Egypt's well-trodden attractions can still stun the traveler
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From the massive columns of the hypostyle hall, constructed to make men think they were walking through the gods' papyrus marsh, to the great obelisks of Queen Hatshepsut, Egypt's first woman pharaoh, the temple can seem a little awesome. A nightly sound and light show helps put the temple in perspective.Skip to next paragraph
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There are 57 tombs in the barren Valley of the Kings, including that of King Tut. The tombs here and those in the Valley of the Queens are primarily empty rooms tunneled underground. Yet the hieroglyphics and paintings decorating the walls tell fascinating stories of the lives of the pharaohs and their times.
Anyone planning a trip to Egypt should invest some time in brushing up on ancient Egyptian history. Even a rudimental knowledge will help sort out which of Egypt's 300 pharaohs built this particular temple, or which deity was considered most powerful at a particular period. This background, together with an experienced tour guide who can decipher some of the hieroglyphics, can make the 4,500-year-old monarchs and their times come alive. Otherwise, after a few days of temple-hopping, one pharaoh-temple-statue-hieroglyphic begins to look much like the next.
A book I found quite helpful is ''A Complete Guide to Egypt and the Archaeological Sites,'' by A. Hoyt Hobbs and Joy Adzigian (William Morrow & Co., New York, 1981).
It would be a shame to get carried away just speeding from temple to monument in Egypt. Strolling along the Nile, or sitting on its banks in Luxor or Aswan, is delightful. Graceful feluccas, or Egyptian sailboats, glide against a background of rolling hills and desert - a restful and beautiful sight.
The final ''must see'' in Egypt is the temple of Abu Simbel. The temples of Ramses II the Great and that of his wife, Queen Nefretari, were intended to scare warring tribes from the Sudan into thinking twice about invading Egypt. The four imposing statues of Ramses at the temple's entrance stand over 65 feet high. And for decades, foreign tribes did think twice about invading.
The Aswan High Dam, 200 miles downstream on the Nile, posed a greater threat to Abu Simbel in the 1960s than the marauding Sudanese ever did. The rising waters of Lake Nasser threatened to inundate the temple.
An international effort saved the monument. Engineers cut it into blocks, moved it to higher ground, and built a mountain behind it to preserve its original appearance.
There is only one way to get to Abu Simbel, and the traveler begins to feel like he's been on a cattle drive by the time it's over. One is herded onto a bus , driven to the airport, herded onto an Egyptair jet, flown to Abu Simbel, herded off the plane and onto another bus which takes you to the temple.
He then stands in two lines to buy tickets and sets off to find a tour guide who speaks his language. He is shown the temples, as well as the engineering marvels which moved the temple to its present location. Then he's herded back on the bus and begins the process in reverse. The entire round-trip operation takes only about 21/2 hours.
After waiting for hours in the Egyptair reservations office and looking at forlorn tourists struggling to find a room, it became clear that the best way to visit Egypt is on a package tour. The logistics of traveling here, combined with the language barrier, will make you glad you did.
A tour leader should also see that you are set up with a competent guide, and may even help fend off some of the scarab hawkers.
Although many reasonably priced tours are available from the United States, be sure not to scrimp too much on the tour price. There is a great difference between deluxe and first-class hotels.