Karnak and Luxor Temples lie at either end of Luxor and were once joined by the Avenue of the Sphinxes. In typically grand ancient Egyptian urban design, this 3km road lined with 1,350 sphinxes was the location of important religious and cultural ceremonies in ancient times, most notably the annual Opet Festival. It was completely covered by Luxor’s urban sprawl until relatively recently, being ‘found’ in the 2010s. Excavation and restoration of the site continues, with a Coptic church gazetted for removal to complete the process (it overhangs the site).
Karnak Temple Complex
The Karnak Temple complex is second in size only to Angkor Wat – an impressive 62 hectares! The Hypostyle Hall alone is nearly 16,500 metres squared, and is the largest room of any religious building in the world (St Peter’s Milan and Notre Dame Cathedral would both fit inside of it). This complex was magnificent in size and design. The avenue that leads to the first pylon of Karnak Temple is flanked with Sphinx-like statues with bodies of lions and heads of rams, differing to the usual sphinxes that had human heads. This was known as ‘The Way of the Rams’. There were many wonders to behold in this, the second most popular tourist drawcard in Egypt (after the Pyramids), and apart from John’s pics, there is more to read about on the website below.
A cruise on this particular boat was immediately a different experience to that of our other river cruises, and it wasn’t a step up. In fact, it all seemed a bit “how’s your father” in terms of organisation and logical operational procedures. There was no information sheet given to guests on check in – our own guide had to tell us about the time for dinner, and there was no information at all about what time breakfast was available the next morning. Wifi was $10 AUD per day for ONE device only in the lobby, and ONLY between 8am and midnight. Not being able to access it before breakfast was frustrating. Of course, we still bought it. The staff were also unable to sell us the drinks package on board – apparently, that had to be arranged through our agent. Okay, fine, we just ducked off and stocked up from the ‘local’, a party ship docked ‘next door’ (at the suggestion of the convenience store owner where we bought some soda water). Much cheaper! The one request the MS Concerto was able to grant was two key cards for our room entry – woohoo!
As we were docked for another night in Luxor, we went for a walk in the late afternoon. We were glad that Ahmed at Mara House had warned us about the line from the shysters lying in wait when guests leave the boat. Ahmed’s example of a popular opening was: “Hi, I remember you, I work in the kitchen…” All bollocks. So, of course, as we were leaving, that one was tried on us. And he was pretty relentless, after all, Luxor is a tourist town. When put in situations like this, I do have to refrain from using my ‘teacher voice’ and issuing a stern reprimand that ‘no, means no’, and instead I politely answered ‘La shukran’ (no, thank you), and walked on, ignoring the continuing deluge. The privileged ‘Western’ tourist interactions with a very unfamiliar culture continue.
After ditching the haranguing touts, we made our way to the local street bazaar, where we wandered for a time receiving minimal harassment – I don’t think they were used to too many tourists there. These people really are very poor. The kids still smile and wave and say hello, but the joy this cheeriness towards us evoked was dampened by a little bully on a pushbike who rode at a group of smaller kids who stood their ground to protect their mate, the one he was targeting. But the bully succeeded, cause the little dude cried. What an arsehole, as are all bullies in the world, especially the big ones who run countries.
We were diverted from these global musings by the evening belly dancing performance on board MS Concerto. The woman dancing was doing a good job. Of course, she grabbed me first to join her on the slightly raised tiny stage area, sensing I wouldn’t let her down, and I didn’t. There was one woman in the audience with the biggest scowl on her face, not sure if it was in judgement of the dancer or as armour to ward off the suggestion of joining her!
Due to the proximity of the Luxor Museum to where our boat was docked, the next morning we took a leisurely stroll along the river to check it out. It was only a few hundred metres downstream, which is north, upstream is south, and the morning greetings and hassle from the touters bothered us not one jot.
Before entering the museum proper, there was an annexe where they were showing a little film narrated by Omar Sharif about the museum and its treasures. Very informative, and the guy on the door seemed chuffed that we bothered – it appears many didn’t. The Luxor Museum is small in size, but impressive. The big draw card is the mummy of Rameses I (gifted by the city of Atlanta). I don’t much like looking at the mummies – they look like burn victim corpses – but I was still in awe at the process of mummification and the age of the relics before me. It is said that the mummy of Rameses I was stolen by a family of grave robbers in 1860 and sold for $7 to a Canadian museum at Niagara Falls. It was repatriated from the USA in 2003, and while the identity cannot be conclusively determined, CT-scans, X-rays, skull measurements and radio-carbon dating all point to it being the mummy of Rameses I.
The ‘setting sail’ party at 4:30pm was a sedate affair, celebrated with complimentary tea and coffee. I missed most of it, though, due to my pre-arranged one-hour massage, which was fantastic! An excellent therapist; lots of pummelling and pressure!
Later in the evening we ventured up on the top deck to watch the passing through the lock at Esna. It was not our first lock experience, but it was still a magical thing to watch. There was a NZ bloke haggling over the edge of the boat with a guy in a row boat who was trying to sell him some local clothes. I honestly thought the row boat was going to get jammed up against the side of the lock entrance, they were cutting it that close with their haggling (not a fine tourist moment from the New Zealander – it’s just a couple of bucks, give it to him already!).
At 7pm before dinner there were cocktails in the lounge. John didn’t make it, because, like me, his massage went over time. It was all very subdued, though, this socialising thing on board. The NZ father and son team mentioned that there were only about 50 passengers on board, and that the boat held about 120. Apart from us and a couple of others from France, all the other guests were Japanese, who had their own special catering not available to the rest of us.
Apparently, there was a disco on in the evening, but as we had an early rise the next morning, we ditched it. Oh, who am I kidding?? As if we would’ve attended anyway; discos have never been our scene!
Our adventures in Egypt continue on the Nile River…
Read our full Luxor story here:
Part 1: Arrival
Part 3: Abydos & Dendera
Part 4 (current): Karnak Temple & Luxor Museum