An early 5.30am wake-up call got us started on our first excursion from our Nile cruise boat, The Grand Rose. It was a little too early for me to be honest. Despite careful eating and pro-biotics to boost my friendly bacteria, I had a spell of Pharaoh’s Revenge during the night and was a little lacking on sleep. I left Jonno to breakfast with the rest of our shore party and I decided that facing food a little later in the day would be a good option.
By 6.30am we were on the coach. Almost all of our excursions would have an early start so that we could avoid the heat of the day and the busy times at each location. A 15 minute coach transfer later we arrived at Luxor Temple.
The temple lies east of the Nile and when it was constructed (approximately 1400 BC) it was actually on the banks of the river during flood season. Nabil, our Egyptian guide, reeled off tons of information which was a bit overwhelming to be honest but the abbreviated version is as follows. The temple is unusual in that it is not dedicated to a particular god or king. It is instead dedicated to the renewal of kings and may be where many of the kings of Egypt were crowned.
Nabil constantly referred to the Pharaonic period which we had not heard of before. After some questions and a little self-research we discovered that this period spanned about 3000 years from 3000 when the first kings ruled Egypt through to Roman rule which started around 332 BC. When the Romans arrived the temple became their fortress and they governed the area from here. There were a few Roman modifications to the original temple.
Our guide walked us through the accessible areas pointing out significant hieroglyphics. There was a lot of damage to the statues and carvings but it seemed that every available square inch of stone had been used to display either people, places or writings. In only a few places could we see the original colours that the walls would have been within the temple. In almost all places the colour had faded due to sun exposure.
Before we headed back to the coach, Nabil pointed out an avenue of sphinxes . There were only about a dozen on each side of the wide pathway but originally there would have been hundreds if not thousands on each side lining the route from Luxor Temple to our next stop, Karnak Temple. There is currently work underway to reinstate these sphinxes (or sphinxi?) which will probably involve demolishing a few buildings but it will be a very impressive feature.
We were suitably overwhelmed by Luxor Temple but not having had a comparison that was easy to achieve. However when we arrived at Karnak it seemed to be in a different league. It is a temple that each of some thirty Pharaohs added to over their years in power. The size of the place was overwhelming. This was what Egypt is all about.
The sandstone for the temple was transported from a town a mere 100 miles south down the Nile. Many marvel at the pyramids but seeing the Hypostyle Hall where 134 massive columns tower between 10 and 21 meters above you is staggering. Each with a diameter of 3 meters, it defies all understanding. In his best high-speed English, Nabil explained that the first stones are laid at ground level then ramps of sand are built so the next tier can be added and so on. Due to their proximity, they must have built the central columns first and worked their way out but it still seems crazy that stone can be lifted that high up ramps of sand.
Like Luxor, many of the higher inscriptions were defaced. Nabil explained that this was done by Christians who wanted to prove that the Egyptian gods would not strike them down and maybe also to attempt to destroy the afterlife of former kings. Most of the lower inscriptions were in tact due partly to the fact that these were buried in years upon years of sand deposits protecting them that have now been cleared.
We could clearly see the work that had started to link the two temples with the avenue of sphinxes from Karnak looking back to Luxor Temple. It will certainly have the wow factor once complete.
En route back to our floating hotel we stopped off at a papyrus factory. Egyptian hospitality is to offer a drink to visitors and we were offered a choice of mint tea, hibiscus tea or Egyptian coffee before watching a demonstration about how papyrus is prepared and used as parchment. This was followed by each of us being more or less personally escorted around the store to see what we would like to buy. The “hard-sell” had begun.
It is difficult to admire or point things out to each other without the sales staff thinking you want to buy. Before you know it the picture is wrapped and in your hand bag. We have a sneaky feeling that Nabil get’s a bit of commission or a year’s free supply of papyrus for taking us there. Some of our fellow travellers did buy but our usual reply that “we don’t have a wall to hang it on” resulted in blank expressions.
A Cruise to Edfu
We arrived back at the good old Grand Rose in time for a late lunch before setting sail south to Edfu. I gave lunch a miss and just stuck to water to be 100% sure that things had settled down. It had been a fantastic first day experiencing some of what Egypt has to offer. It was everything we had been expecting and more and it was only Day 1.
Being able to say that last sentence is quite a relief because when we travel conservatively and, by comparison, this was quite an expensive trip all those questions come into your mind: Will it be worth it? Is it going to impress us? The answers are 100 x YES!