Up early for the 13 hour tour of Luxor; Karnak Temple complex, Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. It’s a full day. Luxor is 2 hours inland from the port and then 1 hour south along a Nile river side canal. The port area looks pretty new and small. We are soon in the desert, driving on the highway to Luxor. No one is allowed to sit in the first two rows of the bus. In addition to our guide, a “Tourist policeman” is sitting in the front row. He is dressed in a black suit and is packing a very large gun. Each bus has a policeman. He is constantly monitoring the vehicles around us. He even accompanies us on the tour of Karnack Temple complex, trailing behind us and keeping an eye out on the group. Mel saw him give the “look” to a few sketchy looking people to stay away from our group. No Gypsies here, like in India or Italy, but there are several men dressed in traditional styles that are eager to have their picture taken and ask for a fee afterwards.
Today, we are thankful for a bus ride to take a nap after the long hike at Petra. Very little to see as its mostly sand with an occasional green spot which I finally realize are water wells. Not our US looking round stone wells, but generally a concrete square, 1-2 feet high, buried in the sand. They appear about every 10 miles for the next 60 miles. Also every 10-20 miles is a checkpoint with a guard house, pickup truck with a gun man in it and a man standing behind a bulletproof shield. Sometimes its just a set of speed bumps and sometimes it’s slalom style barricades. A couple of times, when crossing towns or province lines(?) we stop longer to show some paperwork. All stop stopping does break up the napping. After an hour or so of driving, suddenly there are large apartment building and next starts green fields of irrigated crops. Our guide explains that the Egyptian government built this town out here to encourage industry and people to move from the congested areas of Luxor and Cairo. Not sure if its working because a lot of it looked empty.
2 hours into the drive, we finally come to water. It’s a side canal that runs parallel to the Nile to provide water for irrigation. We need to go about 20 miles south the Luxor which will take over an hour. It’s not that there is heavy traffic, its that every bridge crossing requires slowing for several speed bumps. The bus speeds up for about a mile to 40 and then has to slow down for a speed bump. Every crossing has a few trees and maybe couple of small concrete, one room shelters. Sitting in the shade is a guy with a rifle in his hand. Our guide clarifies that it’s the local policeman and not a threat. In the larger towns, there might be a look out tower. They didn’t have uniforms, just the usual brownish robes and turban everyone else was wearing. On the side of the road, away from the canal, are green fields of wheat, sugar cane, veggies…, all being worked by hand. It could have been a scene from 2,000 years ago with guys in long robes and turbans, cutting crops by hand with scythes and loading the stuff and a donkey cart to take away. We saw almost no tractors and mechanical equipment. Everybody had their donkey. Our guide explained most of the farms are small family plots and they could not afford the expense of the equipment. The square brick buildings with rebar coming out the top are their homes. The rebar is to be ready to add another floor for married children and better days.
Finally arrive at the Temple of Karnak complex. Karnak is vast, the largest religious building ever built, over 200 acres. Originally dedicated to the Sun God, Amun 4,000 years ago and continued to be built and added to for another 2,000 years. The entrance avenue is 5 miles long, lined with 10 foot tall Sphinx statues. A large portion of the 5 miles still exists, which we crossed over several times during the day’s travels. Inside the 80 foot walls, are rows and rows of 80 foot tall pillars covered with carved hieroglyphics, top by lotus flowers. Stone slabs ceiling tiles still have a splash of paint from long ago. There is a lake and many side wings/chapels, statutes/ obelisks, all on such a huge scale you can’t imagine how it was built even today. We could have stayed there all day just roaming around all the different areas.
One highlight was the giant scarab beetle statue, set on a high pillar. It is good luck to make a wish and circle it seven times. I made my wish and started to circle it. About half way around, a school group of teen age girls came to circle it too. They walk much faster that me, so I let them pass me after only once around. I hope my wish still comes true. Back to the bus walk was through the usual vendor gauntlet to sell you everything for “1 Dollah”. We resisted any purchases of miniature statues.
Lunch on the Nile was next. The boat was a wooden, turn of the century Nile cruise ship with a broad deck on top and small cabins below. Lunch was a formal, sit down affair of several courses. All of the food was excellent and very elegantly presented. My fruit plate for desert (I heard the chocolate mousse cake was excellent, but we are trying to eat healthy, right!!) several types of fruit including date and fig, all sliced and fanned out across the dinner size plate. Myself, Mel and our friend Lynn (husband Brian was too sick to come, so she hung out with us) kept pinching ourselves about the elegance of lunch while floating down the Nile. Something out of an Agatha Christie novel.
Got back on the bus on the other side of the river to head to Valley of the Kings, about 10 miles away. Its back in the barren mountains. Just white, white rocks, gravel, sand glaring in the 105 degree heat. So dry you can feel the moisture being sucked out of you. The pharaohs wanted their tombs above the flood plain of the Nile. Not even a scrub bush or tree in sight. No obvious marking either as the tombs were meant to be hidden from looters as they learned after the pyramids were robbed. Over 60 tombs have been found in the valley.
The tombs are dug way down into the mountainside, so the climb in and out is quite long and steep. We went into 3 tombs in the valley of the Kings. Each were similar but different. No pictures are allowed except in Rameses III tomb and you had to buy a photography ticket ($18) to carry a camera around.
First tomb is King Tut. It was a long way down as he is buried under another tomb which is likely why it was not looted before. The walls are all covered with paintings and hieroglyphic carvings. There are side chambers that are blocked off, but for a tip to the attendant, the barrier is removed. King Tut was sitting in his burial chamber, encased in a glass/plastic translucent box and covered in brown linen wrappings. Tuk’s mummy is very small, looks only 4 ft tall, and skin is black. All his gold treasure is in the Cairo or other museums. Some things are in in LA on exhibit loan. I guess Mel and I will see it when we get back.
Next is the tomb of Seti I which has just recently opened back up to the public with a REALLY high separate entrance fee, which Mel and I had decided to go for. It was beautiful. Every inch was including the LONG, steep ramp/stairway down was covered with pictures, scenes and writing. That included the walls, ceilings, pillars, floor is some cases. The colors got more vibrant, the painting more expressive, the further down you went. The heat and the beer at lunch caught up with Mel three levels down and she had to stop and almost passed out. I went down to the last level which had bright blue/rainbow phoenix(?) painted on the celling of the burial chamber. Whole sequences of stories about Seti I were painted along the walls along with the carved hieroglyphics. Mel had walked back up and sat under a shelter for a while to recover. The security guard gave her his piece of carboard to sit on, so as not to be in the dust. He also kept telling her “We love Americans”, something all the tour guide told us. “Tell your friends to come. Its safe.”! Walking back out toward the parking lot, we went into Rameses II tomb which you can take pictures in. The walkway is pretty flat so Mel is able to go too. The tomb was not as vibrant with colors, but it gives you a good idea of the general feel of the tombs. . Rameses tomb was very popular. It was hard to see things because you just got carried along with the crowd and saw things as you flowed by.
Hurry off to the Valley of the Queens to catch Nefertari’s tomb before closing. Good thing it was not a long walk up into the valley because its still really hot and very dry. The Valley of the Queens is about 10 minutes down the road from the Kings. Nefertari’s tomb is considered to be the most beautiful of all the Kings and Queens tombs. It does not disappoint. As wife of Rameses II, she had a nice tomb! The blues, oranges and greens covering the walls and ceiling look like they were finished yesterday, not 3,200 years ago. There are lots of scenes of her in white robes looking very voluptuous and sometimes very Godlike with a Vulture’s head in others. The scenes with her are much more detailed than we saw in the other tombs. Definitely glad we spent the extra money.
Back to the bus for the 3 hour ride back. The sun is setting and many of the men have left the fields, are smoking water pipes or playing backgammon in the courtyards of the local cafes. The women most be all home making dinner. We had ordered Cartouche pedants with our names in hieroglyphics during lunch to be delivered later. About an hour into the drive back home, the bus stops in the middle of nowhere and a guy gets on with our Cartouches. The bus keeps driving as he processes our credit card on his mobile phone. Two corners later, we stop and drop him off. I hope someone comes soon to pick him up as it pretty dark out there. I eat the ketchup flavored bagel chips and miniature chocolate croissants in the sack lunch they have given us for dinner. The cheese croissant is not to my taste. Mel is trying hard to hydrate and cool down.
Summary: Best DAY ever, despite the heat and dryness. Love, loved, loved it. We had been looking forward to Egypt as a highlight of the whole trip and it delivered big time. Would love to go back. It is so incredible to see the accomplishments of man that….. 5,000 years is still awe inspiring. Makes you feel humble, proud and sad, all at the same time.