Attempt on Beni Hassan – Again
Walk, Ferry, Tuktuk
The place itself
Tuktuk, Ferry, Walk
How to get back to Mallawi?
With everything going well yesterday, we thought we would try and get out to Beni Hassan again today. Who knows? Maybe we will have better luck from Mallawi instead of Minya.
We have it written down in Arabic (although we have met many people here that cannot read Arabic, even the taxi drivers) and a bit of help from the guy at the front desk of the hotel. We grabbed a minibus heading north and checked if they were going to the town we wanted. They were, so we jumped in. The ride back north was not too bad, and they took care over the many speed bumps. You could go as far as saying it was comfortable. At town, we decided to walk to the ferry. How hard can it be? From the canal it is about 3-400 meters to the Nile, and we should be able to find it without worries. Walking through town was fine, we stopped off at a bakery and picked up some doughy pizza’s for breakfast. Looking for a place to eat them was a bit harder. We wanted to get away from the traffic a bit and the dust the cars kick up, but as we progressed out of town it tuned into a garbage dump. Complete with dead cat untouched by the side of the road. We have stopped counting dead cats. However this ended as we crossed a smaller canal where it was all pushed into.
Most of the people were happy to see us there. The tuktuk drivers were a bit frustrated that we were walking rather than taking their tuktuks, but the old men were fine. As we passed through the other end of town we collected some kids. With the standard “Hello’s” yelled out to us every 5 seconds followed by “What’s your name?” In good spirits we started off by replying, but after the 50th time from the same kids it gets a bit repetitive. This coupled by the fact they would not leave us alone made us a bit uncomfortable. When they started throwing stones, we gave up on our walk and grabbed the next tuktuk to take us to the ferry landing. This was quite relaxing, and well worth the 2 pounds. It was going to be 10, but a quick laugh and giving him two was fine. The other good thing about it is that the ferry is a long way out of town!
We were not sure where to sit, so we sat on the edge of the ferry. After loading a few more people and a bike or two, we set out. The ferry may be an old rust bucket, but it was fairly fast. Our ticket man came around and I had been told it was 1 pound each, so gave him 2 pounds. He gave one back! An honest person in Egypt! A real rarity. A few minutes later he gave us another 1/2pound. Apparently the ride is only 25c each! Pulling up on the other bank we got out and grabbed a tuktuk. The site is about 14km from here, and we negotiated this tuktuk down to 5. A minute or two later we were past the few houses on this side and cruising along the bottom of the hills on the east bank. Cream cliffs on one side and lush farmland on the other. Way too soon the driver stopped and asked for his five pounds. We said when we got there. His response was that we were there! There was nothing here. A few steps and a sign pointing to another site 4km away. This cannot be it. A bit of confusion on our side, thinking we had not explained well enough where we wanted to go. He was right. Of course. This was the place, and when we got out we saw the sign he should have pointed to. This one clearly said to go up the steps to Beni Hassan. Apologising to the driver, we paid him and set out. It is (understandably) sad that we treat taxis (and buses and tuktuks) with such suspicion. There are good ones out there. Occasionally!
Going up the steps we came to the ticket office, and got our tickets. Picking up two armed police and two others on the way.
The site Beni Hassan is named after the tribe that used to live here. Apparently they were all murdered by Mohammed Ali, and the remains of the village are still visible today just down the hill. The tombs are 11th & 12th Dynasty from the Middle Kingdom, and the rulers of the 16th Nome (district) of Upper Egypt. With a total of 39 tombs in the site. Unluckily for us, you can only visit four at the moment. And again we cannot take pictures inside. (we have stolen a few from online. if you search for it you can see better pictures than we can take anyway. Some of the other tombs are also very impressive. More so than the ones we were allowed to visit!)
We visited the tombs of Amenemhat, Khnem-Hotep II, Bakht III and Khety. Some of the exterior courtyards still remained, with the occasional one still having its pillars. Due to the exposed nature outside most of this is worn. The deep engravings are still clearly visible though. On entering the chambers we were surprised to see that there was not that much carved inside. Mostly it was painted onto plaster work. The inside columns appear to be carved directly from the stone cliffs, and inside one, there was a broken pillar that had its top half still connected to the roof, even though the bottom was nowhere to be seen. The murals in all of the tombs were fairly similar, and the older tombs were the most detailed. The newer ones had the same layouts and motifs, but were cruder and lacked the fineness of their forebears.
Most of the back walls were taken up with scenes of wrestling with hundreds of poses shown. Below these in the last quarter of the wall were the military accomplishments of the person buried there. The side walls where what they did in life, and the offerings they had made. Entertainment scenes and funerary scenes. Hunting was also apparently a popular motif.
Each tomb had to be unlocked for us,and the lights switched on. After the first tomb, we lost two of the people. Leaving only one guard and the caretaker. This was fine by us,and they gave us as much time as we wanted studying the walls and looking around. The caretaker did stay inside though, which put a damper on our guerilla photography.
The tombs are about a quarter of the way up the cliffs, and after we finished the last one, we took a minute to soak in the view. It is spectacular. There was hardly any haze, and you can see the fields leading to the Nile, the river, and the green on the other side. We would have liked to sit here to eat lunch, but as we still had two people following us, we made our way back down the hill to eat it in the shade.
After this we had to get home. We wanted to walk back to the ferry,as it is not too far from here, and a lot closer than the guide book had led us to believe (our lonely planet is not only confusing, it is downright wrong in sections). This was not acceptable to the two new guards that were now hanging around at the base of the stairs. When we said we didn’t want a tuktuk, they thought it was due to the price, and wanted to send for someone to pick us up with his own bike. Not wanting to put them out, we submitted and took the next tuktuk back to the ferry.
This ferry was the larger vehicle ferry, and as we boarded, we again noticed the complete segregation between male and female passengers. Again we took the middle ground. When the ticket guy came around this time, he wanted to charge us 5 pounds each and give us a ticket. The tickets were for the cars and not the people. Saying this, and that we were willing to pay the passenger price only, he left us alone. We had expected him to come back, but he never re-appeared. Back on the other side, we took a relaxing walk back to town.
It was a long way, but should be peaceful. If you ignore every tuktuk and car stopping to make sure we didn’t want a lift, or if we were ok. the private cars making sure we are fine is great, and we do appreciate it, however isn’t there a universal way to catch a paid ride? You flag one down when you want one, clime in and set the destination. Maybe even confirm the price when you get ones without meters, as is the case here. Apparently these people think that we are so backwards that we are incapable of understanding this system, and want to make sure we get the lift we are crying out for. Stopping along the way to have a good look at the wheat being grown. Nice and green with good heads on top. We took a break here, but a car came along and told us we could not sit there! We still do not, and probably will never understand these people.
To cut a long walk short, we made it back to town with no real hassles. When we got back at the main road, school seemed to be out and everyone was knocking off work. It was chaos. The noise and cars were extreme. Every bus, taxi and van was filled to overflowing. People on roofs, traffic honking their horns when there was no possible way to move an inch. The traffic at this time is much worse than Cairo, and the quiet country towns are definitely not quiet! If you want quiet, curl up inside a speaker system in a nightclub, or save yourself the trouble and just rupture your eardrums. Both are still better than this.
Finding a person by a bus that was not quite full we asked if it was going to Mallawi. It wasn’t, but he wouldn’t rest until he got us safely on our way. After trying a few different vehicles, we just wanted to get away from the circus that is a T intersection at this time of day. Saying that we would just find a coffee shop away from it all until the worst was over. He knew what we were talking about, but gave it one last try for us. Flagging down a private car (walking in front of it and forcing it to stop!) This car was going past Mallawi, and would give us a lift. It was Fantastic! The guy spoke no English, we spoke no Arabic, but he was happy to drive along in blissful silence, without trying to make awkward conversation. One of the best and fastest trips we have had in ages due to his lead foot! We wanted to express our thanks at the end, and offered him a bit of money for petrol, but he would have none of it. Again, another brilliant person in Egypt. We want to hate the place, but when you meet people this good…?