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Temples, Tombs and Hot Air Balloons

Luxor: Mummy Capital of the World

sunny 18 °C

Pyramids aside, Luxor is probably the next most common stop on Egypt’s tourist trek. With two simply amazing temples within a stone’s throw of any hotel in town, and numerous valleys filled with the hundreds of tombs many thousands years of age, it’s easy to see why we were anxious to squeeze in as much as we could in our day and a half in town.

We started at Karnak, a short caleshe (horse-driven carriage) ride out of town. You can quickly get lost wandering around Karnak’s multitude of carved columns, admiring the hieroglyphics and images, some of which still display scraps of the original blues and yellows and reds. With its bold, primary colours, the temple must have looked quite garish in its youth, but I prefer it now with the limestone exposed and faded colours, leaving more to the imagination.


The temple as it now stands is easily one of the most impressive sites in Egypt. Large sections of the temple, however, have not been reconstructed, leaving instead heaps and heaps of limestone blocks strewn around the site. It's simply a massive jigsaw waiting for the next set of overseas-funded archeologists to arrive and progress. That said, many blocks have been looted over the years and used in local buildings, so some jigsaws will never be complete!


For Monday morning, we had arranged a hot air balloon ride to take in Luxor from the sky. We had an early start at 5am to get there, but after crossing the Nile and taking a short bus ride, we were rewarded with a skyline full of hot air balloons beautifully illuminated by the early morning sun.


The Colossi of Memnon - two 60 feet high statues of Amenhotep III. Hot air balloons are a fairly recent addition to their 3400 year old vista....

“Is it your first time in a hot air balloon?” asked our flight captain, eliciting nods from most of the passengers on board. But rather than offering the reassurance we were all looking for, he gave the international standard ‘humourous’ response: “Great. It’s my first time too!”.

Somehow, given the fact we knew almost nothing about the safety record of our Egyptian operator, we weren’t laughing. But the captain seemed to know what he was doing as he changed two 50 gallon propane bottles and tested the four burners, and before we could get too nervous about the combination of gas and fire we found ourselves gliding across the sugarcane field that served as our launch-site.


And, of course, the view from the balloon was spectacular. To the west (in the direction of the tombs), the sky was clear, while to the east (over Luxor) was still a little hazy. Contrary to the sales pitch, the balloons do not fly over the Valley of the Kings, but you still enjoy a very nice view over Luxor, the Nile, and the temple of Hatshepsut.


After our second breakfast, we headed out of town to the Valley of the Kings with a guide and driver in tow. There are actually 63 tombs in Valley of the Kings, of which 11 are currently open to visitors. Our entrance tickets entitled us to view three tombs, and we relied solely on our guide to recommend the most worthwhile. Generally, you should aim for the Pharaohs with the longest reigns because work on the tomb lasted the duration of the reign. As a result, the tombs associated with the Pharaohs with the longest reigns are the most elaborate. Unfortunately, the tomb of Ramses II (who reigned for 66 years) has been closed for some time, but at our guide’s recommendation, we stopped by Ramses I, Ramses III and Ramses IV.

Photography is not allowed within the tombs, so Lloyd adopted this surreptitious approach.

Unlike the temples whose colours have mostly faded through millennia of sun exposure, the tombs have – in many cases – maintained much of their original veneers. In some cases, it seems as though the painting was freshened up only yesterday, and it is Christian, Roman or Greek graffiti that litters many of the monuments.

We couldn’t snap within the tombs, but here is an example of some graffiti at Luxor and Philae Temples.

Finally, we enjojed getting a little closer to the the temple of Hapshetsut. We’d seen it that morning from the hot air balloon and it is a very enjoyable site to visit given its very complete (reconstructed) exterior. This was also the site of the 1997 massacre of tourists which resulted in the massive deployment of tourist police, watch towers and metal detectors at every attraction we visited.


We rounded out an extremely busy and long day with dinner at 'Genesis', a self-proclaimed British Pub that turned out to be the most surreal dining experience of the trip. While we loved the quirky, seasonal decor, complete with giant inflated Santa, two cages crammed full of live birds some of which have the run of the place, the food was absolutely diabolical. We actually witnessed Rog's dinner being delivered as a take out by another vendor which resulted in his meal probably being the best of the bunch. Mine was untouchable. Simply avoid at all costs!

We wished we'd made a faster 'Exodus' from 'Genesis'....

Overall, we had a great time in Luxor. Understand, though, that tourism IS the economy here which means you’re never far from the next Egyptian seeking to extract the maximum amount you're willing to pay. There’s no such thing as the ‘going rate’ for a taxi or tour or postcard. Rather, prices are set according to where you come from, how well dressed you are and – perhaps most importantly – what hotel you’re staying at. Occasional bartering can be fun, but – as independent travelers – its omni-presence was wearing to say the least. With no way to know the fair price, we knew only that the offered price was inevitably grossly inflated.

Posted by jacquiedro 19:20 Archived in Egypt Tagged round_the_world

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