Our first Luxor day had been overwhelming (you can read about it here ) and it had culminated into a gorgeous sunset. Upon disembarking, we had rushed towards the Karnak temple and it had been a larger than life experience. An impressive avenue of sphinxes had stood in front of the Karnak complex and at the time of our visit, the city had been undergoing excavation process for another such row. Karnak had been like a history book and it’s humongous interiors had contained several dynasties and ages. Dedicated to the Theban principle deity Amun, the complex had been an open air museum of impressive temples, chapels and pylons. The oldest of the structures had dated back to more than 3,000 years and interestingly, Karnak had been the 2nd largest ancient site in the world, after Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It had also definitely been one of Egypt’s most visited spots and together with the exquisite Luxor Temple with which it had been connected, they had made the ancient city of Thebes, a tourist mecca.

It had been blinding hot when we had wandered around Karnak’s extensive depths and surprisingly, only 1 precinct out of 4 had been open for public. That had been the Precinct of Amun-Ra and the 3 other parts had included the Precinct of Mut, Precinct of Montu and the dismantled temple of Amenhotep IV. A handful of other small structures had lain interspersed between the precincts and approximately 30 pharaohs had contributed to the construction of the complex. This had resulted in Karnak’s incredible size and diversity of style and often later pharaohs had broken down older buildings completely or partially in order to give them makeovers according to their choice. The oldest Precinct of Mut had shown such traces of changing history and the powerful Queen Hatshepsut had supposedly been one of the reasons behind its multiple reconstructions. What had set Karnak temple apart from the rest of Egyptian monuments, had been its chronological evolution of architectural style, patron deities and whims of pharaohs.

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Karnak had been surreal                                                                      Photo Credit – www.jarrodcastaing,com

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With its rows of sphinxes                                                                       Photo Credit – www.aljazeera.com

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And larger than life                                                           Photo Credit – www.journeywonders.com

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Breathtaking seclusion

As mentioned before, the complex had been like a literal history book and each structure had given away eye opening glimpses of the then existing Egyptian societies. Piety, love, hatred, jealousy, sex and other regular human acts and feelings had echoed through the huge golden depths and walking from precinct to another had meant either changing historical periods or different celebrations of daily life. While, the closed precinct of Mut had held titillating glimpses of festivals of excess, the temple of Amenhotep IV or the monotheist Akhenaten had borne signs of wrath of the ruled. The celebrated queen Hatshepsut had been the main patron of the precinct of Mut and its infamous “porch of drunkenness” had been created to depict the annual drunken festival of Sekhmet. Quite similar to ancient Indian celebrations of Holi, Sekhmet too had involved people getting drunk, participating in orgies and other such activities. Named after the warrior goddess Sekhmet, the festival had stood for fiery blood thirsty deity evolving into a gentler incarnation, after getting tricked into calming her anger and in my Indian eyes, she had borne close resemblance to our very own Kali.

Although closed to public, Hatshepsut’s architectural pride had gloriously towered over most of the complex, except precinct of Amun and it had immediately pointed towards her immense power. Interestingly, Karnak’s power play had not ended there and the much destroyed Akhenaten’s temple had revealed public tides turning against a pharaoh. Rebellious Akhenaten had broken away from the existing tradition by denouncing Amun Ra and establishing his own capital city, along with a different principal deity. This had resulted, in him being extremely unpopular and after his death, the powerful priests had done their best to remove or disfigure his statues in every way. Karnak had borne all the ravages of time and silly, egoistic humans patiently and the complex’s historical timelines had heaved in my head. I had pondered over them while skipping across the blazing cobble stones to rush towards the Precinct of Amun Ra and the open sky above had been of a blinding shade of blue. A heavy heat had settled down on the Luxor city fiercely and I had learned, the hard lesson that afternoons had not been the best time to explore open air Egyptian museums.

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We had left Karnak soon

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To head towards the Luxor Temple

Time constraint, however had made us brave the odds and the Precinct of Amun had been nothing like I had ever experienced before. The precinct’s sheer scale had made me speechless and a fantastic hypostyle hall of a forest of giant papyrus shaped shaped columns had been its highlight. I had wandered along the golden columns in relief since even the bright noon sun had barely managed to filter through its thickness and it had been the perfect place to cool down. The huge size of the precinct had strangely given me a very calming feeling and I had spent more time at the cool, colonnaded seclusion than any where else on the complex. The rest of Karnak had been equally interesting and series of ram headed sphinxes had marked the southern end of the closed off Mut enclosure. The small Montu temple had stood at its other end and we had explored its beautiful reliefs from the cool, long shadows. Perhaps due to its historical complexities or the vastness, time had flown fast through Karnak and before we knew, Luxor had beckoned us. 

Softening of Karnak’s golden blaze had marked the approaching sunset and we had soon made our way towards the other crown temple of Luxor. While not as massive as Karnak, Luxor temple had been more graceful and it had been simply brilliant during sunset. The lovely complex had stood in the middle of the modern city and it had been constructed to uphold kingship by celebrating coronation ceremonies, both in reality and conceptually. To me, the temple of Luxor had seemed like the playground of royals and some of the most powerful Egyptian rulers had been crowned there (or claimed to have been crowned like Alexander, the Great). Their larger than life statues had announced their contributions to history and they had also gifted them immortality. A collection of temples, chapels, obelisks and fortifications had given away the complex’s Egyptian, Roman and Arab roots and the temple had been one of Egypt’s most popular sunrise/sunset spot.

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The Luxor temple

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Had been so engrossing

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That I had overlooked everything else

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Until a perfect Luxor sunset

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Had brought me back to reality

Luxor temple had been teeming with people, when we had walked among the gigantic royals and its entrance had been simply mind blowing. Huge pair of seated statues of Ramses II had welcomed us in a rather intimidating way and their height had made the surge of tourists around him look rather puny. Scenes of the welcoming pharaoh’s military exploits had been etched on the walls of the first pylon and later Nubian kings too had added their glory to them. Beyond double rows of lotus bud topped columns had lead within the complex, from where it had turned into one series of obelisks, shrines and more hypostyle halls. Larger than life statues of pharaohs had also continued inside the complex and Amenhotep III, Tutankhamen and other such glorious names had jostled for our attention. It had been too much for one day and the series of towering royal figures had made me spin through history like a busy top. I had given up trying to keep track of the expansive Egyptian history soon, when suddenly its antiquity had struck me hard.

Owing to my birth and roots in an ancient civilization like India, during my entire traveling career, not many countries have impressed me with their rich history and I have felt most of the global legacies to be awfully young. Egypt’s dizzying historical timeline, however, had left me awed and for more than once, during my trip, I have been bewildered by unique similarities between the two countries’ mythologies. Symbolism had been of very high priority in both the ancient cultures and those swirling thoughts had kept me preoccupied throughout the Luxor temple visit. Apart from feeling dwarfed by the looming pharaohs and admiring vivid stucco paintings left by the Romans, I had hardly absorbed much at Luxor temple and not even the noisy surging crowds of tourists had distracted me. Lost in my thoughts, I had given the aggressive baksheesh demanding locals amiss and had nearly risked losing out on most of Luxor temple moments, when something magical had happened. It had been, somewhere near the stunning Colonnade of Amenhotep III, that thankfully a stilted hush had drawn me out of my thoughts and I had nearly gasped at what had met my eyes.

A Luxor day had been ending fast, giving space to the most romantic evening, that I had ever seen and the setting sun, despite its tiredness had thrown fingers of gorgeous light through the old columns. The sky too had played along with its favourite child and pastel shades of violet, lilac and pink had gloriously melted into each other. As if on cue, Nile had unfurled its most gentle breeze and it had billowed the glowing white of the local’s gallebeyas like sails. The beauty had taken all our collective breaths away and it had been a sunset, befitting the jewel of ancient Egyptian civilization. Needless to say, Luxor had not been overrated.