Journal: Friday 15 January 2010
After breakfast this morning Sam and I decided to venture over the Nile to the West Bank. Sam has the use of a brand new Hyundi and it was with some trepidation that we set out to drive through Luxor, over the bridge and along the road on the West Bank that leads to the Qurna crossroads then west to the monument area and the mountains. Being Friday, fortunately the roads were fairly quiet apart from the usual reckless donkey carts and tourist coaches that travel far too fast. Sam soon got the feel of the car. Before deciding where we wanted to visit today, we drove along the monument road on the edge of the cultivation just to see what is new. Even though I knew about the destruction of old Qurna village and was there when most of it was happening, it was still a shock to see the empty patch of desert where the ancient houses had been, supporting the Qurnawis for centuries. Little is left now and the little square mosque, once central to the village, looks very lonely on its own.
We took the road to el-Tarif. Everything has changed since I was last here and the little roads have become wide new highways. I hardly recognised where I was. As we passed the Carter House I told Sam that I’d like to see it, knowing that it has just opened as a museum. Something to do another day. We drove back to the ticket office, noting all the activity going on at Dra Abu’l Naga where two tombs are being excavated. There has also been quite a lot of work done at the Temple of Tuthmose III just to the north of the Rameseum, where a Spanish team have been excavating in recent seasons. Buying tickets for Medinet Habu, I was amazed that the man in the ticket office remembered me – it’s three years since I last saw him. Driving along the road by the canal that is so familiar to me from staying here a few years ago, I was surprised to see changes even here. There is a big new parking area for the temple and in front of the temple itself the road has been dug up to put in huge new land-water drainage pipes that will be installed right along the length of the monument area in an attempt to lower the water table.
Sam and I spent about three hours inside the temple that I know so well. At least not too many changes here. The small temple built by Hatshepsut is still roped off with Chicago House’s ongoing restoration work there. After a walk through the temple I went around to the palace area on the southern side. A great deal of clearance work has been carried out to the west of the palace, revealing foundations of houses and a large well. This was obviously an area where many people lived and worked. I walked up to the House of Butehamun, the only house that has survived in part and looked at its slender columns, where I found inscriptions that I hadn’t noticed before. I took a lot of photographs today, even though I already have several thousand taken in this temple. The light is always changing and different scenes show up better at different times.
By the time I had finished, Sam had vanished, but I thought I knew where I would find her and I was right, she was in the Rameses Café just outside the temple. I didn’t recognise any of the staff working in the café and it was looking very run-down, with no other customers. We were told that this café too may be pulled down to make way for all the changes taking place.
We left the West Bank just as the sun was setting behind the mountain, around 5.30pm and drove back over the bridge, through Luxor to the Villa Mut. How Sam interprets the mysterious traffic signs on the roads I will never know. Most of them don’t make sense to me and I wouldn’t dream of trying to drive here so it was with a great deal of admiration on my part that we arrived home. Later we went to dinner again at Maxim’s and Sam drove around the streets of Luxor ‘for practice’ she said. On Television Street we stopped to do some essential food shopping in a small supermarket, while a couple of young boys cleaned the West Bank dust off the car for 1EL. The day ended with a very civilized glass of red wine on our roof terrace watching the dark shadows swirl around the Temple of Mut in the misty lights and listening to the Karnak Sound and Light commentary.