We took Jane’s advice for our first day out and toured the areas overlooking the West Bank. This was a three-hour tour (no Gilligan’s Island singing please) riding on DONKEYS! Donkeys are cool, smooth riding, compact workhorses - I mean work-donkeys. Everybody here uses them to pull carts and travel about. It seems every yard/field has at least one. Our kids loved them. Yeah, the vistas on our ride were breathtaking, but the last three days have been filled with discussions as to whether or not we could have a donkey in our backyard at home.
Jane arranged for us to mount our trusty steeds on the road just outside our flat. Emma rode with Megan, but the rest of us had our own beasts of burden. We trotted on down the rode past farmland full of sugar cane and some sort of alfalfa for animal feed. We passed through a bit of village and again traveled through farmland. It’s really green where the Nile used to annually water and fertilize the land. Now unfortunately, since the Aswan Dam, the watering and fertilizing of the land is “man regulated” and the farmland is perpetually green. I will try to explain in a future blog why this is so unfortunate.
Our first vista was of the Colossi of Memnon, two enormous enthroned statues of Amenhotep III that are about 60 feet tall. They look pretty lonely. The huge funerary temple that once surrounded these seated figures has dissolved over the years in the moisture of the Nile’s flooding. Turns out most of it was built of mud brick and sandstone, and the centuries of Nile inundations eroded it away. It was also robbed several times by his successors who reused the good parts. Now these massive statues act as greeters to the temples and tombs of the West Bank.
Our road from here gently tilted uphill, and we entered instant desert. We headed off-road up a trail that skirts the rim of canyons of some of the most impressive sites on the West Bank. Our first view was of Gurna, a colorful old village of people who have lived among the tombs for centuries. These people are the guardians of the tombs of the area. The Egyptian government is attempting to relocate them. It is an ugly political mess. When I learn more about it I’ll write more.
Our donkeys continued up the hill passing the Deir al-Medina (ruins of workmen’s village) to our right and the Valley of the Queens to our left. We couldn’t really see much of the valley, but the remains of the workmen’s village were really interesting. We will go back there to explore.
Our donkeys continued to climb. They really are amazing creatures. At the top of the ridge our trail skirted the cliffs above Hatshepsut’s temple. The views from here were breathtaking both in the grandeur of the temple as well as in the several hundred foot drop of the shear cliff just inches away from our donkeys’ hooves. The rock formations here are beautiful as well, a literal moonscape of rock, sand, and cliffs. We dismounted our donkeys and waddled around about like old cowboys to give our donkeys a break on the descent.
Our guide led the donkeys on down the trail ahead of us. To our left was the Valley of the Kings. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was there. With no signs to point the way, lots of trails to follow, and being told by our guide to take our time, we soon became lost. Not really lost, just way off track. We continued down, sort of, and eventually were found wandering way off track by our guide. He was getting a bit worried about how tardy we were and went looking for us.
We stopped for refreshments just below Hatshepsut’s temple, participated in a little alabaster haggling, and began the journey home with the Ramesseum (Ramses II temple) on one side and the town of Old Gurna (tomb guardians) on the other. From here we took a shortcut through the sugar cane fields and farmhouses to bring us back home. It was an incredible way to get an idea of how the area is all laid out.
Donkey Day! Luxor's West Bank