BY NAMITA GUPTA
The mystical and magical land of Egypt had been on my bucket list ever since I read about it in my history lessons in school. Whether it’s the history, the mystery, the ancient temples, the pyramids, sphinx or the world class diving spots and unspoiled beaches, Egypt captivates with its raw unspoilt beauty.
When I received an email from Travel Shop Turkey to attend the 18th International Ecotourism & Sustainable Tourism Conference and Networking Event in Luxor, I replied to them and voila I was signed in.
How to get there:
After checking online for all the airways that flew from Bengaluru to Egypt, I decided to fly Jazeera Airways. It seemed like the cheapest and quickest option for the budget I had in mind. Thankfully my decision to fly Jazeera Airways for the first time turned out in my favour. The flight was on time and despite no-frills attached as it’s a low cost airline, it was comfortable and smooth. The affordable airline is a great choice for every frequent flyer like me who is always on the lookout for excellent flight deals. Jazeera is your answer to a good flight option that does not pinch your pocket. I ate a Shawarma on the flight and slept well too with lots of leg room in front. You can even log in and watch a movie on the Jazeera Wifi, while you’re flying. The layover in Kuwait was also a smooth transit with a short stay at the airport hotel and very soon I arrived in Luxor, Egypt.
The four Days 18th International Ecotourism & Sustainable Tourism event hosted the best of industry experts from across the world who spoke on not just the importance of ecotourism, but what each of them are doing in their field to protect and nurture the environment.
Egypt has been of colossal interest to people of all cultures and has been widely written about by authors from the Greek Hekataios of Miletos in the 6th century BC and continues to pique interest of writers and travellers even today. When the ancient Egyptian civilisation disappeared in the Byzantine period, it became difficult to do further research on it, but it remained topmost on the minds of everyone through the Middle Ages for its monuments, specially the pyramids.
A large number of pilgrims in the medieval days who were travelling to Jerusalem and Palestine, stopped at Egypt to visit the important sites associated with the period that Jesus Christ stayed there. It is known that even the pyramids were believed to relate to the Bible, being the granaries of Joseph.
Luxor, the home of ancient Thebes:
One of the oldest and most inhabited cities on earth, the capital of the pharaohs in Ancient Egypt, Luxor was warm, yet very welcoming from the moment I stepped foot. My stay was at the Jolie Ville Hotel, which was also the venue for the ecotourism conference. Although I slept well on the Jazeera Airways flight as I was lucky to have grabbed the front seat with a lot of good leg space, I went straight to my bed to catch some more shut eye, the moment I checked in to my hotel. I needed that to look fresh for the important day ahead.
It was the 18th Annual Ecotourism & Sustainable Tourism Conference, with a welcome gala dinner and awards night. The world’s best keynote speakers attended in the field of tourism, Ecotourism & Sustainable Tourism sharing their insight on the timely trends in tourism, giving an idea of what is to change in tourism in the next 10 years.
Karnak and Luxor Temple
After a city tour to the Karnak Temple in Luxor, we were all set for the ecotourism event in the evening. The evening kickstarted with some traditional Egyptian dances and music, followed by awards honouring achievers in the field of ecotourism. Post the awards and honours, a lavish sit-down five-course dinner was served to the guests.
Luxor is essentially famous for the sanctuary that stood on the site of the Luxor temple at the beginning of the 18th Dynasty. The temple or rather the ruins were built essentially by two kings, Amenhotep III, and Ramesses II. Several rulers later contributed to its inscriptions, adding minor structures or alterations, including Alexander the Great. The overall length of the temple between the pylon and the rear wall is 26o meters.
The temple was dedicated to the ithyphallic Amun and linked to ideas about the royal and the annual renewal of the king’s divine powers. Once or twice a year, a long religious festival was held at Luxor, during which the image of Amun of Karnak visited his Southern Ipet. An alley of human-headed sphinx of Nectanebo I linked Karnak to the north with Luxor to a mud brick enclosure wall. Several later structures stood in the forecourt in front of the temple itself, including a colonnade of Shabaka and chapels of Hathor. The burned brick walls visible to the east and west of the temple are remains of the late Roman town, contemporary with the imperial sanctuary. The temple is fronted by a pylon of Ramesses II, with reliefs and texts on its outside relating the story of the famous battle against the Hittites at Qadesh in Syria.
Pink Lotus Tours had organised tours for the groups, with every detail being taken care of by their professional and experienced teams. After breakfast the next morning, we checked out from our hotel to embark on our embark on our 5-Star Nile River Cruise. This was going to be our home for the next four nights as we sailed onboard the Nile cruise. Nile River Cruise is a must-do if you’re in Egypt. Choose between a three or a four night’s cruise, visiting temples between Luxor and Aswan. These floating hotels offer the best views as you enjoy sailing and watching life in the local villages from the sundeck. The restaurant on the cruise serves a delicious buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
Valley of the Kings – Hatshepsut
After an early breakfast, we visited the West Bank of Luxor. The Valley of the Kings or the Kings Valley is famous as the resting place of the most well-known Pharaoh of them all, King Tutankhamun along with many others. We reached the site surrounded by horizontally bedded rocks and steep cliffs of the Thebes. Once you’re inside there are many tombs that you can visit. We went deep inside these highly decorated tombs that were cut deep in the cliffs many thousands of years ago. Our guide helped us choose the most beautiful and colourful tombs that were open on the day we visited. It was a fairly warm day and the temperatures inside the tombs was even higher, so we decided to move to our next destination soon. We visited the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the most famous female Pharaoh to rule Egypt, next.
Our lunch was back at the cruise ship. I decided to stay onboard after the lunch and relax with a swim on the sun deck, followed by an early dinner. Post the dinner I came back on the sun deck to enjoy some peaceful time under the star lit sky and stayed overnight on board the cruise ship.
Edfu and Komombo Temples
After sailing for a few hours, we visited the magnificent Temple of Edfu. This beautiful temple is considered to be one of the best preserved temples in all of Egypt. After another few hours of sailing we docked at Komombo. The Temple of KomOmbo – the only dual temple in Egypt and dedicated to two Gods, Haroeris, the sun God and Sobek the crocodile God.
This temple was visible from the ship itself and as the sun set it gave us that magical hour for the perfect picture frames. Komombo temple was right outside, so we literally got down the ship and strolled down towards this fascinating piece of history and marvelled at the hieroglyphic carvings showing medical instruments we still use in our present days, besides so much more. We also took a quick round of the crocodile museum, though that didn’t catch my fancy too much. There were many tourist shops lining the street outside the temple that sold souvenirs and local clothes that were very alluring.
It was time for a cruise party that night and everyone came dressed in Arabic costumes. It was a great way to interact with fellow travelers who had come from different parts of the world.
Abu Simbel Temple
Trip to the massive Abu Simbel temple is a must visit. If you’re not an early riser, you may find it tough to wake up in the wee hours of the morning. It was a really early start as we had to drive down almost four hours south to the magnificent Temples of Abu Simbel.
These temples were cut deep into the rock and dedicated to the Pharaoh Ramses II and his beloved wife Nefertari. In the 1960’s these temples were moved with the help of UNSECO to their current location to save them from the rising waters of the river Nile. This was a monumental feat of engineering in itself and only once you visit this site you will know why.
We returned to Aswan by afternoon and had our lunch on-board our cruise.
Aswan and Philae Temple
After a relaxed evening, we woke up fresh the next morning and were all set for our next Egyptian adventure. After breakfast we disembarked our Nile River Cruise to visit the Philae Temple. It is a temple dedicated to the Goddess Isis. We also visited the High Dam.
We also visited a Nubian village and shook a leg with a traditional Nubian dance before indulging in a traditional delicious Nubian dinner. After that with our bags packed we flew to the Aswan airport to take our flight to Cairo for the last yet the most exciting leg of our Egyptian sojourn.
Pyramids of Giza and Sphinx
The best was saved for the last. The time had finally come to experience what millions only dream of: standing in awe of the Pyramids of Giza, including the largest one of all the so-called Great Pyramid said to be the tomb of the Pharaoh Khufu dating back over 5000 years. Time stood still as we gazed at the majestic pyramids that almost spoke to us. It was truly a sight to behold and soak in for times immemorial. The moment of big ticks off the bucket list!
After exploring the pyramids you can enter the Kings Chamber of the Great pyramid and also take a camel ride deep into the desert for some amazing photo opportunities of a total of nine pyramids in one shot.
You’re not quite finished on the Giza Plateau just yet. You must visit the Guardian Angel of the area, the monolithic Sphinx at walking distance. The Sphinx is a mythical creature with the body of a lion and head of a human. Carved from limestone, it proudly sits facing the horizon and greets the sunrise as it has done daily for centuries. We could not stop marveling at this beauty and wanted to spend the whole day here to click pictures for eternity. But the day still had more treasures in store.
After a quick lunch we visited the Egyptian Museum, home to thousands of artefacts covering all the eras of Egyptian history, including the most famous piece of all, the Golden Mask of the young King Tutankhamun. The museum is abundant with priceless treasures. We had an audio guide alongwith our local guide who took us around and explained about the museum masterpieces.
We stayed overnight at the Le Meridien hotel which is at the airport itself as we had an early morning flight back to Bangalore. With loads of memories and interesting stories, a suitcase packed with souvenirs and hearts filled with lots of love, we were in time for our flight back home. Yes, it was Jazeera Airways once again to our rescue. Comfortable and smooth and on time too.