Felucca in Aswan

Heading South to Upper Egypt

The ancient Egyptians considered the south of the country Upper Egypt and the north Lower Egypt as a reflection of the flow of the Nile. So this weekend I went south to go up and visit Aswan and Luxor.

I traveled with a group of classmates, and we had a few problems before we even set off. I really wanted to take the train to fulfil a life list item, but the government has certain restrictions on foreigners taking long-distance trains. Foreigners can only buy the $100 USD Watania sleeping carriages, which sounds like a great ride but is a little ridiculous next to the still comfortable first-class cabins at 150 Egyptian pounds ($20 USD). The government claims it is ‘for our safety’.

Other options included a 10+ hour bus ride, or 1 hour flight. We opted for flying, but made a mistake when booking which left us returning from Luxor, instead of Aswan, where we planned to be. After moving around our plans we effectively flipped our trip: visiting Aswan first, then Luxor.

Both were absolutely amazing. Closer to the source, the Nile is clean and a beautiful blue. Away from Cairo is less busy, with not as much trash, traffic, and tourists. Both boast amazing temples and tombs: in Aswan the Tombs of the Nobles and in Luxor the famous Valley of the Kings.

Aswan is further south than Luxor and a little smaller. On the east bank is the expanding city, while the Tombs of the Nobles look over everything from the west bank. In the center of the Nile between the two sides is Elephantine Island.

Looking over the Nile from the top of the Tombs of the Nobles
Looking over the Nile from the top of the Tombs of the Nobles.

Climbing to the top of the Tombs of the Nobles was difficult in the Egyptian heat. It was 115 degrees before 11am, and the sand was hot enough to burn bare skin. Even drinking water every few minutes left me dehydrated. Every site we visited in Aswan was empty, and here was no different. Even the guards and guides (perhaps wisely) watched us clamber up from the shade at the base of the mountain.

That evening we chose to take in the city in a less strenuous manner, and hired a local to take us out on a felucca boat. These are traditional wooden boats without motors and we floated on the Nile for sunset.

Felucca in Aswan
A Felucca in Aswan after sunset in front of the lit-up Tombs of the Nobles

In Luxor, the Temple of Karnak was one of the more impressive places we visited. Huge statues, columns, and obelisks dotted the place, all covered in hieroglyphics. Seeing it during the day is only half the experience as well, as we saw the after-dark Light and Sound show. It’s broken into two parts, the first walking through the selectively illuminated sections of the temple, and the second sitting on benches overlooking the Nilometer and temple walls. Both parts feature booming voices narrating the history of the temple, Egypt, and the Pharaohs as images and lights played over the walls.

Pillars at the Temple of Karnak
Pillars at the Temple of Karnak
Hieroglyphics at Karnak Temple
Hieroglyphics at Karnak Temple
The Temple of Karnak at Night
The Temple of Karnak at Night.

Luxor has more than the Temple of Karnak to offer though, including the Luxor Temple, the Colossi of Memnon, and the famous Valley of the Kings. They’re impressive up close, but also quite a sight from the air.

A Statue at the Luxor Temple
A Statue at the Luxor Temple
Hieroglyphics at Medinet Habu
Hieroglyphics at Medinet Habu. Ramses III had the characters carved deep into the wall (the first bold font?) to prevent future Pharaohs from rewriting his story.
Ceiling Hieroglyphics at Medinet Habu
Ceiling Hieroglyphics at Medinet Habu, including the Pharaoh’s two names in cartouche.
The Colossi of Memnon
The Colossi of Memnon

I don’t have any pictures from the Valley of the Kings, where photography is strictly forbidden. Taking a photograph could result in an immense fine, being removed from the area, or having your phone’s pictures wiped. However, I did see King Tutankhamun and the famous tomb Howard Carter discovered in 1931. The entire valley is riddled with these subterranean tombs, most of which were plundered at some point in history. Part of what makes Tutankhamun’s story more famous than any other is that his tomb was relatively undisturbed. Who knows if there are still more unknown tombs yet to be discovered under the hot ground?

Throughout Egypt, Luxor and Aswan were my favorite places to visit. Going was an experience not just for the place itself though, but also the people I met there.

Jack Struck

Student in our nation's capital, studying International Relations with a focus on the Middle East. Web designer, runner, reader, and leader.

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