Saturday, 19 June 2010

Thursday April 8th

Today we were up at 5.30am. It felt WAY too early for breakfast so we just had a cup of coffee instead. Having docked in Safaga, Egypt, at 6am, we left the port at 6.45am for the 3-4 hour drive to Luxor. On the journey we were kept comfortable with free supplies of bottled water, fruit cake, cookies and the obligatory Werthers Originals!!! We had a "comfort stop" on the way. It was here that we saw how begging has become an art form, in that people will use anything they can to extract money from you. For instance, one old woman was walking around outside the coach with a donkey, on whose back was standing a baby goat. If you took her photograph with the donkey and goat, you were then asked for money. Similarly, there were several people with camels walking around. On the back of the camel was a small child, looking suitably cute and yet impoverished in order for you to part with some cash. We managed to get a snap of these from the seat of our coach.

I'm not entirely sure the baby goat was happy, in fact the poor thing looked terrified really, but the camel seemed OK. I guess the villagers need to make a living in whatever way they can, it just seems as though the animals and children are being exploited - although the children may well enjoy helping to earn their keep for the sake of the family.

I loved this sight, too, as we drove along the roads to our first stopping point at Karnak:

The small "vehicle" you can see through the window of the coach is carrying a load of sugar cane. We saw many people at the side of the roads munching on sticks of raw sugar cane as we passed them by, too.

We arrived at the Temple of Karnak around 11am. In the sizzling hot weather we approached the temple ruins (although there are few ruins and more columns etc still preserved than any other ancient attraction I've ever seen) and were just awe-struck at the size of the place. It is the world's largest religious site, with buildings on it that were erected for famous rulers such as Ramses III and Seti II. Originally, the Temple of Karnak was joined to Luxor Temple by the two mile Avenue of Sphinxes.

Not only were the individual columns and statues immense, but the actual area of the temple was much, much bigger than I'd imagined. The whole site measures 980 acres, crammed full of temples, halls, avenues, statues and obelisks. As the following pictures show, it would seem that every available surface used to construct this overwhelming Temple was adorned with hieroglyphs of the most intricate nature. I spent most of my time there with my mouth wide open and my head in a constant movement from left to right as I tried to imagine how on earth such a place was created.

The photo above shows just one of the many statues on the site and the relative size compared to that of an average height adult (well, maybe just a tad below average). It is of Ramses II and his daughter Bent'anta (who is portrayed much smaller and positioned between his legs!).

This area was a photographer's haven, and as you can tell from the pics included here, we made sure we didn't hold back. It was a very busy day as it was still Easter holiday time for many children and there were lots of school parties touring the site, but we still managed to take several shots with nobody in the way!

As you can see the hieroglyphs are extremely well preserved and I was trying to imagine how long it must have taken to inscribe them! You can see an aerial view of the site of Karnak Temple here. Below is one half of the Avenue of the Sphinxes, which originally joined Karnak Temple to Luxor Temple some 2 miles away.

This photo of a giant scarab beetle was situated near to the Sacred Lake and it was believed that if you walk around the beetle counter-clockwise seven times, you will have good luck. I deliberately didn't do this as I am of the opinion that luck is something you either have or you don't. No amount of walking around statues, picking up fallen cutlery or throwing salt over your left shoulder when there's a cloud in the sky will change that! Needless to say, however, there were still many people walking in an anti-clockwise direction around this famous beetle.

There were several more Sphinxes inside the Temple as well as on the entrance way - here you can see me posing with some of them!

The above photo is of the Obelisk of Thutmose I . There are several obelisks still standing and one fallen one, which is laid horizontally. All are feats of engineering which I found incredible to behold.

Once we had used up all our film - oops, I mean worn out our batteries on our digital camera and video camera - it was time for lunch at a beautiful restaurant with a garden overlooking the Nile. Our lunch was buffet style, with plenty of choice of hot and cold meals including salads, curries, cold meats, pasta etc etc. After lunch we boarded a ferry to cross the Nile where our coaches were waiting. This was a trip of approximately 10 minutes which was very pleasant and suitably cooling as a change from the scorching heat in the open air. The only problem we encountered, which we had not been warned about, was all the local children who insisted on stalking us as soon as we got off the ferry. They were trying to sell us all sorts of little artefacts, bookmarks, postcards etc. The worrying thing was, if you said no to them, they appeared to get quite hostile and I'm sure one of them spat at me as I walked away. We later learned that the only sure way to get rid of these boys (for they were mostly boys rather than girls) was to avoid speaking at all to them and not have any eye contact. Unless, that is, you are actually wishing to buy something! We didn't have any cash with us so it was pointless.

Our journey to the Valley of the Kings was through the "Mountinyuss" (our tour guide's pronunciation, which we adopted for the duration of our holiday from then on in!) area of the West Bank of the Nile.  We had already been told that no cameras were allowed in the tombs so we just left them on the coach for the trip down. We had to take a special open-air train to get down from the coach park to the entrance to the tombs. Once there, after a brief introduction to them by our guide, we were allowed free entry to a maximum of 3 tombs. The ones we were assigned were of King Rameses III, Rameses I and Rameses IX. We went down the tomb of Rameses  III first. I couldn't believe how deep down these tombs were - the stairs leading down were so steep, too! The further down you went, the harder it was to breathe. The fact that it was so hot outside didn't help, added to which there were a lot of people visiting the tombs that day. Even so, you'd think the ancient Egyptians would have incorporated air conditioning when they built the tombs, wouldn't you? The paintings that adorned the walls of each corridor and antechambers were amazing as works of art and I only wish we could have taken photos.

However, I have found some images that give you an idea of the sort of decoration we saw on the walls, and of the entrance to each of the tombs. The owner of these photos, Su Bayfield, has kindly agreed to let me use them here. Su writes for a blog called egyptsites here.

The photo below shows the burial chamber in the tomb of Rameses IX and how the walls are decorated. You can find out a lot more about all these tombs by reading the blog written by Su Bayfield, it's a fascinating read.

After our visit to the Valley of The Kings, we drove back across to the East bank of the Nile via a road bridge. We made a brief photo stop at the Colossi of Memnon statues just outside Thebes. These are two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Made from blocks of quartzite sandstone, they are all that is left of the memorial temple of Amenhotep III. They are 18 metres high including the stone platforms on which they stand, and are an impressive sight:

Our final stop of the day was to a bazaar in Luxor. For sale were all sorts of souvenirs, including clothing, jewellery, ornaments, furniture etc. The prices, however, were extremely high and we didn't actually buy anything from here. We left Luxor at around 5pm and had a long drive back to the ship - eventually boarding it at 8.30pm. We didn't bother getting changed for dinner this evening and even had the table to ourselves as Dennis and Valerie were eating in The View, and Geoff and Sylvia went to eat in the Lido restaurant. We just had a bowl of soup and a burger each tonight then went to bed soon after since we'd had such a long day!