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Egypt Trip Report

  • Submitted by: Gopal Venkat
  • Website: None Available
  • Submission Date: 04th Feb 2005

Left NYC on April 25.
Landed Amsterdam on April 26. Since I had a 7 hour layover, took a transit Visa and went to the City. Good place to Visit.
Took a flight to Cairo in the evening and landed at Cairo around Midnight. A representative from the tour Company took us to the hotel from the Airport. The Hotel is a 3 Star Hotel and is said to be an ancient hotel that has been renovated. Crashed around 1 AM on the 27th.
Left the Hotel around 10 AM on the 27th to take a flight to Luxor. We were supposed to have a 5-Day / 4-Night cruise on the Nile between Luxor and Aswan stopping on the way to see places of Interest. After a delay of about 2 hrs. the flight took off from Cairo around Noon and reached Luxor a little after 1 PM. Went to the Cruise boat. Was allotted a Twin-Bed Cabin. (Didn't have anybody to share it though !!!)
Has lunch and boarded a Bus to go to the Temples of Karnak and Luxor. (Most of the Monuments here are called Temples. The Ancient Egyptian Kings built them to Glorify the Gods / themselves. Ideally they would be called palaces) The Temple of Karnak was Started by Seti I and Completed by Ramses III. The Building / Additions were a Continuous Process with each ruler trying to leave his Stamp of Greatness. The Most Megalomaniacal of all was Ramses II, the son of Seti I and played by Yul Brynner in "TEN COMMANDMENTS".
One of the biggest reasons these temples / Monuments are mostly intact is weather oriented. As it hardly ever rains in Egypt, Most of the Monuments are Intact except for the ravages of time over 5000 + years.
Most of these Monuments have almost Standard architecture. Each one has a number of Pylons (Walls) and a Single Hypostyle Hall (Considered the equivalent of a Darbar hall, perhaps) plus various other Chambers dedicated to the King's / Pharoah's Conquests / achievements. The thing that perhaps amazes most are the rich Carvings / Paintings on these walls and Papyriform (Papyrus like) Columns. Some of the Colours on these Walls / Columns are still beautiful.
After Spending around 2 hours at Karnak, we drove to the temples of Luxor. The Temples of Karnak & Luxor are about 3 Miles apart. During the reign of the Pharaohs they were connected by an avenue lined with Sphinxes on both sides. The King / Pharaoh used to go in a grand procession from one temple to the Other. Today you can find about 40-50 metres of Sphinxes before each temple. Civilization has crept in between with Houses / roads and other Monstrosities.
The Same evening, we went to the Sound & Light show at Karnak. This is a feature offered at Most monuments. The Show at Karnak was 90 Minutes long. During the first half, various Chambers / Halls are lit up and people (tourists) walk from one to the other. During the second half they are required to sit in galleries before a small lake and get a grand view as the various places within the temple complex are lit up. The Narration accompanying these light effects appears as though the King is Speaking to you Directly. (I did this, I did that & so on)
On most of these excursion Days, we are required to leave early as the heat becomes unbearable around 10:30 AM !!! A Hat and a continuous supply of water is a must if you want to avoid a Heat-stroke. Man was equipped.
We left on the Morning of the 28th to the Valley of the Kings where most of the Pharaohs are buried. King Tut's treasure was found here. We took a small ferry from the eastern side of the Nile (where our Cruise Ship was berthed) to the western side of the Nile. Boarded a bus to go to the Valley of the Kings. Visited the Tomb of Amenhoteph, Ramses I and Tutmoses III. Due to the paucity of time, we did not see all the tombs in the area. These tombs are shafted deep into the mountains with a plethora of obstacles for the Grave Robbers (who were in abundance in those days) to overcome. People with heart ailments, Claustrophobia etc. are advised not to go in the tombs. Even a youthful healthy individual like me found it difficult to Climb up a Steep Incline from a depth of about 200 metres inside the tomb.
As an aside, the recent unearthing of more than 50 tombs believed to those of Ramses II 's sons was discovered at this place. At the time of my visit neither me nor my guide (nor the archaeologists who discovered it) had a clue of that.
From the Valley of the Kings, we went to Deir-el-Bahri which was the burial place of Queen Hatshepsut. The Only Queen in Egyptian Pharaonic History who ruled the Kingdom of Egypt and has been accorded an equal place in Burial. Some of the paintings out here were pretty good after thousands of years. The Heat was Unbearable though. (It was just around 11 AM)
From Deir-el-Bahri, we proceeded to Medinet-Habu, a monument built by Seti I (I have to verify this) While returning to the ferry after our morning visits, we stopped by to admire the Colossi of Memnon. These are Two Mammoth status of King Amenhoteph in a seated posture about 20 metres high. The ancient Greeks who conquered these parts, thought it was their hero Memnon and the Name has Stuck ever since.
It was good to get back to Cool Air-Conditioned Cruise Boat. We had lunch and set sail for Esna. The food was OK. Being a Vegetarian, is certainly hard. But I just ate everything & anything with no meat in it. I even Started eating Salads. There are a Number of Egyptian Dishes with Beans / Yogurt etc. They also have small Yogurt Containers and lots of Fruits to which I helped myself liberally. Around 4 PM every day, if we are on the Cruise Ship we are served Tea, Cake & Biscuits on the Upper Deck. I managed to make a lot of friends here being the Charmer I am. We have 3 Groups on this Ship. Two of them are English Speaking Groups and the third is a German Group. Among the English Speaking, One is the Luxury tour while simpletons like me who did not want to pay the extra $300/$400 are clubbed into the Economy Group. Among the 25 folks in the Economy Group, there are about 15 from Australia, 4 from New Zealand and 5 from U.S. Needless to say, the Aussies and the New Zealanders are the most easy going folks and welcome you to their groups / talk sessions easily. But, sometimes the talk get a bit trite as to which street in Melbourne each one lives and where they do their shopping !! But by & large, one tends to move a certain group of people on a regular basis from the second/Third Day onwards.
We reached ESNA on the night of 28th April. The Next morning we set off to View the temple of ESNA. It was a short walk from the dock. This temple was buried over a period of time. Even today after being excavated, one has to climb down 20 metres to stand level with the temple. This temple was dedicated to the Ram-Headed God. The ancient Egyptians worshipped nature pretty much the same way as we did (and still do). Therefore, you have temples dedicated to Rams, Falcons, Lionesses, Crocodiles and so on. This temple contains an astronomical ceiling with all the Zodiac Signs carved in it. After seeing a Couple of these monuments, you are forced to conclude that the ancient Egyptians were pretty good at Architecture and Astronomy.
After the temple of ESNA, we got back to the Ship and set Sail for EDFU. We reached EDFU around 2 PM. We had lunch on the Ship. We had to reach the temple by Horse-drawn Carriages. The way these things are driven, you just can't help but pray for your well-being. The Temple of EDFU was dedicated to Hathor (the mother goddess - the goddess of womanhood). It is a much bigger temple than ESNA and is very much on the ground level.
Spent about an hour there before getting back to the Ship. We then set sail for KOM OMBO. Spent the rest of the day drinking tea / chatting. After dinner we had a "Galabiya Party". Galabiya is the long gown worn by most Arabs. Almost all of the tourists, bought Galabiyas and dressed up. We had some singing and dancing to the melodies of Nubian Music.
The Next morning (April 30) we docked at KOM OMBO and visited the temple. This is the Only temple dedicated to two Gods. Sobek (the Crocodile God) and Harver (Horus the elder). The temple was a short walk from the dock. After visiting the temple we set sail for ASWAN.
The Problem with these escorted tours is two-fold. You are forced to make unscheduled stops at so called "Factories" producing paintings, carvings and so on. Even if you are not interested, there is not much you can do about it. The second is the diversity of the group. There are some who have come solely to shop (damn the sights & sounds). Invariably a tour comprises of more of these people than people like me who are in it just for the historical perspective & understanding.
We reached ASWAN around 2 PM on the 30th of April. We immediately took a bus which dropped us off at a small ferry landing. We took a motor boat to the Island of Philae. This is one of the two monuments that was affected by the building of the ASWAN dam. This temple was submerged (partially) under water before it was moved block by block to its current place on the Island of Agilika. The project was one of the two funded by UNICEF. The other was the masterwork of moving the temple of ABU SIMBEL. The temple of Philae, contains a lot of Greco-roman and Egyptian architecture. As these lands changed hands frequently in ancient times, you tend to find some of these temples containing influences of the various cultures. (Greek, Roman & Egyptian) The most famous photograph of this place is the 'Kiosk of Trajan'. (The Pharoah's Bed)
From the Island of Philae, we took the ferry to the Aga Khan Mausoleum. This is the guy who was in exile in Pakistan for most of his life and is buried here. Nothing extra-ordinary about the mausoleum. It sits atop a hill. You get a pretty view of the Nile and parts of Aswan from the top.
From the Mausoleum, we sailed to Kitchener's Island. This was the name of the Britisher who first started this botanical garden by obtaining plants, trees and flowers from various parts of the world. The Garden is now maintained by the Egyptian government. The Garden was pretty bad. What can you expect in this intense heat, anyway. I think, the mausoleum & the Botanical garden are just those things tourists are taken to, so that they can flap their mouths when they get back home.
After dinner, we had a belly dancer put up a show for us. The dancer was lousy and so was her act. Egyptian dancers are not allowed to bare their midriff. It was covered by a netting. (Not that it mattered !!)
The Next Morning, we visited the fallen Obelisk. This would have been the largest obelisk in the world, if it were not abandoned due to a crack it developed during the quarrying process. (The obelisk is the equivalent of our Qutb-minar with a whole-lot of carvings / heiroglyphics on its sides) There were four obelisks in the world. One is in Karnak. One was gifted by Muhammed Ali to the French King. It is in Paris. The other two are destroyed. (Seen it all !!!)
From the fallen obelisk, we proceeded to the Aswan dam. Being the pride of a nation, this is guarded heavily. After visiting the dam, those of us who had paid for the optional tour to Abu Simbel ($240 extra) went to the Aswan airport to take a flight to ABU SIMBEL. The flight was delayed for just an hour and we reached ABU SIMBEL around 11 AM. We took an air-conditioned bus to the temple.
This is the second temple that was moved to a higher ground to avoid being submerged by the water from the Aswan Dam. The Project took 2 years to Complete. It is a marvellous work. Both the temple and the restoration in its new place. This temple is dedicated to Ramses II and his queen Nefertari. The Main temple dedicated to Ramses, has four 18 Metre statues of Ramses in a seated posture at the entrance. This is followed by a hallway lined with eight standing statues of Ramses (4 on each side). The Inner chamber contains the statues of Ramses and 3 other Gods. Twice a year, on Ramses' birthday and on the day of his ascension to the throne, the rays from the rising sun stream all the way into the inner chamber about 100 metres deep inside the temple. This happens to this day, even after the temple was moved from its earlier place. A work of sheer genius on the part of the ancient architects. The heat at this place was unbearable. It must have been around 45 degrees C. It took a while for my eyes to get adjusted to the extremely bright light being reflected off the sand around the temple.
The adjacent temple of Nefertari, contains no such wonders whatsoever. It has Six 15 Metre statues at the entrance (4 of which are of Ramses and 2 are of Nefertari). Ramses, just did not get tired of his face !!!
We boarded the flight back to CAIRO via ASWAN. At ASWAN, the folks who did not accompany us on the excursion joined us. We reached CAIRO around 4 PM. We checked into the same hotel. I was given another twin-bed room. (They were trying their best)
Cairo - May 2, 1995
Cairo pretty much resembles Bombay. The Shanty towns, crowding, Pollution and above all non-observance of any rules related to traffic management.
After breakfast, we boarded a bus to tour the ruins at Memphis. This place is about 40-50 Minutes by bus from Downtown Cairo. It contains a couple of Statues of Ramses, an alabaster Sphinx all set amidst a small garden.
From Memphis, we proceeded to Saqqara, the site of the Step Pyramid. The Step Pyramid is the oldest and the first of the Pyramidal Structures from which all other Pyramids evolved. This Pyramid was commissioned by King Djoser and the structure was conceived by his Physician / Minister Imhotep, who was apparently a jack-of-all-trades. The Idea is for the King to Climb all the Six Steps of the Pyramid before he meets god in his afterlife (the afterlife concept similar to Hindu Culture). Pretty logical place to start your acquaintance with Pyramidal Concepts.
From Memphis, we proceeded to Giza, the place of THE Pyramids. Three Pyramids and the Sphinx are located here. The Pyramids were built by Khafre, his son Khufu and Khufu's son Menkaure. The biggest and tallest Pyramid of all (the Great Pyramid, as it is referred to) is the Pyramid of Khufu. The Pyramid of Khafre appears taller because it is built on slightly higher ground. Menkaure's pyramid is the smallest. Each of the Pharaoh has three smaller pyramids next to his pyramid. These were for his principal wives. Khufu also had a boat buried next to him which could be used by the king in his afterlife to sail down the Nile to meet the Sun God. Overall it is pretty awesome. We were given tickets to go into the Second Pyramid (Khafre). The passageway to the Innermost part of the Pyramid (where the sarcophagus is kept) is only about 1 metre high and about 1.5 metres wide. One has to Duck Walk all the way (about 60 metres). The air is pretty thin and stale inside. A lot of people opted out. Needless to say, I went in. All of the treasures and the Mummies have been moved from the tombs / Pyramids to the Egyptian Museum in CAIRO to better preserve & protect them.
After the Pyramids, we went to see the Sphinx. As the entire complex closes at 5 PM and we were close to it, I was not let in to see the Sphinx up close.
The Next Day (May 3, 1995), we were off to see the Egyptian Museum and the treasures hidden therein. During breakfast, one of young Australian couples informed me that they were unhappy about the short time we spent at the pyramids the previous day. They had arranged a private Taxi to take them to the pyramids once again today (May 3 , 1995). The Taxi was supposed to pick them up after our tour of the Egyptian Museum. Since the afternoon was to be spent in Old Cairo seeing the Various Mosques and since the cab could carry 2 more people, I jumped at the opportunity to see the pyramids again without the tour guide's constant badgering about time delays. Moreover, my share of the Cab expenses was to be around L.E. 20 (20 Egyptian Pounds - around 6 dollars) for half-a-day !!!
Reached the Egyptian Museum. The place is filled with stuff from various ages / pharaoh / tombs and so on. Saw the treasures from King Tut's tomb. They were awesome. When you consider the amount of Gold and other treasures that were buried along with King Tut, who was a boy king (did not achieve much and died young) your mind staggers at the mere thought of the volume of treasures that may have been buried with the likes of great kings like Seti or Ramses !!! The Volume of treasures contained in the Museum is priceless. But most of the halls and artifacts are not lit well. There is either very less light or extremely harsh light. For some of the artifacts, I was unable to take pictures as there was a reflection from some light bulb or another falling on the glass case. (Which is not the way works of art - my pictures - are done) But when you are a developing Country like Egypt your priorities are more to feeding and providing shelter for your masses than to spiff up a museum for a bunch of tourists to appreciate. Overall the museum was good. But since I had committed to the cab ride to the pyramids, I was unable to spend more time there.
The Cabbie arrived promptly at noon and informed us that he had managed to pick up a fourth passenger (an American) who was also interested in seeing the Pyramids. We did not mind that. His name was Bruce and he lives in Buffalo, NY. The ride to the pyramids took us about 30 minutes. The previous day when we visited the place was swarming with people. Today there was practically no one. Which leads one to conclude that all the tour operators join into a massive Oligopolistic Cabal. It was a good thing that there was no one around. We could see the stuff at our own pace, take pictures without umpteen tourist heads in it and so on.
We spent some time at the Sphinx first, since I had not been able to see it up close the previous day. It is an awesome structure. The Sphinxes come with various heads. The sphinxes at Karnak and Luxor are Ram headed, while the one at GIZA is human headed. The Sphinx was supposed to guard the burial places of the Kings. (i.e.; the Pyramids) There is an enormous path made up of huge rock slabs that lines the path from the Sphinx to the Pyramid of Khafre. It seems like a cobblestone path only with much larger rock slabs. When you look at the Pyramids up close, you are completely awed by the mammoth size of each of these rocks that were used to build the structure. I have taken many photographs of them. When you look at the whole pyramid, they look made up of tiny bricks. Only when you are up close you realize that each of those "TINY" bricks is about 2 metres square and weighs around 2 tons !!! So much for perspective.
We went inside the great pyramid (Khufu's Pyramid). Unlike Khafre's pyramid, the passageway is about 2 metres high but the width is about the same. My thigh muscles were worn out after crawling through Khafre's Pyramid the previous day. Nevertheless, I ventured into this one as well. In khafre's pyramid you walk DOWN about 30-40 metres, reach a small clearing and climb up around 50-60 metres. In this Pyramid (Khufu) you have a steep climb of about 40-50 metres, followed by a small clearing and then by an even steeper climb of about 60 metres. Although the overall distance to the centre of the pyramid (where the sarcophagus - coffin - is kept) is only about 100 metres from the entrance, by the time I reached the end of the 100 metre climb, I was ragged and was gasping for breath badly. I am not sure oldies like you can even think about it.
We walked around the Pyramid and went to the adjacent Solar boat Museum. If you remember, I mentioned earlier that a boat was buried along with the Pharaoh to enable him to sail on the Nile and meet the Sun God. (That's the reason it is called the Solar Boat) This building inside the Pyramid had the entire excavated boat displayed. Since they did not have any fancy welding techniques 5000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians used ropes to tie the various pieces of Wood together and thence form the boat. The Museum had pieces of the 5000 Year old rope. 40 % of the Original Wood was on the Boat. The rest has been replaced by newer stuff. Some of the Oars were intact. These Oars were about 10 metres. The reason slaves were buried was probably because they were required to attend to the king even in afterlife. (They would probably row the boat with these 10 metres Oars to meet the Sun God on the Nile)
Took a leisurely walk around the Pyramids, Stopping to just get a whiff of air without the pollution of the Hordes of Tourists usually clamoring there. In all we spent about 5 hrs. there.
The Next Day (May 4, 1995) was supposed to be a free day for the entire group to do as we please. Since I missed seeing Old Cairo the previous day, I teamed up with my new American friend (Bruce) and hired the same Cabbie to take us around Old Cairo, the Khan-el-Khalili market. For taking us around for the entire day from 8 AM to around 6 PM he was charging each of us L.E. 30 (about 9 dollars)
We visited the Citadel containing the very colourful Mohammed Ali Mosque, visited some old Churches, Synagogues (Bruce is Jewish) and finally went to the Khan-el-Khalili market. You get all sorts of hand crafted items here. Bargaining is the rule here. Bought some perfumes and returned to the Hotel.
I left the Hotel early (around 3 AM) next morning (May 5, 1995) to take the 5 AM flight to Amsterdam. Reached Amsterdam around 8 AM. Since I had around 7 hours to kill before boarding my flight to New York, I went once again into the City. Visited Van Gogh Museum, Saw Rembrandt's House and generally walked around the City. It is a Good place. I need to spend at least a couple of days in the Netherlands.
Reached New York on Friday (May 5, 1995) evening.