Abydos: Visit an underrated jewel in the Nile Valley
As previously reported, I was lucky to meet a German woman in one of the minor sites on the West Bank on my short trip to Luxor, we started talking, and before I knew it I had a neat individual itinerary of Nile Valley sights complete with private taxi.
And if I had to do it again, I would travel individually again. We were bound to the convoy times (Egypt operated a convoy system for all road travel involving tourists between 1997 and 2008, with no nighttime travel allowed), but apart from that, I was free to start the trip whenever I wanted, go wherever I wanted, and it was still cheaper than a tour. One of the first things that woman said to me was “You MUST visit Abydos”.
Abydos? Never heard of it. And I DID read the guidebook fairly well.
Since she travelled to Luxor three weeks every year, she probably knew what she was talking about. Also, this trip allowed for a more leisurely wake-up call around 8:00, breakfast 08:15, meeting time 08:30 and convoy at 09:00 – meaning we would roast in Abydos, but hey – the pool and garden would have to wait.
Since most vehicles on this convoy travelled to Hurghada, the major Red Sea resort, it was a huge one, but two or three cars took a different turn in Qena, straight into another checkpoint, then on to Abydos. There wasn’t really a lot to do or see in Abydos, and even the temple (another one dedicated to Ramesses II) looked quite modest from the outside. Besides the other three cars in our convoy, there were just a few people there, mostly in cars, minivans an the very most. There was a small cafe, a souvenir stall, the entrance booth – and a lot of military/police, some on camels, surrounding the site. Back then, I was relatively unbothered by it, because there had been some unrest around Qena in previous years, so seeing the government protect the tourist business (or for whatever other reason) made me feel quite safe – also, most incidents with foreigners occurred in major tourist areas of which Abydos certainly isn’t one.
Abydos became a cult place for the god Osiris and venue of the annual Osiris Mysteries during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt – there are remnants of the Great Temple of Osiris for those hardcore Egyptologists. The main attraction mostly is the Funerary Temple of Seti I and the somewhat mysterious Osireion.
Another (smaller) fan crowd might be here because of Omm Seti, a British former keeper of the temple who believed she had been an ancient Egyptian priestess but also made many contributions to Egyptian archaeology. You can read more about on Wikipedia – and don’t be too surprised when you come across people lying prostrate in the temple – perhaps one way to appreciate the spirit of the place and not a problem at all here.
So, the temple… its all covered, so being there in the middle of the day, unlike Luxor or Karnak, is not a problem. Every corner you turn, there are intricate, extremely well preserved bas-reliefs and some wall paintings, but what really sticks to the mind are the amazing bas-reliefs. Because the site was not crowded, one could move around relatively easily and take photographs without flash (which explains my crappy pictures with my first-generation amateur DSLR).
The temple area is really well guarded!
As you get closer, you can see that the upper part of the temple is reconstructed – giving an idea what it looked like (reminds me a bit of early modernist style, that one), protecting the artwork, and giving much- appreciated shelter from the sun.
Again, the convoy times here were so that there was plenty time to explore for the average and somewhat interested traveller – and a couple of simple cafes just outside with soft drinks for those preferring to sit in the (somewhat harsh) sun.
We drove back some time in the afternoon, also by convoy. There was also enough time to spend at the Temple of Hathor in Dendara, of which, still in awe of the splendours of Abydos, I have no detailed memory on. I was slightly late for my afternoon read and swim in the Winter Palace Garden, but made it back in good time for dinner. Even with no convoy system at the time of writing, I would recommend to be back in Luxor well before nightfall, as the Hurghada to Luxor Road is considered dangerous: many cars drive without headlight as not to stir bandits that may operate at night… thankfully, I have no personal experience, but you can see a bit more in the category “Roads you would never drive on” on YouTube.
If you have been to Abydos more recently, please let me know what it’s like now to visit. If you travel to Egypt, I highly recommend you visit this amazing site as an alternative to very busy Luxor and Karnak temples. Its a bit of a journey, but so worth it!
Flights: I flew from London Heathrow to Luxor and back on Egyptair, booked through a consolidator, and booked my Luxor to Abus Simbel flight on Egyptair.
Accommodation: Once in Luxor, I stayed at the Sofitel Winter Palace Hotel, booked through a hotel booking website. Before you get too excited, bear in mind that the Winter Palace then had three buildings: a beautiful historical wing (Old Winter Palace), a 1975 Soviet Style “New Winter Place Wing” (demolished in 2008) and a 1990’s Pavilion Wing. Both the Old Winter Palace and the pavilion Wing are four-to five-star, the New Wing was three-star. Guess which one I stayed in! The good thing back then was that they were sharing pools and garden, so they were beautiful and five-star standard. You find both high-end and mid-range places at the Corniche, where I recommend you stay. If you do a lot of sightseeing, try to stay close to Luxor temple, as this is where the ferry to the West Bank departs. Back in 2007, I also liked the laid-back and pretty untouristy atmosphere of the West Bank Village, which, I was told, was very “up and coming”. I wonder what it is like now? Has any one stayed there?
Local Transport: For the West Bank, usually the frequent public ferry in the early mornings, then I haggled long enough with a taxi driver of one of the many waiting taxis at the ferry pier to take me wherever I wanted and wait, then take me to the next place. Usually went well without any involuntary detours to alabaster factories.
For longer trips, I always hired the same taxi from a relative of a relative that someone knew… In short, I met a German woman in one of the temples who went here every year and knew people, so she helped me find a good driver from one of her many acquaintances.
The Winter Palace is in good walking distance to the train station, and I took the train from Aswan to Luxor once. I felt very safe in a second-class carriage as a lone Western woman.
Can’t remember if there is public transport within Luxor, I don’t think there was back then.
PS: I travelled to Luxor as an individual in 2007, in what I consider a relatively safe period between large-scale tourist attack of 1997 and the Egypt Revolution of 2011. I never had any concerns for my safety whatsoever while I was there. At the time of writing, both the German and the UK Foreign offices have partial travel warnings for Egypt in place. I recommend you check with your foreign office concerning safety in Egypt.