDonalds has some mega burgers.
Luxor Temple, and the Avenue of Sphinxes (‘/Sphincters’).
The last place I visited in Luxor was Karnak, part of the once-capital of ancient Egypt – Thebes. With my International Student Card, I get into most sites in Egypt for around half price. First time in Africa (exc. South Africa) that’s worked!
The temple complex is enormous – the largest ancient religious site in the world. Built around 1400BC, several Pharaohs added to it, further expanding the site.
Pillars of the main hall.
The complex is so huge, there’s no way you can see it all properly in one visit.
I saw so many amazing things that day, but, by the end was rather templed-out. The pool at our hotel was so good after being out in the sun all day since sunrise.
With all of our stuff packed up, the following day we set off on the truck. Heading north, this would be the final leg of our mammoth trans-continental African journey. Next stop: Cairo.