The Luxor Temple glows at night
The sun rises as the train speeds along the Egyptian countryside. It is a usual morning in the village â€“ a lass leading the donkey towards the clearing. Young men walk past irrigated canals. Sun-baked mud dwellings line up along the rail tracks.
Almost 9 hours have gone by since the Luxor-bound train left Cairoâ€™s Ramses station. It was a bumpy, clanky, noisy ride in an air-conditioned first class tourist coach. At around AED 65, this is arguably the cheapest way, albeit with some level of comfort, to discover Lower Egypt. The Ramses Central Station must have seen better days â€“ Cairoâ€™s version of the New York Central Station must, for one brief moment in time, have represented the modern transport in all of Northern Africa.
Tickets are printed on dot-matrix printer, with some hand-written notations on small piece of cardboard, hardly legible, noting the car number and seat allocation. There is no PA system; a foreigner is at the mercy of mainly Arabic-speaking staff. I was thrown back and forth until I found my seat. Welcome to Egypt.
Tourist walks past the great columns of Karnak Temple
Arriving in Luxor is a step back in time. Away from the cosmopolitan comforts, one finds a laidback, yet intense atmosphere. The Luxor train station is located east of town centre, overlooking the Luxor Temple towards the West of the Nile. Two-storey high buildings dot the dusty avenue, newly-constructed courtesy of the booming tourism economy.
Children, mostly pubescent boys create scenes from every corner. They are loud and raucous, and persistent too as they try to get your attention, waving hello, asking where you came from, anything just to start up a conversation. A quick breakfast at the newly-opened McDonalds, I rushed to find available rooms at wash up rate. I immediately found Horus Hotel just by the mosque near the town plaza; the hotel charged EGP 30 (AED 20), down from EGP 60 after haggling. Luxor has affordable accommodation â€“ very basic without the frills; perfect for lonely and do-it-yourself travelers.
Hibiscus abound in the street shop. Hibiscus tea, anyone?
Renting a bicyclee at EGP 8 (AED 6) allows you to explore the town, and lessens the inconvenience of haggling with the un-metered taxi, horse-drawn carriages or pony rides. Backpackers highly recommend this mode of going around town.
About 3 km North of Luxor is the great Temple of Karnak, the largest open museum in the world.
The temple is considered second most visited historical site in Egypt, next only to the Great Pyramids at Giza. Temple entrance is EGP 50 (AED 35); students with valid IDs get half off on all museum/temple entry fees all over Egypt. I happened to have brought my University ID Card from the Philippines, and it worked. The Karnak Temple is best visited as the sun rises when tourist buses are nowhere in sight, you will have more appreciation of the vastness of the temple.
The author along the line of Rams holding Ramses in the entry to the Temple of Karnak.
West of the city centre, and a short ferry ride takes one to the Valley of the Kings. I took the Ferry boat which the general public uses; fare is a pittance. The ferry ride is a brief 10 uneventful minute across the dark waters of the Nile. West of town is more rural â€“ street is dustier, litter is everywhere, one becomes witness to the reality of rural Egyptian way of life â€“ poverty, contrast, and dirt, definitely not for the sophisticated package travelers.
The Cornice Road in an early fall evening is a pleasant stroll. Bright yellow lights of the Luxor Temple provide a magical backdrop on starless Egyptian skies. Floating restaurants and Nile River cruise liners abound on the mighty Nile. Townsfolk are busy catching up stories of the day. Family members get together in the town plaza. Shops selling faux antiquities and souvenirs. The cool evening breeze from the Nile mixes with the stench of animal manure from horse drawn carriages that make most of the transport system in the city. â€śHasslesâ€ť â€“ abound, careful not to fall for their expensive trappings .
A complete full day exploring Luxor and neighboring Karnak is enough to satisfy a curious traveler. Luxor becomes the acclimatizing city prior to Cairo; a great introductory to the life of modern fast-paced city lifestyle. Return trip via train from Luxor is more expensive because ticket vendors charge foreigners of trips coming from Aswan which is ridiculous at some level; but saves one the seat for this all important 10-hr ride back to â€śmodernâ€ť civilization that is Cairo.