Going to Asyut via Abydos.. or not..
Yeah! Today is a good day! We are finally leaving Luxor!!
Yes, there are many sights to see around here,and many wonderful people and we have taken our time to visit them, but we have spend too long here. Luxor is really not that nice a town.
We want to head for the Western desert. First stop Al Kargha. Anna has been really looking forward to exploring the desert and its smaller sites. Unfortunately Egypt is again making it difficult for the independent travelers. There is a perfectly good road between Luxor and Kargha, but apparently there is no public transport between the two towns. (we tried yesterday, and got nowhere..) So we are now forced to travel by train all the way back north to Asyut (6 hours) and then take a bus from there (another 4 hours). The way we travel it will be a two day thing anyway, so we decide to stop along the way to visit Abydos. Tourist info at Luxor assured us it will not be a problem to get an evening train from Al Balyana (the town next to Abydos) onto Asyut. A long day in any case.
Early start to catch the 8.45 train. By now we have given up on buying a ticket beforehand, as they have always refused to sell us some at the stations. Instead we find a place in second class and wait for the ticket inspector. He shows up immediately and charges us 52LE from Luxor to Al Balyana. Pricey as we paid only 60 to go from Sohag to Luxor before and that is further, but arguing is futile in Egypt.
The train cruises along and three hours later we arrive after covering 145 kilometers.
We are traveling with all our luggage today, and do not want to take it along to the site if we can help it. Luckily the station master is kind enough to store it in his room during the day as long as we are back before 18.00.
Walking out of the station we are again confronted with life in fairly small town Egypt. Cars, dust, stench, horns. It is LOUD! We still need breakfast, so brave the streets to find a feed. After a few hundred meters we are already developing headaches from the noise, so opt for a street further back for hopefully a quieter cafe. We run into a group of kids, waving and yelling out “hello”. We greet them, but they for some unknown reason start throwing rocks at us. Not this again! Why is Egypt like this? We are not doing anything wrong as far as we know. We are trying to be friendly to these children, but all we get back is insults and rocks flying past. To make thing even worse, these kids knew how to aim, and we got hit quiet a few times. Not just stones either, but tomatoes and oranges..
The bus/taxi/tuktuk station is right in front of us, so we dive into a tuktuk to escape. 10LE to the site of Abydos. Good price, but now we are in a horrible mood and still hungry as we have not been able to get some food. The tuktuk guys are nice though, and seem genuinely worried about Andrew. A rock hit him right above his eye. Not in his eye tough, and it all cleared up during the drive out.
Abydos is about 10 kilometers away from Al Balyana and if we were in a better mood, it would have been a nice drive. Once we made it out of Balyana the road gets quieter and there are more donkey carts then cars. Small houses along the way, some still made out of mud and the occasional cow tied up out the front.
Arriving at Abydos we walk over to a little cafe before the entrance. A tea to sit down in peace and relax. Then onto the main site, Abydos.
Abydos was the main cult center of the God Osiris, God of the dead. One of the most important places in ancient Egypt and the favorite place to get buried. It was used as a necropolis for more than 4500 years. Although there are no tombs to visit here, it is all about the temple of Seti I.
The story goes : Osiris was married to Isis but had to leave her for a while to travel the lands. He left her in charge together with his brother. Upon returning, his brother had come up with a plan to kill him, as he had fallen in love with Isis. He tricked Osiris into climbing in a box and then locked him in and dumped the box in the river.
The box ended up in Syria and a tree grew up magically around it. The king of Syria had this magic tree felled to make a pillar for his castle, not knowing that Osiris in his box was stuck in the trunk.
Isis in the meantime was desperately searching for her husband and eventually found him and brought him back to Egypt. His brother still wanted him dead though, and this time he chopped Osiris in little pieces and threw them all over the country. Isis went out to find all the bits and temples were built at the sites of the bodyparts. Abydos was the most important one, as the head was here. Isis put her husband back together (all except his penis, as this landed in the river and got eaten by a fish).
Still she managed to get pregnant by her dead, penis-less husband with a bit of magic and gave birth to Horus. The temple features all three gods a lot.
The temple of Seti I is the one of the most complete temples in Egypt. Built out of limestone it is truly stunning. Seti I was in power after the whole Armana/Anhkhaten period and he took Egypt back to the good old days. The temple decorations and the carving in particular were the best during his reign. And in Abydos he covered every inch of the walls in amazingly detailed carvings. It is gorgeous!
Unfortunately the temple is not very well lit up inside and it is sometimes hard to make it all out. We are allowed to use a torch, but no flash photography. Not sure why, as in most places there is not much left of the coloured paints.
In some bits it does still survive though and it is really vivid. Reds, yellows and blues. Lots of little birds flying around and nesting inside the temple. They have tried to block the temple off from the birds, but the gaps only stop the pigeons from entering.
The first courtyards are not in the greatest condition. They were added on by Seti’s son Ramses II, so again we get the battle scenes and the crushing of the enemies. They seem to be Ramses’s favorite topics. On entering the temple proper, you are immediately struck by the difference in styles between father and son. The temple depicts almost solely ceremonial scenes and the work is so much finer. It leaves you to wonder why Ramses did not continue in this style. I guess he was more into quantity than quality.
We wander in different halls and rooms in awe of Seti and with growling stomachs. In the back there are a lot of different rooms and shrines. In stark contrast to the earlier rooms there is a lot more colour. There has also been extensive restoration work done as well. This gives the colours a shiny, glossy surface, we think to protect against people constantly touching the heiroglyphs.
In a last corridor we finally come across the famous kings list. It lists Ramses II and all the Pharaohs before, except off course the ones Seti did not approve off like the once from the Armana period. These lists were extremely valuable for Egyptologists in the past.
After this is a bit more of Ramses’s add ons and then outside to the Osireion. This is a controversial structure behind the main temple. Archeologists accidentally discovered it while excavation the temple of Seti. Mostly it is regarded as a Old Kingdom structure and some people credit it also to Seti. But there are different theories. The structure is unlike anything Seti build. It is made of big granite blocks and mostly undecorated. Seti definitely added some of his, but we like the theory that the Osireion is much older. The building is set much lower and if Seti had built it, he would have build a temple in a hole. The roof level is level with the base of the main temple.
One theory is that is was build on then normal ground level and disappeared under the earth by a multitude of Nile floodings, depositing layers of ground on top. This would make the Osireion more then 10.000 years old. (Same age as some say the Sphinx could be) Off course this is controversial in a Muslim country that believes the whole world is only about 6000 years old.
None the less, it is quite an impressive building in it’s simplicity. Unfortunately we could not go down into it, as the stairway was blocked for with barbed wire. A local man informed us that the water visible from above was at least one meter deep. For this he wanted baksheesh. We know it is common practice in Egypt, but we do not pay to be followed and then supplied with useless info. Unfortunately this meant we were now not even allowed to walk around the top of the Osireion. Anywhere we wanted to walk, this man shouted at us that it was not allowed.
We decided to get away from his yelling and head for the next bit : The temple of Ramses. This is a little walk further into the site. This temple is not in a good condition as almost everything above about a meter and a halve from the ground is gone. Still it is worth visiting. Again it is the standard Ramses II style. Impressive but not very artistic. Although this must be some of his best work as there is some very detailed bass relief carvings. The statues have not survived well, but the paintings are stunning in their co lour. These are constantly exposed to daylight and all the natural elements, but are still vivid and beautiful. The paint is actually holding up much much better than in the main temple. As this structure mostly is without a roof, this seems to be the domain of the local pigeons.
By now it is almost 17.00 and the site is about to close. Another tea at the same tea house and a taxi back to Balyana train station. Again we agreed 10LE, but on arrival we had to get firm the the driver, as he refused to give us change out of a twenty. And he didn’t even take us all the way. That was impossible anyway, as Al Balyana’s main street had once again turned into a traffic jam with stand still traffic and constant horn blaring.
We quickly stocked up on some chocolate bars and went to get our luggage back. The station master was very helpful, but had disappointing news. There would not be a train until 22.30 to Asyut. (Except if we wanted to go by no-class train. Better know as sardine class for how squeezed together you travel. This was not an option as Anna was grabbed enough again today and is refusing to spend three hours in such close company with sleazy Egyptian men. Not sure if we mentioned the loose handed men before, but it is an issue in this country.) That meant waiting all night and at best arriving in Asyut at 1.30 in the morning, if the train was running on time. Or catch a train back to Luxor… the last place we want to go.
Well, we didn’t feel like we had much of a choice, and at arriving back in Luxor at 21.00 we found the train for Asyut only just leaving. (That means it would arrive in Balyana at about 24.00 and would have gotten us to Asyut at about 3.00) Not happy to be back in Luxor, but relieved we did not take the other option. Back to the same hotel where they were surprised, but happy to see us again.
P.S. : We have decided to leave Egypt. This country is not geared for our way of travel, and we are just not having much fun. The sites are beautiful, but we are not free to travel our way to smaller towns or countryside. Well, we are actually free to do so at the moment, because of the revolution and the police is not organized or on strike, but we are just not welcome by the local population. We like to think and believe, that is is only a minority that does not want us there, but these are enough to spoil our experience. We do not want to be yelled at, groped, thrown rocks at etc, when all we are doing is trying to see something of this beautiful country. We understand that things are not running perfectly now and that some towns are not used to tourists, but we always visit small towns in other countries without any problems. People may be curious or stare a bit, but we have never come across this kind of hostility anywhere else. We are told this is because the system has now broken down and people feel free to do what they have never before been able to get away with. But we don’t understand why that has to be negative and violent. Use the freedom you have gained for something more fun.
We knew full well that this is not an easy time for Egypt and are not expecting everything to be working perfectly. We chose to come at a time when tourism is down because on one side it is quite at the famous sites and on the other hand we like to support Egypt while they are going through he process of finding their new government. But we are leaving feeling that this negativity is part of the Egyptian mentality at the moment and not so much because of the revolution.
We are sorry to leave Egypt. We have met some amazing people and it feels wrong to leave on such a bad foot. Maybe one day we can return when Egypt has become a happy and open country. Right now it doesn’t suit us.
Thanks you to all the Ahmed’s, Ali’s and other wonderful Egyptians. Thank you to the friendly expats and other tourists. Thanks for the beautiful sites.
But thank God/Allah that we can leave.