The ancient country of Egypt, with over 5000 years of history dating to 3000bc to when the Pharaohs ruled, and the ways of living were so advanced, Its no surprise that this country has been on my wish list since my history class in year 4 to visit and see where all the stories and legends started.
I decided to go with a group due to the length of travelling within a country which covers 1 million square kms, and is the edge of the Sahara desert. With such a rich and interesting culture I wanted to make sure I got the most out of the trip. History overload, and social overload!
I first flew into Cairo, where I met my wonderful Travel Talk group, this is where I got to actually touch the Pyramid of Giza, and learn to belly dance in a boat on the Nile. The 4th day of the trip was BUS time! In fact it was 9 hours of bussing down to Luxor. You can also get a train down much quicker (4 – 5 hours), or a flight will be 1 hour. Surprisingly it went really fast. Yes its very long we did this from 3pm to 12 midnight… Too be honest Heads up on your phone is a god send for one hour, and a TV with The Mummy trilogy playing is a bonus… but still a beautiful sunset while you are driving helps and a few stops with some questionable toilet facilities gives you something to cry/ laugh about. We stopped at 2 petrol stations on the way down, one good, one horrendously basic toilets so if your a little squeamish you may not like it! Make sure you have enough water for the road down. We also sometimes were given a police escort part of the way due to how important the safety of tourists is to Egypt.
Luxor – The Greatest Museum on Earth
We stayed in the Steigenberger Nile Palace Luxor Hotel, very close to the Luxor Temple on the Nile River edge, the breakfast is the best, so is the room service after 5 days of Falafels a Margerita pizza was needed! The pool is looking over the Nile River, with flowers all round, boats sailing up and down, but so peaceful. Unlike the opposite side of the hotel, with an irish pub 2 minutes away, the main road with horse drawn carts, motorbikes and cars.
A few of the main attractions in Luxor….
Valley of the Kings – From all the films, and all the history lessons I finally got to go and see some of the best preserved hieroglyphics in the world where Kings of the ancient world were buried for over 500 years. Each tomb would have been started once the king was in power, and wouldn’t normally finish till the burial. Within this penthouse sized mausoleums, there would be rooms within rooms, corridors to secret areas, all holding not just the sarcophagus, but all the treasures, possessions, even pets for the after life. The New Kingdoms dynasties (18th 19th and 20th ) including famous kings such as Ramses II, Tutankhamen, Seti I were all buried here.
One tip is to go later in the day, the morning tour buses arrive around 8 – 10 so by midday the Valley is a lot less busy and therefore not as busy tombs for those in awe moments you can enjoy without the crowds . Its hottest between 11 and 3 so cover up with a hat and remember the sun cream. Luckily the tombs are not as hot and a shade heaven between walking to each one.
There are 62 known Tombs you can visit, but there are even more which have been found and still being excavated, the ticket at 300EP will allow entry to any 3 tombs you wish, apart from the KV5 tomb which is an extra 1000EP due to the length and size of it which is home to quite a few of Ramses II children, and ofcourse the famous Tutankhamen tomb and extra 250EP , the most famous of them all for its priceless treasures within and the intact mummy of the 21 year old King. I just have one question why even come if you don’t visit this tomb … you haven’t been to Valley of Kings unless you go to the King Tut tomb, its one of the smallest but still a pinch me moment! Discovered by Howard Carter a British Archeologists in 19, the main reason for its world wide legend slot is the fact it hadn’t been robbed unlike a lot of the other tombs, and therefore had treasure not for wealth but for knowledge.
The other tombs I was recommended was Ramses II (KV), (KV), and (KV), all amazing in their own ways, but go explore, its walking through history and you wont believe the details and vibrant colours preserved under the ground in this temples of the dead.
Hatchepsut Temple is a 3 tiered temple, carved into the mountain, on the Valley of the Kings road in Upper Egypt. Unlike most temples this was built on order of one of the only female Kings of Egypt, that wasn’t her only titles, she was also the Sister of a King, a Daughter of a King and later Mother of a King, even having the highest honor any woman could have below Queen, Gods Wife of Amun due to the ways of the Egyptians marrying within the family to keep blood lines pure. Here reign was one of the most peaceful and prosperous in Ancient Egypt … YOU GO GIRL!…With that in mind not only was it a temple to worship Osiris, Isis, and the cow God Hathor (goddess of the sky, fertility and love) , but also had a whole floor for trading and markets for food. You could say it was the first ever Mall! She purposely made the temple the biggest and most extravagant at the time so she was remembered through history.
The drive to it was through small villages carved into the mountains, you wouldn’t of even noticed them unless the guide hadn’t pointed them out. From there you get the small driven train to the feet of the stairs ramp through each level, midday was hot!! So that train was a life saver, I even went into the front of it due to know room and the driver wanted to adopt me as he daughter? Anyways when it was first built it would have been surrounded by luscious gardens and lakes leading up to the Temple.
We learnt that temples may be seen as egotistical due to the idea of the Kings showing their power and ego. But it was actually to honor the gods, to preserve the memories of the reigns for eternity. It provided work for farmers during the low seasons, and whatever the stories and myths say they were free men, not slaves. You can see the detail still as you walk round in the Hieroglyphics and carving still noticeable in this beautiful temple, to the columns and archways with lioness and eagle statues greeting you at each level.
Karnak Temple– What can I say, I was speechless! The famous 134 column hall, the tallest remaining Oblix in the world at 29 metres tall, a traditional scarab beetle statue with the myth of walking round it 7 times giving you luck. Did I mention the columns hall? If I did I will mention it again, branded with the royal Kings, standing at 24 metres tall, the Egyptians had thought of everything from light wells bringing light into this room, to writing in hieroglyphics both directions for a symmetrical passage way and entrance. Its breathtaking, you feel like a small beetle going through the passageways in every direction not knowing which way to turn due to so much to see and look at on every wall. I could of spent all day there just taking it all in, however I was melting after an hour!
Karnak was built to worhip the God Aman Ra which was gradually added to and preserved by over 30 different Kings over the ancient periods from the 5th to the Nineteenth Dynasty. Which made it the largest , you just stand in disbelief that these carvings are over 3200 years old, and I felt like I was that little girl again learning all about the Ancient Egyptians. Even before you enter the main area you have to timidly walk down the avenue of ram headed statues thinking at any moment they may come to life. This avenue actually use to be 5 kilometres long, starting at the Karnak temple entrance and processions walking all the way to the smaller but just as grand Luxor Temple.
I highly recommend visiting Luxor Temple at night, away from the heat, the sun, and the crowds. We headed there at around 6ish, and as the sun set, we walked through, as each column and statue was given its own spotlight. It created a dramatic shade of blue sky against the limestone columns and statues, the size was more controlled, it was mainly built by Ramses II and also Amhotep III who was Tutankhamen’s father, and married to Queen Nefertiti (mother of King Tut)… In some ways its very similar in the architecture to Karnak, but with some keys features, like the 2 huge Pharaohs symmetrically sat at the entrance, and another 2 as you go further in. I was taken aback by how well preserved they were. Its only EP to get into this incredible temple, and even if you do not pay to get in, one of the easiest to see from walking round the are on the path.
I didn’t do this, but a lot of people recommend going for one of the sunrise hot air Balloon rides over Luxor, you have to be up and out by 4am, but the experience is a once in a life time where you can see from up above the temples, and just how wide spread they are, especially Karnak, prices starts from 80 for a group balloon to 300 pounds each for a private tour with Champagne, its the perfect way to see the Nile and Egyptian dessert in all its glory.
The Upper Egypt regions plant symbol is everywhere through out the temples, shown on the higher columns with papyrus plants. (lower Egypt is the lotus flower) , we visited a papyrus parchment museum, where we got to the see the papyrus plant being treated.Amazing for anyone who wants to take away a momento from Egypt, with beautiful colours and patterns.
ASWAN – The city of Rivers
Nubian House stay! From our experience the Nubian people are some of the best hosts in the world, at sunset the boat came to collect us to take us over to the West bank of the Nile river on a traditional Felucca boat. Once we were over the other side we walked through the village decorated with colourful walls with hieroglyphic symbols and graffiti to give life to these mud brick houses. We went down a few narrow alleys but then came to a doorway with a beautiful design, followed by an open courtyard, painted all in blue, with hanging baskets and fabrics on all the walls. Children running around and staring at us, the ladies of the house smiling and greeting us to the large long table set up for 20 of us. Mental cats running round chasing each other. It felt like home.
We were given an intro to the Nubian ways of life, this is the wifes domain in the kitchen and hosting and they love to do it, they pass it down through generations and see is as their jobs to organise everything house related. The fact the Nubians love to dance and sing which we found out on the way back to our hotel with clapping, drums and music provided by our hosts. One of the traditions was for the women of the village to stay living at their family home even after marriage so Nubian families build large houses ready for their children’s future lives even when they are young. Traditionally the mother is the one who leads the entire courtship, her being the one to approve and organise the wedding. With Henna, music, 3 – 4 days of celebrations, and the main event going well into the early mornings. We even got to have our own Henna giving a small amount of money to them for doing it.
The traditional foods we ate were Faatah rice, chicken soup, NFC (Nubian fried chicken), and these amazing cheese pastries. I went back for seconds with no guilt! It just amazes me how people who have only know you an hour are so accommodating.
Abu Simbel – the early morning start (3.03am to be precise) to arrive at the Abu Simbel Temple for 6.30pm was worth every sleepless hour to get there. You walk in from the back of the new man made mountain protecting the Temple which was moved up the Nile bank by 60km to keep it from flooding after the Dam was built. The gradual walk reveals one, two, three then finally 4 of the statues which dominate the famous entrance, you will notice that each one has a different appearance, this is because it is Ramses II in 4 stages of his life, boy, adolescence, grown man, old man . The symbols all around teh statues showign how thought out thsi place was, the baboons at his feet represent sun rise, the snakes on teh head dress showing power. The heat is already sweaty at 7am, so remember to bring a fan and also wear sun screen. You have to pay for a photo pass to take picture in side but I believe its worth it due to all the markings and things you will see.
Above all remember to look in all directions, from the walls to the ceilings all of them are works of art. The intimidating statues of Ramses lining the main walkways all the way to the Sanctuary at the back (The most sacred part of the temple). An hour to look round is probably enough time, with small corridors in different areas of the temple, to really see the detail of the walls.
The traditions is that all worshipping Temples were on the east side of the Nile River, because the Egyptians believed this was the way you were reborn, with the sun setting in the west and rising in the east, almost like the temples represented rebirth. Ramses II built this temple to worship not just the gods, but almost as a temple for him self. With carvings, hieroglphyics inside as a story showing Ramses II offering food to the Gods, Isis and Osiris. Showing his superiority above others by showing himself among the Gods.
The smaller temple in tribute to Ramses II wife Nefertari is also just as beautiful, with statues outside of her stood next to the Gods, you could really tell he loved her, even with all his other wives he had, She was the Queen Wife, the official royal wife. Within this temple there are pictures of her offering food and items to the gods.
The entrance fee is included with the main ticket. The surrounding Lake is gorgeous to look out onto. The market stalls on the way out of the site are great for some souvenirs and also a great way to use the new language of La la la (no no no) … Overall Abu Simbel has become an icon for Egyptian tourism, and it really was a dream come true.
Philae Temple – Island temple in the middle of Nusa Lake – This was a surprise and an unknown stop on the tour, you collect a ticket for 160 EP and this included the boat ride to and from the island where the temple is situated. Built to honour the God Isis the detail of the columns with Papyrus and Lotus plants to connect the 2 lands of Egypt, the subtle hints of colour within the Hieroglyphics still preserved over 4000 years. The Island has its own charm and left a special place in my heart. I really recommend going here for a more relaxed part of the day and the boat ride to the island is stunning. Its small but so quiet and you really get a sense of how these temples were seen as a sanctuary and a peaceful place. Its almost as you sail upto it its like a mirage with its flowers, palm trees and grand buildings, you don’t expect it to be there waiting for you to explore.
The Aswan Dam, We drove across this Dam which protects the west and east sides of the Nile from flooding and also create enough water the whole year through for the farms and livelihood of the people to be continual through the year. Its also the source of reneweable energy with the Hydro energy plant. The drive across is stunning with rapids, clear blue water and luscious green plants growing all round it. Not much else to say but it’s a god DAM good drive!
One of the last stops in Aswan was the Komombo Temple, a sacred place to worship the Falcon God Horus, who was the Son of the Gods Osiris and Isis who were also brother and sisters. The sheer size of the first main gates are just crazy, with mirrored images of the Gods and Horus on them with battle scenes and offerings. The eye of Horus representing , and the cross of life within the markings on the columns. Even the way the Falcon statues have their breast puffed out to show strength and wisdom, everything is so familiar to the other temples yet a little unique in others. But after this we were definitely templed out.
The magical cities of upper Egypt were fantastic to explore, with so many more temples I could of visited, streets we could of explored, but for my first time in this stunning ancient World. it was the perfect balance. A lot of travelling and early mornings was completely worth it. I highly recommend around 5 days to really integrate yourself into these 2 cities. I feel like a fully fledged Archeologist now, templed out due to how many we had only touched the surface on, living out my Egyptian dream. Definitely was in need of some relaxing days to re energize… oh look a Felucca…. (part 3)