JC and I were back at our hotel, Sheraton Luxor Resort, still in time for the buffet breakfast after our early morning adventure flying on a hot air balloon. While enjoying our meal (and loading up on carbo for the rest of the day), we discussed on what to do and see before we leave for the airport in late evening for our flight back to the capital city, Cairo.
There were still a couple of historical sites that we’ve yet to cover – Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple - so we figured we’d have plenty of time to cover them and perhaps do some other impromptu things as well, like when we went on a felucca cruise at sunset the day before.
Soon after breakfast, we made a reservation for our spot on the next free shuttle service into town. While waiting for the hour, we went out of the resort compound and walked for a bit in search for some souvenirs to bring home. Some keychains and fridge magnets, perhaps. We passed by a small watch shop and JC told me he wanted to check it out and so we both went inside. There’s only a small table inside instead of a proper counter that you’d expect in a watch shop or gallery. The old guy manning the shop greeted us and asked if we’re interested in any of the watches on display. It turned out that he sells fake watches too when he tried to interest us in some cheap knock-offs. “Right, I know we look like a couple of cheapskates but do you think we’d buy knock-offs? No, thanks,” I replied silently in my head. As if on cue however, JC asked if the guy has any high end knock-offs.
The old guy went to the back of the shop and a couple of minutes later brought out a few. He told JC the price for each one of them as JC held one watch after another. JC, whose mum collects watches, went on to inspect them closely before asking if the guy has any more Cartier models. The guy did.
“This Cartier here looks exactly like one of my mum’s,” JC said as he showed me one of the watches. I wasn’t really convinced (about the watch looking like the real deal, not whether his mum has a real one, haha!) but he insisted. “Your mum would probably know it’s a fake from like 100m away though,” I said, as I tried it on. “That’s probably true!” JC chuckled.
I watched, in amusement, as JC tried to haggle the price down. This went on for a few minutes until the old guy went down to his “last price” and stood firm by it. But still, it didn’t match what JC was willing to pay and they got stuck at that. And then I, the guy who wouldn’t buy knock-offs just moments before, chipped in, “What if we buy two?”
We got off the shuttle van in town and from there, we walked to Luxor Temple. There is a tall obelisk standing on one side of the main entrance to the Temple. There should be a pair, flanking the entrance just in front of the statues to welcome everyone but one was gone. What’s left today is only its base. My first thought was that the missing obelisk hadn’t survived the “wear and tear” over the years and had probably crumbled down, like some parts of the historical temple complex. What was I thinking though? I soon found out that the missing obelisk is still standing tall proudly to this very day in Place de la Concorde, at one end of Champs-Élysées, right in between Arc de Triomphe and The Louvre in Paris.
Having previously been to Paris a couple of times, I thought, “Oh so this is where it came from!” It’s one of those ah-ha moments (which I personally enjoy and love about travels) when you get to see for yourself the historical connection between two or more countries that you’ve been to. (Another example of this ah-ha moment was when I went to Persepolis - a historical city which I had never heard of until I was making the quick plan to visit Iran soon after my trip to Greece – and learnt of its connection with the origin of marathon in Greece, which eventually resulted in Persepolis being burnt down by the Greeks.)
While I’d known that the obelisk in Paris was brought over from Egypt, I never really gave much thought about its specific origin (that is despite it being called Luxor Obelisk! Duh! ;p). But as I stood near its original base at the entrance of Luxor Temple, I wondered if the French should return it to the Egyptian, just like I wondered if Elgin marbles of the Parthenon in Acropolis, Athens at British Museum, London should be returned to Greece.
By coincidence, Athens was where JC and I had first met. But I digress.
We entered the temple complex and walked among the thick walls and tall columns, in awe of every single thing. Hieroglyphics adorn almost all of them and we could actually touch them. We could actually touch history. History from 3 millenniums ago, with direct connections to Alexander the Great and even Tutankhamun.
It was just so surreal.
It was just so surreal.
Whilst walking around the complex, a group of 4 Egyptian girls asked me if I could help take a photo of them. I happily obliged and we got into talking. Apparently, they’re university students travelling together to Luxor trying to learn about and see their own country’s history. They asked JC and I where we come from and upon finding out that we’re originally from opposite sides of the globe, they promptly asked how we actually first met. “About 6 months ago, when we both were climbing up the small hill to get to the Pantheon at the Acropolis in Greece. So this trip to Egypt is our second meet and second country where we travel together.” “That’s so cool! I want to be like you guys one day!” I’m not sure about wanting to be like me but when I thought about how JC & I met and were now travelling together, that’s pretty cool if I may say so myself, heh!
As fate would have it, the girls’ camera is of the same model like mine, a Canon PowerShot. One of the girls asked if I have any problem with my camera because theirs kept shutting off on its own even when using new batteries. I checked and took out the batteries, thinking maybe one or two needed to be wiped clean at either end but found out that they’re using the wrong kind of batteries. “What do you mean wrong batteries? They are AA, no?” “They are of the right size but you need to get the more powerful ones that are meant for digital camera. These ones are not for cameras, more like for your alarm clock. That’s why your camera keeps shutting off.”
By luck, I had with me an extra set as a backup in case my batteries run out of their juice whilst travelling. I gave them the set and the camera worked just fine. Their face simply lit up with big smiles. They offered to pay for the new batteries but I just said there is no need. “Just take lots of photos and enjoy Luxor”. In hindsight, it’s a bit ironic, with me being a foreigner wishing as such to a group of Egyptians. We soon parted ways but not before taking a group photo using the camera that has just been granted a new lease of life.
|19th century Abu Haggag Mosque, built in Luxor Temple ground|
After checking the map in JC’s Nat Geo Egypt guidebook, we decided to just walk to Karnak Temple. It didn’t look to be that far from where we were (Luxor Temple) so we thought it’s easily doable. It was doable all right but it wasn’t really a stroll in the park either. We walked along dusty roads and at times, had to make detours as there were construction works going on here and there. Along the way, there was hardly any signage pointing direction towards Karnak Temple but we still felt confident that we’re not lost – even after we realised that it’s taking us much longer than expected to walk there. Every now and then there were cars honking at us, asking “Taxi?” even though their car didn’t look like one at all. JC and I persisted and we finally arrived at our destination after almost 1 hour of walking.
At first glance, from afar, Karnak Temple looks a bit similar to Luxor Temple, except that the walls are thicker and bigger and the columns are fatter and taller. The avenue that leads to the temple main entrance is lined up with sphinxes, not dissimilar to Luxor Temple. Inside however, it’s totally different. The area it occupies is also much, much bigger – Karnak Temple is in fact the second largest ancient religious site in the world – although not all sections are opened to the public.
The most popular part of this huge temple complex is known as The Great Hypostyle Hall, first built by King Seti I and later completed by his son, Rameses II, some 3,300 years ago during the New Kingdom era. This was the place where Optimus Prime had the final battle in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (heh!), which incidentally also reminded me of my visit to Petra, Jordan, where another battle occurred in that very same movie. But no, that’s not the reason why The Great Hypostyle Hall is popular. The hall area occupies some 50,000 sq ft with more than 100 columns – representing papyrus flowers – standing as high as 21m and over 3m in diameter. It’s just perfect for some photo shoot (and for movies too, apparently) but only if you can avoid the crazy crowd. The Temple complex is said to be only second to Pyramids of Giza in terms of the most visited historical sites in the whole of Egypt.
JC & I didn’t stay here long. We simply walked around the compound, read some history and details of some of the sections, tried to guess what some of the hieroglyphics mean and took some photos. After about 1 hour, we left.
From Karnak Temple, we retraced our steps back towards the town. As we hadn’t really eaten anything since our buffet breakfast back at the hotel, we were quite famished by then. So we checked out a few restaurants & cafés by the Nile and settled on one that has seats and tables under a canopy decorated like, I’d imagine, a fancy Bedouin tent.
JC ordered some rice with what looked like a pot of stew while I asked if they have any special rice-based meal. The waiter recommended one and when I asked if it’s really good, he said, “It’s Napoleon Bonaparte’s favourite when he was in Egypt.” “Okay, I’ll have that then!” We also ordered some hummus with Arabic bread and French baguette.
My dinner. Apparently Napoleon's favourite meal.
I’m not sure if the waiter was just joking but I thought the meal, Napoleon’s supposed favourite, was just so-so. If it’s for real, Mr Bonaparte should have tried some nasi lemak in Malaysia instead. 😜 Despite that, I still managed to finish it and I happily helped myself to finish the hummus as well. Having a meal while enjoying a beautiful view of a jetty full of feluccas, the Nile, and the West Bank across at sunset – a glorious one at that - I realised that I really have got nothing much to complain about.
Just like the sunset, Luxor has been mesmerising for both JC and I for these couple of days. But we’re now ready to fly back and explore more of Cairo.
On Pinterest? Use these photos to bookmark and/or share this blog post. 😉