Luxor in my opinion is by far the most breathtaking city in Egypt. This is an overnight trip from Cairo that we decided to make in first-class seater train (80 LE per ticket). A word of caution here – you would do well to book your tickets well in advance. We didn’t get return tickets and if it hadn’t been for our local guide pulling some strings we would have been stuck in Luxor the entire week!
Our first class cabin was anything but first class. It consisted of a closed area where the back-rests refused to recline. Instead, we discovered, quite by accident that we had to pull the seats in front – creating a rather uncomfortable semi-recliner. Worse still, our ten hour train journey was delayed by an additional 4 hours so by the time we reached we were grumpy, stiff and had lost at least 3 precious hours of the one day we were spending there!
However, one good thing we had done was fix our guide and car beforehand, so we did not end up wasting precious minutes trying to find or way around. Our hostel in Cairo had arranged to have someone meet us at the station and Friday (yes that was his name) whisked us off to this posh hotel where we freshened up before he handed us over to our guide* for the day – this really chic Egyptian dame called Marwa.
*Egypt trivia # 1: Did you know that you have to study for four years to become a certified guide in Egypt?! Phew! Now that’s a labour of love!
For those of you doing the short ‘n’ sweet round of Luxor – these four places are a must!
The Valley of the Kings was our first stop. Set in the middle of these huge rocky cliffs, it looks straight out of a set for McKenna’s Gold. Here you can find 62 underground tombs for the Pharaohs – all of them empty except for that of Tutankhamen’s which still holds his mummy. Only 11-12 tombs are open to the tourists and you can buy tickets depending on the number of tombs you want to visit. We paid 60 LE each for a three tomb package (Tut’s costs an extra 100 LE! Sob! Sob!) and visited the tombs or Ramses I, II and IV. The tombs are pretty similar to each other with detailed hieroglyphics depicting the Pharaoh’s journey from life to the after – life. One thing I did figure out was that ancient Egyptians were pretty obsessed with the concept of life after death. They even mummified their pets and servants and buried them alongside!
By the way, photography is NOT allowed inside these tombs and they are really really serious about this. So don’t even try to sneakily use your mobile cameras. I almost got locked up for trying that!
After that we were off to *Queen Hatshepsut’s Palace. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture…constructed in three levels with the final level cut into the surrounding rock.
Egypt trivia # 2– did you know that Queen H. was in fact the only Egyptian Queen to rule the country? Apparently Cleo of the gorgeous nose fame was Greek by origin! Had no clue bout that.
Here we spent a lot of time taking pics and staring at this chick who had turned up for the tour in a micro-mini skirt! J
Next up was Karnak temple – supposedly the largest temple in the world. It was built in parts by 6 pharaohs of Egypt including Queen H. and tho’ most of it is in ruins now there is still so much to see that even the hour and half we spent there was not enough. Beautiful obelisks, close to 200 pillars in the form of papyrus flowers, a sphinx alley that once stretched till the Luxor temple…you really have to see it to understand how breathtaking it is.
Our last stop was the Luxor temple. This was saved till the end coz it was the only one open after sunset…and this ultimately ended up being a blessing in disguise. Luxor temple by night, with its huge statues, courtyard flanked by pillars and intricate carvings – all bathed in soft golden lights – is easily one of my most cherished memories from Egypt. Of course, the fact that the sun isn’t beating relentlessly down on your head also helps you see the world in a kinder light at this point. But jokes apart, to all those who have plans of visiting – I would recommend seeing Luxor temple after sunset. It’s a whole different feeling.
Our dinner was some authentic Egyptian food at this small restaurant, where we tasted Koshery for the first time. With two hours to go for our train we decided to spend the time wandering the streets and accidentally came upon the Luxor market…and what a find that was! Really nice stuff for dirt cheap (something you realize when you compare it to the prices in Cairo markets – especially Khan-el-khalili). Hubby and I bought some adorable t-shirts, sand art bottles and a papyrus scroll that was a steal at 3 LE. Innovative sales lines just added to the fun – “how can I help you spend your money?” seemed to be their favourite approach!
We ended the day pretty satisfied – a great feeling considering how badly it had begun. On an even better note…the train back was far more spacious and comfortable than the one on the way here…and the icing on the cake – reached Cairo before time!
contributed by Payal
Part II: Alexandria, Egypt
Part I: Cairo, Egypt