August 24, 2010 - Africa, Travel Diaries

Egypt, the 19th century BC’s civilized pharoahic nation, left a huge amount of temples and monuments and it needs no introduction. The ancient history is well preserved in this country and attracts millions of tourists every year. It is also part of sub Saharan Africa. A visit to Egypt can have both the flavours of ancient mysticism and a vast emptiness induced by Sahara.

We visited Egypt in the month of December in 2009. Our trip started from Hannover to Luxor on 17th December. In this 9 days trip, we visited Luxor, Cairo, Sahara and Hurghada. This time we were joined by our friends with their child.  Our son was 13 month and their daughter was 10 months old.

17th December, Thursday : We took the morning flight from Hannover and reached Luxor after four and a half hours journey. The first thing that surprised us was the runway where our flight landed. It was a desert and we couldn’t see anything but golden sand. We saw the desert for the first time in life and felt excited for the rest of the trip. After completing the immigration formality we headed towards the taxi stand. A person came to ask if we needed a taxi and we bargained for the rate with him and it was fixed at € 6 for the hotel drop. We couldn’t manage to exchange Euro to Egyptian Pound(LE) after coming out of the immigration area and hence paid in Euro. Two of our families shared a big van with two other people.

Our hotel was so near to the Luxor temple that we could see the temple from our hotel balcony. After taking a long rest we started searching for a bank for currency exchange and got one near by. The bank was closed by the time we reached and somebody advised us to do the exchange from the machine outside the bank. We did that. After that, we went to an Egyptian restaurant by the river Nile and had a horrible lunch with disgusting  dishes. All the preparations were without salt. After escaping from there we decided to walk by the Nile up to Luxor temple. It was late and the temple was closed, but we cherished the  illuminated temple from the roadside. It was so amazing that we decided that it would be great to go to the Luxor temple next evening and not in the morning, so that we can have some time before and after sunset. Our babies slept in their stroller and we went around the temple. We saw many tourists enjoying the ‘Kalash’ (Horse carriage) ride in the night and we too thought of doing the same. But it wasn’t a good idea to wake up the babies from their sleep to fold the stroller, so we dropped the idea. We found a Mac.Donald opposite to the Luxor Temple and did not wanted to try anything else for dinner. After dinner we came back to the hotel.

18th December, Friday : After having a good breakfast in our hotel, we went to the Luxor train station for reservation in the night train to Cairo. We booked four tickets with two babies in two separate cabins for the overnight journey and it costed € 164.

We had two full days in Luxor, so we planed that in the first day we would cross Nile to visit the west bank. When we started from the hotel, one person came to us and offered his boat for a cheap rate. We didn’t have to bargain as he asked for only LE 1 per person. Later in the boat we found that one more guy was with us, a taxi driver. He offered his taxi for the west bank trip. This time we bargained and made a deal for LE 140.  He drove us in his car to the ‘Valley of the Kings’ and ‘Temple of Hatshepsut’ and of course ‘Colossi of Memnon’  as it was on the way.

Starting our journey for the ‘Valley of the Kings’ we felt we were in 19th century BC and it was fascinating. After keeping all the cameras in the car as they are not allowed inside, we headed towards the ticket counter. There was a toy train inside, to take us to the starting point. We bought separate tickets for that. But later found out that the train ride is optional and anyone can walk that distance. The entry ticket costed LE 80 per person and for the train it was LE 4 per person, to and fro.

Valley of the Kings is a valley on the west bank of Nile in Luxor, where tombs were constructed for Pharaohs for 500 years. There are 62 tombs and each one of them contains many chambers. The royal chambers are decorated with colourful figures and Egyptian scenes. Tourists are not allowed to go inside all the tombs and with the tickets one can visit any three permitted  tombs. To visit the tomb of  Tutankhamun an extra ticket is needed for LE 80, it is not worth a visit. We took the toy train in front of the ticket counter and it took only 5 minutes to reach the main gate. We started walking in the sun and entered the first tomb. It was quite big and the walls of the chambers were decorated with hieroglyphics. It was easy to imagine their lives by the paintings of their social activities. After the first one, we finished the other two and sat down in a resting shelter made for the visitors. We took the train back to the exit and searched for our car.

Our next destination was the ‘Temple of Hatshepsut’ and it was not so far from the Valley of the Kings. We bought four tickets for LE 30 each and the toy train tickets for LE 2 per person. The train dropped us to the gate of the temple and we walked from there. Hatshepsut was the most successful pharaoh of 18th dynasty, reigning longer than any woman in Egyptian dynasty. This masterpiece of  architecture was built  into a cliff face that rises sharply above it.

Temple of Hatshepsut

We walked around and got a beautiful view of the area from the temple. Inside the temple it was calm and quite, as not many tourists were there, so we relaxed sitting under the big statues and started feeding the babies.

Our car was heading back to Nile and stopped once in front of the ‘Colossi of Memnon’. Two massive stone status of  pharaoh are standing there for last 3400 years. We took few snaps and came back to the car as there was nothing else to do. We paid the driver and sailed in the boat and came bake to the east bank. Being hungry we were in no mood to experiment with Egyptian food, so we went to a decent restaurant and had a good satisfying lunch. There was still time for the Luxor temple to get illuminated, so we came back to the hotel and took a little rest.

In the evening we started walking towards the entrance of the Luxor temple but it was quite tough to find. There were many tourist buses standing in front of the gate, which made it difficult to find the entrance. Anyway we reached the ticket counter. The entry tickets were for LE 50 each. We passed the security check and entered the temple ground. We hired a guide for LE 40 and started the tour. Passing through the mighty columns inside the temple and hearing the stories of that time, felt we were in that age.

Inside Luxor Temple

It was really a great experience. The guide took half an hour for his job but we stayed there for another 2 hours. We booked the same guide for our next day’s tour to Karnak temple.

19th December, Saturday : That was the last day in Luxor and Karnak temple was our destination. We had our breakfast in the hotel, kept our luggage there and checked out. We went out for Karnak Temple. The previous night it was decided with the guide that he would wait for us in front of the ticket counter of the Karnak temple at 11 a.m. We had enough time as it was only 8.30 a.m. We wanted to sail on the Nile, so we hired a ‘Feluca’, a traditional Egyptian sail boat, to go to the Karnak temple. We sailed aimlessly on the Nile and after an hour started sailing towards Karnak Temple.

Sailing on The Nile

Fortunately the weather was not too hot and we enjoyed our sailing in feluca. We paid the boat man LE 80 and got down. The boat stopped as near to the temple as possible but we had to walk a long way after that to reach Karnak temple. When we reach near the temple, we still had time to meet the guide. So we started searching for a restaurant to have lunch. It was a hard job to find one because there was not even a single shop around. Then we saw a group of tourists getting down from a bus and moving towards a building, we followed them. It was a restaurant. Surprisingly we had our best food in Luxor there. It was a buffet and we paid only LE 35 per plate.

We waited for the guide at the entrance and he did not turn up. We had his mobile number, so called him and after sometime he arrived. The temple was very crowded making it hard to listen to the guide. He narrated the ancient stories behind the temple and we found it really interesting.

In Karnak Temple

Karnak temple area was huge and it took nearly 2 hours to complete the tour with the guide. After the tour guide took LE 145 as fee and left. We went around some parts of the temple again and then waited outside to see the illumination of the temple. Even after a long wait the temple was not illuminated.

We had to come back to the hotel which was about 3 KM. We decided to take two ‘Kalash’ (Horse carriage) for the two families. After a bit of bargaining they agreed to take LE 10 for each of Kalash. It was another good experience. We did not go to the hotel and got down near Luxor temple by the Nile. That being the last night there and we wanted to spend some time sitting by the Nile.

We had our train to catch at 10 p.m. We took our luggage from the hotel and hired a taxi to the station. Our dinner was included in train tickets, so we directly went to the station. The train arrived almost on time and we boarded the train to Cairo.

20th December, Sunday : We woke up in the morning with the knock on the compartment door by the attendant. He was serving breakfast, it was also included in the ticket. The attendant told us that Giza was approaching and we had to get down, before that we didn’t knew that the last stop was Giza and not Cairo. Giza is the twin city of Cairo. Cairo is on the eastern bank of Nile and Giza on the western bank. So we got down at Giza station and headed towards the taxi stand. People need to bargain for everything in this country, so did we. After loading all the bags and strollers in the taxi, we started for the hotel in Cairo. Cairo has so much traffic congestion that the taxi stopped in almost every signal. We finally reached the hotel, took rest and went out for lunch. A restaurant was there just beside the hotel. We had lunch there and it was good. Since it was already late in the afternoon, we had only few hours for visiting, hence decided to go to the Egyptian Museum of Cairo. It was a walk able distance and we reached in about 15 – 20 minutes.

There was a security check in the entrance of the Egyptian museum and taking cameras is not allowed. We kept all our cameras together in the locker and collected the entry tickets for LE 60 eachWe went around the two stored museum building for two and half hours but couldn’t finish all the exhibits. The museum’s collections include many mummies and art effects from the Pharaonic period. The treasures found in the tomb of Tutankhamun is kept in a room in this museum. The entry to this room is charged separately. We felt tired and decided to go back to the hotel. After taking the cameras back, we moved from there.

Though we had a plan in our mind for the remaining days of the trip, we had not booked anything. So we entered a travel agency opposite to the Egyptian Museum. Finalised our plan and made all the bookings for the rest of the trip. The next day was planned for Memphis, Sakkara and Giza. And the other two days for the Sahara desert. We also booked a hotel in Hurghada, the place from where we had to catch our flight back home. With all the remaining days programs fixed, there was no time left for shopping and we had to do it that very evening. What better place than ‘Khan el Khalili Market’, we were told that the market is open 24 hours a day and is never closed. We took a taxi and reached there in 30 minutes though it’s a 15 minutes journey. The driver unnecessarily took us around to increase the fare in the meter.

The market was huge and one needs to bargain a lot before buying anything. We roamed around the market and compared the rates. Then finally we bought one wooden death mask of Tutankhamun after a long bargaining. Our friends bought some metal Sphinx. The place was really superb for buying mementos and we enjoyed spending time there. We took a taxi to come back to the hotel and had dinner from the same restaurant.

21st December, Monday : We were very excited as it was our date with one of seven wonders of the ancient world. The Pyramid. We had booked an eleven seater van for the day along with the service of a guide who would be explaining the ancient history of the places. The guide came with the van to pick us from our hotel at 8 o’clock in the morning. Our plan was to start with Memphis then Sakkara and finaly to Giza for the Pyramids and Sphinx. The guide was knowledgeable enough and kept telling us the history of Cairo and Giza untill we reached the Memphis.

We took four tickets from the ticket counter. We followed the guide while he was explaining the history and the importance of the place. The place was not too big and we finished there within one and half hours. The car started running towards Sakkara. We felt excited when got the first look of the Pyramid of Djoser, the step pyramid.

The Step Pyramid of Sakkara

The whole atmosphere was fascinating. We got down from the car and followed the guide for some details. Using the stroller was difficult on the sand so we kept it in the van and started walking with kids in our lap. The step pyramid was under renovation, we went as close as permitted. We stayed there for 2 hours and then came back to the van.

The van ran towards the most important place for the day, the Great Pyramid of Giza. There are three pyramids in good condition but the great pyramid of Giza is the largest and oldest among them and is almost intact. We went inside the burial chamber of a small pyramid to experience the wonder. The slope was long and little risky. There was a small chamber at the end of the slope. The burial chamber. There is no ventilation system and it is not good for heart patients. We went there one by one because babies are not allowed inside, so one of us was needed to stay back to take care of the babies. After completing that we came closer to the Great Pyramid. It was really huge. We wanted to take a round of it but the guide asked us to move to the other two. There was a place to see all the three pyramids in a panorama view.

Panoramic View of Pyramids

We got into the van again to reach that place, it took 10 minutes. The place was already crowded. People were taking pictures with the pyramids in many typical way, so did we. One can also rent the camels from there for the pyramid’s tour.

After this we went to the Sphinx. It is just in front of the Pyramids and it took few minutes to reach there. Sphinx is a mythical creature with a lion’s head on a human body. The great Sphinx of Giza is the largest monolith in the world.

The Sphinx

We stayed there until the closing time. We had planed to attend the light and sound show there. There was enough time and we had our late lunch. Pizza hut was just opposite to the Sphinx, so we spent the time there having our lunch.

The ticket counter opened at 6 ‘o’clock and there was a long queue, as we expected. We took the tickets and entered after a security check. One needs to pay for the handy-cam or it should be kept in the locker. We took the seats and the show started at 6.30 p.m. The sound was too loud and our sleeping babies woke up several times during the show. The light, sound and the laser show was amazing. We captured the video and took the snaps in the dark. It was a 45 minutes show and after that we got into the van and reached the hotel.

22nd December, Tuesday : When we were planning our trip to Egypt, we were little confused of the Sahara desert tour. We didn’t know weather we would go to Sinai or to Bahariya for black and white desert. Finally we decided to experience the Sahara in Bahariya. We booked our tour from Cairo to Cairo. We used the same eleven seater van for our travel to Bahariya camp, which we used the previous day. We started early from the hotel and the journey was long. The road had very less traffic after we left Cairo. We reached Bahariya ‘Sahara Camp’ at lunch time. After feeding the babies, we had our lunch there and took rest for sometime while they were arranging the Land Rover for the journey to the desert for our night stay. We were exited, watching them loading the blankets, tents, drinking water, barbecue stuffs in the car. They wanted us to keep our luggage in the camp because of the extra weight in the car would trouble the driving in the desert. We requested them to arrange for it as we needed almost everything for the babies and they agreed.

Before we headed to the desert, we went to an office for the permission and then started our real journey. We just knew that we were going to stay in the desert for the night and nothing much but we got amazing experiences throughout the trip. After an hour or so we started passing the black desert and it was too long. These were black volcanic stones over the desert for which the desert looked black in colour. The straight road seemed to be endless. The driver took a short-cut through the desert and again met the same road after a while. After the end of the black desert, started the white desert. We left the road altogether and entered the white desert. Our first motto was to see the sunset in the desert. The white lime stones were unbelievably white in colour. The wind had crafted the limestones in different shapes over the centuries and one can find any shapes of his choice. Our driver stopped the car near some Mushroom shaped stone and asked us to get down. The scenery was magnificent. The light from the setting sun dropped on the white lime stones and we were the witnesses of that mesmerising moment.

We got into the car again and the car stated running between the shaped stones. That was really amazing. The driver was going to one of his favourite places for pitching the tents for the night. Two more cars followed us and finally we found the place next to our ‘CooRoo Coo Cock’ , means a cock shaped lime stone. Other than us, there were two more parties there. One Chinese group of three were going to stay with us and another English group were going to leave after dinner. The drivers got busy arranging the sitting area and cooking dinner for us. We walked around the place and took photos of the the camp under the clear sky. We sat together near the fire as it started getting cold. They had already arranged everything, the menu was mixed vegetable and rice. After they had finished cooking that, came the best part, barbecue. Everybody was staring at the process of making and it was smelling good too. We chatted for sometime and had our dinner. It was a fabulous dinner and far more tasty than we expected. The dinner under the dark twinkling sky casted a spell on us.

After dinner the crew performed some typical Egyptian music with the props and we really enjoyed. The English group left for the camp after that and rest of the crew got busy arranging the tents. We saw one or two dim lights of some other groups far from our place. We sat under the sky full of stars and the desert looked dreamy white in the night. After the tents were prepared, we pushed ourselves in those small tents. The tent had very little place for three of us and it was too much uncomfortable to sleep. The desert night was very cold but the good thing was we didn’t suffer as we had enough protection.

23rd December, Wednesday : Our son was sleeping but two of us got up very early and walked around. After freshening up, we sat on a big white stone and waited for the sunrise. During that time everybody came out of their tents and our baby also woke up. It was a heavenly beauty to capture in the cameras, when the sun started rising. The white desert was smiling in the golden glow of the rising sun.

Sunrise in White Desert

We were served hot tea with some breads for a quick breakfast. After packing all the things, we started our journey back to the camp. Our hearts refused to leave the place but we had to. We left the white desert behind and came to the black one. Our car stopped in the black desert and we got down to have a look at black beauty.

The Black Desert

It was too windy to walk any longer, so had to get into the car again. Our next destination was the ”Crystal Mountain”. We stopped there for sometime and then the driver took us to some other interesting places with some difficult names to pronounce. One of the place had a panoramic view of the desert mountains.

Place for Panoramic View of Desert Mountains

Our car hit the road again and we came to a ”Salt Lake” in Bahariya Oasis. We were surprised to see a blue water lake in the middle of a desert. We really wanted to spent some more time there but we had a long way to go. We came back to the camp, had our lunch and finally got ready to say “Good Bye” to Sahara. Our van was waiting and we started the journey back, all the way to Cairo. We reached the hotel 3 hours late because of a horrible traffic jam. We went back to the same hotel and got the same rooms for the night. That was the last night we spent in Cairo. Next morning we had our bus to Hurghada.

24th December, Thursday : Our bus to Hurghada was at 7.30 a.m. in the morning and we took a taxi to reach the main bus station. The bus was an hour late and we took the seats for the 4 hours journey. It was the most horrible journey in the whole trip. The air conditioning of the bus was not working and we were getting roasted in the extreme desert heat. We had booked the hotel in Hurghada from the travel agency in Cairo. We took a taxi and reached the hotel from the bus stand. The hotel rooms had a nice view of the red sea. We took some rest after that horrible journey. After taking bath, we felt much better and went to a near by restaurant to have lunch.

The place was quite small to walk around. We went to an agency to ask for the scuba diving for the next morning. The person was quite nice to us and explained why we could not do scuba diving. He said, we should not go under the water in the same day when we are flying. It could be dangerous for our heart to control the blood pressure for the height difference. And he also suggested not to board the submarine for the same reason. We felt disheartened and decided to take a mini submarine to see the underwater lives. We went to one mini submarine booking agency and booked the tickets for 12 o’clock next morning. We walked around the place, bought some sweets and sat by the sea in a hotel’s private property. There were no natural beaches in Hurghada and we went to a hotel’s beach to spend the evening.

25th December, Friday : There was nothing much to see in Hurghada, if anyone is not doing activities in the red sea. So we woke up late and went to a restaurant for lunch. After that we went to that mini submarine office and waited for the pick up. The mini bus came at 11.30 a.m and it was almost full. The starting point was in the Hilton hotel and we boarded the mini submarine. It was a one hour 15 minutes trip. We enjoyed the Red sea from the deck for the first 15 minutes and then everybody went down in cabin and sat on the stools. There were large glass windows to watch the underwater world. We enjoyed viewing the colourful fishes and corals and all but only for 20 minutes. After that we felt a vomiting tendency and came up again to the deck. But we were not the first and people were coming out after us also. The staff served Coke and we felt much better and we enjoyed the rest of the time on the deck.

Red Sea from Mini Submarine Deck

We spent the evening in the Hilton hotel beach and came back to the hotel by walk. We took a taxi and went to the Hurghada International Airport. Our flight to Hannover was on time and we came back home in the mid of the night.

We still cannot believe sometime that we actually visited Egypt. The trip was fabulous and we will be cherishing the moments forever.

Click for Egypt Picture Album

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