Egypt: From East to West in Luxor

30 – 31 January 2017

The train ride from Cairo to Luxor was cheap but long ( 6 hour delay). It reminded me of the horrendous Rangpur to Dhaka journey. Nevertheless, it is a great chance  to mingle with locals and see the change in landscape as I made my way towards Luxor- “City of a thirds of the worlds’ monuments”. As much as I love to travel on my own, it can get annoying sometimes when I encounter idiots. As my carriage made its stop next to a platform in the middle of nowhere, a group of young men found it most amusing to tap on my window and make gestures. A middle-age man who was travelling with his family came to my side and told me not to worry. He stood there and shooed them off. Always great to know that there are friendly faces around during one’s travels.

Luxor should not be missed. It is the capital of Upper Egypt during the New kingdom and also the site of Thebes. I started my East Bank trip at Karnak Temple, a site filled with chapels, buildings and mini temples. Regarded as the second largest religious site in the world after Angkor Wat, the temple is always filled with tourists.There are 4 main parts to the complex with only one being open to the public.

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Unlike some other historical sites around the world that is often built by just one emperor or ruler, 30 pharaohs contributed to the construction of this complex. Its size and diversity says it all.  To sum it up, it is a site of worship: temples, carvings, pillars and statues. Since it is also the Egyptian holiday, the place is packed with tourists ( mostly locals). Hypostle Hall with 16 rows of 134 columns is one of my favourite places in Karnak. It is also within close proximity to the high priest temple hall and the crescent lake.

Luxor Temple at night is even more mesmerising than day time.

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Still at the East Bank, the temple is dedicated to the rejuvenation of kingship instead of being dedicated to a king or god. A mosque that overlooks the temple reminds traveller of the city’s Islamic past and while statues and hieroglyphics are great to look at, one of the most interesting thing about the temple is the Sphinx Avenue that connects Luxor temple with Karnak. Well…use to.

At the West Bank, the tour kicked off at the 3400 year-old Colossi of Memnon ( two huge stone statues of a Pharaoh). Facing the river and with two smaller statue at its feet (wife and mother of the Pharaoh), it was there to mark the entrance to a former memorial temple.  The statues are not in a good condition and one of the main reason? pigeon shit. Shit is acidic.

IMG_6757Right by the Colossi is the Medinet Habu, a mortuary temple of Ramesses III. It is well known for its inscribed reliefs during the reign. . The space and scale is impressive and not at all closed off like Karnak.

The Valley of the Kings, used for nearly 500 years from 16th to 11th century BC, is a place where pharaohs and nobles were laid to rest. Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun added further attention to this necropolis. With 63 tombs and chambers of various sizes, reliefs depicting historical events or scenes from mythology cover the walls of these tombs.  Given the size of the valley, there is always the chance of new discoveries. Exploration continues and perhaps there might be a few more tombs left untouched (most have been looted already).

Final sightseeing stop in the West Bank and certainly Luxor is the Deir el-Bahari  or ‘Monastery of the Sea’. Another Necropolis, it is an area which holds the mortuary temples of three pharaohs. The most well-known of the three is  Djeser-Djeseru or Hatshepsut Temple ( dedicated to one of the few female pharaohs in the history of Egypt). Consisting of a forecourt, entrance gate and enclosed by walls, the site faces East which symbolises the resurrection of the King. The complex’s layout has all the classical Theban form: pylon (monumental gateway), courts, hypostyle hall (roof supported by columns), sun court, chapel and sanctuary (sacred or something like an altar). As the ‘Holy of the Holies’,  the temple sits atop terraces and is built into the cliff. It used to be surrounded by lush gardens as well as oranments, a sphinx avenue and numerous statues of Hatshepsut. They no longer exist.

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IMG_6861As I tried to imagine what the gardens would look like back in those days, the guide pointed to a relief which depicted an expedition to the Land of Punt then said ” By the way, all of you are standing in the exact spot where 62 tourists were gunned down 20 years ago.  Security and terrorism is still a threat. You might think that tourism is doing pretty well but the truth is, Egypt has never truly recovered after the 2011 Revolution.“ So how important is tourism for Egypt’s economy? It employs 12% of the total workforce and provides an annual revenue in its billions.   If 1997’s Luxor Massacre and the 2011 Revolution had a negative impact on the country’s tourism sector then the 2013 Luxor Hot Air Balloon Disaster and 2015 failed Karnak Bomb Attack does little to ease travellers.  No matter what, I’m glad to have the chance to see these monuments.

May every country in the world be free from threats and attacks.

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The world needs to be explored.

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