This four part series documents my time on a cruise ship, quite literally cruising down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan.
And so our next adventure arrived at the crack of dawn. Early in the morning, before checking out of the Fairmont Hotel, the hotel staff gave us breakfast boxes. We shuttled over to Cairo Airport and flew in to Luxor, a city about 500km south of Cairo. The flight took not even an hour, but it felt like we transported back in time. In Ancient Egypt, Luxor was the city of Thebes. As the capital of Upper Egypt, it was an extremely wealthy city which is why we enjoy so many of its treasures today.
And so, it was time for a dramatically different environment. The Luxor airport is nothing to write home about and so we quickly (always quickly) rushed to the shuttle and dropped off at our home for the next several nights. There were quite a few cruise ships at the dock, so we had to go through one boat to get to ours behind it. Our tour guide later told that the docks used to be incredibly crowded with cruise ships. But now, since the Arab Spring, tourism has fallen so much that only a handful of cruise companies still operate. With a tinge of sadness, I started to explore our boat.
The only other cruise that I’ve been on is the Disney Cruise Line and, let me tell you, this was nothing like it. The boat is a humble vessel, but obviously it was luxurious compared to people’s standards of living around us. I immediately felt incredibly privileged, which was a weird sensation felt during the entire trip. The cruise ship had a beautiful lobby with a lounge and bar, as well as a shop upstairs. My favourite part of the boat was the top deck. It is a completely open space where you can see everything around you.
Our cruise staff was a comedic bunch, always cracking jokes with each other and everyone around them. The cleaning staff loves to create towel sculptures! And I swear, their favourite thing to do was wait eagerly outside my room to see my reaction.
One of the more humorous incidents was when we were on the top deck before dinner. We heard some yelling from the side of the boat, and lord and behold two men in a tiny boat clutched onto the cruise ship. They were street sellers and for the next 30 minutes I stood in amazement of what unfolded. The men latched onto the ship with some sort of hook and then started showing items for sale. We happened to have an Egyptian dress-up night coming up so most of my fellow travellers were looking to buy jellabas. The guy would throw up the garment, and if someone liked it they would negotiate a price in a screaming fashion and then the seller would toss up a cash bag. The interested party would place the money in the bag and then toss it back down, or toss back the merchandise if they were not interested. I was in constant fear that someone would miss and something would go into the river (the boat is moving the whole time). What a spectacle!
Karnak Temple Complex
There’s a reason Luxor is known as the ‘world’s greatest open-air museum’. The city itself contains several temple ruins. The Karnak Temple Complex is the second largest ancient religious site in the world (only second to the Angkor Wat Temple of Cambodia). I’m not sure anyone can be mentally prepared for what is to come. Karnak is incredible. It is everything you might dream of, and so much more.
Karnak is a temple complex in Thebes, steadily built upon for over 2,000 years. There are several precincts in the complex, but the main area where visitors go is the Precinct of Amun-Re. Amun was a major ancient Egyptian deity. Under the 11th dynasty (2134-1991 BC), Amun became the protector god of Thebes. From this point on, Thebes became much more important. After the rebellion of Thebes against the Hyksos (invaders from Western Asia) and with the rule of Ahmose I (16th century BC), Amun acquired national importance, expressed in his fusion with the Sun god, Ra, as Amun-Ra or Amun-Re. The ancient Egyptians considered Amun-Ra as the King of the Gods, therefore the supreme God. The Greeks would later understand Amun-Ra as Zeus, and Jupiter for the Romans.
Karnak, first and foremost, is impressive because of its sheer size. The columns of the hypostyle hall tower over you like the giant sequoias in California. In fact, everything at Karnak is like a magnified version of everything else I saw along the Nile. The statues are big, the inscriptions are big, the complex is big.
Our tour guide explained that nothing at Karnak is particularly unique, however it is monumental because of its history and exemplary architecture — no other site gives us more insight than Karnak. It displays various architectural, artistic, and linguistic details. Because Karnak was built upon for so many years, we can see this evolution. The gods worshipped at Karnak range from some of the earliest Egyptian deities to some of the latest. So, Karnak offers an impressive presentation of ancient Egyptian religious practices and beliefs.
After wandering around Karnak for a couple hours, we bused over to the Luxor Temple. When we first embarked onto the boat, I could see the Luxor Temple right across the street! The temple is in the middle of the modern town.
The temple is so much smaller in comparison to Karnak, but it is extremely beautiful. As you enter you come across the Statues of Ramses II, and then you enter the Great Court of Ramses. The colonnade leads to the Sun Court of Amenhotep III and the Hypostyle Hall. As you go deeper and deeper into the temple, the space around you becomes more and more enclosed. Next is the Chamber of Amun where there are a couple chapels, and then antechamber leads to the Birth Room. Further still, in front of you lies the Barque Shrine of Amun and at the very back of the temple is the Sanctuary of Amenhotep III.
One of my favourite moments during the entire trip was right here. The sun began to set and the sky coloured the temple like nothing I had ever seen. In the sky a crisp crescent moon emerged and the Statues of Ramses II stood in the moonlight. I wish I was a better writer to evoke the feelings I felt that day, but it was nothing short of magical.
What do you think? Would you make the trek over to Egypt? If you want to read more, check out Part II.