Tuesday 19 December 1995
On my 11th day in Egypt I woke at dawn and went out onto the hotel balcony to listen to the call to prayer and to watch the sun rise on the mountains of the West Bank. The jagged line of hills was bathed in a soft warm rosy glow – the sun-god Re building a new day. The mist rose over the river like a curtain covering a precious jewel, all the more magnificent when it was revealed.
My friends and I spent a lazy day by the river or lounging around the hotel swimming pool. Hard to believe this was almost Christmas the weather was so comfortably warm. Later in the afternoon some of us went to the bazaar again, where my new little friend Hani was waiting to guide us around. Some of the shopkeepers recognised me from last night – what amazing memories they have given the numbers of tourists who pass through here.
After dinner five of us went to see the Sound and Light show at Karnak Temple, ‘Thebes of the Hundred Gates‘. I was excited to be going back there. I have a friend who had excavated at Karnak back in the early ‘seventies and years ago he had played me a recording of the sound and light show that he’d heard each evening from his hotel roof, so I was already familiar with the story it tells of Luxor’s historical past. I have not seen the light show at the Giza pyramids but it is said that the one at Karnak easily rivals it.
The journey began at the avenue of sphinxes, the approach to Karnak’s first pylon and continued through the great court. The first voice spoke; “May the evening sooth and welcome you oh travellers from Upper Egypt“. Then another voice was heard saying; “You will travel no further because you are come. Here you are at the beginning of time“. I felt a delicious shiver of anticipation as we walked through the dark hypostyle hall, lit by hidden spotlights, with its giant forest of pillars casting shadows into the corners and giving a wonderfully mysterious atmosphere. Here the story began to be told of the “Great Week of the Creation of the World, the separation of the Earth from the Waters“. We heard the voices of Champollion, one of the first to decipher hieroglyphs, the voices of the god Amun, the pharaohs Seti I, Rameses III, Tutankhamun and Taharka continuing the journey to the heart of the night. Hearing about the lives of pharaohs who built and re-built monuments to their own memory, I truly was transported back in time and could almost smell the incense and hear the chanting of the priests, despite the crowds and the modern lighting.
We made our way slowly through the temple to the seating area on the banks of the sacred lake, hardly noticing the chill in late evening air, to hear the story’s completion. “A Hundred trumpets shrill thy name oh Thebes and echo thy beauty….. where only the gods have endured“. We heard about the grand archaeological site, the divine city of Karnak where… “They all brought their stone and their prayers“. We were told of how Queen Hatshepsut brought Karnak’s massive granite obelisks down river on barges from Aswan. We heard how Karnak was relegated to the shadows at the time of the Aton, before the new child pharaoh Tutankhamun restored the ancient worship of Amun and rekindled the thousand lamps of the abandoned temples, then how his tomb was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. The voices in the night described the fabulous machinery of the universe and how the priest-astronomers observed its movements from the terraces of Karnak. I looked up at the clear velvet sky and there were billions of twinkling stars, reminding me that the gods of this place will reign forever. I was so captivated by this whole experience that by the time we made our way out of the temple for the caleche ride back to the hotel, I was speechless for the rest of the evening.