Amazing things to do in Luxor – uncovering mysteries

Brown mountain valley of Luxor

Luxor may be small in size, but don’t let it fool you to think “There are temple ruins in this ancient Thebes. That is all”. Because there is a lot to do/see/hear and experience here.

Here is a list of Best things to do in Luxor

Take a hot air Ballon ride in Luxor

View of Luxor desert mountains from above
Kings valley and queens valley can be seen at one glance only from above.

While we sat at Cairo airport waiting to get to Luxor, we kept discussing if we should take the hot air balloon ride in Luxor or not. Ultimately 30 minutes before boarding the flight to Luxor, we were sure of what we wanted to do! Fortunately, the slots were available for the next day morning as it was “Non-Tourist” season. 

Is Hot air ballon ride in Egypt safe and worth it?

Definetely worth it. It must be safe, because we are still alive.

Luxor's green field meets the archeological site

You will be visiting King’s valley for sure to see Tut’s mummy and the tombs. Then why pay an extra 7000INR to see the same thing again? – Well, King’s valley is the place where Egypt’s treasure is buried under. The excavation process is going on and will go on for many more years. So not all temples and spots are open to visitors. The only way to get a glimpse of the excavation process and other spots is by air. Plus, the way the valley glows during sunrise is extraordinary. The Hatshepsut temple changes its colour dramatically when the sun rays hit it! The way desert and green fields are separated by asphalt road is shockingly beautiful to see from above.

Ruins of ancient Egyptian temple left with a few columns and foundation seen from above during hot air ballon ride at Luxor
Few things to keep in mind before the ride
  • Egypt Hot air Baloon rides are cheaper than most of the other countries. It cost us 99 USD /person ( 7000 INR per person)
  • Take the earliest ride during sunrise. The way the valley reveals the temples with the first sun rays is magical.
  • Few operators offer rides over Luxor town. I wonder what is exciting about seeing a town like Luxor from above! ! Be sure you will be flying above the Valley of Kings.
  • The weather was cold when we went in January. So layer yourself with warmer clothes, cover yourself totally, especially your ears.

Hatshepsut temple in the background of the excavation site

  • Group rides are cheaper than private ones. However, be prepared to face annoying fellow rider’s loud conversations in the same cradle.
  • Fellow companions might behave crazy trying to capture photographs. They can get pushy sometimes, so hold on to your phones, cameras carefully. 
  • At the time of landing, a few young boys approached us, with one of them on a donkey screaming, Haaaai Hellloooo. Seeee, I am a poor Egypt boy on a donkey. Take a photo and give me 5 Ginieh” Avoid conversations with these guys to avoid getting sacked.
  • Luxor’s hot air balloon ride is infamous for being unsafe. There have been incidents where tourists died in the balloon crash. Still, hundreds of people like us do opt for this every day

Wander in the Valley of Kings

Most tourists begin their day at King’s valley or at the Luxor temple. But we chose Collosi of Memnon. Visiting this place was like a theory class before the practical session began. Ruined statues are not impressive, but the mountains behind them are marvellous. Our guide Mahmoud, whose hometown is Luxor, prefers this spot to explain the history and stories to tourists. Tourists hardly stop here since it isn’t that Instgrammable. It is a perfect place to sit on the steps nearby to listen to all the facts and stories while watching the shining Nile at the horizon and a mountain on the other side.

18M tall statue carved out of a single stone at west bank of Luxor

18M tall statue carved out of a single stone –

Memnon was a heroic Ethiopian king. The statue is famous for a peculiar noise that comes out of the statue at dawn when the wind blows! This is due to the cracks developed inside after an earthquake.

The statues of the Statue of Pharaoh Amhenothep are 2600+ years old.

Colossi of Memnon

The Pharaohs chose the land near Luxor (Ancient Egyptians called it Waset, Greeks called it Thebes). Ancient Egypt’s stories and modern Egypt’s problem of relocating citizens from the West Bank to the East bank after the Aswan dam construction

Pair of 18M tall statue carved out of a single stone with brown barren mountains in the background at Luxor

Quick tips for exploring King’s Valley

  • Right after the car parking area, there starts a lane of shops claiming it to be the “Bazaar” of Valley of kings – which is not. Do not shop here, as you lose a lot of time haggling with vendors for fake and cheap quality items
  • Expect a huge crowd – a beautiful place is obviously famous among big tour groups.
  • 2 to 2.5hr here is a good time to spend here.
Indian couple travellers standing infront of a brown stone mountain that resembles a pyramid sitting on a square base

Guides are not allowed at the central premise of the valley. Mahmoud took us to a higher platform from where we could see the valley as a whole to explain. From there, we were on our own.

The valley of Kings got 63 tombs that belong to Pharaohs and their high priests. The number may increase with time – still excavation process is under progress.

The Tomb list

  • Out of 63, 11 tombs were open to visitors in 2019.
  • ENTRANCE FEES – 80 EGP or 420INR or 6USD /person will allow you to see any 3 of 8 tombs.
  • Photography inside the tombs requires an additional ticket.
  • Other than in Tut’s tomb, the guards take extra money like 10 to 20 EGP to let you take photographs! I should not be promoting this, but this works cheaper than buying the photography permission ticket.
  • An electric vehicle to take visitors to the valley from the ticket counter.

Out of 11 – Entry to 3 tombs require an extra ticket other than the main entrance ticket. Those 3 tombs are – 

  • Tutankhamun’s tomb – Tut’s treasure is in the Cairo museum, but the mummy remains there. So we paid an extra 300 EGP per person to enter Tut’s tomb.
  • Seti I – Bigger, better and colourful ( As explained by Mahmoud)
  • Ramesses V & VI – Colourful, but not as big as Set I

In search of…..

Our guide Mahmoud came back with tickets, said, ” 1.5 Million (15Lakh) people visit the valley every year, ” So the amount of money Egypt gains just by one site is a lot – 1.5Million *6USD = 9Million USD!. Though we aren’t archaeologists, we can imagine the hassle, constraints, and money needed for archaeological research.

With 7 UNESCO Heritages and countless monuments, Egypt gets a lot of money from tourism. If people and leaders had stopped being corrupted, Egypt could have been the wealthiest nation -shining like it did in ancient times. Being in Egypt for a few days and analysing the economics and political situations of the country sounds stupid. So let us get back to the pharaohs and their tombs.

Colourful Egyptian figurines inside Valley tombs

HONESTLY, THE INSIDE OF THE TOMB WAS MORE ATTRACTIVE THAN THE INSIDE OF PYRAMIDS.

WHY DID PHARAOHS STOP BUILDING PYRAMIDS.-

Pyramids were so giant that it was an evident depot of treasure. By the time the third kingdom (last kingdom) began, most pyramids were looted by Egypt’s own people. So the Pharoah Tuthmose chose Luxor, the central city of his expanding empire, to build tombs hidden by the looters. He saw a valley accessed by a narrow lane on the west bank, remaining invisible to most people. Perhaps, this pyramid looking mountain must have encouraged him to make his smaller tomb right here in King’s valley.

Does it look like a Pyramid to you too?

It was during the New Kingdom that the Egyptian Empire conquered more land than ever before. With the expansion of the empire came more trade eventually more wealth- especially gold. So King’s valley is the heart of all that gold treasure – No wonder why I had to loot so much treasure in the game Assassin Creed Origins. That is why archaeologists found the richest tomb ever here – The tomb of Tutankh Amun.

King Tut ruled Egypt for only 10 years, but he is the most talked-about Pharoah of Egypt. He was a 9-year-old Kid when he ascended the throne. And died at the age of 19. Unfortunately, his tomb was not ready by then. So they had to bury him in a chamber that was made for his high priest instead.

THE BIG MOUND YOU SEE IS WHERE TUTANKHAMUN’WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BURIED. BUT HE WAS BURIED NEXT TO THAT IN A SMALLER TOMB.

In 1922 Howard Carter, a British archaeologist, found Tut’s tomb here. The tomb was the wealthiest of all, with lots of gold treasures. But from outside, it looked so humble that no looters could ever think it contained the greatest treasures. Hence all the treasure was still in place inside this tiny tomb. You can see most of his treasure in a separate hall in the Cairo museum.

Photography inside the tomb is strictly prohibited

A ramp between two walls with”not so impressive” hieroglyphs and paintings on the walls took us down. I thought there was more to go down, but suddenly I saw king Tut resting in peace in the same place since 1324BC. Mummies are always spooky, so was this wealthy guy.

The story of why Tut died at such young age and how Carter found the treasure is gripping. With that common tradition of marrying their own sisters/stepsisters, Pharaohs must have developed hundreds of genetic disorders and weaker immunity. These facts and stories are well narrated in the documentary. Watch it before you go to Egypt; it certainly makes the place more interesting.

Other Tombs

Inside of tomb with painted blue ceilings and egytpian writing on the walls at Kings valley

King’s valley’s uniqueness is that it turned us into an economist while buying entry tickets. After seeing Tut’s mummy, we are philosophers. After all, we are tourists at the end. In that confused state of mind, we forgot what Mahmoud had told us in the beginning.

He had particularly mentioned names of a few tombs which are most beautiful and colourful. We ended up going to three random tombs. I absolutely do not remember even one name of a tomb that we visited. Later,

But the actual list of tombs you must visit when you are in King’s valley is – The Tomb of – Ramesses IX (KV6), Ramesses IV (KV2), Tausert and Seknat (KV 14)

Hatshepsut temples – Best of all.

My My My pick! The symmetry, the background, the story and everything about its lace makes this the best of all the temples in Luxor.

Egypt king statue in folded hands on chest position

Story of a queen who became Pharaoh

The story of first woman to attain full power in ancient Egypt could be an incredible Bollywood drama!

At the age of 12, Hatshepsut married her half-brother, Thutmose. After he died, she ruled Egypt for her stepson till he grew up to be a King. That is when our lady twisted the story and added Masala. She made everyone believe her and took total control as a Pharaoh to rule Egypt for the next 20 years! – “I am the Daughter of Amun Ra (main god of ancient Egypt); he wants me to be the Pharaoh; it is him who led me to be the queen,” She said. 

She built a temple for herself, and the columns there is literally her stature with a fake beard.

Historians believed that she died at the age of 50. Her mummy was not there in the tomb that was meant for her. Instead, it was buried in the valley of kings. The reason for her death is also unclear like most Egyptian stories.

Egypt king statue in folded hands on chest position at Mortuary temple in Luxor

The temple appears to be in good condition from the outside. When you observe the miniature model kept at the entrance, you will know that only a part of the entire complex is standing while the rest is fallen into rubbles.

Medinet Habu – The splash of colours

I wanted to visit the temple of Ramesses II. Indeed, he is a famous Pharoah. The internet images looked fantastic, but in reality, it is just a ruin. So our guide Mahmoud convinced us to go to Medinet Habu instead of Ramesses II temple. First of all, we were not going to Danderah( the most colourful temple in all of Egypt). If we had not visited Medinet Habu, we would have missed seeing the real colourful temple of Egypt.

The entrance pylon with covered with the war scenes of Amun and Ramesses with no colours remaining. After a series of halls and courts, we ended up at the main area to see the colours. That was the first time we saw Cartouches ( Pharoah’s name written inside a rectangular capsule). That is the first place where we saw an Egyptian temple wall was adorned with Hieroglyphs and colours.

In this part of the temple, the colour remained everywhere except on the floors. What I saw in ACO was true! -The wall, ceiling, columns, capitals were vibrant, but the white lime plastering had gone off like how it happened to the pyramids.

New Goruna – A Collapsing village

When Sahana asked Mahmoud to take us to the New Goruna village, Mahmoud was shocked. “Why do you want to go there, and how do you know about that place!”-He asked. This adobe village designed by Egypt’s renowned architect Hasan Fathy is a delight for architects who appreciate Sustainable architecture. Unfortunately, for non-architects, it looks like an old abandoned ghost village that is not Instagrammable enough. You will not find any tourist folks here. But for Sahana, it was seeing the works of Master architect Hassan Fathy.

Sahana Says –

“In 2007, I was learning different methods of laying bricks as an architecture student. Then my beloved teacher Ar. Ganesh introduced us to Ar. Hasan Fathy’s works. Since then, seeing his works, in reality, has been my dream. Hasan Fathy was concerned about humanitarian aspects of architecture than aesthetics. I thought my dream was going to come true, but what I saw there was different from what I expected.”

Walkway to Mosque filled with gravels at Goruna Village.

In 1952 this village built by Ar. Hassan Fathy to relocate the residents who lived in King’s valley. His idea was to create a sustainable village through vernacular architecture. He wanted to set an example for the future urban development of Egypt with these mud block buildings. Though many researchers say that he successfully influenced city developments in other Egyptian cities, I have not seen such examples in the cities where I visited—Hassan Fathy’s ideologies are forgotten in cities like Cairo and Luxor.

Girl standing in the arch

Is Hassan Fathy’s Ideology prevails in Egypt?

I can’t be sure of Alexandria, as I haven’t been there. Still researching on it, I see no influence of Hassan Fathy in Alexandria either. What I had thought of and what I saw in New Goruna village were not the same. Preservation of the village is going on at a tortoise’s pace. The intention of stopping the residents from looting the valley was successful. But the village has failed as resettlement.

Villagers found more monetary benefits working in the east bank than in their farms of the west bank. Even if they wanted to work on the farm, they preferred staying in the town to go up and down to the farm. Whoever settled there faced problems—either structural failure of the building or extreme cold. The Mud villages with domes are excellent to reduce heat, but living there in winter became painful.

Red chillies under sun drying at Goruna.
SUN DRYING THE RED CHILLI

Karnak Amun Ra Temple

After all the architectural discussions, Sahana decided to take me to one more temple -Karnak. Unaware of its magnificence and uniqueness, I was keener on roaming Luxor town and munching on some local delicacies than seeing another temple. Back home in India, it is a ritual among Hindus to visit many temples after getting married. I felt I was doing the same in Egypt! So instead of lord Ganesha, Shiva, Parvathi: I am seeking blessings by Amun Ra! Half-heartedly I agreed for our next destination of the day’s temple run, and now I am glad I agreed.

Is it one more Ruin?

At first glance, I was not super impressed. “One more ruined temple,” I told myself. Sahana was excited. She kept on talking about different types of column capitals yet again. Sahana knew what she was about to see, but I was clueless. The temple began to surprise me at the first court – with another row of Goat headed Sphinx! I was slowly switching to the Bayek mode again.

Array of goat headed sphinx  in the courtyard

Mahmoud began to explain the history. You need not be a history lover to visit this place at all. Its sheer size and the feel it creates can allure anyone. This temple COVERS MORE THAN 100 HECTARES with a temple of Amun ( Sun), his wife Mutt (sky) and son Khons (Moon). Out of these three, only Amun’s temple is open for tourists. 4000+ years old temple which was colourful then is a monochrome beige and grey ruin now. Many Pharaohs added something or the other part to this temple; hence it is massive.

What is so beautiful about Karnak Temple?

It is “Hypostyle hall” with a clerestory window”. When the vast hall was enclosed inside four walls and massive columns, lighting was definitely a problem. So Egyptians built the temple with flat roofs at two different heights, one lower than the other. The gap between to roofs is where they added stone grills as windows! That is why these clerestory windows are that charming. This is indeed an architectural marvel built in 2000BC. More than that, this hall and those windows with bell columns brought me the flavour of ancient Egypt. Seeing the sun rays passing through the stone grill window here is tranquil.

The clerestory window made by stone verticals

You can keep roaming inside the temple for hours together. Ensure you deviate from the crowd and walk outside the hypostyle hall to view the obelisks ( the tall single stone) and other courtyards. Other halls with standing statues of Pharaohs and gods are the place to sit and rest your foot for a while after hours of walking under the hot sun.

Bell shaped capital on beige colour tall column at Karanak, Egypt.

Since morning we had roamed a lot, that too without having lunch. The plan was to head to the Luxor temple and market from here. While sitting by an unknown Pharoah’s statue, away from the crowd, we realised how poorly we had planned the day. There is so much to experience in Luxor. What looks like ruins in photos have billions of stories. There is something nice about sitting in a place that is one of the world’s oldest places.

So we decided to ease the day down.

Giant statues in hand folded on chest position at Karnak temple
WE NEVER WANTED TO GET UP AND GO OUT OF THIS PARTICULAR COURT

It was time to take a break from moving from temple to temple. Mahmoud and I kept walking away from the crowd until we hit almost an open ground inside the temple complex. Without the crowd, with the breeze and evening sunshine, it was a wonderful hour. Watching the crowd from a distance, talking all about Pharaohs, which all countries have looted Egyptian treasure, where to eat dinner – A full hour of heart to heart chat.

Sand stone temples at Luxor in ruins

Luxor Temple

The last stop of the day was the Luxor temple. I had no doubts about visiting “one more Egyptian temple” By then, I had stopped expecting and had understood the wonders Egypt got for us. Luxor temple is, of course beautiful, but not comparable to Karnak.

Is it Similar to Karnak?

Luxor temple courtyard with columns lit with external lighting in the night

The temple is in the heart of Luxor. In a way, this is good because it is accessible to tourists easily. But, the surrounding is so noisy, and the temple is always crowded that we did not feel like spending hours together here like Karnak. So if you have seen Karnak, you may skip this, but do make a quick visit in the night to witness the grandeur of The temple illuminated with lights. The frontcourt with bud columns is magical, with the lights lit. So 30 minutes before the early dinner is good for Luxor temple.

Interesting facts about Luxor temples –

  • Luxor temple is one of the largest open-air museums in the world.
  • The locality of Luxor temple is weirdly unique of all – It sits right in the middle of a buzzing city. 
  • The temple complex was also a burial complex at one point in time.
  • Karnak to Luxor distance is 3.5km, both are on East Bank. In 2010, a Sphinx avenue was buried under an Asphalt road connecting Karnak to Luxor along with other treasures.
Avenue of sphinx excavated in Luxor

The temple is newer than the Karnak temple. What looks like a ruin was once the Opet festival centre. It is an ancient Egyptian festival of God’s ritual Journey celebrated in a particular Lunar month. Egyptians carried the shrines of Amun(sun), his wife Mut (Sky) and son Khons(moon) on the palanquin and Pharaohs accompanied them from Luxor from Karnak. The hallway you walk between gigantic columns is the same place where Pharaohs wearing their lavish outfits and jewellery walked with thousands of his workers carrying the palanquin.

The sunset behind colossal statues at Luxor, Egypt.

What is best here?

The most impressive part of the temple is the first court after the Pylon is the two colossal statues of Ramesses II seated. There were supposed to be six, but only two, out of which one’s face is deformed. The Pharoah looks super handsome with a smiling face here.

Entrance Pylon with giant statue of King Ramesses at Luxor temple

The Luxor temple has always been a sacred place – an Egyptian temple, a Greek chapel, a Roman cult chapel, a church, and a mosque – These religious places of worship have been built on the Luxor temple or beside them in the same complex.

At the Temple entrance, you will find Abu Haggag Mosque. The mosque is dedicated to Abu Haggag of Bagdad, which is built on the Egyptian temple! – How strange is it to see the Egyptian columns holding up a mosque! The mosque is open to the public except during their prayer time. Unfortunately, we were late, so we couldn’t go inside the mosque. Was it intentionally built? Was it built by the saint not knowing the existence of an Egyptian temple underneath? – Nobody has a clear answer.

Luxor mosque built on ancient temple

Like how it happened to many historical places, parts of artefacts excavated from Luxor temples are in British museums for protection.

It took me a whole day to understand why it was not enough to spend just one day at Luxor! By the time we left Luxor, I was sure of returning to Egypt again to appreciate it at a slower pace.

Tall statues of Egyptian pharoahs with fake beard at Luxor temple

How was your experience at Luxor? Did you rush or took it slowly. Let us know in the comment section below.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: