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Dalama Adventures Tale of two corporate types ditching their jobs and traveling the world for 14 months... check out all photos, blogs & interesting tid bits at http://www.dalama.net

Karnak at Sunrise and The Valley of the Kings

EGYPT | Monday, 13 August 2007 | Views [1227]

"Are we at the temple yet?" A common question we seem to ask ourselves during our daily temple finding missions. In Egypt there doesn't seem to be great sign-age for major attractions. We leave our hotel at 6:00 a.m. to catch Karnak at sunrise, hoping to get some great light for photos. Our taxi driver drops us off in a big open space, more like a dirt lot. We look around, and see a guard stand behind a typically fashioned bullet-proof plank, where security guys sit, and see a couple of guys drinking what looks like tea, chatting away, big guns dangling by their sides. Our driver quickly speeds out of the lot, and leaves us standing there, middle of nowhere. Aside from the guards, there's no one else in sight, and knowing how touristy this area is, we wonder if we're even at the temple. We walk up to the guard, and they point us toward a big empty lot beyond them, with a couple of make shift buildings. As we get closer, we see a small ticket window and the grand structure and entryway of this temple.
Karnak is supposedly the largest temple complex in the world, we're told, covering over 100 hectares, and built as an original temple of Amun. As successive pharaohs came onto the scene, each built upon the original structure, bigger and better structures, to outdo what their predecessors had done before them. It took nearly 2300 years to construct, and some say that the oldest part of the structure dates back to the 18th - 20th Dynasties, around 1550-1070 B.C.
Entering the temple at sunrise is breathtaking. The sun seeps in through the gigantic pillars, illuminating them in hues of reds, oranges and pinks. We spend hours walking through chambers and staring up at the towering remains of this amazing work of art. Inside the chambers, men in robes convince us to follow them through the temple to off-limit areas where they share stories and history of the rarely seen sections. Of course, they do this, all in hopes of getting a little "baksheesh," or a couple of Euros from us to earn some money to help put food on the table. I find them very interesting to talk to, and it's quite intriguing to learn about their lives, families, and dreams. Definitely worth the 1-2 Euros baksheesh for each guy, although we need to be careful, as the visit could get extremely expensive very quickly.
We head from Karnak to the boat docks at the Nile where Abdullah meets us and takes us on the ferry, across the Nile to the West Bank. Here he introduces us to Mohammed, our driver for the day, who is ready to take us around the Valley of the Kings. It's brutally hot, the mercury hitting near 50 degrees celsius, and it's only 10:00 a.m. Great choice for us to be heading out to the desert for the hottest period of the day.
Mohammed tells us we can either have him drive us, or climb over the hill from the Valley to our next site (Hatsheput Temple), after having seen the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. It would be a 30 minute hike, although in the heat it may take longer. He said sometimes there's trouble, and tourists are not allowed to go overland, but today we peer out from the parking lot and see a couple of people trekking u-p the mountainside, so we tell him we'll make the hike. He tells us to meet him in the parking lot at the next temple after we arrive. We take a digital picture of him so we'll know him from the other identical blue and white taxis when we meet him later.
Inside the Valley of the Kings we pay our pricey admission fee, then get hit up immediately after for a couple o' bucks each, to take the mini-train to the entrance. It's so hot out, and thinking a walk to the entrance must be a far distance (given the excessive charge for the train), we buy the tickets. The train hauls five mini-cars of tourists no more than 100 meters, and tells us all to get out. We think they've got to be joking; we've just paid for a ride that would have taken us a minute to walk. Wow, we got taken. So we then walk 5 minutes into the Valley, where glistening white rocks and powdery sand surround every inch of earth. All the tombs are buried deep into this hard substance, down long narrow, claustrophobic alleyways descending into an eventual burial chamber with a sarcophagus (ornately inscribed and designed casket) in the center of the small chamber, hieroglyphics depicting stories covering the walls. Not all of the tombs are open and available for public viewing. We went into three chambers; Tutmes III, Merenptah, and Ramses I. The last one we entered, Tutmes, was pretty cool, especially because we were not with a large group of tourists. The chamber guard, in long flowy robe, comes over to us and tells us we can take pictures (totally prohibited in all tombs). We hang around long enough to snap some photos, and listen to his stories. These tombs are amazing works of art... Implausible to even think about people actually building such intricate and deep structures that have resulted in well preserved bodies within each burial chamber. The pharaohs had everything packed into their tombs that they would need for their journey into the after-world. They worked all their lives planning this pinnacle of life - death. They had all their hard earned savings set aside for purchasing clothing, jewelry, and other items of adornment and consumption that they would need in their next life... They worked hard and prepared well for death. We exit the temple and give our guide some baksheesh to thank him for the history and cultural insight he provides us about this tomb and the special stories inscripted in hieroglyphics.
So, three tombs were enough for us to venture down into. The tiny, narrow alleys of descent are extremely claustrophobic, and rather than descending down into what we had hoped would be a cool wine cellar temperature, it got progressively hotter and more humid, and seemingly much more difficult to breathe. By time we descended into the chamber, we were soaked in sweat and the hot arid outdoors seems paradoxically, like a cool, refreshing environment. Looking around, it was difficult to know where we needed to ascend for our climb over the big hill, to get to our next temple visit. The only area, which we though might be the trail, was in back of a big sign that said, "No Climbing the Mountain." We walk up to the tourist police who were chilling in the shade with their big guns, and one was standing on top of a narrow picnic bench doing his mid day prayers, and asked the chill'in ones where the trail is to climb the mountain. They point us to the area we also thought was the path. We ask about the "No Climbing" sign, and they motion to us that it's ok to climb. So off we go, figuring that if guys with guns say it's ok, at least they won't shoot us for trespassing. Not more than 50M up, we hear all sorts of yelling and shouting from below... Apparently we're not supposed to climb the mountain... Go figure.
So by now, we assume our dear driver Mohammed is long gone, and waiting for us at the other temple. We're screwed... There are no random taxis out here - just tour busses, and it's probably a 10K walk around the mountain in the brutal heat to reach our driver. I attempt to negotiate with some small souvenir stand owners on our way out, to use their phone to call Abdullah, transportation organizer, well knowing that Mohamad has no phone. With no luck, we head out to the parking lot, hoping to find a random taxi. A local security guard waves us over, and I speak to him with limited English, trying to say we need a taxi... And he busts out the line, "Have I seen you before... must have been in my dreams." Frustrated, I look to the parking lot, and I see Mohamad running toward us... Ah, he waited! The security guy say something to him and he bursts our laughing. I ask what's being said, and Mohamad tells us the guy is looking for an American wife. Mohammad teaches me the Arabic words for "sorry, I'm taken," which I retort back to him, and point to Darrin. He then asks Mohamad if Darrin would be interested to have an Egyptian wife and they could wife swap... We quickly pile into the taxi, Mohamad laughing along with us, and whiz away from the Valley of the Kings. En route, Mohamad takes us to the obligatory "alabaster shop stop" that his "good friend" owns. We're getting used to these types of commission detours. We politely oblige, its another opportunity to chat with locals and pick their brains about local history and life in Egypt. We learn from Mohammad that many Egyptians, including himself, have been lured to Saudi Arabia for what they are told, are well paying jobs. We learn further that once they arrive, their employer strips them of their passport and gives them a Saudi Arabian identity card. They are no longer allowed to leave the country, unless their employer allows them to. The conditions under which they live and work are poor, and once on the job, they are told they must work the same expectations for less than half the promised salary. At this point, they're stuck; they've given up their jobs at home, they have not enough money to return, and they no longer have a passport or rights. They feel like indentured servants. All they can do now is work hard, please their boss, and hope they'll be allowed to return home in a few years time to be reunited with their families. Luckily for Mohammed's experience, it wasn't so bad- he had a decent work experience. However, the stories he told of some of his friends, and then going back to rescue some of his friends were quite disturbing.
We fail to escape the alabaster shop without purchasing. We find a nice statue of the God of Fun and Music, and a mask for our wall-of-masks collection at home. We negotiate them down from 900 to only 200 Egyptian Pounds. Feeling successful, we depart the shop, and I'm sure Mohamad is happy that he's made a little extra from commission on the deal. We head back to the East Bank after several more temple sightings and picture taking opportunities. It's been a long day, now nearly 5:30 p.m., and we need a cool plunge in the pool. We bail out on a felucca ride, despite the wind having picked up, and it probably being the best conditions for a ride... We're exhausted, so it's off to scrub ourselves down in the hotel bathroom to clean up for dinner, a quick bite to eat at the Oasis Cafe, and then taxi to the airport for our midnight flight back to Cairo.

Tags: Sightseeing


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