LUXOR, EGYPT — In Egypt, the east is the direction of the living — the waters of the sea, the banks of the Nile, the green of the delta. The west, where the sun sinks down to a fiery climax, is the land of the dead. That’s where we came to explore.
For nearly three millennia, Egypt was ruled by god-kings — in their words, direct descendants of the gods of the sun and sky and sea. Luxor — or Thebes as the Greeks called it — on the upper Nile was the capital of the “new” Kingdom, some two thousand years ago. This is where the Pharaohs lived like kings — and died as gods.
We took a day trip from Hurghada to visit this ancient capital. Leaving before the sun came up, we headed southwest through the hardscrabble desert on a tour bus. Four hours later, green grass and sugar cane began to pop up on the edge of the Nile canals. Modern civilization intermingles with the ancient.
Our first stop was Karnak Temple, on the east (living) bank of the Nile. This massive temple complex was the main location for praying to the ancients’ many gods.
Each Pharaoh was expected to add to the complex, resulting in a massive ruin that is still being uncovered as we speak. We explored the hieroglyphs, the columns, ancient walkways and epic Obelisks.
The most famous of these areas is the Valley of the Kings, where over 68 tombs are located in less than four square kilometers. These tombs are mainly empty now — whether pillaged by grave-robbers or archaeologists, most of their treasures are in museums or private collections. But you can still climb down the sometimes half-kilometer long tombs to the burial chambers, mesmerized by the color and craftsmanship of the hieroglyphics that tell the story of each god-king.
No photos are allowed in the Valley of the Kings in order to preserve the quality of the remaining artifacts, but like a good explorer, I managed to snap a couple shots for posterity.
As the sun god, Ra, began his slow descent to the west, we visited the temple of Hatshepsut, ancient Egypt’s first female ruler.
Her temple is carved literally into the side of the mountain. It’s enduring frescoes still telling the story of her journeys across Africa and how she was able to rule over the greatest civilization of the ancient world.
In a civilization dominated by men, she was perhaps one of the most successful Pharaohs that ever lived. And her temples stand as a monument to her achievements some two-thousand years later.
Leaving the dust and sand, we headed back east towards the living. And the greatest life-giving force of all: the mighty Nile. The world’s longest river starts deep in the heart of Africa and flows ever north before cutting through the sands of Egypt and meeting the sea. This is truly the intersection point of the two Egypts: that of sea and sand.
We cruised along the Nile’s reed-strewn banks and watched the sun drop behind the horizon before heading back to the coast.