A Travellerspoint blog

The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Cairo

After touring around Egypt and learning tidbits of Egyptian history, it was great to be able to see the displays at the Egyptian Museum, and really try to understand and relate the artefacts to what we had seen. The museum is a throwback to the old days, and many of the displays contain faded, typed or handwritten notes - very 'Indiana Jones' or 'The Mummy'!

The highlight was no doubt the mask of Tutankhamun, which to many is the symbol of ancient Egypt and I'm certain would be recognised by most. The entire contents of Tutenkhamun's tomb, as discovered intact in the 1920s, is on display and the collection includes chariots, jewellery, statues, chests and clothing.

Unfortunately, there is a strict no cameras policy in the museum. A new museum is currently being built and should provide an even better view into the life and times of ancient Egypt.

This evening, we said goodbye to many of our new friends and got ready to head onto our early flight to London, for a few days R&R, and to begin the European phase of our trip.

Posted by deepaksuma 02:00 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Islamic Cairo

With no pressure to buy any more souvenirs or goods, we took a taxi through Cairo into the Khan-el-Khalili markets, within Islamic Cairo. The markets are a maze of narrow alleyways teeming with people, and we moved from what seemed to be the 'touristy' part of the market, and quickly into sections selling the spices, perfumes, jewellery, general clothing, whitegoods, spare parts, and anything more you could imagine. In fact, we spent about 30 minutes getting ourselves lost and the next 30 trying to find our ways out again. Along the way, we saw a good old fashioned push and shove fight, watched as small men carried tray loads of bread on their heads through the busy alleys, men selling something resembling cola in backpacks designed to dispense the icy liquid into plastic bags, and shopkeepers pushing trolleys of mechandise stopping for noone in their path - get in their way at your own peril!

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After escaping the markets, we walked around and checked out the nearest mosques with the towering minarets, then people watched sipping tea and drinks at the main square. The hilarious menu features such specials as STRAZBERRY (strawberry), Cabtsheno (cappucino), Sprit and Vanta (Sprite, Fanta). I'd have been interested to find out what jujbe, orchis or CRANE was..

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Who needs glamour when we have TAZA

An evening meal at Taza and a McDonalds sundae hit the spot, before we assembled at our rooftop bar to say goodbye to Mohammed, ho of course did not leave us without imparting a few more of his choice words and jokes. Andy and David topped it off with tributes - with Andy's spot on impressions proving particularly popular!

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Posted by deepaksuma 01:40 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

At the mercy of the wind

Set of early on board our feluccas to make our way back from the village to Aswan. The feluccas are completely at the mercy of the wind, and are expertly maneuvered in zig zags to take advantage of the little breeze. After a very relaxing 2 hours or so, we arrived back in Aswan, albeit slightly hungry. Good news - alongside the Nile was a conveniently located McDonalds, and a group of us devoured what was to be a very satisfying meal.

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Blowing in the breeze

After a hectic couple of days, we took today much easier and declined many of the optional activities. Instead, we headed out shopping into the Aswan bazaars, bargaining hard and getting some good prices for some niknaks and gifts! The Aswan shopkeepers were generally good natured and happy to joke around, and we had a good time doing what many others found somewhat daunting. At night, we gathered up our bags and got on the night train back to Cairo.

Posted by deepaksuma 01:35 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Abu Simbel

False start!

Hit the road on schedule, but as we were on the way to join the convoy, discovered that due to overnight sandstorms, the convoy had been cancelled as sand was covering the desert road. There was to be a delayed convoy at 11am - which meant we turned around, headed back to the hotel and had a few more hours shuteye.

.. and, take two

Joined the 11am convoy after a few hours nap, and made our way speeding through the desert. This was the real deal, dunes on both sides, mirages in the distance giving the appearance of vast lakes - caused by radiating heat from the sand.

Abu Simbel temple

The temple at Abu Simbel was the best we saw in Egypt, and made the 3 hour trip through the desert worthwhile. The temple was commissioned by Ramses II who, in his heydey, was one of the most powerful pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Ramses II ruled for 67 years, and during this time attained almost god-like status. This was enabled mostly by his penchant for showing himself in artwork alongside the gods, and in heroic poses - smiting enemies, shooting arrows, riding chariots.

The Abu Simbel temple was built as the Egyptian power extended south into Nubian territories, and Ramses II wanted to build a monument to show his power and convert Nubians to the Egyptian way. The temple itself, like those in Petra in Syria, carved entirely into the rock. It is fronted by 4 giant carved statues of Ramses II, each a towering 20 meters, in seated pose. The inside of the temple is adorned by carvings on every wall, showing some of the best preserved scenes in Egypt. The colour is preserved, and the site itself is well maintained, lighting set neatly to emphasise the depicted scenes.

Inside the inner sanctuary of the temple is a shrine to the 3 Egyptian gods, and of course seated among them is Ramses II. A unique characteristic and feat of the original architects of this temple, is that twice a year, natural sunbeams pierce the temple and light up the faces of three of this figures (leaving only the god of darkness, in darkness). These two dates are the date of Ramses II birthday, and the day of his coronation.

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The temple itself was discovered by chance by an Italian, who was taking a boat over Lake Nasr when he stumbled across it the amaing site of this massive temple half covered by the desert sand. However the temple we visited is no longer on the site at which it was discovered..

As the new High Dam was being built on the Nile (destined to provide Egypt with most of its electrical power, and the opportunity of year round irrigation) - the temples of Nubia were endangered by the rising waters. As such, and international appeal was launched and monies raised to save these historic sites. Abu Simbel was moved a few hundred metres to higher ground, by cutting the rock into 20,000 pieces and putting it back together as if it were a giant jigssaw puzzle. This phenomenal feat was achieved after a few years of hard toil, international cooperation and ingenious design. Only one characteristic did not survive the mov - despite best efforts, the alignment which allowed the sunbeams to pierce the inner sanctuary now occurs 24 hours later than the original. This only emphasises the architectural brilliance and understanding of the sun's movements the ancient Egyptians had - we couldn't match it despite all of our planning, technology and machinery of today!

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Nubian Dinner

With a lot of time on the road, the day was tiring and we ended it by savouring a nice dinner, and sharing some jokes and stories at a home in a local Nubian village. We also had a walk around to the local school, and it was well past midnight when we jumped aboard our two docked 'feluccas' - wooden sailing boats - which was to be our accommodation for the evening. It was a nice warm evening, and under the stars, it seemed a great idea to simply kick back on the deck and fall asleep without sheets. The giant killer mosquitoes buzzing about put paid to that idea, and soon I was baking inside my sleeping bag - but thankfully away from the blood sucking little critters.

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Posted by deepaksuma 01:05 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Jack-ass!

Forget trains, buses and planes - we hit the road this morning on the back of our very own donkeys, bound for a 1.5 hr ride to the Valley of the Kings! With no safety briefing and no instructions (verbal or written), we jumped onto the donkey's back and well, they took off, seemingly knowing the path and trotting at a reasonable pace. The trot soon turned into a gallop, and all efforts were aimed at avoiding serious bodily injury! My donkey seemed primed for poll position, hitting the lead when we approached a fork in the road. No worries - the donkey confidently headed in one direction - except it was the wrong one...

With instructions on how to steer the donkey in the right direction being yelled from afar, I miraculously managed to turn the thing around and head back toward the group. This donkey thing didn't seem so hard after all! Soon enough, we were galloping along and yelling the odd 'RA!' to keep the donkey in check, and pulling the reins to the right to ensure we didnt collide with the cars, trucks and tourist buses zipping by on both sides of the road at speed (lane discipline isnt exactly an Egyptian trait). The scenery around was magnificent, from local villages to desert valleys - our journey passed quickly by and soon enough, we arrived at the Valley of the Kings with sore muscles, a heap of laughs. The donkeys on the other hand had a quick bite of carrots, and trotted up the road back to town.

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Valley of the Kings

An amazing site where 63 tombs have been found, most of which were raided over the centuries. What has not been destroyed however were the wonderful graphic artwork, designs and hieroglyphics covering every the wall inside the tombs. The tombs were in varying stages of disrepair, with some being vandalised by early christians who used some of them as hideouts fleeing from persecution themselves, others having the colour faded over time. A completed tomb has all hieroglyphics outlined, then chiselled into the wall and coloured - often if the pharaoh suffered an untimely or unexpected death, the tombs were left unfinished, the pharaoh mummified and moved in with his belongings, and sealed.

There are no photographs allowed inside the tombs. This may be to preserve the colour (one flash imparts 300 days of sunlight onto the walls), but also enhances the sales of the postcard sized photographs on sale outside.

The heat was at another level completely despite it being only 9am. Sunglasses were a must as much of the valley is of white stone, and the glare was blinding. Inside the tombs, it is humid and suffocating. At one stage, we took a sip of the water bottle we had carried - had I been served a cup of coffee at that temperature, I would not have been disappointed - it was that hot.

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Nubian territory

Took a minibus this evening from Luxor to Aswan, 3 hours further south on the bank of the Nile, flowing into Lake Nasr. Plenty of security in this region, being bordered by the Sudan to the south. On our minibus trip from Luxor, we encountered quite a few police checkpoints. We had a nice evening with a street dinner, and then celebrating my birthday (albeit a few hours early) on the hotel rooftop. Thanks Mohammed for the cake!

Tomorrow we head to Abu Simbel, The tour buses drive the 270km stretch across the desert to Abu Simbel in convoy and with police escort. This is done to ensure any bus that breaks down can get help, and also as a security measure against pirates (safety in numbers, etc). We have a 3am start to ensure we dont miss the convoy, which leaves at 4!

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Posted by deepaksuma 00:41 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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