Watching the sky turn red

Watching the sky turn red over the Valley of the Kings is a moment very few people will ever forget. One of the world’s great panoramas, the ancient city of Luxor sprawls on the east bank and the Valley of the Kings dominates the west.
We boarded Le Lotus at 6am, the temperature was already reaching the sweltering mid-thirties, and a valuable lesson had been learned. Summer isn’t the best time to visit Egypt.
Despite the near paralysing sunburn and dehydration, my fiancee and I had been looking forward to this trip all week.
Destination Dendera. home to one of Egypt’s most spectacular temples.
The warm greeting by the ships captain and the offer of drinks on the sundeck (served by immaculately attired staff) came as a pleasant surprise to a couple who had spent the last few days slogging through the almighty heat and shaking ancient grit from their flip-flops.
Pulling away form her mooring, the boat began her trip north on a glass-calm Nile.
Gazing out across the west bank, the early morning tourist hot air balloons were silently suspended in the ever brightening sky.
As the colonial grandeur of the Winter Palace and the gravity defying obelisk of Luxor Temple slid into the distance, we were trully relaxed for the first time since arriving in Egypt.
No heaving souks, no temperemental air conditioning, and no “baksheesh”, at least for a few hours.
The panorama transformed as the city dissapeared into the horizon. Green, almost jungle-like vegetation lined the river on both sides, It seemed more Apocolypse Now than Jewel of the Nile.
Gaps in the greenery gave us an occasional voyeuristic glimpse at the people of Egypt never seen in the guide books. Mud houses with roofs made of reeds peered modestly through the trees, while their owners coax cattle along patchy fields.
We eventually moor at the respectable Basma Hotel in the small city of Qena and, after a few moments of basking in the cool marble recption, we are pointed in the direction of a waiting coach.
The 5km journey becomes a lesson in logistics, with tour guides expertly dividing the passengers into three smaller groups.
Our group is led by a portly man with glasses, a baseball cap, and an unhealthy hatred of stragglers. Despite his terse nature and sheepdog-like ability to herd us around, he is a tightly wound ball of knowledge.
Dendera temple is relative newcomer to Egyptian antiquity, yet is a highly popular tourist destination due to it’s incredible preservation.
The temple is the original site of the Dendera Zodiac. Now housed in the Louvre, this sundial is civilization’s first nod towards astrology.
By now, the heat is all-encompassing, and as the Egyptian guide wipes sweat from his face with an already sodden handkerchief, I make a mental note to make my next visit to Egypt during the winter.
The tour mercifully ends moments later, and we are pointed towards a small cafe on the horizon.
Gripping each other for support, my fiancee and I eventually reach the over-priced watering hole. Deliriously knocking back several bottles of water, life slowly begins to stir within us again.
It is only at this moment, looking across the Temple Complex, that the sheer beauty and mystery hit home.
Did I really see the immaculately carved images of Cleopatra which adorn every pillar, or climb the amazing staircase which spirals to the apex of the temple, and swoops straight down on the other side, mimicking the flight of the falcon God, Horus.
Part of me wanted to go back for another, more refreshed, look.
However, the officious guide chose this exact moment to herd us back onto the wonderfully air conditioned coach.
Returning to the boat for dinner, we are led below deck to an unexpectedly sumptuous restaurant. The buffet meal and free drinks are gratefully attacked from all sides by crimson skinned sightseers.
The return trip is spent slipping in and out of sleep (possibly due to sunstroke and dehydration) on a well-appointed sunlounger at the bow of Le Lotus.
And as my mind regains focus, the night sky changes from pink to purple, to blood red, illuminating the spectacular mountains which framed the start of our voyage, and the resting place of the once-living Gods.

B Johnson

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