Sunday, January 27, 2008

The curse of Tuthmosis III

The train is already at the platform when we enter the station. A gendarme stops us to ask where we are going. "Luxor". He then directs us to a seat by a smelly toilet. We move down the train and find empty seats on the busy train near the back. Before the train leaves another policeman finds us and asks us to come with him. So we walk back the length of the train until we reach a carriage where the copper tells a man to move. We take the empty seats and the policeman sits near us. Opposite him is another policeman facing the other way. This one is accompanying a Japanese couple. We have been assigned an escort for a three hour train journey. A woman who sits facing us with her daughter and son offers us bananas, bread and cheese. We can't refuse her kindness but have nothing to offer in return.

Luxor is a bit of a crazy town. The first road we walk down is completely dug up for its whole length. This is not an uncommon sight - instead of working on short sections of a road to minimise the inconvenience, the opposite occurs. It looks like there may be three men doing the work - or are they just bored passersby staring endlessly into that trench? Our hotel manager is a smiley jokey man whom we instantly distrust simply for these traits. It rains again and the streets become an obstacle course of mud and puddles. Oh the joy.

Luxor comes from the arabic Al Uqsur which means The Palaces. It was here that the Pharoahs had their capital, Thebes, and where they built great temples for their gods. It is also where most of them were buried in decorated tombs cut out of the rock. We visit the huge temple complex of Karnak which is series of reconstructed courtyards, statues and obelisks. One large room is filled with decorated columns - incredibly impressive and perfect for hide-and-seek. The following day we cross the Nile and hire bikes to visit the Valley of the Kings. In a narrow dry valley are the tombs of many of the kings - the most famous being the last one discovered - Tutankhamun's. We skip this in favour of three others. The tomb of Tuthmosis III ("the Napoloeon of Egypt" apparently - although I wonder what ol' Boney would say about this) has difficult access through an opening cut high up a cliff and then across a deep shaft - to deter tomb robbers and people like Harrison Ford, presumably. His sarcophagus is in-situ, guarded over by a weasly old man in a grubby turban who thrusts a torch inside to illuminate the decoration and thrusts his spare hand out for some baksheesh. (There is a deep-rooted tradition for baksheesh in Egypt. On an earlier trip where we took a minibus with other tourists, the driver asked us for a tip. An old American man said "Yeah, keep your nose clean and stay out of trouble" before jumping off the bus.) We blank him and head off to the tomb of Ramses III . We enter a narrow corridor undergound and admire the scenes painted along the walls and in the alcoves. A coachload of tourists rush past and down to the end, and then double-back. It looks like they haven't seen anything - just going through the motions. We follow them to Ramses I's tomb. He's pulled the biggest crowd - a mixture of Russians and Brits on a day trip from the coast - all boob tubes, silly hats and flip-flops. What would the Pharoahs think? Groovy! judging by their outfits.

We are constantly trying to avoid being overcharged - it's a daily sport which we bemoan, yet we feel no guilt about using fake ISIC cards to pay to enter Egypt's sights. Everything is half price for students. We bought our cards from a shifty restaurant owner in Palmyra, Syria, who was very cloak and dagger about it all, verging on paranoid. He had a small boy in the back room doing the business on a computer. It seems like everyone we met who went there came away with one. Our small investment has finally paid dividends and enabled us to see more than we probably would have otherwise.

The next day I awake with a dodgy stomach and spend the day in close proximity to the toilet. At one point it feels like the Nile is flowing out of me. This is obviously a result of a pharaonic curse, and nothing to do with the moussaka I ate the night before. The following day I take a tablet to bung me up and we hire bikes again to visit the temple of Hatshepsut. This woman became a pharoah whilst some young whippersnapper (Tuthmosis III as it happens) came of age. Apparently her period of rule was a peaceful and prosperous time. Hmmm, may be there's a lesson to be learned here. Afterwards we visit tombs of nobles which are dotted around a village, which was built over them. Their decoration is superb - some painted, others carved in relief. The tomb guards sidle up to offer the opportunity of taking illicit photographs or to descend dark stairwells that are out of bounds. They all have bad teeth and rummy eyes. Down by the Nile the sugar cane is being harvested - lush green fields contrast sharply with the dry rocky hills and the concrete town. We take the boat back across the river one more time and catch a night bus to Cairo. I have a sore backside but not sure whether it's from two days riding a Chinese bicycle or one day sat on a toilet.

1 comment:

lifezard said...

hi guys, hope you remember me, the singapore guy you met in cairo, looks like you are enjoying it slow here in egypt... ^^

can't wait to hear out your iran adventures soon

have a safe journey