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What To Do In Egypt Beyond The Pyramids- Luxor's Tombs And The Modern Alexandria

Updated: Apr 11

In my previous post, I covered the Giza and Aswan leg of my Solo Egypt trip.


And while, the pyramids alone can be a good reason to visit Egypt, there's much more this fascinating country offers to a traveler than an ancient Wonder Of The World.


On my second half of my trip, I started retracing my steps back from Southern Egypt, moving back from Aswan to Luxor.


Luxor is where the dead lie. It's where the majestic Pharaos lived, held lavish courts, and established one of the most advanced and enduring civilizations in the world. It's in Valley Of Kings where most of the royal mummies were found, still lie in well-preserved tombs, and the land is constantly in the process of awe-inspiring archaeological discoveries.


Spending 2 days in Luxor


Karnak Temple Complex, Luxor


My first stop in my Luxor leg was the majestic Karnak temple - a beautiful maze of 134 pillars, in the shape of Papyrus tree, all around 35-55 feet tall with fading but impressive frescos, inscriptions and carvings, along with pylons, oblixes and temples dedicated to the various kings who lived in the era. (1971–1926 BCE and for context that's about 4000 years ago.) The Karnak temple complex is only partially open the the public, the rest being in a state of excavations and restoration as most monuments in Egypt usually are. The entrance/exit to the Karnak temple includes a row of half-man-hal-ram statues on either side forming an intimidating precursor to what to expect inside.





After spending a couple of hours inside the Karnak temple complex, I walked to the city centre which was a pretty pleasant 2 hour walk mostly along the coast of Nile. Looking at the nice sunny weather, cool winds and the crystal blue waters of the Nile, I couldn't help myself from getting another Felucca ride, this time all to myself. The boat driver sang me local songs, made me tea and let me spin around on the boat. Ah the good life! Egypt makes you feel rich.

I spent the evening walking around the main area, hanging with a local who brought me koshari from a place he knew and just being enamoured by the fact that an Indian girl was in Egypt all by herself. (Maybe it wasn't very common back then.)



felucca boat cruise nile


Valley of the Kings (and the queens), Luxor


I earmarked a whole day for the Valley Of The Kings as it's a while away from main Luxor and each site can take an hour or so.




To go to Valley Of Kings, you must pre-book a tour. Since I was staying in a hostel, this wasn't an issue. I went along with 5 people from my hostel and a few others in a 10-person van. I don't remember exactly now but I think paid $50 for this trip excluding the entry charges at individual sites.


Hatshepsut temple



Hatshepsut temple Luxor Egypt


The first stop was the marvelous Hatshepsut "mortuary" temple, the temple dedicated to the first female Pharaoh, Hatshptut who is believed to have ruled ancient Egypt between 1479-1450 BC. (That's 3500 years ago, for context.) Considered to be a masterpiece of ancient architecture, the temple complex is built from the rocks, and goes over several levels, rising over the beige desert, almost blending in.


Tomb raiding in Luxor


After a quick visit to the temple, we got to the most awaited part of today's trip, the site of the many tombs, which till date are in the form they were excavated, along with their tombs, sarcophagi and all other funerative paraphernalia.


If you know some Egyptian history, it's that the Egyptians were one of the few and the first to believe in an afterlife and to facilitate it, they participated in elaborate rituals to make way for the dead's comfortable passage into the afterlife. This process called the "Mummification" was carried out especially for the royalty and other higher classes as it involved significant resources.


Mummification process


Organs such as kidney, liver and heart was removed form the dead body and placed in "vestibules" filled with a preservative liquid. The rest of the body was embalmed with various oils and spices so as to enable long preservation, much like a pickle. Then the body was wrapped in layers of cotton to seal the spices in. The dead's possessions were also placed next to them. Any pets like dogs, cats, and other smaller pets like rabbits were too embalmed the same way.


I knew it but I hadn't expected to see in those tombs.


What to expect in Valley of Kings, Luxor?


Most of the tombs are deep inside the earth so one goes down a deep light of steps, finding themselves into a dark and damp cave. Here you'll see well-preserved murals and carvings all around you. The higher order the king, the more elaborate the art. Then at the inner most part of the tomb, would be the sarcophagus, the outer most part made of stone and bearing elaborate carvings. Inside the sarcophagus is where the mummies would be buried in their coffins. At the Valley of Kings, you don't see any mummies since the temperature and other settings wouldn't know them to be seen and preserved and all the mummies have been moved and kept for display at the Egyptian Museum and elsewhere, but you'll see everything else.



Valley of Kings, Luxor



You can also visit the tomb of the famous young king "Tuttenkhamun" at an extra premium charge but we decided to skip it.


Valley of queens and tomb fatigue


Once you've visited 3-4 tombs, they begin to all blend in and a 'tomb" fatigue sets in. So I decided to skip the Valley Of Queens leg of the tour expecting it to more of the same. However I was later told that tombs of the queens was even more elaborate and lavish. And why should it not be so! So big miss there!


After that intense noon with the dead town and navigating through the herds of hawkers and pedlars we had to prevent from being harassed by, we came back to the city and sat ourselves at a local restaurant and I grabbed my favourite Egyptian vegetarian staple - The Koshari.


Then in the evening, I walked around the shore area and checked out the mini "Museum of Mummies" where you can explore animal mummies and other objects that were discovered inside the tombs at Valley of Kings.


I ended my day and a very chilli night at a a popular and high-end restaurant called Safar where my hostel male enjoyed a meal of freshly roasted pigeon, and I killed my appetite and chilled in the hostel's cafe room until it was time for my train to head to Alexandria.


Spending a day in Alexandria, Egypt's Mumbai


I reached Alexandria around 1pm and since I wasn't planning to stay there overnight, I sought to store my luggage at the station and managed to have a shopkeeper agree to keep it.


Bag free, I hopped into an all-familiar shared van packed with the locals - women in burkhas and men in abayas- and took off to the Suleiman Fort at the edge of the corniche.

From the heat and sand of the Luxor, I found myself in a city on the northern edge of Mediterranean sea, in an almost Europe meets Orient setting.

Since the fort was shut by the time I got there (4pm), I just aimlessly wandered about, along the beach and then sat myself l at the wonderful Silsila cafe. It's a cafe right at the beach, with waves almost hitting the walls of the cafe. while the food isn't anything to write home about, in term sof views and ambience, it's one of the best cafes I've been to.



Bibliotheca Alexandrina


Legend has it that the ultra modernistic, disc-shaped Bibliotheca Alexandrina library on the shore is the reincarnated version of the storied Alexandria library from the medieval times.

While the library itself is huge and gorgeous, I couldn't help but notice the contrast between the locals I met in Egypt elsewhere on my trip so far and here inside the library - young, stylish and modern Egytian genz types huddled over books and chatting in fluent English

I even managed to find a bust of Mahatma Gandhi inside the plaque on which read "gifted by India.


Bibliotheca Alexandrina Egypt


After a very fulfilling tour of the library, I walked back to the railway station, enroute admiring the tile murals on a wall, peeping into the minaret of a mosque with a clergy sitting inside and singing the azaan into the mic, a local wedding, a charity event at an uppity art gallery, and grabbing a quick Koshari to go.


Took a 5 hour train back to Cairo and slept overnight.


Two days in Cairo downtown


Back to Cairo after a sizzling last one week, I planned to go out and sightsee the city as I'd got directly to Giza and the Pyramids when I started the trip so this time I wanted to get more of the city flavour.


I walked to the old city, went up on a couple of mosques and strolled past local markets. At one of the mosques, I also ended up making a friend in Chahira, a local who was out shopping with her mother and very graciously offered to meet me the next day.


The Egyptian Museum in Cairo


If you're a true Egypophile, you can't miss the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. One of the largest museums in the world, the offerings here are no ordinary museum fare. Levels and levels of artefacts and excavation spoils going back as far as 10,000 years ago. You'll see more sarcophagi, ancient jewelry, busts of Pharoahs and religious symbols of various Egyptian gods and goddesses. And yes back in 2019, there was a whole room dedicated to mummies. You can see mummies of King Ramses, Queen Nefertari, and many more in flesh and blood, making for the most fascinating and yet macabre sight! As of 2024, the Mummies section has been moved to the larger Egyptian Museum near Giza.

Imagine staring at a body of a king or queen who lived, breathed and ruled the very land you're standing on, around 5000 years ago!

The museum buttoned up everything I'd seen and experienced in the last 8 days and provided the perfect last hurrah in Egypt. Well, I did grab a coffee at a local ahwa, met Chiraha at a local club and watched a football match (Egyptians are huge on football) and went to the famous Khal Al Khaleli market and picked up souvenirs like a marble pyramid shaped candle holder, a mummy tshirt, some magnets, shot glasses and some ceramics.


Catching a whirling dervish sufi performance in Cairo for free


On my last evening in Egypt, I lucked out and got to know there was a sufi performance near the Khan Al Khaleli market, so cutting it close, I got myself a (free) ticket and attended this beautifully energetic and colourful performances by a group called Al-Tannoura Egyptian Heritage Dance Troupe. What a perfect sendoff to a brilliant last 10 days in Egypt!





Egypt has my heart


I took the flight out of Cairo to Jeddah late that night, again with a long layover in Jedda and then back to Bangalore.


I came back from Egypt completely in love with the country, feeling overwhelmed with all that I'd seen, and a. bigger Egyptophile than I was before. Even to this day, I lap up content around Egypt, including all the documentaries on the recent exacavations and what not.

If I had to do this trip all over again, I'd definitely add a couple of days to see Dahab, a coastal resort town which many travelers compare to Bali or Goa. I doubt it can have the vibe of either, but it offers great dives and swims in the Red Sea, which could be such a drastic break from the desert, pyramids and all the history.



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 I (Monica) am a lifelong traveler, (40 countries), sustainability and veganism advocate, and a marketer by profession. I'm old school in that I still like to blog and document rather than shoot and post.

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