Although the Great Pyramids of Giza get most of Egypt's international attention, Luxor is also a must-see destination due to its many ancient royal tombs and magnificent temples.
Luxor, considered to be the world largest outdoor museum, is divided amongst the East and West Banks of the river Nile. The East Bank is believed to be the "Life" side of the Nile River and the West Bank is referred to as the "Dead" side.
Immediately after arriving in Egypt's old capital we knew that we were going to enjoy our brief time there. It is much smaller and simpler than Cairo and has a slower pace; although there are still large numbers of obnoxious touts around the major tourist attractions.
Similar to Athens, Luxor is graced with a seemingly endless amount of Archeological and World Heritage sites. To see them all would require months and an empty bank account, so we needed to be selective. The West Bank, being the "Dead" side, is renowned for being the site of countless royalty tombs and funerary temples… exactly what we came to see!
The easiest and most economical way to see several sites in one day is to join a tour. Our hostel had the perfect tour that included the famous Valley of the Kings (home to the tombs of Pharaohs and mighty rulers), Valley of the Queens, Colossi of Memnon and Hatshepsut Funerary Temple. Rather than give a history lesson, take a look at the photos and/or do an internet search on these historical sites.
Unfortunately, like the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, we were not able to take photos inside any of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings or Valley of the Queens.
It was an unusual experience walking down the steep, dark tombs located deep within the valleys of rugged sandstone mountains. The crypt's walls were covered with fascinating pictographs and hieroglyphs that illustrated the journey into the afterlife (Ancient Egyptians were very superstitious about life after death). We were amazed at the detail and how well preserved the burial chambers were after thousands of years.
Interesting fact - over 60 tombs have been found in the Valley of the Kings. We were curious to know how these tombs were located, given that many were hidden deep in the mountains. Many tombs have long tunnels so they could be damaged by blasting or heavy machine excavation. So how do archeologists know where to start digging without damaging the burial chambers? The answer - x-rays!
Although the brown, jagged mountains and valleys rarely receive any rain, the strip of land on either side of the Nile is quite green and lush with agriculture. It was interesting to see an oasis of vegetation in such a dry and hostile desert environment. The Nile River truly is the life source for Egypt.
Our hotel was centrally located on the East Bank of the river close to the many of the main attractions. It's best to explore any temple, tomb or funerary either in the morning or evening… it's just too hot and exhausting! We decided that evenings fit our lazy schedule much better than early mornings.
We teamed up with our new friends Carlo and Rose (Holland) and Javi and Elena (Spain) and ventured our way through the streets of Luxor to the prominent Luxor Temple. It is an incredible relic and at almost 3,500 years old it had us all captivated and awestruck.
As we strolled through the vast temple at sunset we were constantly approached by uniformed tourist police who wanted to show us "the best place for a picture". They would usually get you when you were alone or in a quiet corner (we did not fall victim to their scam). They can be quite intimidating with their large semi-automatic guns slung over their shoulders and their insistent tone. If you entertain them, the first thing you'll notice is that the picture isn't anything special or extraordinary and, secondly, you'll see a stretched out hand looking for baksheesh (small tip). We had a similar experience at the Pyramids and quickly learned that this is just how it is in Egypt. These are the hired people paid to protect the constant waves of tourists - it's so strange and annoying!
On our final evening we made the short taxi 2.5 km north to the Karnak Temple Complex. Our hotel friends had been there the day before and said that it was a 'must-see'. They were right. The temple complex was incredible (I'd like to use another adjective but 'incredible' seems to be the most relevant).
We're told that Karnak is the second most visited historical site in Egypt (next to the Pyramids in Cairo) and is said to be the largest ancient religious site in the world. The most notable aspect of Karnak is the Hypostyle Hall, a 50,000 sq foot corridor with 134 enormous columns that are inscribed with detailed hieroglyphs. The gigantic columns were truly mesmerizing.
We spent most of our time relaxing and socializing on the rooftop garden at the Oasis Hotel. We ate koshary and falafels while playing chess and smoking shisha. One evening Cameron wanted to try something different and tested the popular Egyptian dish of Stuffed Pigeon. Verdict - 5 out of 10. Imagine a dry game hen stuffed with mushy rice.
Every few hours we would be deafened by the call to prayer that echoed over the city. Luxor buzzed and vibrated, it was unlike any other Muslim city we've visited. There must have been 100 blasting microphones competing with one another to be the loudest. At times it sounded more like out-of-tune shouting, yet it was quite therapeutic and brought a sense of calm and spirituality.
Although Luxor is a very overcrowded and touristy place, it still manages to hang on to its rich culture and individuality. It's popular for good reason. It's home to some or the most fascinating antiquities and Archeological finds in the world and its heritage and history is unparalleled.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit but were in desperate need of some beach time. We left Luxor with our Spanish companions and boarded a 14-hour bus to Dahab, a chilled out beach town known for its world class diving and snorkeling.
Once again, we learned that Egypt is full of surprises…
October 21st, 2009