Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I was feeling very excited.  I was wandering along the Nile towards Karnak, so it was hard to contain the growing anticipation I was experiencing.

Every step I took was bringing me closer to one of the greatest architectural marvels in history.  This place had been hyped up for me.  I had been given nothing but positive reviews of this place by all my friends who had seen it.  My brother's description of it was that it "shits all over Ephesus".  High praise indeed.  My expectations had been raised to near unreachable levels.  I was hoping that Karnak would have the necessary qualities to surpass these expectations.

The walk along the Nile seemed to take an absolute age.  In hindsight, it was too far to walk.  I should have caught a taxi.  Unfortunately, memories of past trips and my own stubborn refusal meant that whenever I travel, I seem to insist on walking everywhere.  I was also completely reluctant to engage in another fight for a taxi with the drivers.  When given the option of a nice wander down the banks of a river instead of the haggle, I chose the walk.  The walk itself was pleasant enough.  Luxor is a tourist town, so the banks were clean and well maintained.  There were small parks and paved walking areas that seemed perfect for large groups to wander on while gazing across the river towards the tomb filled valleys.  There was still an eerie feeling to the walk as the paths were once again, almost completely deserted.  I was beginning to realise that this sense of isolation in these locations was giving me a sense of what it would be like to be in a post-apocalyptic world, of being alone when I should have been standing with crowds.

Once I reached the front of Karnak, I finally found some crowds (though not many).  There were the usual tour groups, but there were also the loud noises of the Americans, Brits and Australians.  I was in a special hell where my isolation was being abruptly ended by the screams of their children.  I was beginning to feel the warmth of the sun rising so I stopped to put on some sunscreen.  As a conscientious Australian, the importance of proper skin care has never been lost on me.  Even as I stood with my feet motionless, I remained uninterrupted.  The touts seemed to lack interest and ambition, idling around with one another and only occasionally chasing after the more obvious targets that were the loud and brash American groups.

As I walked towards the main structures, I began losing my sense of perspective.  From a distance, the broad front of the buildings seemed to pull down the height of the structures.  It was only as I looked down that I could again see their true height in comparison to the people besides them.  These were truly massive structures.  The closer I got, they finally began to impose themselves, blocking the light and reflecting noises towards me.  After walking through a few rooms and halls, I reached the Great Hypostyle Hall.  The incredible and beautiful hall with its towering columns.
This was the biggest crowd I had experienced in my time in Egypt so far.  Seeing people running around and laughing, taking photos and posing next to the columns seemed entirely appropriate.  This was what Egypt was meant to be like.  This was what Egypt had been like for thousands of years.  Even Herodotus had been a wide eyed tourist when he had arrived here.

I kept walking.

A familiar voice called out my name.  I turned around and I saw Kino!  The lovely old Japanese lady whom I had briefly met in the hotel in Aswan.  She and I were clearly on the same schedule slowly moving North up the Nile.

Kino was incredibly kind and trusting.  As we discussed our time to date, it was clear that had yet to reach my level of cynicism in the behaviour of the Egyptians involved in the tourism industry.  We wandered out of the main temple complex towards a large building in the distance.  It was far away enough that most of the other tourists had decided against making the walk.  It was their loss.
Inside, Kino and I found brightly coloured images and some of the most intricately detailed hieroglyphs I had ever seen.  Even more fortunate was who we found.  While walking through an area that was under restoration, we bumped into the head archaeologist undertaking the restoration.  He seemed happy to see us and invited us behind the barriers for a guided tour.  He answered our questions and he pointed out the most unique of the images.
Kino and I walked back to the main parts of the complex.  Every movement of the sun changed the light and threw the shadows across the buildings in different ways.  The interplay of the light and shadows with the golden buildings of Egypt was one of my favourite parts of the trip.  It made every moment I spent at a place unique.

When I walked back through the Great Hypostyle Hall for the second time, it had darkened as the sun has dropped below the walls.  There was a darkness to it now and it was empty of all the tourists.  I felt insignificant walking through through the alleys between the columns.  I began to walk closer to each of the columns and I noticed the huge amount of concrete that was actually holding all of the columns up.  I walked further around and noted that almost every single one of the columns was actually largely modern concrete.
It was a recurring theme I was experiencing in Egypt.  The fascination I had with Karnak, with this "ancient" marvel appeared to have been misdirected towards antiquity when really it was once again the technological and engineering might of the twentieth century that was gazing at.

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