After leaving Cairo, we finally arrived at our hotel in Luxor with police escorts to both our sides of the truck. We were super hungry, so out of convenience we decided to eat at their restaurant. Some of the people in our group were already down there waiting for their food when we walked in. It seemed like they had already waited a good amount of time because they were starting to complain. We didn’t think too much about it and sat down anyway. After waiting a while for a waiter to show up, we decided to head into the bar next to the restaurant and look for someone to get our order in. David and some other members of our group came back and told us they found someone, but he seemed to be very confused about taking the orders. He came back various times to make sure he understood what we wanted, but still seemed to be totally out of place. We got our order in, while the others were still waiting for their food, but after a few minutes he came back and told us they were out of the pizza we wanted. By that time most of our group was still pretty amused by the whole situation.While we waited, we learned the name of our waiter with very questionable skills and an always polite manner: Bob.
Most of the people at our table got their food pretty fast, while some others who had been waiting for over an hour still sat in front of an empty plate. We ended up waiting over an hour as well and after reminding them five times of our order, we headed up to our room with an empty stomach. We were suddenly awoken at 3:45 am by a loudspeaker blaring morning prayers from the nearby mosque, and had to wait for it to be over before we could manage to get back to sleep.
The next morning we got up around seven and had a quick breakfast which was the same as we had been having for the last week: some more or less tasty white bread, accompanied by fig jam and a hard boiled egg. Our whole group headed out to our truck and we drove about 30 minutes to Karnak temple. From the parking lot the temple didn’t look very big, but we would soon learn that Karnak is one of the biggest and most impressive temple sites in Egypt. The entrance fee was $10, and after passing some local shops we got inside.
Karnak temple is the second largest ancient religious site in the world (about 200 acres) and was founded in 3200 BC to worship the sun god, Amun Ra. We walked through a huge empty square, followed by an ally of sphinx statues on both sides and entered the great temple. The Hypostyle Hall in the great temple is the largest room of any religious building in the world. It had 134 columns, some as tall as 21 meters. Walking through the hall we gazed up the massive columns, which are still mostly covered by carvings. It was one of the most impressive moments we had in Egypt so far. On some parts of the temple the former colors of some paintings are still partly visible, even after almost 5000 years.
After the Hypostyle Hall we passed one obelisk built during the time of Queen Hatshepsut, and another that is broken in half, with the top part still laying flat in the temple. We wandered around the temple for more than two hours, in an incredible 45 degree Celsius heat. Despite the heat and near dehydration due to us only bringing one bottle of water for the two of us, it was hard to leave this impressive temple.
We headed back to our hotel and rushed to our air conditioned room, happy to get out of the heat for some time. We spent most of the afternoon inside besides a short walk to get some lunch and exchange some money, as it was just too hot to be outside. Walking on the main street outside the hotel wasn’t any fun, as we were constantly harassed by locals trying to sell us things, dragging us in their shops, or men on horse carriages or in taxis trying to make us ride with them.
In the evening we met up with some people of our travel group and walked about 20 minutes to the Souk of Luxor. A souk is the Arabic name for a market, where locals sell clothes, food, spices and souvenirs. We walked through the market for a bit, more or less successfully avoiding being harassed too much. We sat down at a cafe in a small alley where we ordered some mint tea and some of us smoked a hookah. We didn’t stay out too long, as we had to get up around 5 am the next morning to drive to the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut on the west bank of the Nile.
We drove about an hour with our truck until we reached the entrance of the Valley of the Kings at 6am. The entrance fee was about $12, which included entrance to three tombs of our choice (some tombs aren’t open to the public and others cost extra to get in). Inside the valley and the tombs it is forbidden to take any pictures or videos, unless you buy a special permit for the equivalent of $380, so most of our group left their cameras inside the truck or tried to sneak them in. The controls weren’t anywhere as strict as at some other places we had been before, so we got one camera and the cell phones in. From the main building we took a small trolley up the valley. In total there are 63 tombs in the Valley of the Kings, and the day we went 17 of them were open to the public. Unfortunately in ancient times almost all of the tombs were opened and robbed, leaving only the tomb of the young pharaoh Tutankhamen completely in tact until it was found and excavated by the archeologist Howard Carter in 1922. His tomb wasn’t found before because while excavating one of the tombs right next to it, workers covered the entrance of Tutankhamen’s tomb with sand and stone. When Howard Carter opened the tomb, all of the pharaoh’s possessions, which were put inside with him for his life after death, were still there, including the very well preserved mummy.
Some of the tombs are gigantic, leading downhill for almost a hundred meters. We went inside the tomb of Rames III first. The paintings on the wall leading down the tomb were mostly very well preserved. The tomb wasn’t very big, but thanks to the drawings on the walls, it was still very nice to see. We went with another woman from our travel group and both she and I were trying to sneak some pictures with our phones. Suddenly one of the two guards, who dress in plain clothes and don’t really speak English, caught her. The guard grabbed her phone from her and was unwilling to give it back. She tried offering to delete the pictures and to give him some money, but he wouldn’t change his mind and insisted on speaking to our guide. David and I left the tomb trying to find him – not an easy task in a valley full of tombs and therefore a ton of places where he could be. After ten minutes or so we finally found him and he went back to the tomb with us, where he luckily somehow convinced the guard to hand the phone over.
After this short incident we headed down into the famous tomb of Tutankhamen, which was another $12 to get in. The way down the burial chamber was short but pretty steep. The very special thing about his tomb, besides the wall carvings and paintings being in almost perfect condition, is that the mummy and one golden sarcophagus of the pharaoh are inside. Right when we entered the first chamber we could see his mummy, and it was very well preserved. Just as impressive as the mummy is the golden sarcophagus on the right side of the chamber. It was one of the three different sarcophagi the mummy of the pharaoh was kept in. Unfortunately the guards were next to us the whole time so we couldn’t get any pictures, and even if given the chance we were still pretty bummed from the incident before.
The next tomb on our list was the tomb of Pharaoh Merenptah. This tomb was special because the burial chamber was pretty deep under ground and looked like a big hall with his stone sarcophagus in the middle of it. Walking down the long, steep alley to the chamber was a pretty cool experience. The last tomb we visited was the tomb of Ramses IV, which was supposedly one of the most beautiful ones, and indeed we weren’t disappointed. The tomb is big, with a huge stone sarcophagus in it and beautiful wall paintings with incredibly bright colors. Luckily we managed to take some more pictures in this one without getting caught.
After seeing four of the amazing tombs, which surpassed our expectations by far, we headed out and back to out truck to drive for 10 minutes to the temple of Queen Hatshepsut. The entrance fee was the equivalent of $6. Hatshepsut ruled Egypt as a pharaoh from 1479 to 1458 BC. I was especially excited to see her temple, as it looked very impressive in pictures. Unfortunately most parts of the temple were destroyed by her nephew and later stepson, Thutmose III because he thought he was the rightful heir to the throne of Egypt. Hatshepsut, in order to prove to the Egyptian people that she was a rightful pharaoh (the first female pharaoh in ancient Egypt) sometimes disguised herself as a man, wearing men’s clothes and a fake beard. She built her tomb not like the other Queens, in the Valley of the Queens, but right next to the Valley of the Kings. A lot of the images of her face in her temple were destroyed by her nephew, and some other parts that remained in tact were effected badly by an earthquake. Due to such a small part of the temple being in tact and actually accessible by the public, we were a little disappointed by it, but nevertheless it was worth seeing. It was still early in the morning after we finished seeing the temple, and it was already getting unbearably hot outside, so our group drove back to Luxor. We spent most of the day at the hotel and just left it to get some dinner at night.
The next day we would have an early start again, heading to our next stop in Egypt: Aswan. There we would apply for our visas for Sudan, ride for two days and nights on a felucca, and visit a Nubian village!