Egypt is structured as per rising and setting sun which resembles to birth and death of a person. On eastern side of Egypt is all temples dedicated to Amun Ra and his family. Though there are Tombs of Pharaohs, Queens and Nobles in Luxor, but the biggest Tombs of Ancient Egypt’s mightiest kings are no Western side in the form of Pyramids. If you would like to experience Egypt entering through the country’s history, you shouldn’t plan a tight timeline’s travel. If you love history, you should get properly deep dive through the thousands of years of Egyptian history which parallel to Indian history. Not to forget, diving in Red Sea which is a Mecca of scuba divers and graveyard of 100s of ships.
A journey to East
From Hurghada, I started my actual sightseeing of Egypt which was top of my bucket list. The fascination wasn’t just Pyramids, but the stories of Pharaohs, Queens, Mummies can entice anyone to explore. I always wanted to explore them than visiting US of A or European popular destinations. These off-beat destinations are very rarely explored by Indians. An example of this was prominent in this trip as in Cairo, I saw a few Indians. In Aswan, fewer than Cairo and in Luxor, apart from me, none.
Continuation from first two parts of Egypt blog:
Cairo to Hurghadha https://nomadsnomadism.com/2020/09/20/egypt-pharaohs-pyramids-and-mummies/
And Red Sea diving…. https://nomadsnomadism.com/2020/09/26/egypts-mystery-under-the-red-sea/
Today my travel to Eastern Egypt was going to start. I finds a thrill in travel as I believes destination is not important but journey to destination should be looked upon. Today’s travel was different. Both were important. I was going to peep in the history of Ancient Egypt in next 2/3 days, just like peeping in porthole of a ship.
Precautions while traveling by road
Mohmmad from A & L Tours had promised me to send a comfortable vehicle to pick me up from Hurgadha. Little I knew his definition of comfortable. He sent me an 8 sitter small bus-cum-car only for me and the driver. Next 4 days, I tried every seat of the vehicle except driver’s seat. Though the driver was very punctual to show up to pick me at Hurgadha jetty by 4. We got delayed and panicky calls from Mohammad started on my phone. With my earlier travel experience and safety of foreign nationals, didn’t understand the intensity of calls. After speaking to him, realized, I was supposed to cross the Safaga. An important check-point or a door to Eastern Egypt before 6 if I am travelling by road. This was a sunset time and was about 100 km away. If not crossed, I would have got stuck up for the whole night at that point and would have to sleep in the car. No vehicles were allowed beyond that checkpoint after sunset due to security reasons. My entire plan for a packed trip would have gone for a toss. The driver was skillful enough and my luck sometimes favors me. We crossed that particular checkpoint just in time. After a quick stop for driver’s chai and Sheesha (hookah), we continued our travel.
Tourist is a god
Though this is a tagline for Indian tourism Department – ‘Atithi Devo Bhav’, Egyptian sticks to it to the last letter.
Throughout my travel in Egypt – East and West had something or other incidents at checkpoints. We were stopped by cops at the next checkpoint. I checked in the vehicle whether ‘Kamal’ (Read my first blog on Egypt – Cairo to Hurgadha) was hiding somewhere without my knowledge. Luckily,this time, there was no Kamal, but our driver faced the wrath of cops. They almost fired the driver with guns and turned towards me. Now I was used to their hospitality, so faced them with a smile. Cops inquiry parade started, ‘Sir, Are you fine? Why were you late for one hour at this checkpoint? Did the driver harm you?’ Looking at the driver, who was about to get tortured by cops, I said, ‘No, we had stopped for chai. I was slightly taken aback by their next statement, ‘Sir, you were supposed to reach at a certain time and we were worried about your wellbeing. I was almost flattened by that statement. Only my parents had cared that much when I was late or disappeared for a day or two without informing them. Still, the curious side of me asked them, how did you track my timing. His looks clearly give away ‘How idiot I am’ expression, they explained. The travel permit was taken on my name and right from the starting point of Hurgadha, my vehicle was tracked. Thought, I may look weird, but at least not a terrorist. They explained further, ‘sir, in our country every tourist is treated like our president and his well being is our utmost responsibility’. I felt like becoming an ‘Ek din ka Chief Minister’. Dreamed of security guys covering me from all sides like a VIP. Jokes apart, this was a fact of treating every tourist as a President was seen until the time, I left Egypt. Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo is just next to a road and not even guarded like a B or C grade politician in India who might be a district president of the Opposition party. So much to learn from them.
I reached my hotel at night and could see another Egyptian town like Cairo, but a smaller replica without many modern structures.
Ancient Egyptian outlook towards building the country
I had a day for Luxor sightseeing. My tour operator had promised me a local guide will meet me in the hotel. In the tour cost-shared with me, I thought my diver will perform guide duties to save the cost. I was wrong, I met an enthusiastic local guy who was a trained guide with thorough knowledge about this Eastern part of Egypt. Everyone expects their guide to have the same, but this guy was a step ahead. The information shared by him wasn’t available on google.
According to him, entire Egypt and its historical monuments are structured in a very peculiar way. As everyone knows, Sunrises on the Eastern side, so all temples of kings and queens are on the Eastern side, whereas Sunsets on the Western side, so all Pyramids of great kings are erected on the Western side where kings are taking their final rest after death.
Key of life or Aankh
You You will also notice, in Egyptian culture, there is one key alike symbol held in hand by many Pharaohs and Queens. This is the symbol of life in Egypt. It represents topography which is connected with the river Nile and the Eastern and Western banks of Egypt. This symbol is also called ‘Aankh’. This instrument or key also looks like Christian Cross, but with a top is in a loop shape. This symbol is connected with the Nile river which is a life of Egypt. The Nile flows from one end and circles around returns back. The two arms of keys are the East and West banks.
Luxor, a place of many Egyptian gems
We started a tour of Luxor with temples. I was surprised by the word ‘Temple’ in a Muslim country. These temples are carved by royal families to keep their memories alive for years ahead. Also to worship various gods’ statues which have heads of birds or animals and body of a human or some other form.
According to the guide, Before Cairo was given capital status, Luxor was an important city. Luxor, Southern Egypt’s most recognized Ancient City. Luxor means “Royalty”. This heavily commercialised. Also extremely touristy city is the capital of the Luxor Governorate. It is the highlight of Upper part of Egypt.
As mentioned earlier, from the jetty, many Nile cruises start from here. Being hassled is a part and parcel of the Luxor’s tourism circuit. It takes extremely patient travelers to not feel jaded and bitter there. However, it is still impossible to visit Egypt and not travel to Luxor. One must explore this historic city with a pinch of salt. Luxor is absolutely mind-blowing and there are no two ways about it. The fact that it is crammed with unamicable archaeological treasures is yet another unavoidable aspect of it. Luxor in the best words can be described as a huge or grand open museum displayed in front of you. Thus, it makes sense to grit your teeth. Straighten your back. Get armed with the firm, but polite “No”s and explore Luxor despite its hassles and bustles. On the Eastern part, expect to be offered horse carriage rides, guiding services, felucca rides, souvenir displays, etc. Just reply to them all with friendly, but firm negatives (in case you do not desire any of the above). Bargain hard if you intend to make any transaction. Yet do keep in mind that a few extra dollars as tips often go a long way for most people in Egypt. If my introduction puts you off Luxor, please understand that my intention to warn and prepare you for the overall experience. This lovely Nilotic jewel is indeed a “not to be missed” destination of Egypt.
Egyptian’s fanaticism towards their Heritage
On Luxor tour, guide proudly mentioned about Egyptians fanaticism towards their heritage and culture. Between Luxor temple and Karnak temple, while excavating, archaeologists unearthed a path with the line of more than one thousand Sphinxes statues – a commonly found statue of a mythical creature. Sphinx, a mix of the human head, wings of a falcon or eagle, and the lion body. These statues were facing each other as far as 2.7 km built-in 400 BCE. These were placed on both sides on which the royal family walked. For not disturbing the rows, authorities, erased a hospital, school, religious worship place, homes, and police station which were built in the modern era and reconstructed these buildings at alternate plots. Due to the love of their heritage, one can find many heritage sites preserved very well.
Luxor’s two banks, poles apart
On my whole Luxor tour, the guide was pouring in continuous information which was his job. I could jot down a few pointers and now while writing this blog, could connect the pointers with some online information that I am sharing my experience now.
A thing prominently noticed, Luxor is technically divided into two parts by the Nile River.
When we were at the East Bank of Luxor, I found it completely opposite the West bank. There was a lot of loud, brash, abrasive, but filled with wonderful temples. At a jetty, most Nile cruise ships were docked made it crowded, chaotic, and full of traffic. We took a lot of time to get out of it. I had mentioned to my guide about my fascination towards amulets, and other local jewelry, so he took me to the market which I thought was the perfect hunting ground of Luxor’s infamous local tourist guides or touts who keep a tab on vulnerable tourists. Because of them, the entire city and its resident’s image gets maligned. Its reputation is so ruthless that the best of Egypt’s and even Luxor’s travel operators protectively mollycoddle their herds of tourists there. I was almost fallen prey for these vultures if my guide wouldn’t have spotted me getting surrounded by some people while buying a soft drink from a local shop. He apologized to me for the lapse on his part to leave me alone for some time out of the car.
West Bank of Luxor, more relaxed
This protectiveness was eased as we crossed over to the West Bank. I got the opportunity to explore the wondrous beauty of the famous necropolis of the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, and the Valley of the Nobles. To travel this place, you have to leave Luxor behind and these valleys are out of the city in desert. At this place, my guide had to leave me alone. Stunningly decorated tombs perforate the tawny mountains on the West Bank. These are punctuated with equally magnificent mortuary temples, artisan’s village, and larger than life statues. Logically speaking, for the visitors who have time on their hands, a Luxor can be a multi-day affair. At least 2-3 days dedicated just to the West Bank. This I realized after reaching there. So much to see, but limited time in hand. At Valley of the king, I noticed a sun reflection which made me curious. When I checked with a local guide, he reiterated the same information regarding tourist safety. At all touristy sites, Egyptian National Police guards tourists visiting these monuments. Some years back terrorists attacked certain sects’ mosque with bomb blasts. From that moment, security is always at its peak. Guards with sniper rifles keep a watch of any kind of anti-national elements.
Valley of Kings & Queens
Before charting out my itinerary, I had kept some ‘must visit’ places in Luxor in my bucket list. Karnak Temple city, Luxor Temple, Valley of Kings, The tomb of Queen Nefertiti, and King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
At all these Valleys, you need to hire the services of an internal guide and leave your tour operator’s guide out of boundaries.
At the Valley of King site, I met an old local man. When he came to know about my Indian origin, he recollected memories of Hollywood superstar, Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan, and Katrina Kaif and displayed his love for Bollywood movies. Even we sang a couple of Bollywood movie songs in which he was good at it and I was bad. Even though his pronunciation was weird, but he knew the words. As usual, I don’t remember song lines, so I makeup lines or mixes songs. This skillset of mine can be vouched by my mountaineering club members.
He was happy to meet an Indian because not many Indians visit this part of Egypt apart from the Pyramids. It’s a common touristy euphoria of all tourists to visit only the publicized attractions. In the case of Egypt, a photo op next to Pyramids is on everyone’s agenda.
While moving on, at Valley of Kings, one local was at a window of adjoining small hillock. Standing next to the window, he was inviting all tourists to visit his ancestor’s tomb. One fine example of exploiting and marketing history. Not that, he was a descendant of a king, but next to Valley of Kings & Queens, there is also a Valley of Nobles.
Egyptians enthusiasm for sharing information about their Heritage
Egyptians are so enthusiastic about sharing information of their history than the guides of other places. Egyptian Tourist guides just drown you with information. What I could recollect and note, at Valley of Kings, the tombs of more than 60 pharaohs have been uncovered. Among the more elaborate last resting places are those of Tutankhamun, Tuthmosis III and Ramses VI. Less than 20 of the tombs are open to the public (This information is from Google as I couldn’t have remembered all these alien names, even though the local guide and name plaques threw all these names.) Here Egyptians have not opened all the tombs at the same time to minimize the long-term impact of tourism.
King Tutankhamun or King Tut
The most fascinating or well-known tomb is King Tutankhamun or King Tut. This is an interesting story of a boy king who left so little information behind him when he died before he turned 20. His tomb was discovered much later in 1922. It was considered to be in pristine condition and gave the world a glimpse of the grandeur with which the Ancient Egyptians sent their dead into the afterlife. In my last part of Cairo’s tour will cover with more pics of the findings in his tomb. Cairo museum has separate section to display belongings of King Tut. This time, I wasn’t so lucky as this tomb was closed to save it from any damage by tourists’ respiration and humidity..
The tomb of Queen Nefertiti
The most spectacular tombs of Egypt Egypt just like her beauty.
This tomb has a big “wow” factor. When you pay the entry fee of this tomb separately, you again say ‘WOW!’ as the entry fee cost is a bomb, but its worth. The level of detail is amazing and the colors are more vibrant than what we saw in any of the other tombs, temples, and pyramids in Egypt. If you want to get an idea of what the tombs looked like 3,000 years ago, add the tomb of Queen Nefertiti on your list.
Nefertari also known as Nefertiti, was the first queen and obviously the most beloved wife of Ramesses II, the Great. Her Tomb is one of the most exquisite tombs in the Valley. Ramesses II also honored her by building her a temple, the Small Temple at Abu Simbel.
Her tomb, QV66, is one of the largest in the Valley of the Queens at the size of 520 square meters with colorful paintings of Queen Nefertari.
There were three queens who were famous in Egyptian history, Queen Nefertiti, Queen Hatshepsut and Queen Alexandria.
Luxor is a home to first two queens’ tomb or temple and the last one is honoured with a name of city on West of Egypt.
Her tomb, QV66, is one of the largest in the Valley of the Queens at the size of 520 square meters with colorful paintings of Queen Nefertari.
There were three queens who were famous in Egyptian history, Queen Nefertiti, Queen Hatshepsut, and Queen Alexandria.
Luxor is home to the first two queens of tomb or temple and the last one is honored with the name of the city on the West of Egypt.
Queen Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut
One more visit in this area was the Queen Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut which was just a few km away from the Valley of King. The reason for my attraction towards this queen was the way she ruled during her period. Hatshepsut ruled for longest time as a female Pharaoh in Egypt. She ruled for 20 years in the 15th century B.C. She is considered to be one of Egypt’s most successful pharaohs. She had hidden her gender and ruled as a king to prove to be a strong as a male. When nobles came to know about her reality she was poisoned. Before dying, she had built her only mortuary temple which is called one of the best temples and also called the most beautiful unfinished temple of this part of Egypt.
I had to retire back to the hotel after so much of diving deep in Royalties of Egypt. Each and every cell of the brain was occupied by Pharaohs, Queens, and their resting places. Didn’t have any portion left in my brain’s hard disk.
Luckily, I didn’t wake up in the night dreaming about entering a royal court of a Pharaoh saluting the ruler or working as labour or artist working on gigantic structures.
Before going off to sleep, my guide asked me to transfer today’s information in back-up hard disk as the next day’s visit. Karnak Temple was on agenda for the next day. This amazing city of temples would have been the high point of my Eastern part of Egypt. This is a strictly not to be skipped and ‘must visit’ UNESCO Heritage site, Kanak city of Temples.
To explore Egypt’s Ancient civilisation and what they have created through my lense and perception, stay tuned for next weekend’s blog on Grandeur of Egyptians.