You know how you can kind of hate a place that everyone just loves? A place whose historical significance and grandiose sights makes it a “must see” on everyone’s itineraries? A place that you feel guilty not liking? Luxor, Egypt is such a place for me.
Home to the ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes, Luxor is just littered with historic sites, including the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the famous Nile River and other tombs associated with this massive necropolis. It’s one of Egypt‘s most famous sights and it’s not hard to see why.
Massive temple complexes with stunning details abound and there’s even an impressive ruin right smack in the middle of town…Luxor Temple.
With all these relics of ancient times that my history teacher used to drone on about right there in front of me, how on earth could have I have found this place to be a disappointment? Well…
It Feels Fake
Egypt likes to reconstruct their ancient ruins and I don’t necessarily fault them for this. Many countries do this to give folks some impression of what it looked like back in its day. But here’s the thing, it’s been so excessively done in the sites around Luxor that they no longer feel genuine (unlike Masada in Israel).
Take for instance the Temples of Karnak. This grandiose complex just north of Luxor is full of incredible hieroglyphics carved deep into the rocks that form the walls and columns here. Yes, it’s a very cool sight…
But the effort to reconstruct here has taken a turn for the worst, at least in my humble opinion. Towards the southern point of the site, a large crane had been erected, aligning pieces of seemingly newly cut stone around a concrete frame.
What’s more, the star attractions here are the enormous pillars in the Great Hypostyle Hall, papyrus-shaped and inscribed in hieroglyphics. Cool? Absolutely! But also made mostly of modern day concrete with bits and pieces of old-fashioned rocks thrown in!
Another shining example…The three-tiered Temple of (Queen) Hatshepsut over on the west bank has some impressive carvings, but it was largely destroyed, so it’s second level is entirely made of concrete! It begs the question…is this really what this looked like back in the day? Or were there a few “artistic liberties” integrated into it?
The Tombs Aren’t Much Different From One Another…
Sure, all those famous, famous royal tombs over at the Valley of the Kings are cool, but they’re entirely underground. Unlike the Great Pyramids of Giza, there is no above ground anything to see here. Instead you get to walk through a tunnel. Along the walls of this tunnel are the beautifully inscribed (and brilliantly colored) hieroglyphics offering directions for the afterlife.
The tunnels all lead to a burial chamber, where all that remains is the enormous outer casket. But basically, most of the tombs are almost exactly the same! Sure, some are deeper. Some change directions a few times. Some don’t have the hieroglyphics finished because the Pharaoh died before they finished it. Most have slight variations in the hieroglyphics.
Here’s the thing. It’s kind of cool to see one. Maybe even two. But beyond that, they’re kind of all the same because there’s nothing left in them other than outer casket!
You Can’t See the Really Impressive Tombs…
Look, I totally understand needing to preserve the paintings in the tombs. I really do. And I totally support them wanting to keep people out to help preserve them.
But, see, the most impressive tomb in all of Luxor is that of Queen Nefertari. The paintings in there are supposed to be the most spectacular. And you can’t get in to see it. Well, that’s the official word, but according to a guide I had, you can see it…for the right price… US$4,000.00 to gain entry for 15 minutes!
Does that strike you as ethical?
You Can’t Trust Anyone…
I consider myself to be a pretty hardened traveler. I know a scam when I see one and can easily brush away touts. But I swear the very first night I was in Luxor, I was about ready to deck a vendor, as they simply will not leave you alone regardless of what you do or say.
From horse-drawn carriage drivers (who shout at you that they need your business to feed their horses) to felucca (boats on the Nile) captains, to tour guides, to souvenir vendors… people follow you incessantly hawking their goods.
What’s more, it feels like everyone has an ulterior motive that involves getting something from you (see the guest post I wrote for the Globetrotter Girls about my encounter with a tour vendor in Luxor that quickly turned into an uncomfortable situation when sexuality came up). If it’s not an ulterior motive, it’s that seemingly everyone (and their mother) wants baksheesh.
You don’t even have to know the definition of this word to get what people mean. It becomes instantly clear the moment someone sticks out their hand and says “Baksheesh.” They are asking you, in a somewhat demanding fashion, for a tip. You hear it constantly… A guard at Karnak motions you into a room to show you carvings. “Baksheesh.” Someone offers to take your picture. They do. “Baksheesh.” You say hello to a little kid. They look up at you and say hi and then immediately… “Baksheesh!” Oh yes, people want tips for things they didn’t even do!
Just when I’d started to develop a sense of humor about the vendors, I found myself in a chartered felucca taking me across the Nile. We had agreed on a price just to go to the other side. But he stops in the middle of the river, trapping me in his boat….
“You want to go to Banana Island?” “No, thank you, just back to Luxor please.” “You want to see monkeys?” “No just to the other side.” “You want sunset felucca cruise?” “No I just want to go back to Luxor.” “You want marijuana? Sexy girl?” At which point I kind of lost it a little bit and this poor felucca captain became the subject of a bit of annoyance that resulted in a direct trip back to Luxor.
He was very honest in the end and wandered around for a while trying to find change for me, but man oh man it was not a pleasant experience!
So There You Have It!
Look, I’m glad I saw Luxor. Inevitably, I would have been kicking myself if I hadn’t. But at this point in my trip I was on a rather tight timetable and I honestly could have skipped Luxor entirely. It’s not that it doesn’t have some fantastic things.
Luxor Museum, for example, is fantastic. And the hieroglyphics are very cool to see! But there were too many other things that irked me about Luxor to actually enjoy my time there.
What Do You Think?
Have you been to Luxor before? Think I’m being a bit harsh? Let me know in the comments below!