Tuesday 13 January 2009 – Luxor, Egypt
Again we trotted off in kalashes, heading a bit further along the Corniche to Karnak Temple. The largest religious complex on the planet has recently been provided with what may be the largest bus parking area and forecourt on the planet, across which we had to trudge to reach the temple complex. At present the shops of the bazaar are at a considerable remove from visitors either entering or departing; this situation is bound to change.
Excavations forward of the first pylon had revealed remains of a Roman bathhouse; the sophisticated latrines were clearly apparent. On the opposite side of the Temple entrance, the remains of the former quay had been revealed.
Inside, we started with the outdoor museum where ancient block fragments that had been used as fill in later pylons were displayed, often showing brilliant reliefs. We were given special access to the White Chapel of Sesostris I, which held wonderfully preserved reliefs.
In the Temple proper (Karnak is in fact a series of several temples across the huge site), the Forecourt and Great Hypostyle Hall of the Temple of Amun, in particular, are extraordinary. We were given privileged access to the small Temple of Ptah, which has in its sanctuary a beautiful statue of Sekhmet.
The entire site is very grey and dusty, and while I didn’t find it as challenging as the Valley of the Kings, it was hard work. Later in our visit, Abdul, via a cousin working at the site, was able to get us into the otherwise closed Temple of Khonsu, which is currently being worked on by Italian archaeologists. The view from the roof back across the site was wonderful and it held many well-preserved reliefs and some colour.
We headed back to the hotel for a break. Chris and I headed to the waterfront Metropolitan Restaurant (a close relative of El Kebabgy visited a couple of nights earlier) for a beer and a snack to tide us over until our late dinner after the sound and light show at Karnak. The owner of this group of modest watering holes, a Mr Edriss, may well be the only man in Egypt who understands international tourism and hospitality.
We then wandered around some shops and picked up a couple of scarves (as if we needed any more!) at the Fair Trade shop before heading back to the hotel for a rest. The sound and light show at Karnak is not to be recommended.
We returned to the Champollion Restaurant at the Mercure for dinner. Desperate for something other than local fare, I ordered ‘pasta with three sauces’. I was presented with a large plate of boiled spaghetti and three jugs of sauce – all courtesy of Maggi, I suspect. A watery meat-based sauce was supposed to be Bolognese, a cheese sauce clearly of powdered origins and an insipid glug meant to be a tomato sauce. The ‘parmesan’ cheese was more like mozzarella – a great grated mound was provided, but it had absolutely no flavour. But by this time I was too tired to very much care, so at it and then to bed for a good night’s sleep.