Monday, July 8, 2019

Egypt - Exploring a lost empire

View from our hotel room in
Pyramid of Khafre
Egypt had been on our bucket list for a long time. With one of the oldest known and and well documented cultures of the world, and history that dates back at least 5000 years, it's a must for any traveler even remotely interested in learning about ancient cultures or architectures.
It must be noted that Indian citizens need a visa in advance for Egypt, except if they're residents of GCC countries with visas valid for at least 6 months, or if they're travelling as a part of a tourist group of more than 10 people with a guide, they can get visa on arrival. Though, with the administrative mess and the language barrier than exists in Egypt, I'm not really sure if the latter really works.
Panoramic view of the pyramids
We landed in Egypt after about a week exploring Jordan. Our flight from Amman to Cairo arrived at around 8:30 pm local time, and after passing through immigration at the airport we were on our to the hotel via Uber. The taxi took about 40 minutes to reach our hotel, as fortunately there was none of the infamous Cairo traffic along the way.
Our hotel had panoramic views, and in our opinion the best views, of the pyramids. We hit the hay soon after, as it had been a long day of travel.
Day 1 (Giza): For our first and only full day in Cairo, we had booked a 2 day package via a local tour operator, Emo Tours. Around 7:30 am local time, we were picked up by our guide Mohammed, and his driver Arafa.
Step pyramid at Saqqara
Funerary temple of Djoser at Saqqara
We were then driven to the entrance, where we had to pay the entry fees (160 EGP ~ $9.50 USD) and get through security. Our first stop was the pyramid of Khufu, which is the largest of all the pyramids. We were really amazed to see the size of the pyramid up close, and it does really live up to the hype. This was followed by a visit to the pyramid of Khafre, and Menkaure, the two smaller pyramids on the side of Khufu, the largest one. The pyramid complex is fairly huge and walking along all sites and viewpoint would be a time consuming and tiring task. Fortunately, there're roads that lead almost right up to all the pyramid entrances, so there really isn't much walking required, if you visit with a guide/driver or a group tour.
Roofed colonnade corridor
 leading into the complex
Bent Pyramid of Dashur
Another advantage of having a guide is that you're not pestered by the vendors and the camel carriage riders, who can be really annoying and persistent.
After that we were taken to a panoramic viewpoint of the pyramids, where you can see all of the 3 majors pyramids in a one close view.

Our next stop was Saqqara and Dahshur , a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis.
What is unique about visiting Dahshur is that you won't find the crowds of Giza.

Passageway inside
the red pyramid
Red pyramid
This site also one of the oldest complete pyramids built - the step pyramid. The Step Pyramid stands 60 meters high and is built of locally quarried clay sandstone of poor quality. You can no longer enter the pyramid due to safety issues. The chambers and passages in the interior of the pyramid served partly for the burial of close relatives of the King (in particular those of his sons who died in childhood) and partly for storing grave-goods for the use of the dead.
Djoser's funerary complex, built by the royal architect Imhotep, further comprises a large number of dummy buildings and a secondary mastaba (the so-called 'Southern Tomb').

Our next stop was the the Red Pyramid, also called the North Pyramid, is the largest of the three major pyramids located at the Dahshur necropolis in Cairo, Egypt. Named for the rusty reddish hue of its red limestone stones, it is also the third largest Egyptian pyramid, after those of Khufu and Khafra at Giza.
Statues of Ramasis II in Memphis
Pyramid light show 
You can go inside this one for free and it's as interesting as going inside the main ones in Giza. There is a long passageway that goes about 150 steps deep into the pyramid. Once you get to the bottom of it, there're what appears to chambers for storage, followed by more rooms and chambers. I don't think anybody has firmly established the purpose of these chambers, but they appear to be for some kind of storage or a vault of some kind.
Our final stop of the day was the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis. Within the museum in Memphis is a giant statue of the Ramasis II carved of monumental limestone, about 10 meters in length, which was discovered in 1820.
Saladin's citadel
This ended our first full day in Egypt. After picking up dinner from a near by hotel, evening, we watched the Pyramid light show, from our hotel terrace.

Inside Mosque of Muhammad Ali
Day 2 (Cairo): Our second and last full day in Cairo started at 8 am local time. After getting some breakfast at our hotel we were on our way to explore a couple of the city's main attractions.
Our first stop was the Cairo citadel.
The Citadel was fortified by the Kurdish ruler Salah al-Din (Saladin) between 1176 and 1183 AD, to protect it from the Crusaders. However, most people visit the citadel to see the the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. Commissioned by Muhammad Ali Pasha between 1830 and 1848, this spectacular mosque was built to rival the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. It is also known as the Alabastr Mosque as the lower storey and the forecourt are tiled with alabaster.
You can also get a view of the Mosque Madrassa, from the citadel and also a panoramic view of the Cairo city.
Our final stop of the day was to the Egyptian museum, which is home to an extensive collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities. Built in 1901 it is one of the largest museums in the region.
Karnak temple
There're several pieces of interesting artifacts and also a mummy's room where they've kept all the dug up mummies from the Valley of Kings and Queen in Luxor, though that requires a separate entry fee.
Afternoon, we took the flight from Cairo to Luxor, from where were about start our cruise further south of Egypt to Aswan.
Day 3 (Luxor)
Our first day in Luxor started with breakfast at our hotel. The owner had specially asked the cook eggs and other stuff for breakfast, as we were the only guests staying there, at that point.
Luxor temple
After a sumptuous breakfast, we were picked up by our guide from Imperial Egypt and taken to the Luxor temples - Karnak followed by the Luxor temple.

Hot air balloon being prepped
for flight
The massive temple complex of Karnak was the principal religious center of the god Amun-Re in Thebes during the New Kingdom (which lasted from 1550 until 1070 B.C.E.). The complex remains one of the largest religious complexes in the world. However, Karnak was not just one temple dedicated to one god—it held not only the main precinct to the god Amun-Re—but also the precincts of the gods Mut and Montu. Compared to other temple compounds that survive from ancient Egypt, Karnak is in a poor state of preservation but it still gives scholars a wealth of information about Egyptian religion and art.
Karnak temple view from the hot air
The Luxor temple was built by Amenhotep III (1390-52 BC) but completed by Tutankhamun (1336-27 BC) and Horemheb (1323-1295 BC) and then added to by Rameses II (1279-13 BC). Toward the rear is a granite shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great (332-305 BC).
The temple has been in almost continuous use as a place of worship right up to the present day.

After our tours of the temple complex, we were guided to our Nile cruise and our room for the next 4 nights. The cruise ship functions as a floating hotel for the first couple of days and then sails from Luxor to Aswan via Edfu for the next 2 days.
Colossi of Memnon
Day 4 (Luxor): We had booked an early morning (4:30 am) hot air balloon ride with our tour operator the day before, so got up early and were on our way from our cruise after being picked up at 3:30 am. We were then drive to a couple of hotels were they picked up some more passenger for the balloon ride and then drove us to a dock from where we crossed the Nile by a Felucca motorboat to go to the West Bank, where lies the Valley of the Kings. On the short boat ride, we were offered some tea/coffee and biscuits.
The hot air balloon process was very interesting, and I had frankly never thought about the effort, and the science that goes into the flight.
Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut
The basic principle behind hot air balloon physics is the use of hot air to create buoyancy, which generates lift. A hot air balloon consists of a large bag, called an envelope, with a gondola or wicker basket suspended underneath. A burner sits in the basket and is used to heat the air inside the envelope through an opening. This heated air generates lift by way of a buoyant force, which can create an incredible amount of heat when inside the balloon. It was really uncomfortable at times, and as it felt like my back was on fire.
The views of the Nile and the Valley more than made up for it.
Valley of the kings
After about an hour of flight, we landed on the east bank, as the weather did not permit us to land on the west bank as originally planned. After driving from east to west bank, we visited the Colossi of Memnon. The statue faces are mostly destroyed because of the earthquakes, however, they're the tallest statues in Egypt.
This was followed by a visit to the valley of the kings and the temple of Hatshepsut.
The valley of the kings is famous for it's tombs made over a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, rock cut for the pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom.

Edfu Temple
The temple of Hatshepsut, with Stepped platforms, pillared porticoes, and vibrant reliefs set against the desert backdrop make it an architectural masterpiece.
The walkway around the Edfu temple
at Edfu
After our last stop, we were driven back to our boat. Afternoon temperatures in southern Egypt can reach in the highs 40s 'C, so it's not recommended to step out after, afternoon until the sun sets.
Day 5 (Edfu and Kom Ombo)
The boat set sail on the previous day after our trip from the valley of the kings in Luxor and crossed made it's way to to Edfu, which is about half way between Luxor and Aswan, sometime around midnight.
The 365 day calendar
About 8 am in the morning our guide picked us up from the boat and took us to the Edfu temple on a horse carriage.
Edfu was one of several temples built during the Ptolemaic Kingdom, completed around 57 BC. The Temple is still very much intact and definitely one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in all of Egypt.
After about an hour at the temple we set sail to our next destination the Kom Ombo temple. Kom Ombo's Pylon originally had two gateways, but the left-hand half has completely disappeared, and only the lower parts of the central pillar and the right wing survive.
Random shots from the cruise
along the Nile
Kom Obmo Temple
Just as at Edfu's Temple of Horus, the forecourt here was originally surrounded on three sides by colonnades, but only the lower halves of the 16 columns remain today. The temple also depicts one of the first 365 calendars.
As the afternoon heat got unbearable, we headed to our boat for the day.
Day 6 (Aswan)
Our last day of the cruise was a rough one for me as I had an upset stomach from the food on the cruise. So I rested most of the day in the room. My wife however did go an early morning tour of the high dam in Aswan and the Phile temple dedicated to the Goddess Isis. Below are some of her shots from that day.
The temple of Isis
Aswan Dam
Symbol of friendship

Day 7 (Aswan to Cairo)
Our last day was our flight back to Cairo and then to our home base of Toronto. We took the afternoon flight from Aswan as we did not want to chance our luck with a connecting international flight booked separately. We booked an Airbnb for our 10 hour layover in Cairo as we wanted to rest some before our long flight back. Our host was super cool and even made us sandwiches on arrival as it was Ramadan and most restaurants were closed. Evening, she even invited us to Iftar dinner with her sons and their families.

This brought to end our 2 weeks in Jordan and Egypt. With history that dates back at least 5000 years, if not more, it should be a must on every person's travel bucket list, at some point in their life.

What businesses did we use?
Tours: 2 day Cairo by Emo tours
Hotels: and Rezeiky Camp
Cruise: Imperial Egypt

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