We want to walk.
We wanted an easy day today. Just a quiet stroll around town. See what there is to do, and not stress too much. Luxor is sort of the right place to do this. It is a city used to tourists, and the only thing we had to be mindful of are the touts.
On exiting the hotel and making it to one of the main streets, we could see the railway station at one end and Luxor Temple at the other. We started wandering down to the temple. Almost instantly the cries of “Hello – You want Taxi? (insert horse drawn carriage, donkey, piggyback etc here)” Followed by “Hello Rasta – You want some Hash!” This last was never posed as a question. It was as frequent as in Marrakesh, and considering the strong Anti-Drug laws in the country, somewhat surprising.
Still, most of the time we could get away with a hello or nod in return. The street was fairly busy, and there are many shops and stalls along it, however the footpaths are clear for metres at a time. On arriving at the big square at the temple, there were all sorts of stalls set out, selling nuts, cigarettes, tea and renting little bikes for children. It has almost a carnival air to it. In a laid back way.
We didn’t want to do Luxor temple just yet, and were content to walk around it to get to the Nile on the other side. Here the carriage drivers were a bit more insistent with their approaches, and at times it was very hard to shake people off. Everyone wanted promises that if we did not do a ride with them now, we would promise to do so this afternoon, or tomorrow. Walking was not acceptable. Making it to the far side, we then started getting offers for Taxi rides on the West Bank, or Fallukas to take us up and down the Nile.
The stretch of land between the temple and Nile is completely filled with these people. There are masses of small motorboats moored on the bank, with large luxury cruise ships flanking them on either side. We did pass the main ferry that would take you over to the other side for a pound each, and marked it on our mental maps for later.
Walking along the road above the Nile, we passed the museum, and then the area opened up a bit with a boulavard that made for a pleasant stroll along the river. There were even seats occasionally where you could sit, relax and soak in the view of the river with a thin line of green trees and the sandy yellow mountains rising up behind. The mountains provide a stunning vista with sheer cliffs and rocky outcrops. There was hardly any haze today so it was quite clear. The boulevard finished, but by now we were past the main tourist drop off points, and could walk without hassle along the road. We had decided to head north today, and in this way we made it to Karnak Temple.
Having not planned on doing much today, but finding ourselves there, we thought Why not? Paying the entrance fee (65LE each) and waving off the guide. When we were asked why we didn’t want him to guide us. We told him that the tickets were too expensive. “Its not expensive you pay more than that where you come from!” Yes. The Australian National Museum charges a fortune for specific high profile exhibitions (Not sure how much, but probably around $10) but the museum itself is free. The same with most other sites in Oz (except WA. It is $10 to see a beach there!) This coupled with the notion that Egyptian average wage is anywhere between 500 and 1500LE a month… Oh wait, they don’t pay entrance fees. It is only the rich tourists that do. This went straight over his head, and we moved on. I don’t want to bitch about it any more, but why isn’t there a Luxor Card. Even the French have come to grips with that idea with the Paris Museum Card.
O.K. We will not write that much about the temple. Now was the time to visit though. There were a fair few people there, but a lot of these disappeared quickly. We were happy to be their ourselves and not on a tour, as it took us 10 minutes to get past the entrance photos during the old excavations. Then the Avenue of the Sphinxes. The Sphinxes here are in pretty good condition (or restored) and on a few you can see the rams heads in their glory, looking out onto one another and down on the passers by. This small section of the Avenue lead directly to the First Pylon, or, by another name the Bloody big entrance gate. Large niches for the flags, now bare and foreboding. Just inside you start to see the wonder of the temple. The area covers 2 sq km and the main structure, the temple of Amun, is the largest religious building ever built. It was the most important place of worship in the New Kingdom and was built onto and restored for over nearly 1500 years.
Standing in the Great Court after the first pylon. To the left are the chapels of Amun, his wife Mut and their son Khonsu. Checking these out, we took a while trying to interpret what is carved onto the walls. This is a bit of fun, especially if you do not take it too seriously. We saw many gods holding pipes, and looking at how the artist was hallucinating, we thought they must be peace pipes. They were probably incense burners, but hay, with the amount of weed apparently in the city, I would not be surprised if everyone back then were stoned off their heads as well. People nowadays just chip off some of the rock to smoke! Sneaking around the back of the three small rooms we got a good view of more sphinxes and the colossal pillars. Most are closed up in one fashion while the rest are blooming. Not sure if the closed one is Papyrus, and the open Lotus, or the other way around. Either way they represent upper and lower Egypt. They really are massive. The back wall was impressive as well.
In front of the second pylon are two great granite statues of (of course) Ramses II.
Then the Great Hypostyle hall with 134 papyrus shaped stone pillars. Stunning. We could walk you all through the complex, but will spare you the boring details. Needless to say it was fantastic. Especially as we could take our time. We had not hit the 2nd pylon before the tour group that came in with us had departed! As we travelled through time, there were less and less people there, and by the end we had almost the whole complex to ourselves.
The best part was when we were in the temple of Khonsu, a small complex off to the side under renovation. Here we thought we had picked up a guide. He was very insistent, and we were almost rude in saying back off. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and took us back past the renovations, and unlocked a side room. We were allowed into this small dark room for about 30 seconds. There was a bit of illumination from the doorway (not much as this only lead to another dark room) and a tiny hole in the roof.
It was stunning. The colours and decorations were superb. I don’t care if they are original or reconstructed, as the place was whitewashed with garish reds, yellows blues and greens. It was a true indicator of the kitschy colour sceme. We tried to imagine what this entire complex would have looked like if every inch was decorated in this way. You wouldn’t need much light, as it would hurt your eyes. Thanking him and feeling like complete heals, we headed out. Our day at Karnak well and truly completed.
It is one of the best days we have had in Egypt, with another high light of taking the back streets to the hotel and sitting there talking to the falafel guy that had just sold us two of the best sandwiches we have eaten here as well.
the day was just what we needed.