KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
After spending a couple of hours touring the Hassan Fathy Housing Project in New Gourna, we started our walk back to our small hotel in Qabawi. Even though it was mid-afternoon, the temperature was very pleasant and there was even a light breeze blowing. We didn’t even have to look for the shady side of the highway. I can’t help but think that there are very few days each year when it’s possible to walk long distances here in Upper Egypt.
We had travelled by taxi along this same route many times going back and forth from Luxor to our hotel, but there are so many small details along the way that one misses when whizzing by in a vehicle. We enjoyed studying the crops growing in the fields on either side of the highway, listening to the birds chirping in the trees and peering over the walls into the compounds of the small homes we passed.
Eventually, we came upon the Colossi of Memnon, the largest monolithic statues ever carved. The two statues, towering 18m above the desert floor were each carved from a single block of stone weighing 1000 tonnes. They are all that remain of Amenhotep III’s memorial temple, constructed on the flood plain on the west bank of the Nile, and believed to have covered an area larger than Karnak. The annual flooding of the Nile inundated the temple and after it was abandoned and no longer maintained, it simply washed away.
We had visited the Colossi earlier in the week, during the late afternoon and had found the site almost completely deserted. However, as we walked by, we noticed several large buses had stopped so that the tourists could hurriedly snap some photos. These are often the first monuments that visitors to the West Bank encounter as they travel towards the Valley of the Kings. I was so happy we had been able to appreciate them at our leisure, so this time we just carried on and remarked to each other that we were so lucky to be able to travel independently.
We carried on walking westward, away from the Nile and towards the Theban hills in the distance. As we came closer, the abandoned buildings of Old Gourna came into view. We could see the broken walls of some houses in the foreground, but the others were still intact. The government decided to relocate the village, which had been constructed decades earlier atop what was later discovered to be a large area of ancient tombs. In order to stop the illegal raiding of the tombs and with the hopes of creating the world’s largest ‘open air museum’, the government forced the residents move.
I learned that a few of the buildings were left standing to remind visitors of the existence of the village on the site. Although I appreciated seeing what Gourna used to look like, it is probably a very sad reminder for those who lost their homes and neighbourhoods. In order to promote tourism to historical sites, people’s person history was being tossed aside.
We turned north once we reached Old Gourna and I quietly admired a lovely mural on the side of a two-story house near the road. As I drew nearer to take a photo, I noticed that an enterprising resident had also painted a sign indicating that he would repair bicycles. The route we were walking is very popular with travellers who are able to rent bikes and cycle around the West Bank. We had considered doing this ourselves, but Ashraf had discouraged us because the taxi drivers who ply the straight roads drive dangerously and take little heed for anyone on a bike.
We were now in an area without shade as the highway passed between some of the lesser-known tombs and monuments on this side of the Nile. We had decided not to visit the Valley of the Queens, The Tombs of the Nobles or the Ramsesseum, as we wanted to avoid ‘temple overkill’. We had left a visit to Karnak till the end of our stay, and knowing it was a ‘must-see’, we simply walked slowly past these other sites along the hills and admired them from afar.
As we neared the crossroads where vehicles turn west to head into the Valley of the Kings, the high ridge above the Hatshepsut Temple came into view. At last we could clearly see the spot where we had stood, a few days earlier, contemplating whether or not we should hike back down into the Valley of the Kings or continue along the ridge on a path that was unfamiliar to us. We had enjoyed the stunning view as we looked out over the irrigated fields towards the Nile in the distance, but in the end, we had made the decision to return along the route we had taken rather than change getting lost just as the sun was getting low in the sky.
We had been on our feet for five hours by this time, so when we approached the Carter House Museum, we decided to take advantage of the lovely café and the green lawn surrounding the house. Anil ordered an ice-cold beer and I had a pot of real coffee, served to me in a coffee press with heated milk. It was the first cup of coffee I’d had since leaving Greece and I enjoyed every last drop.
Anil had been having one beer each day, just to keep Fareda and Ashraf company, but he enjoyed his beer as much as if he had been ‘on the wagon’ since leaving Greece. It had been a long walk and we each needed a pick-me-up. We still had another 3 km to walk before we reached the Desert Paradise Lodge.