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The Temple of Karnak and Luxor: Where Time Stands Still

The Temple of Karnak and Luxor: Where Time Stands Still

January 8. 4 pm. Luxor.

I’m sitting on the deck of an old-fashioned felucca, the same sailing boats Egyptians have used for thousands of years. Our captain, Saleh, works with his first mate to unfurl the sails and push the tiny boat into the Nile’s mighty current.

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There’s no motor on this boat, which means it’ll be slow going today. But that’s okay. There’s nothing we want to do for the next hour except lay back, drink some karkade (hibiscus tea), and reminisce about the two incredible days we’ve spent in Luxor.

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Our horse ride yesterday morning was spectacular – a perfect introduction to the region’s impressive history. In the afternoon we met our guide for the next two days, Rumany, a big jolly man somewhat reminisce of an Egyptian Santa Claus. Rumany had a habit of cracking himself up with his own jokes, which made our tours that much more entertaining.

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We began on the East Bank with what would be both my and Jeremy’s favorite temple in Egypt – Karnak.

It’s a city of temples constructed over a period of 2,000 years (2055BC-100AD), back when the surrounding city was known as Thebes. The temple is dedicated to the worship of the Theban trinity of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu. It’s considered the single largest religious structure ever made, covering a total area of 200 square acres.

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To put it into perspective, the inner Great Temple area alone is large enough to hold St. Peter’s Basilica, Milan Cathedral, and Notre Dame Cathedral side-by-side inside it.

Okay, so it’s big. But how does it look?

In a word: Awe-inspiring.

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The most impressive feature is the Hypostyle Hall, consisting of 134 towering columns spanning an area of 54,000 square feet (16,500m). 4,000-year-old paint still clings to some of the hieroglyphics. Only 20% of the original temple remains, but it’s a darn impressive 20%.

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With the sun sinking lower, we made the short drive back into the heart of Luxor. Next stop: the appropriately named Luxor Temple. It spans over 1,000 years of history, from its original construction in 1390BC to the granite shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great in 332BC. It also houses a Coptic church and a mosque.

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Though not as large as its cousin Karnak, it’s still a beautiful and impressive sight. We wandered its ancient columns, pillars, and obelisks as dusk faded and the temple lit up.

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This blog wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to Sofra, a traditional Egyptian house converted into an elegant, affordable, and delicious restaurant. The food was so great we dined there three nights in a row! Among their specialties we tried were stuffed pigeon, stewed rabbit, roasted lamb shank, and a dizzying variety of hot and cold mezes (appetizers).

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Breakfast at our hotel was not overrated either. Ful, an omelet station, fresh bread, veggies, and four types of cheese. I see nothing wrong with this picture!

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We needed the fuel for another long day of touring. Rumany picked us up again (all smiles and laughter) and we crossed the bridge to Luxor’s West Bank to begin our day.

Once the ancient Egyptian capital shifted from Memphis in the north (near Cairo) to Thebes (now Luxor), the kings decided to hide their burial chambers in the mountains rather than build huge pyramids. Thus, the Valley of the Kings (and the Queens) began.

To date, 64 tombs have been discovered in the Valley of the Kings, including the still-intact tomb of Tutankhamun. This was noteworthy because the other tombs had long ago been pillaged and robbed of their treasures.

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King Tut’s tomb was believed to be “cursed” because Howard Carter and the men who discovered it all died within two years. In reality, though, scientists suspect something used to preserve the mummy slowly “poisoned” the air over thousands of years.

Whichever theory you subscribe to, it’s an incredible sight to behold. We toured three of the 64 tombs, all of which are empty now except for giant sarcophagi (yes, that’s a word) and floor-to-ceiling hieroglyphics. Sorry I don’t have photos for you, but cameras aren’t allowed inside the tombs!

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Next stop: the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. The only female Pharaoh in Egyptian history, theories abound about this powerful woman. She’s often portrayed as a man and supposedly claimed to be a demi-god. Could she have been the woman who found and raised baby Moses?

No one can say for certain, but her tomb carved into the mountain speaks of Egypt’s once-mighty status. Interestingly, despite her impressive mortuarium, her remains have never been found.

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Speaking of queens, the last stop on our West Bank tour was the Valley of the Queens. 80 tombs have been discovered here, although nowhere near as large or ornate as the Valley of the Kings.

We were literally the only ones there!

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After a quick stop at the Colossi of Memnon and a farewell to Rumany, we took the ferry across the Nile and enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the riverbank. When we were offered a private felucca sail for 100 pounds (about $5), we couldn’t resist.

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So here we are, drifting lazily down the Nile in our very own felucca. Saleh even let us pilot his boat for part of the journey!

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Luxor has been beyond amazing – sights, people, horses, food. I can’t wait to see what Dahab and the Red Sea have in store for us!

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Hoofprints Through History: Horse Riding in Luxor

Hoofprints Through History: Horse Riding in Luxor

January 7. 7 am. Luxor.

We awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in our hotel room in Luxor, eager to begin our day. For me, this ride was going to be a highlight of my visit to Egypt – right up there with riding past the Pyramids in Giza.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that horse riding is a top priority anywhere I visit. But riding in EGYPT? Native home of Arabian horses, my all-time favorite breed?

I’ve died and gone to equestrian heaven!

We’d arrived after dark on the train from Aswan the night before, so we had no idea our room looked out over the grounds of Luxor Temple. In the streets below, horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped by, along with an interesting mix of taxis, donkeys, and pedestrians.

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If you removed the taxis, you could easily be seeing the city as it’s looked for the past 4,000 years.

Have I mentioned Egyptian breakfasts yet? Let me tell you – this culture does it right. It’s particularly great at this hotel, where a smiley Egyptian man expertly whips up eggs and omelets. Along the buffet line you’ll find a feast of ful (mashed and spiced fava beans), potatoes, crisp vegetables, four types of cheese, and freshly baked bread and fig jam. Add in a cup of Arabica coffee or Egyptian tea, and you’re set for most of the day.

We wait outside for our pickup to the stables, which seems to be taking a little longer than usual. When I finally call to inquire, I’m told that the boatman is there waiting for us right behind the hotel pool.

This is a fascinating twist, consider our hotel has no pool, nor is located on the river!

After some confusion and laughs, we realize that the stables had us down as staying at the Hilton outside of town. Nope, I say, definitely not staying at the Hilton. (One can dream…) A comedy of errors later – including a taxi ride, the boatman’s brother, and a tiny tuk-tuk – we’re across the Nile to the West Bank and headed to the stables of Luxor Equestrian Adventures.

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As I imagined, this place is GORGEOUS. No skinny horses here – the British owner Emma keeps her herd in flawless condition. Their diet of clover, barley, chaff, and quinoa (these horses seriously eat better than I do) show through in their bright eyes and shiny coats.

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We meet our guide for the day, Sayyid, and the three beautiful gray Arabian horses we’ll be riding – Luna, Gypsy, and Amira. Just like my old horse Jon, Luna has a sweet disposition, a thick white mane, and a pink nose.

It’s love at first sight.

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Our three-hour ride took us through an incredible variety of settings – a chance to see the “real” Egypt off the beaten tourist trail. We rode through small villages, along cart tracks where they transport sugar cane, wheat fields and family farms, colorful bougainvillea and flower gardens. Everything was so lush and green!

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We also rode past a few historical sites, starting with the Colossi of Memnon. (Photo op!) Off in the distance, up on the mountainside, we could see the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut and the entrance to the Valley of the Kings.

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Awesome.

After riding past a few more temples and villages, we entered the open desert. Nothing but us, sand, and barren desert mountains.

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Again, awesome.

It could’ve been 2018AD or 2018BC, and we wouldn’t have known the difference. It was just us, the blazing sun, and our trusty steeds…the same as it’s been for Egyptians for thousands of years.

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Our return to civilization brought us through more villages and sugar cane, boys riding donkeys and men working the fields. It was a portrait of Egypt past, present, and future, and it wouldn’t have been the same from the window of a car.

Luna and Gypsy behaved beautifully for us, and Sayyid was a kind and knowledgeable guide. We were sad to return to the stables at the end of the morning, but time was pressing on, and we still had an afternoon tour to get to.

I have nothing but high praise for Emma, Sayyid, and the beautiful, well-trained horses at Luxor Equestrian. Something tells me I’ll see them again someday soon!