Sunday, January 6, 2013

Luxor and Valley of the Kings

By dawn, the landscape had changed dramatically to sugar plantations - one of the main industries in these parts.
Off the sleeper train a little later than scheduled at around eight o'clock it was a much more pleasant and quicker drive through downtown Luxor to our hotel. Most of the hotels are on the east bank of the Nile, as was ours, and we were able to check in early. That provided much needed shower & napping facilities.  The rest of the day was free-time that was spent by the pool, looking out over the Nile, reading and walking around parts of Luxor.  With tourism so lean, the vendors were their usual pushy selves but easy enough to get past - so long as you didn't utter so much as a syllable to them.

It wasn't much of a walk to get to open fields and donkeys from the hustle of the main hotel district.
The optional trip that night, that everyone went on, was to view Luxor Temple all lit up.  We spent a good hour wandering around and the yellow light really did well for the temple and its sandstone - it was quite a sight.  As always, the history behind the columns, statues, colossus, multiple sphinxes (there were so many, they formed an avenue - in the past stretching all the way to Karnak), carvings and other artwork was transfixing.

Four of the group opted for the super-early wake-up call to go ballooning over the Valley of the Kings.  The rest of us only had to get up at six to breakfast and then cross over the Nile again to drive through the sugar plantations (with their own narrow gauge railway spreading throughout) to meet the ballooners.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly visiting Valley of the Kings.  A barren valley on the west bank of the Nile (burial sites were in the west as that was where sun god Ra went to sleep each day), I could easily see why dig season is only winter - the summer heat and lack of shade must be something horrendous with all that rock around.  The kings started having their tombs hidden in this valley after the pyramids were obviously too easy a target for grave robbers.  So far, sixty-three tombs have been found and three of the ones I went in stretched well into & under the hillside - staggering to think of the effort that went in with only hammer & chisel (the same goes for almost all of the sites we saw).  Out of the elements, a lot of the funerary and mythology works are well preserved and easily hold one's attention as the tunnels stretch steeply further and further down to the tomb.  Unfortunately, no photos in here.

Back to the logic of probably never coming back, I paid the extra to see Tutankhanum's tomb - only discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter.  As the king died so young (in his late teens), his tomb is very small compared to many of the others - but plenty of possessions to take with him to the afterlife still managed to fit in there.  The sarcophagus and mummified remains are still there, but most of the rest is in the Egyptian Museum.

The many colonnades of Queen Hatshepsut's temple got more and more impressive as we walked closer to it (it's not far from the Valley of the Kings) - still plenty of statues to see there too.

Back in Luxor, the last temple of the day (east bank) was Karnak - which is a huge complex, where you enter under the watchful eyes of these rather curious ram-headed sphinxes.

The most impressive part of the complex, I thought, was the Hypostyle Hall in the Precinct of Amun-Re of over five thousand square metres with one hundred and thirty-four massive sandstone pillars - mostly elaborately carved.  Most are ten metres tall, while some are twenty-one metres tall with a diameter of over three metres.  The underside of the caps of the pillars still have some of the original colour on them, so that was interesting to see and try to extrapolate and think what the whole complex would have looked like when it was recently completed.

The huge single-piece obelisks are also worth beholding.

It was back on the sleeper train for the night back to Cairo and a far more hectic pace - although arriving on Friday, it would be the weekend and a little quieter.

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