Day 9: West Bank, Luxor

by - November 22, 2010

 I have published two posts in one go - day 7/8 is below

Hatshepsut Temple, Luxor
Luxor is a strange city in Egyptian terms, because the east bank is heavily developed but the west bank is largely rural.  This is strange, because the Nile isn’t particularly wide when it reaches the city (a bridge exists 6km out of town) and means that the west bank, where the major sites are, is actually very underdeveloped.  After a breakfast at our hotel that included my first English tea of the trip, we headed across on a ferry to the west bank.  The sites on the west bank - tombs, temples and the famous Valley of the Kings, are spread over a large area, so some form of transport is required.  The majority of package tour tourists will get air-conditioned buses from their hotels, across the bridge and from there they will hop from site to site, but being backpackers, we hired some bikes (motorless ones this time) from the nearest town and cycled around.  This was actually a far more fun way of getting around - cycling along an Egyptian road involves avoiding not only people and cars, but donkeys, camels and tour buses.  It further confirmed our theory that package tours miss out on most of the interesting things in Egypt.  Our first stop on our bicycles was the Hatshepsut Temple, which is so well preserved that it actually looks like a modern building.  It is essentially a temple carved into the rockface, but is mainly facade - what you can see in the photo is pretty much all there is there.  As massively impressive as it is, we didn’t spend that long there - the amount of tourists was huge (notice how my photo has been completely ruined by all of the people standing on the steps to the temple).

Lunch at the Mohammad Restaurant, Luxor
The temple was a fair cycle away from the ferry point, so we were now just about ready for lunch, so cycled around looking for somewhere that was off the coach tour trail, and therefore likely to be a reasonable price.  We found a place (with a bit of help from Lonely Planet - notice how amazingly useful it is), that was actually not far from the ticket office and was based around a small courtyard where jazz music was being played.  We have found that in rural restaurants, menus just don’t exist and you just chose which meat you want with your meal.  Eating traditional local food in a jazz-filled courtyard in the middle of the desert amongst Ancient Egyptian temples, was actually pretty epic.

Ramesseum, Luxor
The courtyard was pretty epic, and the others felt that once you had seen one temple the others were fairly similar, so sat around while I cycled off to the next site - the Ramesseum.  This isn’t actually a temple - it is more of a shrine, to Ramses II and whilst it is massively important in Ancient Egyptian history, it is missed out by all of the tour companies on their busy schedules.  As a result I had the entire site to myself - my ticket was checked by a enthusiastic policeman who was lying by his shotgun at the entrance and seemed genuinely pleased to have something to do.  The site isn’t particularly impressive compared to Karnak or some of the other temples, but it was nice to be able to walk around in total silence and get some photos with nobody else in.  The thing is, that if the Ramesseum was anywhere else in the world, it would be a massive tourist attraction, but located as it is on the Luxor West Bank with what Lonely Planet describes as “an embarrassment of archaeological treasures”, it is overlooked.

Paint on a column at Medinat Habu
I cycled back to the cafe and collected the others before heading off to the next site (and our final temple of the day) at Medinat Habu.  This was another overlooked site, though when we arrived we found that one Russian tour company had ventured out to it - which is nothing compared to the hundreds at the Hatshephut Temple.  The paint on the walls was particularly impressive here - just the thought that the paint has been there for thousands and thousands of years is incredible.  It was also, like most of the sites here, fairly complete.  It strikes me just how true this is for the majority of the sites in Luxor.  The Pyramids at Giza look pretty dilapidated in comparison to some of the sites and the Ancient Egyptian monuments are far more intact than those from other civilizations that are thousands of years younger.  It actually takes a lot of energy to cycle around the desert from site to site, so we only managed three of the major places today - despite probably cycling about 10 miles or so.  We aim to come back tomorrow for our last full day and visit the Valley of the Kings, which is pretty exciting.

Our mean machines, with the Colossi of Memnon
On our way back to the boats we stopped off and had a photo by the Colossi of Memnon - two massive statues that have the epic backdrop of the Luxor escarpment.  We got the boat back to the other bank and were annoyingly charged triple the price to return, because the boat owners know that everyone has to get back at the end of the day to their hotel in the east.  Once back at the hotel, we went up to our rooftop pool and just collapsed on the deckchairs to watch the sun go down again.  We found out tonight that the mountains behind the west bank are lit up - only in Egypt would the authorities light up mountains for the sake of tourists, and we have an amazing view of them from our roof.  Luckily for you the reader, I was able to pull myself away from this (and beer, chips and my book) to walk into town to an internet cafe, where I have been sat blogging for the last two and a half hours.  I have no idea what they are going to charge me for this.  It may well be the last blog I write from Egypt (I might write up the Valley of the Kings post when I get back to England) as using Egyptian computers is like pulling teeth.  I will leave you with our view of the west bank.

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