When you think of Egypt you tend to think of the pyramids and therefore Cairo, and yet in many ways it is Luxor that contains its crown jewels.
Luxor surprised me. I’d imagined a place entirely reliant upon tourism, but it is a city which has a tourism industry but is not run by it. Sure there’s a fair bit of hassle, but it’s a busy place and easy to get lost in the crowds of people going about their everyday lives.
Upon arrival I met Benny, from Germany, who is also heading to Sudan. We wandered along the East bank and visited the temple of Karnak. It’s a huge complex, with plenty to see, however, I’d be lying if I said that I was as taken with it as the guide books. Sure the sheer size of the place is impressive and some individual bits are interesting, but it is showing the effects of time and much of it lays in disrepair and requires lots of imagination to work out how it would have looked. Due to the heat, we retired to the hostel for a few hours and then went to the Temple of Luxor in the evening. This was a different beast entirely. Whilst also having various bits, which were not in the greatest of shape, there was something about how it was lit up at night, which made it absolutely magical. The road of sphinxes was great, as were the towering figures, which were remarkable both in size and in their detail. The images on the walls, whilst not as good as at Abu Simbel, were so much more defined with the light shining on them. It was a very special place.
The next day, I set about trying to track down US dollars. It is impossible to use ATMs in Sudan and instead money needs to be exchanged in the country, with U.S. Dollars reigning supreme. I had thought it would be easy, but Benny had found it problematic and given up, deciding to get by on what he had. The problem was that I barely had enough to cover a couple of days. From bank to money exchange I visited but no one would sell me dollars. It soon emerged that it was illegal to sell them to tourists. Great. People say that travelling is an easy life, but in situations like this, it is far from stress free.
Eventually I found a place, which would sell me them. Happily, I went to withdraw money. When I returned, there were lots of people in the building, including police. The owner hastily pushed me out of the door, before I could say anything. Returning, two hours later, they told me that they had just been visited by the central bank and that they could no longer take the risk. I was gutted.
But there is this thing with travelling which teaches you that there is always a solution to any problem. Upon arriving back at the hostel, I met Tom at the reception desk, who was asking the receptionist where he could sell 100 dollars. Money exchanged. I was on my way. The following day, I was up early for a tour and found that someone had paid in dollars and the receptionist gave me another hundred. It wasn’t as much as I was hoping for when I set out the previous day, but along with Egyptian pounds, it would see me at the very least to Khartoum, the capital Sudan, where I would be able to sort out a money transfer if needed.
Buoyed by a change In fortunes, I went on a half day tour of the valley of the dead with Tom and a few others. First up was Medinat Habu Temple, which unlike Karnak, is in fantastic nick. You don’t need an imagination here, you just look. Amongst all of the information our guide was telling us, I was most fixated with the biggest problem the temple faces – pidgins. Because the hieroglyphics are so deep, thousands of pidgins have made their home in the temple and a very British problem has occurred. Namely – how do you get rid of them.
From there we went to the Valley of the Kings, which is not what I though it was. It wasn’t the image I had in my head of a large terraced building, but instead a path up through the rocky mountains with 62 different tombs, each the final resting place for a deceased pharaoh. When a pharaoh was alive, they would begin preparing his tomb. Depending on how long he/she lived depended on how deep the tomb is and indeed how complete the artwork is. We visited four tombs in total. One was just brilliant. The pharaoh did not live for long, so it is full of colour and great images. When you walk around temples in Egypt, you occasionally see a little bit of colour, but most has gone. Hence it was a real surprise to come across a tomb fully coloured.
The other three were deeper and hence, whilst some of the wall art was impressive, much of the walls were either bare, or indeed just covered with sketches, which could easily have been mistaken for an art student messing about. It’s hard to believe that they were not that, but rather preliminary sketches by Egyptian artists.
From the Valley of the Kings, we journeyed to the Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut. This was the image I had, but ironically wasn’t as interesting as the others. It looks good from the outside, and the setting is beautiful with the rocks behind it, however there isn’t a lot to see inside and the images are very faded.
All in all, Luxor was great. A fantastic end to my time in Egypt. All that was left was to return to Aswan for a day and prepare for the ferry crossing to Sudan.