Time to give Egypt another chance…We were on to the city of Luxor.
Leaving Cairo behind, we had a colorful train ride sharing a car with a few Egyptians and a mother and son duo from China. Getting any sleep on this journy proved futile, as the conditions of the train, were, well, take a look. Yes, this is often the brutal reality, the sleepless nights of a budget traveler.
In Luxor we were anxious to discover the once capital of Egypt under the rule of the great Egyptian Pharaohs. Today it’s said to be an open air museum of Egypt’s Golden Age, and we had a long list of sites we were excited to check out while discovering the desert oasis built along the palm-fringed Nile.
Arriving in Luxor, we got a far different welcome. While Western culture seems to be making its way to the streets of Cairo, in Luxor, this is how we were greeted.
Temple of Karnak
Our first stop in Luxor was a visit to the Temple of Karnak, a city of temples just north of Luxor covering almost a mile by two miles in area. A little old man standing out front of the temple promised he held all the hidden secrets to the ancient temples so we hired him as our dutiful guide. Winding through the 25 temples and chapels we passed sanctuaries, obelisks and shrines covered in hieroglyphs, telling the stories of the ancient Pharaohs. Awestruck, we walked through the Hypostyle hall, which turns out to be the largest room of any religious building in the world. Watching the morning light fill up the hall of 134 columns, we began to imagine the grandeur of these temples thousands of years ago.
We learned that approximately 30 pharaohs contributed to the buildings over thousand of years, enabling it to reach the complexity and diversity not seen elsewhere. The sheer size and number of temples makes this one of the most impressive religious sites we’ve seen to date.
Valley of the Kings
Facing the 115 degree temperatures, we headed out to the West Bank of the Nile to the Valley of the Kings. Among the rugged, arid landscape of the mountainous terrain some of Egypt’s most important rulers were buried here in tombs that were elaborate undertakings. Most of the tombs were buried deep into the earth, hidden in the limestone mountains.
Pictured above is what the scene looks like, but it’s what you find inside the mountainside that makes the valley so remarkable. Entering through the doors, it’s like you’re walking inside a mountain to a hidden world. Here we found the walls covered in colorful frescoes and hieroglyphs, depicting the life of the Pharaohs buried there. Each of the tombs contained three corridors, with the final room the location of the tomb of the Pharaoh.
While the iconic pyramids have come to symbolize Egypt, it was here at the Valley of the Kings we got a real picture of ancient Egypt.
Traveling the Nile River by Felucca
We were bombarded with touts to take a felucca ride the moment we stepped off our train, and this was one experience we’re glad we didn’t miss. A felucca is traditional Nile sailing boat that has been the main mode of transport on the Nile since the days of the Pharaohs. The felucca doesn’t have any form of engine and relies entirely on the wind. The sails are seriously low-tech, made of native cotton and other natural fibres.
We embarked on our own felucca ride at sunset on our last night in Luxor. What we weren’t told upon boarding this traditional ship was that the wind, which builds during the day, usually subsides dramatically at night. There was only a gentle breeze, which didn’t turnout to be quite enough to carry us very far down the river. Quite a memorable experience, however, was docking up our boat on the shores of the Nile, enjoying a hot cup of mint tea while watching the sun set behind the swelling dunes and feluccuas in the distance. This was the Egypt we were searching for.