National Geographic Photo of the Day

Monday, May 16, 2011

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 8

Got up at 4.30 am. The minivan and the guide were ready and it was already light outside by 5.30am. There was the usual name-taking by the police on the way out of town. The road out had plenty of greenery on either side – one side was decidedly rocky and on the other the Nile flowed. Passed Kom Ombo and Edfu (all these places I’ve only heard of till then in Egyptian legends I’ve read as a child). Stopped at Edfu briefly for a cigarette – no, not us silly, just the driver and everyone else around. Plenty of people smoke here. The route to Luxor abounds with military and police checkpoints. We made it to the ancient Pharonic town of Luxor by 9.10am, despite the traffic being heavier than the road to Abu Simbel. Then again, Abu Simbel lies near the ancient region of Nubia (and towards the border with Sudan), hence being a tourist spot in a desolate location away from other cities – so the lack of traffic was understandable.

The first stop was at the Colossi of Memnon (meaning Ruler of Dawn) – two large statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Both statues were affected by a large earthquake around 25-30BC. These colossi stood guard to the once-massive Mortuary temple of Amenhotep III – of which little remains today. After a brief jaunt through the Ramesseum, we headed to the Valley of the Kings – large complex of burial chambers (obviously of the Pharaohs) cut into the mountains and spread over a wide area. Several of them were pretty deep and well preserved with even the paintings retaining their color. The tomb of Thutmose III was pretty high up – a steep climb followed by a steep descent, and hence my parents opted out while I took a shot at it. Few people come here, thanks to the daunting climb and subsequent drop, but it was well worth the effort. We visited a few more tombs, with paintings and wooden sarcophagi surrounding the inner metal/stone sarcophagus containing the mummies. Photography inside isn’t allowed.

Our next stop was the Temple of Hatshepsut – erstwhile Queen of Egypt – which had 3 distinct ‘steps’ in its construction. The courts were adorned with images, statues and reliefs of Hathor and Anubis and scenes of Somalia (not quite the war-torn, impoverished country it is today). It was obvious Hatshepsut fancied herself a God and apparently, her son-in-law and stepson got fed up with her behavior, and after her death several of her cartouches and paintings had the faces chiseled off. No doubt she must have been like a certain chief minister in India whose name begins with M, has a Y in the middle and ends with an I – the one that keeps building monuments in her name ;) .

If you ever visit Egypt, be sure to take along plenty of sunscreen, a pair of sunglasses and a cap or hat. Else you’ll be hit with a terrible headache – like the Pharaohs would have had when they had holes drilled in their skills through which their brains were extracted before embalming. Of course they were already dead at that point.

Loading up with quite a number of souvenirs (the sellers had a field day) we left the complex and drove to the Karnak temple complex (once the largest in the world) on the opposite bank. Here we found courts with HUGE (and I mean bloody freaking HUGE) columns supporting massive slabs of stone high up in the air. The temple had many sections expanded by different Pharaohs. The entrance itself has small sphinxes on either side. In ancient times, the temple was connected by canals (which have long since closed and disappeared) to the Nile River. The sacred/royal boat was kept in the temple and each flood season it would be able to make its way onto the river when these canals filled up. After a long walk through all the sections, we went over to the Luxor temple, similar to Karnak but smaller. We were pretty tired after all the time we’d spent in the heat and sun and left Luxor a while later.

The rule of the land here is that foreigners HAVE to be back inside Aswan (not outside the cities or on highway roads) before sunset and the police are pretty strict about enforcing this. On the drive back, we found from the guide that he had to take formal exams and such and a course of a few years before he could become one. While he was good with English (which was what we preferred), his wife was a Spanish guide. They must make a pretty penny with the tourist industry in Egypt booming even off season and the prices for tours what they are.

Back at the resort, we freshened up and took a walk by the riverside. We bought more bottled water from the resident Amitabh Bachchan fan (from the other day, remember?). Unlike London or Bangkok, there was no commission or tax here to change our dollars to Egyptian Pounds. We stepped into a nice restaurant by the river (literally ON the river actually) and had fresh Mango and Banana Juice. I must confess it was among the best fresh juices I’ve ever tried anywhere in the world. The resident kitty (very pregnant) was there (plenty of cats around Aswan) and we took a few pictures of her. Her man came along soon enough and sat by her. He chose to meow politely at us while she ate whatever we gave the both of them. Some damned foreigner (probably Spanish :P ) didn’t like kitty and co being around their table (where she headed next) and so the owner carefully picked them up and led them into the kitchen, all the while petting them gently. Kitty was back soon enough though :D . What I’ve noticed here is that, even the locals who are supposedly highly conservative go out and enjoy themselves much more than folks back home. The food was excellent and we headed back to the resort where I watched “The Ghost and the Darkness” (a Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas starrer about a hunt for man eating lions in Africa) and then “The Fast and the Furious” before calling it a day.


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