Disembarking the felucca a minibus greets us on the side of the Nile road to take us another 4hrs north to the town of what is now known as Luxor and what was once known as Thebes. One of the most important sites of the pharaohs, Thebes was the main power between 1550 to 1069BC where most of the pharaohs made their home and controlled the region. Today, Luxor remains a dry and dusty town situated on both the West and East banks of the Nile and is a must see for mainly three important sites. The Valley of the Kings, The Valley of the Queens and Karnak.
So we arrive around midday a little weary on what was a cold night on the felucca and a longish early bus ride. Entering the city from the south, it spreads along the Corniche with connections to both sides by ferry. Beautifully adorned horse and cart clip-clop around the town taking the few tourists along the Nile, to the Souk the city temples and the like. They all hola out for our business, they need it, but sadly we cant do everything. Across the road from our hotel is a small fair with dodgem cars, a whirling lady like a Sufi with little chairs for passengers and a few games. The screams of kids from midday to night cut through the air to where we are sleeping before the inconsistent power cuts our lights out. We walk along the promenade at dusk with Michael and Heidi, grabbing some food which overlooks the central square with electric toy cars for the kids, grass patches where people cool down and relax after a hot bustling day. Overlooking the city from the roof top of our hotel, half finished brown brick residential apartments are adorned with sate-lights and home hooked washing lines. On sunset the call to prayer penetrates the city air calling out from the many minarets of the mosques. No matter what your religion or non religion, this time of night always takes on a magically quality. But we are here for a reason. To see what was once called the Gates of the Kings and the Palace of Truth but now known as The Valley of the Kings. This is where the pharaohs tombs lay, the resting place for transference to the after life which was considered a far more important destination then the current world. Over 60 tombs have been excavated where they have been cut out of the barren Al-Qurn mountain.
We travel here early in the morning through the dusty mountains to the entrance of the valley where two sphinx hover over you like something out of the Neverending Story. In the background are the limestone mountains and the tombs. But instead of taking the bus, we are traveling by donkey. We are ushered over to where 12 little donkeys that look fairly well feed are waiting with saddles. These donkeys belong to local families to which our funds are helping them survive through the tough climate. A teenage boy tries to sell me postcards, “La Shukrum” I say over and over again until he realises that I am heading over to the donkeys. “Ahhh are you traveling on donkey?” he asks. “I am.” I say. “Oh..I own a donkey! He is black and his name is Casanova!! You should pick him because he is very strong and fast.” I laugh…”Well I better pick him” I say. A bedouin man helps me on to my middle sized white donkey and off we all trot. The boys in front and the girls behind to which we pass green farming ground on a small track, a few locals and small houses before exiting on the main road in front of the mountains. Departing off our donkey, Murray tells me he is kicked in the leg by a feisty one, but other than that we all leave unscathed.
We enter the site of the valley, where the sun shining off the limestone even creates glare through your sunglasses. Here only a portion of the tombs are open to the public and they are continually finding more and more through a maze of dug out tunnel networks under the ground. We enter Ramses VI’s tombs where a long dark tunnel creeps deeper into the mountain range. Inside hieroglyphics and images adorn the walls and ceilings, the colours so intense and well preserved like shade of blues, greens, reds and yellows. The carvings and the pain detail is incredible giving you some idea of how impressive other external facing sites such as Abu Simbel or the Pyramids would have looked in full colour. The deeper you go the warmer it gets until you end up at the tomb, where the sarcophagus was found along with all the treasures the pharaohs would have been buried with. The extreme wealth of this ancient civilisation is mind blowing. We enter another two tombs again astounded by the detail and colour. The most recent and well preserved of the Pharaohs although not the greatest is Tutankhamun where all the gold and the mummy itself is preserved in the Egyptian Museum we visited outside of Cairo.
Next is a visit to Karnak in the late afternoon. This site is a vast complex of extraordinary temples, pylons, obelisks and sanctuaries. The Lonely Planet referees to it as one of the most incredible sites in the country, so we decide we better check it out. And the site is fairly impressive which showcases the power and prestige of the pharaohs at over 2 square kms in size. The temples were considered the most important site in all of Egypt where ceremonies were held and gods were worshiped. We are told my Mohammed that the site was flooded many times to which the water level of the nile creeped over 10 meters up the towering pillars representing the north and south of Egypt by flowers. After a few hours of walking the site its dusk and we are transported to the Nile to which we cross on boat to the east bank for dinner. We all sit on the rooftop overlooking the city and the Nile and tucker in to a banquet of dips, tarjine meat, fried eggplant and more. Delicious.
We are headed back to Cairo by night train and this time it is working and on schedule. We rock up at 10.30pm at the small station and board our small carriage with two pull down beds, small basin and either a Turkish or Russian host that makes our beds, brings us dinner and breakfast. Apparently the trains are near 100 years old and brought over by the French and Spanish but they still run today. Its the most comfortable and simplistic way of being transported from the north to south of Egypt by the nile and a better option then taking the slow bus over a million pot holes. Although comfortable I get little sleep being woken by harsh jerks while the train is pulling into stations, powerful enough to through you out of bed or spill the coffee. But 12hrs later we arrive on the outskirts of Cairo in the early morning and its going to be a big day. Clear skies mean that the pyramids are viewable and this is where we are headed.