Luxor - an East Side story

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Soon enough Mystery and I found ourselves downriver at the ancient town of Luxor. We weren't sure what we were actually going to do in the 5-6 days that remained before her departure but figured that Luxor would be as good a base as any. Options included a couple of days at the temples as well as a trip to one of the Western Oases, or a short excursion across to Marsa Alam on the Red Sea coast for some more snorkelling and simple living.

In the end we stayed local to Luxor as it was difficult to find reasonably priced trips out of town. Buses to the oases had ben discontinued due to lack of interest and most other road options involved being a part of an (expensive) convoy due to the authorities' ongoing concern for tourist security. Still, that left plenty of options and the possibility of squeezing in Cairo too, so in Luxor we remained.

Luxor is a pretty place on a nice day. It's on a wide and straight stretch of the river that was chosen by the big cheeses of the Middle Kingdom as their capital of Upper (Southern) Egypt - Thebes. All the big names made their mark; hence temples sprouting like mushrooms, tombs riddling the hillsides and why the place is now a magnet for millions of tourists each year.

In all honestly the town itself is a bit of a dive - the souq (market) is being dug up making it crazier than ever and the traffic, touts and carriage drivers make it a lottery just walking around. You go outside an expect a million offers, you come back later that day a shattered man. It's the most annoying part of travel I find, why people can't understand that you're not going to buy the 76th papyrus scroll you've been offered today, when five seconds ago you had just refused the 75th. You look incredulous, they look forlorn - but they have to make a living somehow I suppose...

Anyway, there's still plenty of interesting stuff going on in the back alleys and some reasonable and friendly traders to deal with. Just look out for the signs on the Corniche near the ferry wharf for King Mina's Bazaar and you'll find the only "No Hassle, Fixed Price" shop in town. Music to your ears. Just try to avoid being run over by the Coke delivery donkey whilst you're looking around for it.

But you wouldn't stop here except for the temples and tombs. There are a lot of them so I'll break this up into two entries and cover the East Bank (Luxor town and Karnak) as well as the Valley of the Kings now, leaving other groovy parts of the West Bank until later.

The obvious first stop in the centre of town is Luxor temple - started by Amenhotep III but improved upon over the centuries by Tutankhamun, Ramses II, Alexander the Great and the Romans (amongst others). The Arabs even built a mosque partially in the ruins in the 13th century, so plenty of history all around here.

What remains is reasonably impressive including an avenue of Sphinxes, a giant obelisk at the front gate, some reasonably complete 5m statues in left-foot forward poses and especially the huge standing colonnade at the centre of it all. But after Edfu and barging my way through a thousand touts Luxor was going to have to do better than this. Time to hitch a microbus up the road to Karnak

Karnak is a village 2km north of Luxor town and the site of the largest temple complex of the Pharaoic era. It measures in at 1.2 square kilometres in area and was built progressively over 1,500 years by various Middle and New Kingdom pharaohs. Another avenue of Sphinxes (these actually look like rams) leads you to the first pylon and beyond the second pylon you find the Great Hypostyle Hall - a 6,000 square metre forest of gigantic columns, many of which retain some of their original paintwork overlaying the hieroglyphs that adorn them.

Further on obelisks start to feature prominently and there are more colonnaded halls with what must have been very bright paintwork. This is especially evident on many of the ceilings - the parts of the structure least exposed to the elements over the ages and so those that generally retained their designs the best. Continuing on we found a collection of intact statues in many different styles, over there what may have been a stairway to heaven. We didn't even make it to the Temples of Amun or Mut that also make up part of the complex - it was the crowds that wore you down here...

Hmmm. This is getting pretty long already so might have to leave the Valley of the Kings until later.

Keep trekkin'.
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