Nile River Cruise, Egypt – Karnak, Luxor and Valley of the Kings
After an exhausting day of touring Cairo, but a remarkable one at that, we boarded our train around 8PM to Aswan. Aswan is located in Southern Egypt (Upper Egypt, yes this is confusing) about 13 hours by train. We arrived at our 1st Class Sleeper accommodations very happily as it had Air Conditioning, 2 seats that folded into beds and even a personal sink. We had yet to ride first class on a train, but after this it will be hard to go back.
After about 30 minutes on the train we were served a pretty good meal of rice, chicken, hummus, pita, an apple and some desserts. After filling up, the train attendant converted the lower chairs into a bed and folded out the upper bed. We continued watching the movie we had watched during dinner while in bed and then quickly fell asleep afterwards.
We woke up the next morning just before arriving in Aswan and were served breakfast including coffee. The trains accommodations, service and food were certainly first class and we highly recommend this as a cheaper way to travel Egypt.
Will ready to eat on the train
Dinner and a movie on the train
Stepping off the train we were immediately greeted by a Delta Tours representative and taken to our personal taxi where we met our guide for the day, Mustafa. Our itinerary for the day included the High Dam of the Nile, Philae Temple and one of the ancient granite quarries.
We were quickly off to the High Dam. On the way we passed by the Old Dam built by the British which was actually quite impressive itself. Although it is not high, it spans the Nile by about 2 kilometers. After a short distance we arrived at the High Dam. The High Dam was built with the Russians in the 1980’s and not only supplies Egypt with all of its power, but also exports some power to Libya, Sudan and Lebanon. Brad and I were looking forward to seeing the High Dam, but were actually disappointed upon arrival. The Dam is the 3rd largest in the world (although we are not sure by what measure), but its size is in width (4km!), not height. For whatever reason, the width is much less impressive than height (like the Hoover Dam).
Looking up the Nile (South)
The power transformers connected to the hydro-electric dam
Looking down the Nile (North)
After the High Dam it was off to the Philae Temple. The temple is for Queen Isis and was built between 350BC and 400AD (nearly 800 years of building!). The temple is now located on an island, but was moved to this location when the High Dam was built. The High Dam displaced many citizens and many temples in the region had to be moved otherwise they would be underwater.
After a short, but slow motorboat ride we arrived at the Philae Temple. The Philae Temple is a tribute to the God Isis who is the God of Motherhood. The temple is full of detailed hieroglyphics from tiny to extraordinarily large. Seeing a temple of this size, of this age with this detail really brought the Egyptian culture full-circle for me. It is one thing to have a few massive structures (the pyramids), but to have another temple hundreds of miles away with this much detail says a lot about the people, culture and empires of that time.
Taxi boats on the Nile – for Philae Temple
Cruising towards Philae Temple
Carvings and hieroglyphics at Philae Temple
Court of columns at Philae Temple
Will at Philae Temple
Brad at Philae Temple
We made our way back to land via the motor boat and were off to an ancient granite quarry. What was special about this granite quarry was that it contained an unfinished obelisk. An obelisk in ancient times was always made from one solid piece of rock – not multiple blocks. The largest obelisk in Egypt had been commissioned, but was abandoned as it was cracked while trying to remove it from the quarry.
With the dams, temple and quarry behind us it was finally time to board our Nile River Cruise boat. The boat was said to be 5 stars, but Brad and I were certainly skeptical. Boarding the boat brought a smile to our face as the service and condition of the boat was great. We checked into our room and showered up as we had not done so since leaving our hotel the following morning – bleh. After cleaning up it was time for lunch (a buffet of course) and to check out the boat.
Sundeck on the River Cruise
Lobby on the cruise ship
Our cruise ship room
Banks of the Nile
A cruise ship similar to ours cruising down the Nile
The boat, as you can see was very nice. I’m not sure it would make the 5 star mark in the US, but probably around the upper 3 or 4 star area. Suffice to say this temporary home was certainly one of our nicest in nearly 9 months of travel. The boat was complete with a sundeck running the entire length of the ship, a pool, a huge living room, a dining room and a common area. The boat was not massive and probably had 50 – 60 rooms enough for a 100+ passengers.
After our lunch we cruised North on the Nile to Komombo where we visited the Kom Ombo Temple. This temple is dedicated to 2 gods – The left side is dedicated to Horus The Great, The Solar God of war and The right side is dedicated to the Crocodile God, Sebek.
Our tour guide, Ahmed, guided us through the temple sharing a variety of ancient beliefs and stories while explaining the significance of the architecture, hieroglyphics and history of the temple. Our tour group was very small with only Brad and I joined by one couple from Australia. Touring in this small of a group certainly has its advantages and it helps to have an outstanding tour guide like Ahmed – thank you Ahmed!
Palm covered banks of the Nile
Kom Ombo Temple
Will at Kom Ombo Temple
Brad at Kom Ombo Temple
After the tour it was time for dinner (remember this is a cruise!) where we joined the Australian couple along with 2 brothers from Holland. We all talked about what we had seen that day which quickly led us into discussions about travel in general with each person having their own stories. We continued the conversations after dinner on the deck on top of the ship for a couple of hours and then it was off to rest up for another full day of touring.
The next morning we woke met our group at 6:45AM to tour the Edfu Temple. Rising this early is not all that exciting, but it certainly allows you to beat the heat of the dessert along with the crowds. In order to get to the Edfu temple, we hopped into a couple of horse-drawn carriages and were on our way.
Docked cruise ships outside of Edfu
Will and our horse carriage driver
Brad, Marco and Will in our Carriage
The Edfu Temple is also dedicated to God Horus and its entry walls are absolutely massive. This temple was built around 200BC and again contained an incredible amount of detail. Brad and I continued to be amazed by not only the age and size of each temple, but by the amount of detail in each temple. Going into the tour we knew that we would see hieroglyphics, but I think each of us believed they would be rare to see. We were wrong on this assumption as hieroglyphics were abound in nearly every temple and tomb we visited. Specifically pointed out to us at this temple was the winged cobra sun. This symbol is a sun with 2 falcon wings on the sides and 2 cobras coming out from it is located on the entry way in every temple. The ancient Egyptians believed that this would help to protect their temples.
The only negative of the Edfu temple was at this point they were all beginning to blend together. The history of the ancient Egyptians is lengthy, detailed and rich making it difficult to take in all of the information.
Look back through the entrance of Edfu Temple
Will at Edfu Temple
Brad at Edfu Temple
Young Egyptian hitching a free ride
With an early start, we had skipped breakfast so we returned to the boat for breakfast after touring Edfu and our boat started its cruise towards Luxor. One of the more interesting parts of the actual cruise came when we passed through a lock. The lock worked just as expected. We pulled in and the boat stopped. There was a gate in front of us and just beyond that there was a 20-30 foot drop. After the boat had stabilized, the water was pumped from inside the lock to the outside, lowering the ship as if we were in a giant bath-tub. Finally the gates opened slowly as we were at the same height as the water ahead of us and the boat cruised forward.
Going through the Lock
Waving to some locals
Water being pumped out of the lock
The lock opening
After watching the ship clear the lock, relaxing on the sundeck it was time to eat again (sounds like a cruise doesn’t it?)! Shortly after our lunch we met with our excellent guide, Ahmed, and made our plans to see 2 of the most impressive temples in Egypt – the Karnak and Luxor Temple. We pulled into the port at Luxor where we would be positioned for the next 2 nights and headed out to tour the temples.
The Karnak Temple is largest ancient religious site in the world – 62 acres. The most fascinating part of the temple was the Great Temple of Amen built by Ramesses the Great around 1360BC. The room is made of 134 pillars that are roughly 30 feet tall and covered from top to bottom with detailed hieroglyphics. This part of the temple amazed both Brad and I with its size, age and detail. Also within the Karnak temple are several Obelisks that have been standing for thousands of years.
Model of Karnak Temple
Will at Karnak Temple
Sphinx leading to Karnak Temple
Brad with Egyptian Kings
Brad loves the Egyptian Kings
Temple of Amen by Ramesses II
Huge Obelisk (one piece of Granite)
Beetle (good luck and fortune)
Next we were off to Luxor Temple. The 2 temples were actually connected by what was called Sphinx Avenue many years ago. The avenue was a 3 kilometer in length road lined with sphinx statues. The road was covered by sand and dirt over-time, but the city of Luxor is in the process of restoring it. This road should be incredibly impressive upon its completion.
At any rate, The Luxor Temple itself is quite impressive as well. Its massive front gate only hints at what will follow and Brad and I were again amazed at the main pillar lined court. Over-time, a mosque was actually built inside of the temple and is still used today.
Both the Karnak and Luxor temples were our favorites on the tour with partialness going to Karnak from me and to Luxor from Brad. They are both massive structures that are several thousand years old and have with-stood the test of time, religious changes, wars and several empires – truly amazing.
Will checking out the Ruins
Ahmed explaining some of the temples engravings
Views from within Luxor
The mosque inside of Luxor
Amazing Columns of Luxor
Brad conquering Luxor
Brad and Will at Luxor Temple
After viewing the temples, you guessed it – time for more food! After dinner our group of 6, the Australian couple, the Dutch brothers, Brad and I joined our tour guide Ahmed for Sheesha. Sheesha is the Egyptian term for hooka. The Sheesha is very similar to what we have in the US coming in several flavors, but I must say at a price less than $2 the price is certainly more favorable here.
After yet another cruise-style breakfast buffet, we headed out for another of Egypt’s most famous sites The Valley of Kings. This valley holds over 60 tombs from ancient Egypt including Ramsis the Great and King Tut. The area as described is simply a valley in the mountains of the Nile rivers West bank. Each tomb was dug out while the king ruled thus the longer a king ruled for the bigger and deeper a tomb would be.
Unfortunately you are not allowed to bring in a camera to the tombs so we don’t have any of our own photos. However, we were able to check-out 3 of the tombs while we were there. I would have to say that Brad and I were quite underwhelmed by the tombs themselves, but were in fact fascinated when thinking that the tombs had been created several thousand years ago and had were in excellent shape. The amount of time and effort it would take to create one tomb is enormous (especially with ancient tools), but 62! Amazing.
Each tomb had a different layout, but in general they contained a hallway leading to the Burial Chamber. The Burial Chambers were originally filled with thousands of items for the king to have in his after-life, but were mostly stolen. The tombs were actually not re-discovered until the early 20th Century. Many of the tombs contained tricks to hide the actual burial chambers including the famous King Tut. King Tut’s tomb was actually positioned directly under another tomb to hide it. And recently, just 5 years ago, a group of American archeologist found a new tomb – the 63rd.
Photos from images.google – The Valley of Kings
A sarcophagus inside a tomb – like many that we saw
One of the Tomb entrances
Shortly after leaving the Valley of Kings we headed to an Alabaster shop where they first showed us how they took raw Alabaster and turned it into flower pots, bowls, cups and souvenirs. The alabaster stone is unique to the area and has been used for thousands of years.
Learning about Alabaster
A local carving Alabaster
Next we were on to the Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple created for Cleopatra VII, the most famous of the Cleopatra Queens. This temple looks beautiful from far away with a massive dessert in front of it and the back drop of jagged limestone mountains. The temple contains 2 separate levels and again the size, age and detail are beyond impressive.
The Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple
Our tour group at the Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple
Will at Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple
Brad at Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple
Views from around Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple
Our final sight of the day and of the Nile Cruise were the enormous statues of Hatshepsut Temple and Colossi of Memnon. The 2 statues were roughly 100 feet tall and although they remain the temple they guarded was destroyed as it was built to close to the Nile. The Nile has flooded many times in history and this was more than enough to destroy the majority of the temple.
Massive statues of statues of Hatshepsut Temple and Colossi of Memnon
Other than more eating, the remainder of the day was incredibly relaxed. Brad and I took time to catch-up on sleep, prepare blogs, relax in the sun and finally visit some Papyrus shops with our guide. With our guide, Ahmed, we took the local Luxor mini-buses into the city which was a cultural experience in itself. The Papyrus shops were very similar to one another and unfortunately we were unable to find anything that fit our budget.
Will and Ahmed walking the streets of Luxor
Brad and I returned to the boat to enjoy the sunset and our final dinner of the cruise. Afterwards we again returned to the nearby café for a Sheesha and to reflect on our Nile River cruise.
One more Buffet
Our experience on our tour thus far has been excellent. All of the accommodations have been above our expectations, the transportation has been excellent and the guides have been great. Oddly enough we had a completely empty day between touring Luxor and going back to Cairo. This actually worked out quite well for us as it gave us time to relax and to fully catch up on blogs (yes we know we fell behind) . We spent the free-day primarily on the boat making good use of their comfortable living room and also spent a couple hours in down-town Luxor for lunch and to briefly get on the internet.
Blogging on our ‘day off’
The massive Living Room on the ship
Finally, we were picked up from our boat at taken to our overnight train headed to Cairo. As I write this, I am only hoping our train experience is as good as our previous one. Cairo here we come!