1001 Nights - Stories of Traditional Handcrafts from Egypt

History of Garagos Pottery and more ……….

Posts for Tag: theban hills

Sunday 4th March 2012 - Hooray - We Make it to the Valley of the Kings!

This morning the alarm goes off at 5:30 AM. The driver Mahmoud is due to pick Lou and Bev up from their hotel at 6 AM this morning. Peter calls Mahmoud who tells him he will be at the hotel shortly. At 6 AM Peter phones Mahmoud again who says that Louis and Bev are now with him. They tell us they are fine and ready to set off. We keep in touch with them until we know that they have 'finally' made it through the checkpoint – which thank heavens they did! We decide to get a few more hours sleep before getting up.

At 8:30 AM we get up and go for breakfast and then sit in the hotel foyer waiting for them. During this time Peter makes more phone calls to check their location. At about 9.30 they arrive at the hotel. We greet them and invite them all into the hotel for a cup of tea before we start the days excursion. We sit out on the terrace and let them take in some refreshments after the 3.5 hour journey. I then take Lou and Bev down to the bottom of the hotel grounds to show them the view over the River Nile. I point out the Theban mountains and tell them that this is where we are going to go first. 

I advise a toilet break to everyone as the toilet facilities cannot be guaranteed once out of the hotel. We set off in the car with Mahmoud and head out of Karnak into Luxor. There is still a light breeze today which I'm sure we will be grateful for once we reach the Valley of the Kings. We drive down the Corniche and head out towards Awamia, passing the Sonesta Hotel on our way. We tell them that they won't see scenes like this along the red Sea coastline - this is the real Egypt. After we cross the bridge over the Nile Peter explains that the West bank is the gateway to the amazing Valley of the Kings. The east bank of the Nile is the city of the living. Luxor and Karnak temples greet the sunrise. The sunset on the west bank throws shadows over the City of the Dead - the Tombs of the Nobles, the Valley of the Kings and Queen Hatshepsut’s temple.

The first stop is at the Colossus of Memnon - this is only a quick photo opportunity especially as the hassle from the souvenir sellers is too much - very persistent - even when Peter tries to intervene.  

We get back into the car and continue our journey into the Theban Mountains. We can see how much more excavation has been done behind the Colossus of Memnon. Several statues that must've been laid flat out during the earthquake, have now been re-erected and are standing vertically once more.

We drive past Carter's house sitting on top of the hill overlooking the mountain. In front of us we can see old Gourna village and the last few remaining houses sitting on top of the necropolis. We tell them about how families have lived there for generations and have made their living from robbing the tombs that lay beneath their houses. We then tell them how Hassan Fathy the famous Egyptian architect was commissioned to design and build a village to rehouse these local people.


To the right of us we can see the Ramuseum and in front of that some mud brick granaries. We drive down the winding tarmac roads that takes us up into the mountains and then down into the valley. When we get out of the car we are surrounded by men and children trying to sell as postcards, statues, anything that they can. Again the hassle is still quite full on. We walked through a small selection of shops selling the usual tourist items and then head into the museum entrance where there is a model of the Valley of the Kings. Waiting for us on the other side are small carts that will drive us further into the valley – and again more souvenir sellers trying their best to make a sale. One young boy climbs onto the front of the vehicle we are sitting in – I can see that Bev finds it difficult to refuse the children. We have already bought a pack of postcards. As the carts set off the boy is still clinging to the front of our vehicle. Eventually he gives up and jumps off – returning to the entrance for the next batch of tourists.

Once at the ticket kiosk we decide which tombs we are going to see and the man in the kiosk recommends the tomb of Tausert. Tausert was the Queen and last pharaoh of the 19th dynasty. We also decide to visit the tombs of Ramses the third and Ramses the fourth. The man also tells us that we must leave any cameras we have with him. I said that in the past you used to be able to take photos outside of the tombs and he said not any more. He said that he trusted me as long as I can my camera in my bag he wouldn't take it from me. Oh well I said to Bev - it's not just about the photos!

We walk up the incline towards the first Temple, although not hot by any standards at this time of year, we really begin to feel the heat. We go into Tauserts Temple which is really quite impressive. Peter does an explanation of the paintings. There is a sarcophagus at the bottom of the tomb. The Guardian of the tomb starts to make conversation with Peter. I ask what he wants and Peter tells him that he thinks that he knows him from somewhere. Shortly after he tells Peter that he can show us something special. He waits until the other tourists have left the tomb and then takes out a torch and shows us an inscription underneath the lid of the sarcophagus. I'm not quite sure what secret this was as we had already seen tourists coming in with their own torches and looking at this inscription. Anyway, with this we feel obliged to leave him a tip.


We go into the tomb of Ramses the third – I'm not able to do this tomb justice in my description but this link does a better job.


After this Louis and Bev go into Tutankhamen's tomb – you have to pay extra for this ticket and Peter and I have already seen it so we wait outside. The tomb itself in comparison to some of the others is not as outstanding in terms of its wall paintings and it is also quite small. I think any visit to Tutankhamen's tomb must also be done in partnership with a visit to the Cairo Museum to see the treasures that the tomb once held. This is the point at which you will become awe inspired. It is just incredible to imagine that such a small, unassuming tomb would have held such amazing treasures – but especially in such large volumes.



We then go into the tomb of Ramses fourth. The photo from the Flickr website was clearly taken by someone before the ban on camera's onto the site.


The heat has rather exhausted us so we go to get the little train back to Mahmoud. An old man selling statues of Bastet the cat god. He approaches us making miouowing sounds. The same children also come towards us but there is little energy left to humour anyone.

We make the short journey on the carts back to the car park where Mahmoud is waiting for us. We now leave the Valley of the Kings and make our way to Queen Hatchepsut's Temple. We don't have time to visit the temple but just wanted to show Lou and Bev what it looks like from the outside and maybe a quick photo opportunity. (By hook or by crook I will keep everything on schedule!)  Mahmoud parks the car and we get out to have a look. It isn't long before a man in a uniform comes over to us and tells us that we are not allowed to park there without paying. He tells us we are not allowed to take photos either. Things have really tightened up in the tourist spots and not necessarily for the better. We wonder if it is because over concerns of security. Peter is more cynical and says that it's more likely that after the police were humiliated during the revolution they feel they need to come back strong – it's a matter of pride!

We get back in the car and head away from the valley passing numerous alabaster factories on the way. We head back down to the Ramla - Peter has already phoned Osman to ask him to arrange a motorboat to take us back across to the east bank of the Nile. By now we are in need of refreshments so decide go to Ramla on the Beach again. Shortly after we arrive, Osman meets us again and comes to join us for a drink. When we arrive we see Hamada with a couple of tourists from our hotel - they use Hamada to drive them every time they come to Luxor. It's good to see that after introducing Hamada to Osman and Ramla on the Beach he is already bringing tourists back – that's how it works here!

We drink tea and Cola. Louis notices some of the birds that are flying across the Nile and names some of them – he used to be a Park Ranger so is familiar with wild life. Osman tells him he is very knowledgeable about birds. Earlier Louis had broken his sunglasses and the sun is very bright and asks if there is anywhere near to buy some new ones. Osman offers him his sunglasses and Louis declines the offer, but Osman insists. Louis puts on the glasses – these aren't cheap ones either. I must say that many Egyptians, or more specifically those that work in tourism come in for a lot of criticism about only thinking about money. We have been to Osman's cafe twice in the last two days and on neither occasion would he take money for our drinks. I think it's true to say that in general most tourists will experience the negative side of Egyptians working in tourism and have a real battle on their hands trying not to get ripped off. I'm sure that it's because of Peter that I have mainly experienced the kindness and generosity of Egyptians. There may be a business motive behind this on some occasions but Peter is well liked and trusted by people and this counts for a lot. 

A motorboat draws up on the edge of the Nile. As we walk closer we see that the driver of the boat is Abu Halawa. Osman takes the wooden plank from him and helps us onto the boat one by one. We wave our goodbyes to Hamada and shake hands with Osman and thank him for his hospitality. As we leave the west bank, Abu Halawa hands the rudder of the boat to Peter who steers us (under the direction of Abu Halawa back to the east bank. I remind Abu Halawa of the photograph that I took of Peter and him all those years ago and take one more for posterity. 



We arrive at the jetty and disembark the motor boat shaking hands with Abu Halawa. We climb the steps to the Corniche where Radwan is waiting for us in his carriage. I can't believe this excursion is going so well and to plan and still on time – especially after yesterdays fiasco. Peter introduces Lou and Bev to Radwan. Lou decides to take the seat up front with Radwan so I hand him the camera to capture the ride around the town. Radwan tells us that his wife had a baby girl – during our last trip he told us that he had recently got married and was expecting a baby so it was great to hear his news. We begin our drive around Luxor. We take a quick drive through the souk and then pass by Luxor Temple. Radwan drives us down the wide open roads around the back of Karnak Temple. This is a bit of a relief after the tight squeeze going through the souk.

Radwan is a qualified guide and furnishes us with interesting information about the temple. We stop at the recently excavated avenue of sphinxes where we take a couple of photographs of Lou and Bev. We then continue our journey to the entrance of Karnak Temple where we say goodbye to Radwan and his horse Sabrina.

We spend about an hour in Karnak Temple, we are lucky there are only one or two groups of tourists in there – lucky for us I mean as I know it is difficult for the people that are trying to make their living from tourism. Lou and Bev walk around the scarab three times – this is supposed to be good luck. This is only a whistlestop tour – you really need at least a full day in Karnak Temple to take in it's wonders .  

It's now about 4.00pm. We decide that we are now all more than ready for something to eat so make our way over to the terrace of the Aladdin Restaurant next to Karnak Temple. We are approached by a couple of souvenir sellers who have armfuls of pharaonic statues but after the experiences throughout the day nobody has the energy to put up resistance but we just continue walking. As we approach the restaurant Peter seems to have lagged behind. When we turn around we see that he has stopped to talk to the souvenir sellers. We stop and wait for him thinking that he will soon catch us up but he is clearly in deep conversation with them. We decide to leave him to it and go and find a table on the restaurant terrace – this provides us with some great views over the Nile.  

Mahmoud has now joined us again and is shortly followed by Peter who is carrying a number of objects – 4 pharaonic statues. He lays them out on the table and asks Lou and Bev to choose which one they want. They select one and Peter then asks them to choose another. I detest fake pharaonic statues so before Peter gets any ideas of bringing them home I push the remaining two statues towards Lou and Bev – we will already have problems juggling our luggage allowance on our return journeys but Lou and Bev are delighted with their gifts. 

We all enjoy and lovely meal of mixed grill, a range of salads and pizza's. I also enjoy my first beer since arriving in Egypt which went down better than I could have imagined!

I know Lou and Bev are a bit nervous about missing the checkpoint for their return journey after their experience the day before but Mahmoud assures us that they are OK for time. I say that we can make our way back to our hotel ourselves but it appears that Mahmoud came with a large package from Ehab in Safaga which we need to take back to Garagos – no problem after the efforts he went to to arrange Mahmoud for us.

Mahmoud drives us to the Sofitel where we say goodbye to Lou and Bev. After a quick freshening up in the room we make our way out into the hotel grounds to watch the sunset. We walk down to the edge of the Nile where we watch kingfishers hovering and swooping on their prey in the river. Sitting on a mooring rope of a dahbeya sits a cattle egret. Its white feathers flutter in the breeze as it sits vigilant and patient, waiting for a far more generous prey than what the kingfishers are willing to accept. 


The sun begins to set behind the Theban Mountains and its orange glow spreads itself across the Nile - West to East. It begins to get chilly and midges are now coming out in full force.  

We go back to the room, and have a bath and a cup of tea. What an exhausting day. Before we call it a night Peter makes a final call to check that Louis and Bev are safely back at their hotel – which they are. They've had a fantastic day and we're thrilled that we've been able to show them a bit more of Egypt than it's beautiful beaches. Hopefully we've given them an appetite for Egypt and they will come back again.

23rd September 2011 - A relaxing day in Luxor

Well it’s now Friday morning.  It’s 7.30am and I’m sitting on the hotel balcony overlooking the view that never fails to take my breath away. 

I think today will be a relaxing day.  I’ll sit by the pool, take some photo’s or video’s and maybe pen a bit more for the blog.  Peter is going to Egyptair and also to the Vodafone shop to buy a wireless dongle to save us making the trip to Snack Time to upload the blog.  Later we’ll pack for Cairo.

21st September 2011 - Garagos

Today more people come to say hello. Conversations drift towards the uprising.  Many feel despondent and feel the country has no leadership and is becoming more and more lawless.  “Egyptians don’t know what freedom is – they see it as an excuse for bad behaviour and taking the law into their own hands”.

Peter’s mother and sister Margreet are preparing a special meal for us – one of their chickens and a variety of vegetables from the land. Sara and Susanna are a delight and entertain us with the usual antics of two and a half year olds.  

Throughout the day several members of the family come to us to express their concern about us going to Cairo at the weekend.  We had planned our trip to avoid being there on Friday when most protests take place. The week before we left for Luxor protestors had tried to tear down the security wall of the Israeli Embassy, resulting in the Israeli Ambassador leaving the country. We also heard this morning on one of the Egyptian news channels that there had been an attack on the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Cairo. However, we have a carefully planned trip and will travel by taxi instead of the metro.  We have made arrangements for Abdul to pick us up from the airport and be our driver throughout our visit.  Abdul was born and bred in Cairo, is an ex policeman and someone who knows the City like the back of his hand (or as much as anyone can).  We had spoken to Abdul and his son Mohamed before leaving the UK and they told us everything is OK in Cairo - the odd protest but these can be avoided if you have your bearings right. Despite our reassurances, little can be said to put Peter's family's minds at rest - I just hope they don't catch today's news.

We return to the hotel later that evening.  I had intentions to write some more on the blog but was too exhausted.  It will have to wait until tomorrow.

19th September 2011 - Arrival in Luxor

Peter and I travelled to Egypt on Monday 19th September. We flew from Manchester Airport where we arrive at 6.00am with 2 suitcases crammed with presents for the immediate family members and the children – including 12 colouring book packs. These have probably ended up being the most expensive colouring books ever thanks to Monarch’s very strict luggage weight rules. Between us we were 6 kilos overweight and the very ‘surly’ check in assistant charged us £120 – no negotiation! Not a great start to the holiday but I can safely say this is the first and the last time I fly with Monarch!

A very busy itinerary is planned with 4 days in Cairo and of course time with the family in Luxor, Garagos and Cairo. If possible we will also try and squeeze in a day or two by the pool!

As we arrive in the airport terminal in Luxor we are greeted by various airport staff and tour reps in the hall – colleagues that Peter knows from his previous job as a tour rep. Peter’s good friend Bob has arranged for one of his cars to pick us up from the airport. Before we exit the airport we pay a visit to the duty free shop - whisky is always a welcome gift! We make our way out of the airport terminal to the car park, trying to resist the offers from porters to carry our bags - eventually one takes our trolley and pushes it for the remaining ten yards to the car.

The first thing we noticed upon arriving in Luxor is how quiet the place is. Michael who is an accountant at the hotel where we stay tells us that the hotel is currently at 15% occupancy rate – eighty guests where full capacity is six hundred. The uprising has affected tourism dramatically. We are told us how difficult things are for all businesses here as Luxor is very reliant on tourism. Many of the hotel staff have been given reduced hours working half a month on and half a month off. Although the high level of customer service at this hotel is what brings us back each time, upon arrival we can already see how standards have definitely been cranked up a notch. We are thinking about how we can allocate tips fairly!

It’s so good to be back. We have a lovely Nile view room with Jacuzzi bath. A basket of fruit awaits us on the coffee table.

The moment I look forward to more than anything is opening the balcony doors to a most magnificent view. A view that really defies adequate description and a view that my description could never do justice to.

The River Nile flows slowly northwards - from where I'm standing that's left to right. The odd boat passes by and green footed egrets paddle along the shallow edge of the river. Opposite, on the West bank of the Nile, water buffalo and the odd camel graze the green land. I can just about make out several galabeyaed workers hoeing the land and tending the animals. The magnificent backdrop to this scene is the Theban mountains, standing proud with a frill of date palms and banana trees at its feet. It's not a particularly huge range of mountains but what is housed within those unassuming hills still makes me shake my head in disbelief.

Most famous is The Valley of the Kings, home to the tomb of Tutankhamun and great pharaohs like Ramses the third. Also within the mountains is the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Nobles. From my balcony I can make out the remains of Old Qurna village and the exposed entrances to a row of tombs located in the Valley of the Nobles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurna


If you ever get the chance to sail down the Nile on a cruiser or a felucca, you won’t have to imagine too hard what it would have been like in pharaonic times – the landscape has hardly changed. You will see clusters of mud brick houses along the banks of the Nile. Some painted in traditional Nubian colours of turquoise blue but over the years have accumulated layers of desert dust.

Also from the balcony I’m hit by a familiar smell – smell of burning fires. On most evenings you will see smoke rising from small fires on the agricultural West Bank. I think farmers could be burning stubble from recently harvested sugar cane – but can’t be sure. There’s also another smell – a smell that resonates from the heat rising from the land. I can’t describe this smell. All I know is if it could be captured in a bottle, it would be that smell and that smell alone that takes me back to Luxor and this view across the Nile.

The sun begins to set behind the mountains. As the red sky turns indigo blue, the only sound remaining is the faint engine of a boat crossing the Nile and the echo of birds ‘whooping’ as they soar across the Valley. The Theban Mountains are now illuminated. I try to imagine what adventures will befall us during this visit and how quickly two weeks will disappear.

Until tomorrow.