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Engravings from the Temple at Karnak
DECEMBER 13, 2007

Temple Fever

On the train North from Sudan into Egypt I had plenty of time to sit with guidebook in hand planning our conquest of Pharonic Egypt. From Abu Simble in the South, all the way down the Nile, Upper Egypt is littered with temples, pyramids, and pharonic sites to behold. With monuments a plenty, how do you whittle the list down, in the end we decided on maximum bang for our buck. We planned to get to as many temples as we could in the amount of time available to us - all of this of course was done in the relative comforts of a train steaming north - on the ground however the reality of the matter is very differant.

After visting Abu Simble and Philae, a brisk walk through the back streets of Aswan found us again onboard the rails pushing further north into the heartland of Pharonic Egypt. The sun had only just risen over the dusty horizon and a big day ahead was planned. We had forgone the comforts of a tour and decided to try and visit as many of the temples on our own steam. That meant a little leg work and a little more planning to visit the small town of Edfu, halfway between Aswan and Luxor it is home to the Temple of Horus, supposedly Egypts best preseved Cult Temple.

At the Edfu Station we disembarked and stood a little dazed and confused on the railway siding. Before long we were husstled up to by a local taxi driver and Donna went into top gear negotiating a cheap rate to get us into town. Her skills were in fine form and within minutes we were over the Nile, through the bustling streets and deposited at the gates to the Temple of Horus.

Our plans were to visit Edfu in a day trip, which meant we were encumbered with our large packs and day bags. At the entrance to the Temple compound we were greeted by the tourist police and after a little small talk we convinced them to let us leave our packs in their security office. As we started to move off towards the ticket office I was briskly searched by one of the officers and asked if I was carrying any weapons. I proudly produced my swiss army knife which by now travels pretty much everywhere I go. He looked at my cumbersome weapon, grinned and waved me through.

If ever a monument was built to extract money from tourists, the Temple of Horus is it. To get to the ticket office you need to enter into a winding alley lined with souveneer vendors. Once you have cleared the ticket booth and security gates, and supposedly safe from the maurauding throngs outside you are greeted by the friendly staff at the official Temple Cafe. We spoke to one of the waiters and after asking the price of a simple cup of tea (after the debarkle of the fanta incident at Abu Simble) he agreed that they were there soley to rip off tourists and we were better off waiting until we were back in town before we bought anything.

Once inside the gates the excavation site lies ahead of you. The Temple of Horus is guarded by sandstone walls and two towering pylons, flanked on either side by a black granite falcon. Inside the main gate the large court of offerings greets you where the walls are all amazing covered with extremely intricate carvings. At the far end of the court two statues of the God Horus (a hawk) flank the entrance to a series of three halls, the Hypostle, the Festival and the Hall of Offerings. At the far end of the temple, where the light barely filters in lies the inner sanctuary. A polished granite shrine and bargue still lie inside.

The Temple of Horus is still in amazing condition, gone are the garish colours and robed priestesses but if you can get past the throngs of tourists and ignore the flashing of cameras there is still an amazing collection of carvings, paintings and buildings worthy of a visit.

If the above description all sounds a little guidebookish - one temple is pretty much akin to any other - it's not really worth writing about otherthan to say that they are bloody impressive - if not very very touristed. enough said.

Back outside we managed to fight through the vendors selling quality tourist oriented murchandise like the humble Galabaya and reached the security checkpoint. Regaining our bags the police tried to shuffle us onto a Kalesh to get us out of town. Now these guys are charging large sums of money to ferry people two and from the cruise boats - rich Russian tourists with bags of cash a few bucks here and there is nothing - to us it's dinner. So we politely explained to the coppers that we couldn't afford it and would walk back to the station. One of the coppers dissapeared and after a few moments had hailed a very young kalesh driver and told him to take us into town for the same fee as we had paid to get there. The kid simply agreed and without any baksheesh changing hands we were away.

I felt like a total dick riding through town crammed onto a horse and cart covered in cheap tin foil and cotton streamers. But you have to admire this kid for earning a living. At least we were on track to meet the train north to Luxor. After stopping to pick up his friend, our Kalesh driver rapidly wound his way through the back streets of Edfu and over the Nile bridge to the railway station. With time of the essence and traffic backed up we disembarked in the middle of the bridge planning on legging it through a shortcut. As we had come to expect our kalesh driver wanted double the amount we had agreed on and him and his mate were kicking up quite a stink. Donna and I loaded up our packs and were about to head across the road when two heavily armed soldiers appeared from nowhere. Before we could say boo they had shooed off the kalesh driver and began escorting us out of town, even stopping traffic so we could cross the road. Now I would like to say they were doing it out of the kindness of the hearts, or even that they were doing it for some baksheesh - but I got the distinct impression they were under orders to get any stray tourists out of town as quick as possible - and for us that meant getting on the next train north.

The railways in Egypt are excellent - there are no two ways about it. The troublesome bit however is that there is a stark change in quality between those trains meant for tourists, and those trains meant for locals. Our morning train from Aswan to Edfu was a tourist train - relatively empty it was clean and neat, perfectly on time and supurb when compared to any train anywhere in the world. Our train from Edfu was a train designated for locals. It was truely an Egyptian train. We boarded and managed to squeeze our bags into the aisle close to where we were sitting. Above us lying in the baggage hold, a local chap was soundly asleep. Thankfully the trip north was only two hours away as we were immediatly befriended by an overly talkative local who had had one or two many araks with his lunch time felafels.

When we booked our room at Happy Land in Luxor we were warned by the staff there to be very watchful for touts. First of all we were told to be very careful about getting a taxi, they told us the exact fare to pay, and to be sure that the taxi took us to the correct hotel, not one of the many other cheap options in town. We were told to ignore the touts around the station selling cheap falucca rides and monument tours. All of this we were warned about before our arrival in Luxor. In addition we were warned by fellow travellers that Luxoir was probably THE worst place in all of Egypt for touts, worse than Cairo and Aswan combined.

So as we disembarked on the neat little platform at Luxor station we were ready, packs on our backs and a steely look in our eye, boy were we supprised when we were met at the exit by a friendly taxi driver who agreed readily to our first price and delivered us without hassle to the door of our booked hotel, Happy Land.

The Happy Land Hotel was cheap, clean, and within walking distance of the centre of town. What it wasn't was hassle free. Even though they had warned us repeatedly about the touts in town - it was in fact them who were the worst offendors. After a long day getting from Aswan to Edfu and Luxor the last thing we wanted to do was hear a speil. Yet after booking into the hotel, they sat us down and wouldn't show us to our rooms until they had run off a a whole wealth of useless information about their tours, then proceeded to try and hassle us into booking a tour for tomorrow, then warning us again about the touts in town. Even after we had showered and were about to head out for a look around Luxor - they kept the pressure on for us to make a booking.

Our arrival in Luxor has great significance - it heralds the start of the end. Why you ask, for that you wil have to read on...

Click here to see the our Temple of Edfu Photo Gallery

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