Throne of the Two Lands

“The Nile, forever new and old, Among the living and the dead, Its mighty, mystic stream has rolled.”

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I arrived in Luxor completely groggy from my overnight stay on a train from Cairo.  I hadn’t slept well in the loud and rocky train car, and I felt more ready to curl up in a nice, comfy (stationary) bed than to go out and spend a long day touring Luxor.  Luckily my attitude completely changed when we arrived at our resort, the Mercure Luxor Karnak.

While Jared took care of checking us all into our rooms, Vince and I took the opportunity to explore the lovely grounds of our latest accommodation.  We walked out of an opulent lobby to find a massive swimming pool lined with palm trees.  Beyond the pool was the Nile River, looking much cleaner than it had in Cairo.  Vince and I went down to the river to gape at the mountainous desert on the opposite bank, and ended up coming face to face with a beautiful Little Egret.

Little Egret in the Nile River

Of course, we didn’t have much time to spend at the resort just yet, but I was feeling much more excited for the day ahead as we hopped back on the bus and met our new Egyptologist guide, John.  Our first stop of the day was to be Karnak Temple.  Karnak is a sprawling temple complex that had many names in ancient Egypt, including Nesut-Towi, “Throne of the Two Lands,” which referred to Upper and Lower Egypt.  This was the ruin that I was most excited to see out of anything on the trip’s itinerary, and I felt impatient to get there as the big bus lumbered along Luxor’s East Bank.

When we finally arrived, I was beyond ready to get started.  We entered the temple complex and were met by a row of stoic looking sphinxes that stood sentinel as we approached the temple gate.  Already I had an eerie feeling thinking about how many centuries the sphinxes had watched pass as humans stood where I was standing, and how many people before me were greeted by the unseeing eyes of the stone creatures.

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Avenue of sphinxes at Karnak

The sphinxes, however anthropomorphic they may have seemed, remained lifeless as we passed through into the temple, the first place in Egypt that was to give me an appropriate sense of awe.

Just inside the temple walls were a number of notable statues of ancient kings that are still famous to this day.  A bust of Tutankhamen stood in front of more sphinxes, and to their left was the entrance to the Temple of Ramesses II.

The entrance to the complex was fascinating, but the highlight of the day – and of the trip so far – was the moment I entered the Great Hypostyle Hall.  This is an area built under the rule of Seti I that contains 134 columns that are 79 feet high.  The roof of the hall has collapsed leaving the pillars to look as though they are stretching upwards as if trying to reach the sky.  Each pillar is covered with intricate carvings that tell the story of the god Amun, Later Pharaohs added to the carvings to record tales of their reigns.

As I stepped into the shadow of the colossal pillars I finally got a feeling that I had been hoping for since we arrived in Cairo.  Tears burned behind my eyes, threatening to spill down my cheeks as I contemplated the centuries of stories and secrets this hall held.  I often react like this when a moment is so unbelievably beautiful that I have no other way to process it than with nonsensical, silent tears.  It may seem strange, but it is this feeling that keeps me inspired to travel.  I want to see places that are so amazing that words can’t adequately describe them, and so humbling that I have to take a step back just to process them.  This was one of those places, and this place alone would have been worth the journey to Egypt even if it was the only thing I got to see.

The Hypostyle Hall was far from the end of the Karnak complex, which covers about 200 acres of the East Bank of the Nile.  Our tour continued past an obelisk built for Hatshepsut, a hall with more pillars with well-preserved color, and some areas with pristine carvings on their walls.  We eventually stopped at a sacred lake where we saw a statue of a scarab beetle, a symbol of good luck.  John told us about superstitions regarding the scarab and that if we circled the statue three times, we would get one wish.  I went ahead and walked around the scarab three times, despite the fact that I probably should have been hiding under the shade of a nearby stand of trees.  After three cycles, I made my wish.  I’m not sure if the wish has to remain secret in order for it to come true, so I’ll err on the side of caution and let you use your imagination as to what it may have been.

This was our turn-around point and we slowly made our way back through the maze of temples, still taking in the endless sights of ancient artistry.

After Karnak, we rode to Luxor temple and the Avenue of Sphinxes.  Luxor Temple was impressive in own right, although it was nowhere near as sprawling as Karnak.  It was riddled with statues of Ramesses II (dude really like commissioning statues of himself), and had some beautiful examples of preserved color on some of its paintings.

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Beautifully preserved paintings in Luxor Temple

Luxor temple also contained its fair share of giant columns.  I was still overly excited about columns, so Vince humored me with a mini photo shoot.

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Columns in Luxor Temple

It was only about 1 pm when we left Luxor Temple, but it was the end of our official tours for the day.  We had gotten an early start to avoid the hottest part of the afternoon, and I could not complain about the prospect of returning to the Mercure to lounge by the pool.

When Vince and I entered our room for the first time, we were delighted to find that it was stylish and comfortable, and had a door leading out to a poolside balcony.  We stepped out to see our room view, and Vince closed the door behind us, resulting in our getting locked out of our room, and in me yelling for a hotel employee to save us.

With that ordeal behind us, it was about time that we went down to the pool.  We spent a few hours relaxing in the cool water and booked a boat tour for later that evening with a man named Hagag.  Then, as I was lying on a lounge chair, I received a disturbing text from a friend asking if I was ok.  At first I thought she was joking, so I sent her a flippant reply, but then she told me that a tour bus had been a bombed in Cairo and she was actually concerned about me.  The news was sobering, and I felt rather shaken.  I went back to our room to call my mom and let her know that I wasn’t anywhere near the attack, then I responded to more texts that were rolling in from concerned friends who had seen the news.

Suddenly, I was very glad that we had booked the tour with Hagag because I needed a distraction to keep me from thinking too hard about the bombing.  We still had three days left in Egypt, and there was nothing I could do about that.  Worrying wouldn’t change anything and neither would fear, so I put on a good face despite my overall feeling of shock as we met up with Caleb, Bonnie, David, Mike, and Lori for our sunset cruise on the Nile.

Floating along the river on a little motorboat, my worries began to subside.  We passed by defunct cruise ships and crowds of boys swimming in the river as we motored toward Banana Island.  Hagag was animated and informative, and we grew really fond him as the tour progressed.  The boat finally stopped at Banana Island where we disembarked and walked through a banana farm before being served a plate of delicious bananas and fresh juices.

After we had relaxed for a bit, we got back on the boat just as the sun was starting to set.

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Sunset on the Nile

Hagag had promised us one last stop – a beach where we would be able to swim in the river if we wanted.  He and the driver beached the boat and we all clamored off of it onto a sandy stretch of river bank where everyone watched the end of the sunset as I stalked some Egyptian Plovers.  I was unsure about swimming in the river, but eventually decided to go for it after Vince reminded me that I had already swam in the Amazon, and I shouldn’t miss the opportunity to swim in another continent’s longest river.  I ended up being glad of my choice, and we all had a blast jumping into the fast moving water.  Hagag seemed simultaneously amused and stressed out, and frequently reminded us not to get hurt.

Once we’d had enough of swimming, Hagag brought us back to the Mercure and we thanked him profusely for a fun evening.  Our time in Luxor was off to a great start, and despite my earlier misgivings, I looked forward to seeing what else this beautiful city on the Nile held for us.


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