We’re not staying on the East Bank of Luxor and thank fuck we’re not. It’s nothing particularly special and we’d read that the West Bank was a much nicer place to be. Our introduction to Luxor though, that pretty much validated our decision to flee west. A taxi driver at the train station collared us as we left, we had a foreigner price in our head that we were happy to pay of a whopping LE50. It’s probably too much but it’s only a couple of quid between the two of us. Imagine my shock and surprise when this was the exact amount he quoted. I opened and closed my mouth a couple of times like a stunned goldfish before agreeing and following him to his taxi.
We got in, spent about 30 seconds convincing him that no, the ferry was fine thanks, we really didn’t want him to take us over the river, and as he pulled away he said, “So it’s 50 pound per person.” Ah, there it is. Not a fucking chance, sunshine, purely on principle. Tarrant tried to reason with him. I told him to stop the fucking car, we’d find another driver. He tried for LE80 and maybe a few other prices but after having an irate lesbian barking, “Pull the car over NOW!” in his ear a few times he finally agreed to LE50 for the ride. Lesson learned. Always confirm every single fucking detail. I know this too, I’m just so out of practice.
The East Bank does have shit to put in your eyeholes though so the following day we headed back over the river on the local ferry. You’re constantly offered motorboats over the Nile (and felucca rides, and taxis) but the local ferry is cheap and easy. It is not, however, an escape. As soon as they see you you’re like a beacon, men will sidle up to you and sit on the bench in front of you to tell you all about their taxi. I have so many photos of people’s business cards. I was even tempted to use one guy purely because he had the decency to wait for a break in our conversation before pouncing.
Once we were deposited safely on the other side we walked to Karnak Temple. If you only see one thing on the East Bank then make this this, for sure. We were approached by a guide as we entered and decided to take her and I’m glad we did as we got a lot out of it with her rather than just gawping at ancient carvings without a single clue as to what we were gawping at. I do tend to Google shit tour guides tell me since a guide in Peru told us that South America suffers from a lot of earthquakes on account of the fact it’s between two oceans and the waves make the ground shake.
The first thing she did was tell us a bit about the temple as a whole, and how it was added to by different rulers over time in what was the capital of Egypt at the time, Thebes, present day Luxor. It starts off old, like Middle Kingdom old, and the closer it gets to where the ticket office is the newer it gets. I say newer. It’s fucking not. The youngest structure in the complex is a 500 year old mosque. But it was added to right up until the Ptolemaic Kingdom which occurred after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and the pharaohs pretty much ran out of cash. The first pylon, the newest, was never finished and even the mud brick ramp used in construction remains.
Eleanor (that’s her name) showed us some hieroglyphics and she even gave us an idea what they said but that went in one ear, flowed rapidly through my grey matter and trickled out the other ear, evaporating into the ether. I do remember the holy Triad though of Amun-Ra who is the main deity, Mut who is his mrs, and Khonsu who is their son. This big stone tablet she showed us depicted Amon-Ra, and we know it’s him due to the daft hat of two feathers on his head. The other dude is Seti I, and just as I was wondering how they knew this Eleanor taught us all about cartouches.
When you see a bunch of hieroglyphics in an oblong, that’s a royal signature and common folks like you and I wouldn’t have been allowed to write our names in a circle. That’s assuming we could even write. This tablet contained two signatures; Seti’s birth name and his coronation name. You know like when British royalty ascends to the throne they can choose a new name if they want? Same thing. But older. Probably involves more sacrifices. Anyway.
We headed through the first pylon into the huge hypostyle hall and our guide pointed out some graffiti carved into the walls which turned out to be surprisingly useful. It’s really high up on account of the fact the whole thing was buried in several metres of sand and as it was excavated people carved their names into it, because people are inherently shit. It does give and indication as to how much was uncovered at any given point though, because the vandals added dates. There’s graffiti from the early 19th century.
Okay okay okay, but these pillars though, they’re worth the entrance fee alone. Oh my holy fuck, they’re amazing, and they’re 134 columns worth of amazing. The drums would have been stacked in place, smoothed down and then carved and painted. The colours and detail at the bottom have been lost on account of annual flooding, sometimes up to 12 metres, but the High Dam at Aswan has seen to that.
Eleanor showed us a few more things until our hour was up then we were free to wander but that hall really is the absolute highlight, containing reliefs from Seti I and his son, Ramses II of Abu Simbel fame. We went in search of the relatively newly opened Avenue of the Spinxes which links Karnok Temple to Luxor Temple. The pharaoh would have been carried along this avenue in a big, like, carriage I guess? But it would have been on the shoulders of men, not pulled by animals.
The spinxes are ram headed close to Karnok Temple, representing Amon-Ra, with a tiny statue of Ramses II between its paws. This is probably the only time you’ll see him this small! About halfway along you have to buy a ticket for whichever temple you’re on your way to. Luxor Temple, I mean, it’s cool but after the wow factor of Karnok I’m not sure it was necessary to visit, or we should have done this one first but then we wouldn’t have had our guide at Karnok. Again, several pharaohs had a hand in adding to the temple including Tutankhamen.
Amenhotep III started the big bastard entrance court just beyond the pylons, and Ramses II finished it. There were statues of both the great kings until Ramses’ 30th jubilee when, in a classic Ramses move, he erased Amenhotep’s name from his statues and replaced them with his own. I’d previously read that he had his own shit carved extra deep to stop this from happening to him.
That was enough temples for us for one day. We did pop to the Mummification Museum where we learned that as soon as an animal was associated with some manner of god it was doomed to be mummified. They’ve got a baboon, a fish, even a whole fucking crocodile. There’s quite a cool cross section of what happens inside a mummified human skull too. Apart from that it’s not really worth the LE100 price tag. We were hoping to learn about the whole process but you don’t really.
We headed back over the river to our guesthouse. Yousef, the owner, has his own felucca so we figured it’d be easiest to go out with him for a bit of a sunset jaunt rather than some random bloke off the street. You’re never going to be short of a felucca ride in Luxor, I’m sure they’re all wonderful, honest but we knew we could trust Yousef not to change the price on us halfway through.
4pm rolled around and one of his kids led us out to the boat where they were doing all manner of complicated looking things with ropes and the actually quite massive sail. Getting on the boat was quite the adventure, a narrow wooden ramp at a very disconcerting angle provided access. This is it. This is how I die. I’m going to fall off a fucking plank into 15 centimetres of water, contract bilharzia and a parasite will eat my liver.
Between Tarrant and Yousef holding onto me I managed to pile onto the boat and tried not to think about how I was going to get off it again. That was a future me problem. Right now we had a fiery skyball to watch from the mighty river Nile aboard a particularly photogenic vessel. I’m really chuffed that we did this here in Luxor and not Aswan as the latter is pretty crowded. There were just enough feluccas cruising along to get some golden hour shots, but not so many that we were hindered at all. It was such a lovely couple of hours.
Our accommodation is a proper sanctuary too. There’s meant to be less hassle on the West Bank compared to the East Bank but we have to walk along the Nile to get anywhere and that’s where the tourist hot spot is. It’s not terrible, they just want to earn a living, it’s just that it does start to grate a bit when your conversion is constantly being interrupted and your polite but firm “No thank you” is ignored.
I don’t care how good the price is, mate. I still don’t need a fucking taxi. Honestly, I don’t mind you asking because what if I do need a taxi? Just take no for an answer. Once we’re back in our lovely, big flat though, away from the car horns and the traffic of the East Bank and the badgering of the felucca men and the restaurant owners, we can just chill the fuck out.
Jump to “Useful shit to know…”
Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Egypt
الأقصر ، محافظة الأقصر ، مصر
Stayed at: Adam & Eve House, Luxor
Useful shit to know…
- The local ferry is LE5 each way for foreigners. You pay before you get on.
- Karnak Temple cost LE220 each.
- Luxor Temple cost LE180 each.
- The Avenue of the Sphinx joins the two temples and you don’t have to leave a temple to get to the avenue. It’s included in your ticket price, or at least half of it is.
- About halfway along the Avenue of the Sphinxes there’s a ticket office. You’ll need to buy a ticket for the temple at the other end if you want to continue, or you can turn around and go back the way you came.
- The mummification museum cost LE100 each and it’s really not worth it at all.
- We arranged our felucca ride with our guesthouse. We paid LE250 for both of us for a two hour sunset trip.
- The train from Aswan to Luxor took about 3.5 hours. We caught the 7.30 AC train.
- We bought our ticket from the station on the day and he put us in AC1. It cost LE70 each.
- The taxi that took us from the station to the local ferry quoted us LE50 which we were happy to pay but when we were in the car he said that was per person. We kicked off sufficiently that he quickly relented.