October 1999

A Touch of Luxury

 Mount Stromboli eruptingGuess where I’ve come on my holiday. This time I am travelling with my friend Jenny and we booked a package holiday – something I haven’t done for a long time. We left England this morning flying from Gatwick in pre-booked seats by a window. Although the plane was very full and rather cramped, the flight was lovely. Flying over the coast of Italy, we could see below us in the dazzling deep blue of the Mediterranean, the volcano on Mount Stromboli erupting even more spectacularly than it was last year.

Jenny, a keen member of our Egyptian Society, is as passionate about the ancient Egyptian monuments as I am, although this is her first trip to Egypt. I have been really looking forward to visiting all my favourite places with her and showing her around. For once we landed in Luxor at 5.30pm, while the sun was still shining and the temperature still quite hot at 34 degrees C. It’s so good to be back.

The Luxurious Hotel SonestaThe reason we chose a package holiday is because we found a very good deal which would allow us to stay at Luxor’s newest hotel, the Sonesta St George. After staying on the West Bank or in cheaper hotels for my past few trips, this promised to be quite a luxurious holiday. We left the airport on the tour company’s coach with the other travellers and arrived at our hotel in the early evening. We were not disappointed! The Sonesta is fabulous and we are sharing a room on the corner of the third floor, overlooking the gardens and pool, with a wonderful view of a long stretch of the River Nile and beyond to the Theban Mountain. Jenny and I quickly unpacked and after a shower in the very decadent bathroom, we went out into Luxor, walking down to the Amoun Restaurant for dinner and an amble through the suq.

Socialising

It is always a joy on the first morning when I wake up in an Egyptian hotel room with the sun shining brightly through wide sheer curtains to step out onto the balcony and look out over the River Nile and the West Bank mountains. We had an early breakfast sitting in the open air on the terrace overlooking the pool. The choice of food was enormous and I was only sorry that I can never eat much at that time of the morning. But the coffee was good!

Feluccas sailing on the NileJenny and I walked down the road into the main part of Luxor, browsing in shops along the way. Jenny was already getting the hang of bantering with Egyptian tradesmen. We stopped at several bookshops but resisted the urge to buy anything so soon. Outside Aboudi’s bookshop we met Shakespeare. This is a character I have known for years, an Egyptian entrepreneur who seems to be able to assist with practically anything. His faultless English is constantly interspersed with quotes from the bard, William Shakespeare, which can be quite amusing and he is genuinely helpful and honest, especially in finding ways to relieve tourists of some of their money, while not ripping them off. Jenny wanted to go for a sail so we agreed to meet Shakespeare later for an hour’s trip on the river. All around town I was stopped by people who just wanted to say hello or to invite us for a glass of tea, so it took quite a while to reach the Amoun restaurant at lunchtime, where we hoped to meet up with my friend David, but he wasn’t there. After a long cool drink of lemon juice we went sailing for an hour and a half with Shakespeare, who entertained us all the time with funny stories, before dropping us off on the West Bank.

Sufi Dancer in LuxorAlthough I always feel at home in Luxor I am even more so on the West Bank and felt a little guilty that I was not staying at the el-Gezira Hotel this time, where the staff were almost like family. I must go and visit them soon. Jenny and I took an arabeya up to the taftish and walked along the track leading to Medinet Habu. We resisted going into the temple this afternoon and instead went to visit my friend Nubi who told us that he had just returned from Cairo and was leaving again tomorrow to do surveying work for Dr Mark Lehner at Giza. At Nubi’s home we had tea and talked with his wife Zeinab, his mother Haga and played with the children for a couple of hours. I was so glad not to have missed Nubi before he goes back to Cairo. Before leaving Medinet Habu we stopped at the Rameses Cafe to say hello to my friend Salah and the rest of the staff and to gaze for a while at the magnificent facade of the Temple of Rameses III.

Late afternoon saw us on the passenger ferry, Jenny’s first experience of this unique mode of travel and she loved it. The sun sets with amazing speed in Egypt and by the time we were walking past the New Winter Palace Hotel it was already dark. A Sufi dancer was entertaining a group of tourists in the entrance and after watching him for a while, twirling and spinning fast enough to make me feel quite dizzy, we wandered up the road to the Sonesta. Back at the hotel we booked a trip to Dendera for Sunday on a small cruiseboat called the Lotus Boat, as it seemed a nice way to enjoy travelling on the river and seeing the temple too.

To the Village of the Workmen

Last night Jenny and I discussed what we would do today and decided that we would visit Deir el-Medina, so we were ready to go out early for another trip across the river on the passenger ferry. Once on the West Bank we caught an arabeya to the taftish and bought tickets as Jenny wanted to see the temple and the tombs, as well as the workmen’s village.

The village of Deir el-MedinaI never get tired of visiting the same sites over and over again. There is always something new to look at and it’s good to go with someone who hasn’t been before as I can see things through new eyes. Today we walked through the village site at Deir el-Medina, looking at the detail of the houses and trying to imagine what life would have been like here in the New Kingdom period. We were alone among the houses as there were no crowds of tourists this early. The silence of the desert seemed all around us, a light breeze blew sand in tiny dust devils around our feet. But I could picture those ancient people taking part in the absorbing rhythm of their daily lives, hear their conversations, their children squabbling, grain being pounded in a quern in a corner of a distant house or a donkey braying. I could almost smell the aromas of kitchen fires where women would be preparing the daily meal for their men returning home from a ten-day shift in ‘The Great Place’.

The workmen’s village at Deir el-Medina is fairly unique in Egypt because of the massive amount of information which has come to light from excavations here. The community of men, women and children, usually around one hundred at any time, lived in a fairly isolated seclusion and we know of many of their family relationships from textural evidence in the form of documents and ostraca which gave details of everyday life in the village. The men were mainly employed as artisans working on the construction and decoration of the royal tombs as well as tombs for the Theban elite and for themselves and their families. Each man had his own skills and would belong to gangs of similar professions. They were a highly organized community and many of its inhabitants were literate. The texts they left behind include everything from humorous satirical writings and sketches to laundry lists, wills and pious prayers carved on elaborate votive stelae.

Painting in the tomb of InherkauAfter we had been to see the temple of Hathor, which I know well after several visits here, we walked back through the village to the tomb of Sennedjem with its brightly painted scenes and wonderful depiction of the ‘Fields of Iaru’ on the end wall. Next we went into the tomb of Inherkau where there is a lovely picture of the serpent Apothis fighting a cat, one of my favourite scenes in this tomb. Back outside in the sunshine we browsed the bookstall and I bought Jocelyn Gohary’s book ‘Guide to the Nubian Monuments on Lake Nasser’. Maybe one day I would get to see them.

Leaving Deir el-Medina in the late morning Jenny and I walked over the mountain towards the Queen’s Valley, stopping at the shrines of Ptah and Meretseger, where the artisans of the workmen’s village set up votive chapels to their local gods, Ptah, as patron of craftsmen and Meretseger, ‘She who loves Silence’, goddess of the Western Mountain. There were originally seven small chapels here where large stelae were set up to honour kings (mainly Rameses III) and several deities. The chapels are now ruined but many fragmentary reliefs can still be seen. I especially wanted to photograph Meretseger if the light was right, a relief which is very shallow and not easy to capture on film. She has the head of a cobra and a slim human body. We spent quite a long time looking at the shrines, trying to work out where each one was situated, with my trusty copy of ‘Porter and Moss’ in hand.

Shrines of Ptah and Meretseger

By this time it was very hot and we made our way down into the Valley of the Queens and walked along the road to Medinet Habu. The Rameses Cafe and a cool drink were beckoning.

Most Splendid of Monuments
In my experience, the best time to visit Karnak Temple at its least crowded is in the afternoon, when the coaches have taken the weary tour groups away for lunch. By 12.00pm the temple becomes, if not deserted, then a little quieter than in the morning. Unfortunately this is the hottest time of day when the sun is at its highest, so not perfect for photography. In Egypt there always has to be a compromise.

Karnak TempleJenny and I took a taxi from the Sonesta to Karnak just as most of the crowds were leaving and I was loaded down with books, notebooks, cameras and tripod, keen to do some work. Just as we were walking up to the ticket office, me with my student card in hand, I realised to my horror that I’d left one of my cameras in the taxi which by then was speeding down the road back into Luxor. I’ve always wanted to take part in a car chase and this was my big moment. Jumping into the first taxi in the queue, the driver and I hightailed it back to the hotel where my previous taxi had just pulled up. Happily I was reunited with my camera and all was well with the world. Both taxi drivers got a decent tip too.

Festival Hall of Tuthmose III

Back at Karnak again, I got out my list of things I wanted to look at, but first I would seek out Jenny. I found her quickly as she hadn’t even got past the First Court, like everyone who visits Karnak for the first time she was overwhelmed by it all. We decided we would take a quick walk-through so that Jenny could get her bearings and then we would separate, so that I could wander around the Saite shrines on the northern side for an hour or two. But it’s no use planning anything in Egypt and we both ended up spending a long time in the Festival Temple of Tuthmose III, called in ancient times, the ‘Most Splendid of Monuments’. This temple was built as a memorial temple to Tuthmose and his ancestral cult. The pillars inside the hall are said to imitate the ancient tent poles of a pavilion, unique in Egyptian architecture, being fat and sqat, unlike the stately columns of some other temples. There is still a lot of paint on the ceiling and architraves with the names and titles of the King standing out in glorious colour. To the southwest of the pillared hall, one of the chambers once contained a table of kings which listed the names of 62 kings but this is now in the Louvre in Paris, with nothing left to see here. The area to the north of the hall, was used as a church in the Coptic era and there are several ruined statues. Behind the columned hall is a suite of rooms dedicated to Amun and beyond this, a large vestibule is sometimes known as the Zoological Garden, or Botanical Garden, because it contains superb delicate carvings representing plants and animals which Tuthmose is said to have encountered on his Syrian or Palestine campaigns. These are exquisite and every time I go to Karnak I take a few pictures here because the light is always different depending on the time of day.

Botanical reliefs of Tuthmose III

We climbed up a flight of wooden stairs leading over the wall behind the festival temple. Towards Karnak’s east gate is a small ‘Temple of the Hearing Ear’, built by Rameses II. Here local inhabitants of Thebes would bring their petitions to the gods of Karnak, or rather to the priests who would intercede. This was a tradition suggested by earlier niche shrines that we saw built against the back of the Tuthmose complex.

It was still very hot, so we wandered around to the Sacred Lake and as usual, ended up in the cafeteria for a cold drink. Afterwards we looked at other bits and pieces, but Karnak is not somewhere that you can see in one go. Leaving at 5.00pm as the tourists were coming back into the temple we knew that we too would be back soon.

Cruising to Dendera
The ‘Lotus Boat’ was an ideal way to enjoy a short cruise on the Nile while visiting Dendera Temple at the same time, without the hassle of the convoy. We had an early start at 6.45am while the sun was still struggling to rise above the river mist. Everything was bathed in the pale dawn light and looked clean and fresh as though someone had spent the night sprinkling the riverbanks with dew. It was so relaxing to watch as we cruised past tiny villages with their primitive mud-brick houses, roofs thatched with reeds as they have been for thousands of years. Sometimes there would be a group of women by the water’s edge, washing clothes or scouring pots and pans, or perhaps an older man or group of boys taking the family buffalo for a drink and a bath. The river birds were amazing, swooping and diving for fish in the water and I especially loved the stately egrets with their pristine white feathers, often just sitting drifting on a passing clump of water hyacinth. Herons sat in the taller trees on the banks and occasionally I sighted a kingfisher flying above the water’s surface with a small fish in its mouth.

The Temple of Hathor at DenderaBy late morning we had arrived in Qena and were escorted by a police launch to the dock where we disembarked to travel the short distance to Dendera temple by coach. The Temple of Hathor at Dendera was known as Tentyris during classical times, largely a Ptolemaic structure but the site spans many periods from Early Dynastic through to Christian. The building follows the fairly typical plan of other temples from the Graeco-Roman Period but it is among the most extensive and best preserved of these remaining temples. It is dedicated to the goddess Hathor and her mythology relating to her consort Horus of Edfu. We had an hour and a half in the temple, which is never long enough for me, but Jenny and I had a good overview of each part of the site.

Hathor-headed colmns at DenderaWe went first into the main temple with its imposing façade of massive Hathor-headed columns, repeated like a forest in the Hypostyle Hall. Although it is quite blackened in parts, the ceiling of the Hypostyle is interesting, divided into bands of well-preserved astronomical figures featuring the goddess Nut, vultures and winged sun-discs and the Roman signs of the zodiac. The walls are decorated with scenes of Roman emperors as pharaohs making offerings to Hathor. To the rear is a smaller Hypostyle which would have been the older part of the temple known as the ‘hall of appearances’ and where the statue of the goddess would first appear on her annual journey from the temple to meet with her consort Horus at Edfu for the annual festival. On the walls there are kings involved in ritual foundation ceremonies. This hall is surrounded by smaller storage chambers and on either side there are staircases leading up to the roof.

The passageway around the sanctuary contains 11 side-chapels dedicated to various divinities and religious symbols. I especially wanted to look at a chamber directly behind the sanctuary which would have held a shrine with images and symbols of Hathor. High up in the wall of this chamber is a niche containing reliefs of Hathor and this point corresponds with a shrine of the ‘hearing ear’ on the outside of the temple, where prayers to the goddess would have been offered and perhaps where an oracle spoke. Jenny wanted to have a look in the underground crypt, the only one of fourteen which is still accessible and I agreed to go with her, although I remembered from my last visit the many bats who live there. The reliefs in the crypt are very interesting and represent many symbolic acts of religious rites. After looking in the small Hathor kiosk known as the ‘pure place’ with its beautiful Nut ceiling showing the birth cycle of the sun whose rays are shining down on Hathor, we climbed the dark western staircase up to the roof. There are some very special chambers on the roof where mysterious rites of Osiris took place, but we just didn’t have the time to linger, so after climbing up to the top level for a lovely view over the temple precinct, we went down the eastern staircase and back out into the sunshine.

Roman King offering to the DeitiesTime was running out, so we walked along to the two birth-houses to look at the beautiful reliefs there. The oldest mamissi was built by Nectanebo I and celebrated the birth of the young god Ihy, the son of Hathor and Horus of Edfu. I wanted to look at a worn and shallow scene on the north wall which shows the creator god Khnum fashioning the child with Hekat the goddess of childbirth seen in her image of a frog. To the north, the more elaborate Roman mamissi was built by Augustus with later decoration by Trajan and Hadrian. The reliefs on the exterior walls are superbly preserved, and portray the divine birth and childhood of the infant Horus, celebrated in rites to legitimise the divine descent of the king. The little dwarf god Bes, one of my favourites, whose grotesque appearance was thought to ward off evil spirits at the moment of birth, is portrayed on the columns of a colonnade.

Cruising back to LuxorAll too soon it was time to leave in our coach to go back to Qena and the Lotus Boat. We had a wonderful buffet lunch on the boat with everything we could possibly want to eat and more, while we began our journey back upriver towards Luxor. The afternoon cruise was just as relaxing as it was this morning and we watched the river, this time with the sun eventually setting over the West Bank. Jenny and I discussed the temple visit and wrote up our notes between taking pictures of the river banks and having afternoon tea (which seemed to arrive very shortly after lunch!). We arrived back in Luxor at 7.00pm after a really lovely day.

The Gate of Kings

In Arabic, the Valley of the Kings is called Biban el-Maluk and means the ‘Gate of Kings’. The ancient Egyptians referred to it as ‘The Great Field’ and ‘the Beautiful Ladder of the West’. Such evocative names for this, the last resting place of many New Kingdom pharaohs, whose tombs are nestled in the high majestic cliffs surrounding a snaking network of small wadis and offshoot valleys. Overlooking and protecting the necropolis is the towering peak of el-Qurn which is a pyramid-shaped mountain where, in ancient times, the goddess Meretseger was thought to dwell.

This morning Jenny and I crossed the river and took a taxi from the West Bank ferry dock to the Kings’ Valley. Extravagant I know – but the local arabeyas don’t go that far. We left our taxi at the entrance to the Valley, telling the driver that we would find our own way back, which he wasn’t very pleased about. When I visit the Valley I try to picture this remote place as it was at the beginning of the 20th Century when many excavations were taking place and the first European ‘tourists’ came here. This isn’t always easy and now the arrival of the Tuff-Tuff makes it even harder to soak up the ancient atmosphere. The Tuff-Tuff is a recent innovation, a little train designed to carry tourists up the road to the main ticket office. Heaven forbid that we would want to walk the few hundred metres from the car park. Perhaps I’m being unfair, as for most visitors time is very limited here, but Jenny and I wanted to walk, shunning the Tuff-Tuff and its insistent driver in spite of the rising temperature. I just couldn’t bring myself to enter this magnificent necropolis on a vehicle more fitting to a theme park. Tickets are sold in blocks of three and can be used to visit any three open tombs. Jenny and I bought tickets for six tombs each. This was her first visit and it looked like we were in for a long day!

Overlooking the Valley of the Kings

I had studied the tombs extensively in March 1998, so I won’t describe them in detail again. Jenny and I began our tour today by climbing the steep wooden staircase to the tomb of Tuthmose III (KV34), the earliest open tomb and probably my favourite because of its simplicity and its stick-figure paintings. Standing outside the tomb entrance Jenny looked up at the mountain and suggested that we walk back that way to Deir-el-Bahri later. I was non-committal and replied that we should see how we feel at the end of the day. I knew from past experience that doing six tombs in this heat can be quite exhausting. When we came back out of the tomb, leg muscles screaming after the steep climb, we went down the steps and found that the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV35) was newly opened. This is the next king in the chronology and the successor to Tuthmose III.

Stick-figures in the tomb of Tuthmose IIIThis was exciting because I hadn’t been into this tomb before. It is similar in plan to that of his predecessor, and to my delight I found it to be one of the most beautiful tombs in the Valley. The discovery in 1898 by Victor Loret was rather spectacular because not only did it contain the burial of the king and his son Webensenu, but also another 17 burials in a cache probably deposited here during the reorganisation of the royal necropolis during the time of Pinudjem I of Dynasty XXI. Nine royal coffins were found with the mummies of Tuthmose IV, Amenhotep III, Merenptah, Seti II, Siptah, Sethnakht and Rameses IV, V and VI. One of the tomb’s innovations is in the decoration of the pillars, the faces of which show the king being offered the ankh, the sign of life, from Osiris, Anubis and Hathor, which became a feature in the decoration of subsequent tombs. For the first time the figures are fully-drawn rather than stick-figures. The king’s yellow quartzite sarcophagus (perhaps a replacement) was found in the crypt-like burial chamber and at the time of discovery it contained the pharaoh’s mummy with an ancient garland of flowers still around his neck. On the sides of the sarcophagus base, still in situ, two protective udjat-eyes can be seen between figures of the king and the god Anubis with a jackal-head. This visit made my day!

The other tombs we visited together were those of Siptah, Rameses III, and Rameses IV & V. By this time I was flagging and I gave Jenny my last ticket so that she could go into two more tombs on her own, while I went to wait in the rest house to shelter from the blazing sun. The main Wadi is deep and narrow and the high cliffs contain the radiating heat which by mid-day makes it feel like an oven. Inside the deeper tombs it is even hotter, the air becoming stale and humid the further you go in. Most of the tour groups were gone by this time and the place had once more become quite peaceful. I wandered off for a while up a side-valley and sat on a shady rock to contemplate the pharaohs who were buried there. I can spend hours just looking at the rocks, imagining all sorts of shapes and faces watching me. The Valley is a timeless place and when it is quiet the weight of centuries can be felt all around.

By 4.0pm we were back on the ferry crossing the river to Luxor. I had declined to walk the mountain path, leaving it for another day. This is an activity best done in the cool of the early morning. Arriving at the car park at the entrance to the King’s Valley I met my old friend and taxi driver Tayib, who had just dropped someone off and kindly offered to give us a lift back to the ferry landing.

The Temple of Hatshepsut

Jenny and I crossed the river again this morning, taking an arabeya and stopping at the taftsh to buy tickets to Deir el-Bahri temple. Whoopee! I discovered that the tombs of Roy and Shuroy at Dra Abu’l Naga were now open at last and so this was where we headed first. Another arabeya ride took us past Deir el-Bahri right to the northern end of the road to the King’s Valley turn-off and where the two small tombs are situated up in the hill slope.

The tomb of Roy at Dra Abu'l Naga

These are the most recent tombs to be opened to visitors on the West Bank and have both been superbly restored. We first went into the tomb of Roy (TT255). He was a ‘Royal Scribe in the Estates of Horemheb and of Amun’, probably during Horemheb’s reign. His wife, who appears with him in the tomb paintings is named as Nebtawy, or ‘Tawy’ for short. This tiny tomb has only one small chamber with a niche and burial shaft. The quality, detail and colour of the paintings, however, makes up for it’s diminutive size and I was very lucky today because a professional photographer had been working here and the barriers protecting the walls had been removed for him, leaving the walls free of obstructions. I eyed his huge photographic lamps jealously, then got on with taking the best pictures I could with so little light. The beautiful paintings depict the usual funerary scenes, the journey to the tomb, banqueting feast etc. as well as scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’. Right around the top of the wall is a lovely frieze of Hathor heads, Anubis jackals and the titles of the deceased. It is not only the walls which had my attention here, but also the fabulous ceiling decorated in a colourful geometric ‘textile’ design.

Shuroy’s Tomb (TT13), by comparison was larger, with two chambers, but a little disappointing. He held the title ‘Head of Brazier-bearers of Amun’ during the Ramesside Period. While the funerary scenes are similar to those of Roy and have also been restored, they are not nearly so well-preserved. The modern entrance is actually cut into the rear chamber of the tomb, so to view the paintings in the correct sequence, we first went into the smaller vestibule and began at the original entrance where there are traditional scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’ and where Shuroy and his wife, Wernefer, are shown in sketches, adoring the gods. A king and queen are depicted here but unfortunately the cartouches were left blank, so the date of the tomb is not known precisely. At the back of the vestibule is a niche decorated with women on the left and a man squatting, with Shuroy offering on the right.

Leaving Dra Abu’l Naga Jenny and I walked along the road towards Deir el-Bahri, stopping on the way to look in a shop selling statues. We didn’t actually buy anything, but gratefully accepted a cold drink from the owners and sat chatting with them for a while. When we left we were badly hassled all along the road by several young boys either selling things, asking for things and even making indecent propositions (this from a little boy of about 10 years old!). Eventually we arrived hot and bothered at the Temple of Hatshepsut to find that the entrance to the temple has been changed, routing all visitors through a tourist bazaar which is now impossible to avoid. So it was head down, making no eye contact with the vendors and head straight through security to the temple steps.

Reliefs in the Temple of HatshepsutWhile Jenny did a tour of the temple, I concentrated on the second terrace where the wonderful reliefs of Hatshepsut are carved on the back walls of the south and north colonnades. The reliefs in the southern colonnade are the famous scenes of Hatshepsut’s expedition to Punt. The precise location of Punt is not known, but it is thought to have been probably on the east coast of Africa, to the south of Egypt. The end wall shows a village in the land of Punt, its dome-shaped houses on stilts with ladders to access them. There are wonderful birds and animals all around. Men are cutting trees, including incense and ebony and carrying off heaps of tribute and treasure to be taken back to Egypt. The famous relief of Ity the ‘Queen of Punt’ – a grotesquely fat lady, the wife of Parahu, Punt’s chief – is now in Cairo Museum but has been replaced by a reproduction. On the western wall elaborately-rigged sailing boats get ready to bring the tribute back to Egypt, including incense trees in baskets, cattle, baboons and a panther. There are many types of fish in the water in the register below. Further along I saw reliefs of the transplanted incense trees in the gardens at Karnak and the produce from the expedition being weighed and documented by officials before being presented to the queen to be offered to Amun. At the very end of the southern portico is a Chapel of Hathor with many reliefs of Hatshepsut being licked or suckled by the goddess in the form of a cow. Beautiful Hathor-headed pillars line the central part of the hall and lead the way to the sanctuary area of the chapel cut into the hillside at the back. On the northern wall in the hypostyle of the Hathor Chapel are colourful scenes of boats and a parade of soldiers, a panther and Libyans dancing in a festival of Hathor.

The northern colonnade begins with a Chapel of Anubis which echoes the Hathor Chapel on the southern side and shows colourful scenes of Hatshepsut in the presence of the jackal-headed god. In some places Hatshepsut’s figure has been removed but the figure of her successor Tuthmose III remains in offering scenes to Amun as well as Anubis, Wepwawet, Sokar, Osiris and other mortuary gods. In the northern portico we see scenes of the queen establishing her right to rule by illustrating her divine birth. The reliefs are very shallow and not easy to see, but show the divine union of Hatshepsut’s mother Ahmose with Amun. Khnum the creator god then fashions the queen and her ka on the potter’s wheel and Ahmose is led to the birth-room by the goddess Hekat who presides over the birth. Hatshepsut is then presented to Amun and a number of other deities and the goddess Seshat, with Hapi, records her name and reign length. The register above portrays the coronation ceremonies of the queen where she is crowned first by her father Tuthmose I, then by Horus and Set.

Deir el-Bahri seems to be busy at all times of the day and today was no exception. Next to the Kings’ Valley it is the most popular tourist site on the West Bank and by the time we left in the middle of the afternoon there were still a lot of people in the temple. We wandered southwards across the sandy mounds of el-Khoka and were called over to a little hut where some guards had recognised me. We stopped to sit with them, while they brewed tea for us on a little gas stove and Jenny had a lesson in turban-making with her long white cotton scarf. Then one of the guards offered to show us the Dynasty XXV tomb of Mentuemhet (TT34), an important Mayor of Thebes. The tomb itself was not open to visitors, but we could look down into the massive sun court into Montuemhet’s impressive monument. What a bonus!

Hag at the Amoun RestaurantBack on the main road we caught an arabeya to the ferry and crossed the river once more. Back to the Sonesta for a shower and change before walking to the Amoun Restaurant for dinner. As always, we were warmly greeted by Hag Sayed, the restaurant’s owner, who was sitting at his usual table at the back, dealing with the money. He’s a lovely man and always sends over a ‘welcome drink’ of lemon juice whenever I arrive. When we had finished dinner it was still quite early, so Jenny and I took a motor boat back over to the West Bank to the el-Gezira Hotel to visit my friends among the staff there. As luck would have it, it was party night!

The Eye of Re

I don’t know what it is that attracts me to the goddess Sekhmet. When all is said and done she is a nasty piece of work, the instrument of vengeance used against mankind by the sun god Re. I was thinking about Sekhmet today when Jenny and I visited the destroyed mortuary temple of Amenhotep III on the West Bank.

The site of the Temple of Amenhotep IIIMost visitors know this site as the ‘Colossi of Memnon’. While many tourists will tumble out of their coaches for a five-minute photo-opportunity in front the giant statues of Amenhotep III, far fewer give a thought to the huge temple which once stood behind these colossal figures that guarded the entrance. At first glance the ‘temple’ looks like a scrubby disused piece of ground, but since 1970 excavators have been discovering more to this site than first meets the eye. The structure was robbed in ancient times, when much of the stone was taken by Merenptah to be reused in the construction of his own temple. Many fragmentary objects and architectural elements, once part of Amenhotep’s temple, have now been recovered from below the surface and some have been preserved and placed on concrete pedestals on the site. We were shown over parts of the site by a very helpful guide. The most fascinating aspect of this temple for me, is that it had a massive quantity of statuary, especially monuments to the goddess Sekhmet. Examples of these large stone statues can now be seen in just about every museum in the world and there are a number of them at Karnak, in the open-air museum and in the Temple of Mut. It has been suggested that Amenhotep depicted the ‘Litany of Sekhmet’ by including a standing and a seated statue of the goddess for each day of the year, a fact mentioned in ancient texts. Many of these sculptures were later re-used by other pharaohs in their own monuments.

So who was Sekhmet? She is most often depicted as a lion-headed woman, wearing a long wig and a solar disc with cobra-uraeus on her head and is either seated on a block or standing holding a papyrus sceptre before her. As consort of the god Ptah and mother of Nefertem, her main place of worship was at Memphis, though she is represented in many Egyptian temples. She is often associated with or considered an aspect of other female deities, notably Hathor and Mut, but also Pakhet in Middle Egypt and Bastet in the Delta. Like everything in ancient Egypt, Sekhmet had a dual aspect, seen as both a healer and a destroyer.

Sekmet statues in the Karnak Temple of Mut

There is an ancient story about how the ‘Eye of Re’ defeated the sun god’s enemies. In the story, Sekhmet was considered the daughter of the sun god Re (possibly as an aspect of Hathor). When her father (who ruled the world) was an old man, humanity began to turn against him, thinking that he could no longer keep the world in perfect order and it would recede into darkness and chaos. Learning of the plots against him, Re calls a council of the gods who advise him to take vengeance and when his enemies hear of this, they flee into the deserts of Egypt. In the myth, Sekhmet/Hathor becomes the ‘Eye of Re’ who is sent out into the world to pursue her father’s enemies and she becomes a deity of invincible destructive powers, rampaging through the deserts exulting in blood-lust and slaughter. It is perhaps at this point that the gods realise that there will be no humans left on earth to make food offerings to them on the temple altars and they have a change of heart. But by this time, Sekhmet is out of control. While she is resting before her next onslaught, a messenger is sent to Aswan to bring back a large quantity of red ochre, which is mixed with beer to resemble blood and left in jars where the goddess will find them. When she wakes up Sekhmet is delighted by her ‘bloody’ refreshment, drinks deeply and becomes thoroughly intoxicated. She is then taken home and the rest of mankind is saved from the destruction of the goddess.

The Goddess SekhmetSekhmet became a goddess of war, accompanying the king into battle, causing storms and floods and fierce winds or destroying enemies with the fiery heat from her own body. She was a goddess who needed to be constantly appeased, but she also became known in her more benign aspect as a goddess of magic and healing, renowned for driving away sickness and epidemics. Amenhotep was known to be a sick man towards the end of his life and perhaps this is why the king had so many statues of Sekhmet placed in his temple. Egyptian mythology is a very complex subject and there is much more to the personality of this goddess in terms of symbolism, than at first is realised.

Egyptians right up until modern times seemed to hold Sekhmet’s statues in awe and maybe this is why I do too.

To the Ramesseum

Last night Jenny and I had been invited to dinner at the home of Jennifer, who lives on the West Bank. We had a lovely evening with good food and good conversation and lots of music and laughter. At some point we got onto the subject of camels and how much Jenny would like to ride one. Jennifer’s husband Mandour immediately offered to take us for a camel ride the next day – which I flatly refused, but Jenny excitedly accepted. My recent encounters with riding animals had been less than successful and the thought of being uncomfortably perched high above the ground on a layer of blankets on top of a hump, trotting along dirt tracks or crowded tarmac roads did not appeal. Maybe if this was the only means of transport and I needed to cross a desert, I would think again, but this particular trip I did not consider necessary. So this morning Jenny went off alone for her camel adventure and I had the morning off to wander the streets of Luxor, meeting my friend David at the Amoun restaurant for coffee. This was the first time we’d managed to meet up on this trip so far and I thought he really wasn’t looking very well.

At lunchtime I crossed the river and met Jenny at the Rameses Cafe at Medinet Habu as we had agreed. She enjoyed her camel ride very much and had organised to hire a horse from the stables for later in the week, having reawakened an old passion for riding. We had lunch (lentil soup), chatted with my friend Salah and browsed his bookstall before deciding to spend the afternoon at the Ramesseum.

Children on the West BankWalking along the dusty road to Qurna, several tour buses passed going in the other direction towards the bridge, a good sign that the temple would be fairly quiet. As usual around the Ramesseum area, there were many small ragged children selling little handmade peg-dolls and Jenny bought a couple just to get them off our backs. They kept surrounding us in groups of four or five, tugging and pulling at our clothes and stepping in front of us so that we couldn’t move, asking for ‘Bon-bon’ (sweets) and ‘stylo’ (pens) or baksheesh, constantly calling out their predictable mantra of ‘What’s your name?’. These children are enterprising, well-meaning and obviously in need of our cash, but they are very persistent and can become tiresome and I have long ago given up trying to have a reasonable conversation with them. After Jenny bought the little dolls, she must have been spotted from the village because a dozen or more older children were suddenly running down the hill towards us. Luckily we had arrived at the temple and we hurried through the gate into safety. Tourist police sat dozing in a shelter at the entrance. In their badly-fitting white uniforms held together with black leather belts and crossed straps and holding mean-looking machine guns, they woke up long enough to chase away the children and all became peaceful again.

The Ramesseum

Jenny went off to explore the temple while I concentrated on photographing Rameses’ battle reliefs on the Second Pylon and the depictions of barques of various gods in the ‘Astronomical Room’. The light today was just perfect for this. Later, one of the guards I had met last year brought us both a cup of tea and we sat in the shade of the dimly-lit hypostyle hall and chatted with him for half an hour. Afterwards, every time I pointed the lens of my camera at something, the guard was looking over my shoulder and shouting ‘Action!’ just as the shutter clicked. This was quite funny for a while….. !

In the late afternoon Jenny and I went back on the ferry to Luxor and to our hotel. We were staying in the newest and smartest hotel in town, the Sonesta, but had spent very little time there so far. Tonight we decided to splash out and have dinner in the hotel restaurant, which cost a fortune but was very nice. An early night because tomorrow we are off to Aswan.

Aswan by Bus

The 7.00am bus to Aswan was a big mistake. Jenny and I had shunned the air-conditioned ‘Superjet’ as being too touristy and instead, bought tickets on the less expensive but slower ‘Kul‘, or local bus. The tickets cost us LE6 (60p) return for a journey lasting about three hours. Taking our places in the queue (actually more like a free-for-all) we spotted the empty wide seat at the back of the bus which promised plenty of leg-room and headed for this, settling our backpacks and cameras around our feet. The bus was quite full when it set off and making ourselves comfortable among the Egyptian families with their ’luggage’ consisting of carrier bags and cardboard cartons tied with string, sacks of corn and live chickens or ducks in palm-leaf crates crammed into the overhead luggage racks, we sat back ready to enjoy the journey. It didn’t take us long to realise why none of the locals had sat in the spacious back seat which we shared with a lady from New Zealand. I was sitting next to the emergency door and every time the bus stopped or swerved (which was frequently) the seat flew off its base and deposited me on the floor at the bottom of the stairwell. I eventually managed to wedge myself in with my feet up on top of a hatch but after a few minutes discovered that my legs were resting on what seemed to be an engine cover that was burning hot, with vents giving off nauseating diesel fumes. There were no opening windows and the stuffy air inside the bus was stiflingly hot. The engine noise and grating gears of the ancient rattling bus, loud Arabic music and raised voices of the passengers did not make for a tranquil journey. By the time we arrived in Aswan after seemingly stopping to pick up and drop passengers and their animals in every little town along the Nile, we both felt quite ill.

The Temple of Isis at Philae

After some fresh air and a restorative cup of coffee near the bus station we were feeling better, so Jenny and I negotiated a taxi to Philae Port for LE20. We were heading for the Temple of Isis, which was moved from Philae to Agilika Island after the building of the old Aswan Dam. At the port, we had to negotiate for a boat to take us to the island and bring us back again, eventually settling on a small motor boat piloted by a young Nubian called Ibrahim. For LE35 he said he would wait and bring us back from the island in two hours. At Mid-day the sun at its high-point was scorching with not even a breeze to ruffle the waves on the river water, but the temple itself was almost deserted. Most sensible tourists had gone back to Aswan for lunch. The sleeping guards and tourist police took no notice of us and we had a lovely hassle-free couple of hours wandering all over the island before hurrying back to the dock and our waiting boatman, who we found also fast asleep under a heap of blankets in the bottom of his boat. Bless him!

Back in town, the taxi dropped us off at the New Nubian Museum which I visited when I was in Aswan with my son a year ago. Unfortunately it was closed when we got there, so Jenny and I walked down the hill to the Old Cataract Hotel for tea – I had told my friend how lovely it was to sit out on the terrace overlooking Elephantine Island, another happy memory from last year. To my surprise, the policeman on the gate wouldn’t let us in, telling us that now only residents were allowed to have tea on the terrace. This has always been a favourite place for tourists and I have been several times before, but no amount of smiling, speaking a bit of Arabic or even pleading would change his mind. Eventually, after baksheesh was produced, he agreed to let us have a quick peek inside the hotel because Jenny so wanted to see it, but he sent someone to come and look for us before our allotted five minutes were up. We decided that we must look even more scruffy and dishevelled than we had thought.

End of a day in AswanTo kill some time we walked through the bazaar along the whole length of Aswan, savouring the flavour of Africa in this southernmost Egyptian town. In ancient times it was from here that emissaries of the pharaohs left on the journey into Nubia, where they could obtain rich sources of gold and Nubia itself was the passage from Egypt to the exotic African lands beyond. Many pharaohs built small temples and fortresses along the banks of the Nile in Nubia and exported ebony, ivory, incense and precious metals and minerals back to Egypt, as well as Nubian slaves. Aswan is still different from the rest of Egypt – a vibrancy and warmth of colour can be found here which really makes it feel like a gateway to Africa. Eventually we found ourselves near the railway station and not relishing a return journey on the infernal bus, we booked first class tickets on the night train back to Luxor.

After a quick bite to eat in one of the many restaurants on the Corniche, it was back to the Nubian Museum, which by 5.30pm was open again and we spent a couple of hours wandering around this wonderful cool place looking at the artefacts and reading the very informative history-boards. There is so much to see here, especially outside in the gardens, that we ran out of time and had to jump in a taxi to get back to the railway station to catch our train at 8.00pm. The first class ticket cost us all of LE22 each (a little over £2.00) – but what a luxury and we both agreed was worth every last piastre!

Opet at Luxor Temple

Yesterday Jenny and I spent the day with friends. We took a bus to el-Arabet and visited my friend David in his house there, spending a lovely morning with him drinking his coffee while he read us some of his fabulous short stories about life in an Egyptian village. Later back in Luxor we met up with my friend Sam who had just arrived here with a couple of other friends from England and we hoped to do some trips with them before we leave.

Colonnade of Amenhotep III at Luxor TempleToday we got down to some ‘work’ at Luxor Temple. I wanted to photograph the Opet reliefs of Tutankhamun. Luxor Temple, anciently known as ‘Ipet-resyt’ or ‘the Southern Opet’, served as a focal point for the Opet festival. Once a year the divine image of Amun with his consort Mut and their son Khonsu would journey in their sacred barques from Karnak Temples to the temple at Luxor, at some periods overland and at others by river, to celebrate the festival. Opet’s primary function was religious but the festival was also significant in maintaining the king’s divine role. On the west and east walls of Amenhotep III’s tall colonnade are the superbly executed reliefs of the Opet procession to and from Karnak. Depending on the time of day, the shallow carvings can look insignificant, but when the light is just right the shadows throw them into a dazzling story in sharp relief. Unfortunately, when one wall looks good, the other is in deep shade and they are probably best viewed in their complete state at night when the temple walls are lit from below.

Musicians accompany the processionOpet was one of the principle festivals of ancient Thebes, taking place in the season of Akhet, the season of inundation. It commemorated the annual Nile flood with its symbolism of renewal, both for the land of Egypt and the king himself, the great procession and following ceremonies recreating the drama and mysteries of the god Amun and his consort Mut. During the Dynasty XVIII reign of Amenhotep III, the barque of Amun containing the statue of the god was carried by priests from his shrine at Karnak, first to the Temple of Khonsu, then to the Temple of Mut, where it was joined by the statue of the goddess in her own barque and that of their child Khonsu, to journey together to Luxor Temple. It is likely that at this period that the king himself also took part in the ceremonies.

The west wall of the colonnade is not well preserved, but some of the remaining reliefs are beautiful. Here the story unfolds: preparations are made for the feast, beasts slaughtered and altars piled with offerings. Crowds of onlookers watch as acrobats and dancing girls accompany the priests who carry the barques to the Nile where they are towed upstream. Finally offerings are made to Amun, Mut and Khonsu. The east wall depicts the return journey of the barques to Karnak amid much celebration, culminating with more offerings and thanksgivings at the temple.

It is not certain just what took place while the god and his consort were enshrined in the inner depths of Luxor Temple. It is likely that the king would have undergone a repeat of the coronation ceremony to be rejuvenated for another year and that the deities, Amun and Mut would have performed the divine rite of union which kept the world in balance. It is a lovely thought that the festival in modern times, under the Islamic guise of a celebration of the birthday of Sheikh Abu l’Hagag, is still carried on in Luxor every year when model boats (barques) are carried out of the Abu l’Haggag mosque to tour the town on floats.

Luxor Suq

Luxor traffic directivesThis morning Jenny and I walked along the Luxor Corniche to the Mummification Museum, a relatively new museum that I hadn’t visited before. It is housed by the river in a very modern building which is entered down steps to river level. Unfortunately when we got there it was closed and we didn’t have a ‘plan B’. Wandering back towards the temple I noticed that there were some new traffic signs. Traffic lights, an innovation here in Luxor, had appeared a little while ago, but needless to say Egyptian drivers still acted as though they weren’t there and it would seem that these signs have been erected to try to encourage responsible behaviour on the road. I wondered why they were written in English….

We cut up through the covered Tourist Bazaar near the Etap Hotel, where prices are supposed to be fixed and shopkeepers are not allowed to hassle tourists. This bazaar is more relaxed than the local suq, although prices do tend to be higher. It is crammed with stores selling souvenirs – jewellery, tee-shirts and tourist galabeyas, papyrus painted with Tutankhamun’s golden mask and lots of brass and inlaid furniture. Young Egyptian guys stand outside their shops trying to attract foreigners without appearing to hassle. It must be a hard life, especially with people like me who never buy these mass-produced souvenirs.

Luxor SuqAfter a coffee in the Amoun restaurant we continued on to the local bazaar which is much more lively. After the first couple of hundred metres where tourist stalls are most common the suq becomes a market place for local shopping. Men sit outside coffee shops smoking shisha and arguing while black-clad women squat on the ground beside their baskets of fruit or eggs. Small flocks of goats or sheep wander around untended and donkeys pull flat carts laden with fruit or vegetables, trying to avoid the boys on bicycles who zig-zag in and out between the stalls. Further along the pavement becomes a dirt road with missing covers from the manholes that always seem to be overflowing with sewerage. There are many bargains to be had in this part of the suq, where everything from bolts of fabric to crockery as well as food can be found. There are bicycle repair shops, tailors with their treadle machines who can run up a galabeya or shirt in an hour or so and many shops selling genuine shishas (water-pipes) rather than the tourist ones. The only thing I really dislike about this part of the bazaar are the haunches of dark fly-covered meat which hang outside the butchers’ stalls. If I wasn’t already vegetarian, I’m sure I would become one after a trip through the local suq.

Festivals of Min and Sokar

Luxor passenger ferryOn our last full day in Egypt, we again returned to my favourite temple, the mortuary temple of Rameses III at Medinet Habu on the West Bank. We made the familiar journey over the river on the tireless workhorse that is the passenger ferry, with its battered decks strewn with any rubbish that had escaped being thrown or blown over the side. Sitting up on the top deck in the morning sunshine on a wooden bench polished by thousands of passengers, we could see far down the river to the north and south, while spread behind us was the whole vista of Luxor Corniche with the temple as its crowning glory. Usually it is only the tourists who sit on the uncovered top deck and of course the young guys and touts who hope to make some money out of them. I’d much rather sit there in the fresh air than in the cramped lower deck with fumes belching out over those too near to the engine room and where space is at a premium and always must be shared with bicycles, various animals and caged birds as well as bundles of shopping, sacks of rice or grain and the ferry vendors selling little bags of nuts and seeds. Jenny and I sat in the stern next to an old man with a stout stick who must have been at least a hundred and who nodded and smiled his toothless smile, saying ‘welcome’ over and over all the way to the West Bank. How I love the Luxor ferry!

At the dock we got off the ferry and had to fight off a barrage of aggressive taxi drivers before finding the arabeya to Qurna, which we took as far as the Colossi of Memnon. Getting off and going round to the front of the truck to pay the driver our 25 piastres each, I was aware of curious stares from groups of visitors gathered around several tourist coaches parked by the statues. We were obviously a distraction from the guides’ well-rehearsed monologues. After buying our tickets to Habu Temple at the taftish, we set off down the dusty track leading the village, stopping for a while on the way to watch a couple of vivid green bee-eaters sitting on a telephone wire.

Inside the temple, I wanted to look at the various festival scenes. On the south exterior wall of the temple there is a calendar of festivals which names over 60 festival days in a year, most of them fixed dates in the civil calendar. These were occasions when the king, or his representative, the High Priest, would celebrate the feast in the name of the people of Egypt, offering to the various deities to ensure that order, or ma’at, would be maintained. The second court at Medinet Habu was the ‘Festival Hall’ and its main function is reflected in the reliefs on the surrounding walls.

The Festival of MinOn the east wall of the second court, the gods of Upper and Lower Egypt lead Rameses III to a shrine containing the Theban Triad, Amun, Mut and Khons. On the north wall, the king is ritually prepared to take part in the fertility Festival of Min which originally took place on the first day of the lunar month at the beginning of harvest, Shemu. At the west end of the north wall the King, wearing the ‘blue crown’ is carried out of his palace on a portable throne, followed by fan-bearers and surrounded by priests and officials and the royal children. Musicians lead the procession, playing trumpets, flutes and sistra, while drummers beat out the pace. Further along the King performs sacrifices at the shrine of Min, offering ‘bread, beer, oxen, fowl and every good thing’ In the next scene the statue of the fertility god Min is in full view, borne aloft on carrying poles draped in metal-studded red cloth and a chest containing his emblematic lettuce plants is carried behind. In front of this are the King, this time wearing the ‘red crown’, the Queen, a row of priests carrying standards and a while bull which may have represented one of the aspects of Min. The subsequent order of the festival rites gets a bit lost and is partly on the east wall and partly on the north. There is a lovely scene of the King cutting a sheaf of wheat, a ritual act of sympathetic magic designed to ensure a good harvest, the sheaf being presented to the god to be blessed. With statues of the royal ancestors looking on, the King finally releases four doves, symbols of the ‘Four sons of Horus’, who carry news of the ritual to the four corners of the universe.

The Festival of SokarThe south wall of the second court depicts an even more important annual festival performed at Medinet Habu, that of the god Sokar. This festival traditionally took place on the eve of the planting season, Peret, and lasted for ten days. The god Sokar represented the dark potent counterpart of Min in the underworld and was assimilated with Osiris, also an underworld deity. The first five days of the festival, (not depicted in the second court) concentrate on the preparation of ‘Osiris beds’, wooden frames containing grain which were planted and germinated, again an aspect of sympathetic magic embodying the symbol of resurrection and fruition. In the second court the reliefs begin once the festival gets underway on the sixth day, which was a major holiday for the people of Thebes at this time. At the west end of the south wall the celebrations begin at dawn with the King, Rameses III, offering a heaped platter of food to the god. Behind the hawk-headed Sokar-Osiris is the ‘Great Ennead’ of Memphis who were the god’s companions. We see the cult statue of Sokar in his portable shrine, the henu-barque, with its aegis of an antelope head and little birds on the prow. For the public ceremonies the barque of Sokar was taken out of the god’s sanctuary in the temple by the priests and dragged around the walls on a sledge pulled by ropes. Many standards and other divine barques are depicted in the procession that wended its way through the Theban necropolis and it is easy to imagine a great day of feasting when the whole Theban population would join in the celebrations. In the reliefs the King is seen pulling the end of the rope, joined by officials, priests and the royal children, but the barque itself, in a later scene, is carried on the shoulders of priests. One unusual scene in the procession shows the standard of Nefertem, another Memphite god, in the form of a long pole capped by a lotus flower and two plumes and this is followed by a standard of Horus as a falcon wearing the ‘double-crown’. The final stage of the festival is depicted on the eastern wall where the procession is joined by barques of five Memphite goddesses and several other deities, priests carrying offerings to be placed upon the altars, officials and the King’s retinue. The festival of Sokar, so colourfully depicted in the second court, was a festival of renewal, for both the land and the King and was confirmation for the local community that the annual cycle of harmony and growth would carry on for the coming year.

Jenny and I spent almost the whole day in Medinet Habu with only a short break for lunch at the Rameses Cafe and by the time we made our return journey over the river the sun was setting in an apricot glow over the Theban Mountain. As the tall white billowing sails of feluccas scudded by the ferry in the evening breeze, I tried hard not to remember that this would be my last sunset here for a while.

Going Home

The century is coming to an end and so is my visit to Egypt. As I often do on my last day, I got up early to watch the sunrise. Sitting out on the balcony in the mild morning air, I couldn’t see the sun but its effect on the Theban Mountain over the river was magnificent, turning the quiet riverscape to a misty blue with the glowing pink reflection of the rising sun on the distant hills as a backdrop. A few hot air balloons drifted lazily, high over the West Bank and I wished I too had that birds-eye view over this land that I love.

Ballons over the West Bank

Staying in the luxurious Sonesta Hotel has been great, though we don’t seem to have spent much time taking advantage of its amenities. I have been down to the swimming pool only twice in the two weeks we’ve been here and then only to sit in the shade and read for a while, or to watch the feluccas sail by on the river in the late afternoon. Oddly enough, the thing that has impressed me most about this hotel, are the ladies toilets in the pool area. The first time I used these was hilarious. They are self-flushing! As this is the first time I have come across this innovation in Egypt, or anywhere else for that matter, I just couldn’t work out how this was happening. Was someone watching me in my cubicle? The taps on the hand-basins turn on by themselves too. Isn’t modern technology wonderful?

What a land of contrasts Egypt is. Here I am in the glamorous surroundings of a brand new five-star hotel, tickled by the novel plumbing, while my Egyptian friends on the West Bank live more or less as they have done for hundreds of years in what we in the west would consider very primitive conditions. It’s true that many now have satellite television, though sometimes no running water in their homes and it is this more than anything else that will change these people forever. How can they watch glossy ‘soaps’, American TV shows and music videos day after day and not become discontent with what they have. Very few people here have a telephone in their homes, but I’ve noticed on this trip quite a few cell phones appearing, glued to the ears of the younger men. How they love to talk!

Jenny and I spent the morning on the West Bank saying goodbye to Egyptian friends before going back to Luxor for lunch at the Amoun Restaurant, where we met David. I regret that we didn’t manage to arrange any trips with my friend Sam who arrived a few days ago, but that’s often the way things are here. It’s not always easy to make plans, especially to travel outside Luxor.

Our coach arrived to collect us from the hotel at 3.00pm for a six o’clock flight – much too early in my opinion and it meant waiting for hours in the gloomy departure lounge of Luxor airport feeling very sad to be leaving, as usual.

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