Friday, August 10, 2007

The Real Luxor Story

Well, I think you guys get the point so I don't need to rant any more. But just let me finish by saying that I now firmly believe that it is the unofficial policy of the Egyptian government to make life difficult for independent tourists here. I now know why they don't have many backpackers despite lots of hash and cheap prices in this country. As an example, we (and not locals) get our bags searched going in to temples, we are followed and harrassed by police when just sitting in a train station. When attempting to take the cheaper trains they will try everything short of arresting you to convince you to take a different one, though in no way is there a law written that I cannot take a 3rd class train to Alexandria. And, worst of all, in Luxor it is impossible to buy your own train tickets to get back to Cairo on a couple days or a day in advance, not because there are no seats available, but because the entire town is involved in a conspiracy to cheat all tourists. They will not sell you a ticket or even look on the computer thereby forcing you to use an "agent" from a hotel or elsewhere so that they can charge a huge commission (up to 50%) which they split with various people in the station. It is cheaper to jump on the train and pay the fine for not having a ticket than to go through that unofficial official scam. I have never been more subject to more blatent and proud racist abuse ever in my life than in Luxor. It is absolute hell. I suppose it is good to go through once in a while because now I know what it feels like to be an oppressed minority group. It's most frustrating.
Anyway, enough of that.
Luxor is the ancient site of Thebes, second capital of ancient Egypt after Memphis. Luxor is built up now on the east side of the nile but most of the monuments are on the west side. Thebes is about 1000 years younger than Memphis too so the monuments and sites go back to about 3500 years old (1500BC or 17th dynasty) though there are a few mounds from a little older. Rather than pyramids like in earlier times, the Pharoahs of those dynasties (including the most famous like Tutankhamun and Ramses II) chose to be buried in the valley of the Kings. Walking through the bare hills that make up the valley you can't help but think the tombs are all on top of each other. There 60 something found so far but there area is full of potential for many more. From the outside there is nothing at all to see. The tombs themselves are tunnels down into the hills, often elaborately painted or carved with a few false burial rooms or treasure rooms before the final chamber. Only a few are open and in a way the Valley of the Kings is a huge disappointment after all the hype and compared to the temples and funerary complexes nearby. The highlight of the west bank is Queen Hatchepsut's funerary complex as it is the most complete stucture and sits right up against the bottom base of a cliff and exposed to the open. It was the site of the massacre of 58 tourists by Islamic extremists back in 1997 which toasted the tourism industry here for years and got all this police presence throughout the country really started. I don't feel any safer now than they would've back then but that is besides the point. There are tons of package tourists all over the place and very few independents like us despite being the slow season for southern Egypt right now. There is also a Valley of the Queens, misnamed because there are high officials and children buried there too. It was probably more interesting than the Valley of the Kings simply because it wasn't crowded and one of the tombs (very similar to the King ones, just a little smaller) had a mummified royal fetus that spontaneously aborted. They mummified everything. We've seen mummified snakes, crocs, baboons, monkeys, cats, falcons, ibises, dogs, sheep, horses, chickens and just about anything else living you could think of. There is also the ruins of a workers village built and lived in by those that actually worked on the tombs. Artists, masons and the like. Some of the more important built their own tombs as well. The craziest thing is that Rhiis (who has been many times and knows the whole area well) knows of 2 spots where there are mummies lying out in the open. We saw one of them. The upper half of a human mummy just lying in a whole under some garbage so guides in the know can just pick it up and parade it before people. I don't know how many people do know about it but it is strange to be poking a real mummy out in the ruins. The bones feel like worn thin sheets of wood. Anyone that believes that Egypt cares and is protecting it's ancient heritage should worry. There is so much garbage and neglect going on it's insane. It's not like they can't afford it. They are raking in the dough. On the contrary, there are political groups that have openly declared their intention to do as the taliban did in afghanistan and blow up all non-islamic monuments should they get in power. Wow.
The east bank of Luxor is better. Karnak and the Luxor temple are on the east side. Luxor temple is right in the middle of town and ages ago, there used to be an avenue of sphinxses that lined the 3km road north to the Karnak temple. Karnak is really cool. 1300 years of continuous worship and construction resulting in a massive temple complex dedicated to Amun. It was hot, busy and very interesting. I liked it. Best of all was sneaking off to end up on the wall of one area and finding a hole with dozens of large bats flying around. Very cool. It was 40-45C but not as bad as you'd think. I think it wasn't much worse than Cairo because it was less humid and the air a lot cleaner. Pollution takes a lot out of you.
We left Luxor and came back to Cairo because we were supposed to work. The job never happened but that is a different story.


At 8:58 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you see this,

Mom Pased away in her sleep after a long battle. I am not home so don't have your email handy. Dad is as expected, Dave is olding t together. I'm sorry to let you know like this.

Big Bear Hugs
The Bear


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