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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Karnak Temple, Luxor Egypt - Day 1

Luxor, Egypt

This was the first time I was traveling on a group tour. I have always traveled to new places without use of tour guides, so I was a little apprehensive at joining a tour group. However, a few friends had signed up for the tour, and since I had never been to Egypt, I decided to join them too. I realized later that many tourists opt for tour group visits to Egypt - I saw many groups from varied countries like China and Russia. I suppose for a first visit guided tours are useful for a place like Egypt, especially with the language issues. Not everyone in Egypt speaks English.

My flight was at night. I met with the rest of the tour group at the airport - there were three families each with two kids; and several teachers (my friends amongst them); as well as a visually handicapped lady with her sister. Accompanying us was a tour leader from the travel agency. We flew to Luxor with Qatar Airways via Doha, Qatar.

Upon arrival to Luxor, we were met with the Egyptian representative - he was a short man holding out our travel agency name on a placard. He was our first encounter with the Egyptians. His reaction to me was odd - he said in English to me that my face was like an Egyptian. This was probably because most of the people in the tour group were Chinese and I was the sole Indian - as a result of being brown skinned, that made me stand out, confusing people. Luxor is south of Egypt - later on, I would realise that the people in Luxor were mostly brown skinned (I am not referring to the Egyptians who were clearly of African descent) - I think it has a lot to do with the strong sun.

Luxor airport is a relatively small airport. When we landed (at about 10 am in the morning), we were the only foreigners. The tour leader liaised with the Egyptian tour guide and processed our USD $15 visa on arrival for us. The group milled about the airport while waiting for them to paste the visa into our passports for us - imagine that?! I was surprised that the Egyptian tour guide actually did that for us.

Some of us took the opportunity to exchange money at the airport money changer - from USD currency to Egyptian pounds. The tour guide recommended not changing all of our money, just a small portion. I changed USD $50 which got me a lots of Egyptian pounds (the exchange rate was about 1 USD - 5.4 Egyptian pounds)! How exciting to handle lots of notes, hehe....

I attempted to take some photos of the area where we had landed. But a policeman saw me and gestured that I was not allowed to do so. So I retreated back to the group. I took pictures outside the airport though. The airport, like I said, was not busy at all. The area outside had many date palm trees. Several buses had parked out front in the car park. We rolled our luggage over to the bus. The tour guide and his assistant then helped us load the luggage into the bus.


Luxor Airport


But we were not going to the hotel! Nope. We were going to our first site - the Karnak temple. I was dreading this because I am the type who needs a shower every 10 hours or so, and it was past due my time for a nice shower (the travel time to Luxor had taken at least that long!).

In the bus, the tour guide introduced himself - Essam was his name. He gave a brief introduction about Luxor. Luxor is a small city, mostly catered to the tourism industry. The area is mostly agricultural. It is the site of Thebes, the ancient Egyptian city. It is home to the ruins of Karnak and Luxor temples. On the West Bank of the Nile (only a short distance from Karnak and Luxor temples), there is the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. Tourism formed a significant part of the Luxor economy.

The tour guide droned on, but I tuned him out, being dead tired from the long flight. I was nevertheless excited about being in Egypt. I spent my time looking out at the Luxor landscape as the bus moved on. We passed through the city area - most people were dressed in traditional Arab clothes - the long garb, galabiya. The women all wore head scarfs. Some of the men wore white cloth draped around their heads. There were horses and donkeys on the streets. Then we passed by the country area. I do not know what they grew on the lands.


Luxor Country Areas


We arrived at Karnak Temple. The air was warm. I had been worried about the weather since I knew it was winter time in Egypt. Even though I had checked the weather report, and it indicated a temperature range of between 12-20 C. With that sort of temperature range, it is always hard to determine what kind of jacket one would need. Glad to say, I did not pack any heavy jackets. The temperature in Luxor during the day is warm - no jacket is needed. The sun is strong - be warned! If this is their winter, I dread to imagine what it is like during the summer!! The evening though is rather pleasant, and like early Fall weather in the US east coast.

Model of Karnak Temple


The tour guide bought us our tickets to the Karnak Temple. When we entered, we saw a huge model of the Karnak Temple. The scale of the temple is massive. The name Karnak comes from a nearby village called el-Karnak. But the ancient name for this temple was Ipet-isut. There are four main precincts of the temple - the largest is the precinct of Amun-Re (god). About thirty Pharaohs had contributed to the building of the temple - adding new parts through the years, hence the sheer size of the place.

Entrance to Karnak Temple


Upon entering the temple complex, there are two rows of ram headed sphinxes.

One side of the Ram Headed Sphinxes


Close Up of Ram Headed Sphinxes


These ram headed sphinxes were built to protect the Temple. There are 20 rams on each side, extending from the small harbour to the 1st Pylon, which was built during the time of King Nektanebo I (30th Dynasty). As you cross this pylon, it takes you into an Open court, whose dimensions are 100m long by 80m wide, built during the 22nd Dynasty, and containing rows of bud papyrus columns.

Rows of Bud Papyrus Columns, Karnak Temple


After walking through the first and second pylons, we entered the Great Hypostyle Hall, which measures 103m in length and 52m in width. It contains 134 papyrus columns; each column is about 22m in height and 3.5m in diameter. Amenhotep III built it and Ramses I, Seti I, and Ramses II decorated it, while King Seti I erected the other 122 columns in 14 rows.

The ceiling in the centre is higher than the laterals, and it allows light into this spot, which was the processional avenue of the Triad during the festival of the Opet. The scenes of the Hypostyle Hall represent King Seti I, in front of different deities, making offerings, while the southern wall is decorated with scenes of Ramses II, making offerings to the different deities or worshipping the Triad of Thebes.

Close-Up Massive Columns of the Hypostyle Hall


The Sacred Lake - goes back to the time of Tuthmosis III. It measures 80m in length and 40m in width. Near the Sacred Lake there is a scarab, which is considered the biggest scarab left from Ancient Egypt, dating from the reign of Amenhotep III. The Ancient Egyptians called the scarab, Khebry, and it was the symbol of the Sun God. The word itself means to create; it was thought to bring to the sun in the early morning.

Sacred Lake


The tour guide told us that it was believed then that walking around seven times around the scarab would bring good luck. Since I was a Muslim, I thought it wrong to perform this pagan ritual, even if it was only for fun. But two of my Muslim friends decided to perform this ancient ritual while I watched in amusement.

Lucky Scarab

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