A few years ago, I set off on a three weeks-long journey to explore Southern Egypt following the Nile south to the border with Sudan. So far, It’s been the richest travel experience of my life. Here's why.
Southern Egypt is an age-old book whose many chapters still lie half-buried in the desert sands of our times. The Great Temple of Seti I in Abydos located some 100 km north of Luxor is a prestigious example of this mysterious world heritage. Inside the temple, the scintillating hieroglyphs portray unique tales of Egyptian divine mythology, while the precious 76 King’s cartouches report the chronology of multi-dynastic human power. Puzzling enough, it deliberately omits important rulers. Strange record! Outside, to the rear of the temple, however, one is trapped in an exotic aura which a more powerful riddle. A megalithic structure known as the Osireion is built with stones that clearly differ in size and style. Who built the Osireion in Abydos? The Egyptians? To this day, this archaic site continues to leave visitors and archaeologists baffled on its origins.
In other pages of lower Egypt, one day spent wandering around different sites, feels like reliving thousand-year-old tales. I recall a specific day where I relived the epic battles of Set and Horus walking along the inner walls of the temple in Edfu. A few hours later, I was climbing the desolated white hills of El Kab to visit a well-preserved necropolis. I then drove north to the temples of Dendera and Philae, where I counted the symbols and markings left behind by visiting nearby cultures such as the Nubians and Copts. Later in the evening I credulously listened to the wind, attempting to isolate the legendary whistling of the Colossi of Memnon.
Southern Egypt is a warm-hearted folk. “Souqs” provided to be a precious way to connect with the local community. These traditional markets made of tight alleys and rudimentary pavements give life to loud and vigorous commerce. It will certainly rewire your sentiment of conviviality. I tasted delectable sesame and cardamom-based pastries and negotiated the price of real (and fake) papyrus. I also photographed young artisans vehemently showcasing their alabaster sphinxes and obsidian scarabs.
In other human episodes, I learned the day-to-day challenges of two young brothers, Ali and Karim while sailing on board their white Felucca. In Luxor, I received support from a young affable student who simply helped me buy a second-class train ticket among a crowd of impatient passengers. I even debated the physics of novel theories on how ancient Egyptians erected Obelisks with a local tour-guide named Ziad while drinking Karkady.
Southern Egypt is also a heart-beating journey of adventures. A hot-air balloon ride at daybreak over the Valley of the Kings filled me with an intrepid feeling of discovery. At 1000 feet, I witnessed the rise of the Sun god Ra slowly unveiling the disposition of the most eminent sites. Our captain did not look very convinced of his orientation, or which way the wind started blowing. I start overlooking with considerable apprehension the rural activity of the fertile Nile banks where we would later crash-land. In similar circumstances, while in Aswan a few weeks later, I aimed for Abu Simbel and ventured through a 4 hours-long desert ride in the middle of a starlit magical night. Sitting next to a narcoleptic taxi-driver, I was constantly monitoring the wing mirror for the heavily-armed military escort accompanying us.
The lower region of Egypt is a magical land of nature. At sunrise, flocks of migrating Ibis ingeniously exploit every turn of the morning breeze with delicate movements. During the daytime, I admire blue Kingfishers hovering over cataracts while hunting small preys living in the rough currents. At sunset, I witnessed half-asleep crocodiles awakening within the mirrored water-colored orangish twilight. Shortly after, the reflection of the electric-bright planet Venus followed the Sun beyond the horizon along the river. Vivid pictures turned indelible memories.
In Southern Egypt, I have seen more than I remember, and will remember more than I’ve seen.