Monday, February 25, 2013

The Valley of the Kings and the Pyramids and Sphinx

Here are the images from my iPhone of some of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, across the Nile River from Luxor, Egypt. During the 18th, through 20th Dynasty's, rulers in ancient Egypt dug elaborate tombs for their afterlife. Sixty-three tombs have been discovered so far and they were created over a nearly 500 year period from the 16th to 11th centuries BC. This means that some tombs are over 3,500 years old!

The Valley of the Kings is really a box canyon or a dry wash into the Nile. The ancient Egyptians constructed a diversion canal above the canyon to divert flood water from entering the wash. They anticipated a long history of burials here.

The sign located at the entrance of King Tut's tomb (it was essentially closed on this day for cleaning of the walls and repairs). The tomb was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter and was completely intact having never been looted.

Here are some images from King Ramses 9 tomb. This is a detail of the ceiling near the burial chamber.

The paintings on the walls are well preserved due to the dry climate and their long history of secrecy. Most tombs were not plundered by thieves until the 17th or 18th centuries AD.

Where the burial chamber had been carved out of solid limestone, I saw unmistakable slickensides on a wall - this can be seen in the central part of the photo. Here a small fault had moved down to the left. The orientation of the fault plane suggested to me that this fault became activated when the canyon was cut. The block on the left simply slid down into the open hole of the canyon. I wonder if the ancient Egyptians recognized this as well?

This is the tomb of Seti II and is located at the head of the box canyon. (Note the solid wall of limestone that marks the stream pour-off to the left).

At the entrance to Seti II tomb

At the foot of the final chamber. The ancient Egyptians would often times build pseudo-burial chambers a short way into the tomb entrance. This was done in the hope of tricking future grave robbers into thinking they had reached the treasure. Keeping a tomb secret was very difficult to do since later people usually feel little to no connection to the spiritual  aspects of a persons burial (see Anasazi burial looting in the American Southwest).

A look back down at the sarcophagus

There is a scale model of the valley in the visitor center and one can see the complete layour of the various tombs here.

After leaving Luxor, we took a one-hour flight down to Cairo for a one-day touch-down to see the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza. There was much anticipation for this stop since Cairo has been in the news so much lately. But all was calm. Friday is the hold day of the week in Islam and so the streets were quite empty as we drove through from the airport to the site. As usual, our pilot wanted to give us the best view he could from our seats in the 757.

Approaching Cairo looking southeast. The air quality was pretty good until we passed a huge power plant that was belching out tremendous amounts of pollution. Notice the agricultural patterns along the Nile River.

Our first view of the Pyramids of Giza from the southwest

We came in quite low in the jet...

...and then were virtually on top of them!
A strong wind whipped up this day and the visibility went opaque

Wind-whipped visitors at the Sphinx, carved from solid limestone in front of the Pyramids

Another view. I will have one more posting from this trip Around the World. There was drenching rain in Fes, Morocco and I did not get any photographs. But I will summarize my experiences in the last posting. Check back in a day or so.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Pharoeic Treasures of Luxor, Egypt

At last the big day arrived when we left Tanzania for the country of Egypt. Most everyone was curious if we would be able to visit this recently troubled country but as usual, the reality was so much different from the hype. We found the people in Luxor to be calm, gentle and friendly. Our local guides said the revolution is contained within one and half square kilometers in Cairo. I am so glad we were able to make this stop.

I've been to Cairo and Giza many times but only once before to Luxor. Its archaeological treasures are from a later period in Pharoeic history and thus are more developed and ornate. I was blown away by the temples and frescoes here. I had to take pictures of the Valley of the Kings on my iPhone and I don't yet know how to transfer pictures from the phone to the computer. But the tombs there were marvelous and as soon as I can figure out how to get photos from there, I will share them here.

Heading north we eventually picked up the NIle River flowing through the Nubian Desert

Near the Sudan/Egypt border we saw the Nasser reservoir. This is a huge body of water and is reminiscent of our own Lake Powell. I would love to be down there checking out the shoreline.

Dropping into Luxor Airport it became obvious that this would be a desert scenery treat. These are sedimentary rocks that were greatly utilized by the ancient Egyptians for building materials

The next day, water taxi's came to the dock on the river right in front of out hotel. In ancient Egypt, people lived on the east bank where the sun rises. And they kept their tombs on the west bank where the sun sets. We were going to the west bank and the Valley of the Kings.

The boat I got on was named "Titanic Hmm??

Peaceful cruise up the Nile River near Luxor

Virtually no foreigners are visiting Egypt these days. Here is the parking lot for the renown Valley of the Kings and it is empty. When I was here last time (about 2002) it was filled with Spaniards, French, German, Italian, Russian and Australian tourists. We basically had it all to ourselves. (Note: I will figure out how to transfer images from my phone and when I do this posting will be updated with photos of the tombs).

The tomb of Queen Hatshepsut

The entrance to stunning Hebu Temple

An interior room with massive sandstone columns

Detail of a wall engraving. The number of these features in Habu Temple produced a sense of awe as we kept going into it.

Originally colored frescoes are abundant and here is a vulture depicted on a door jam. The image is about eight feet wide and stands about 15 feet above the viewer.

One happy traveler!

On the way back to the river bank, we made a quick stop at the Colossi of Memnon, built between 1391 and 1353 BC. They are being restored and we saw archaeologists using sonar to locate buried portions of the site.

Time for lunch so we set sail on a series of felucca's on the river. These are fantastic sailing vessels that maneuver the river easily.

We enjoyed lunch while under sail

Afterwards we paid a visit to the Temple of Karnak, easily the most impressive of all of Luxor's treasures (with the possible exception  of the Valley of the Kings).

Two rows of carved sphinx's lead to the inner part of the temple, built as a monument to a triad of Egyptian gods

Impressive columns are seen in the heart of the temple, which was covered while in use with huge sandstone slabs

A granite obelisk standing in Karnak. One was removed by the French in the 19th century and stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Egyptians hope one day it will return. Ancient Egyptians used multiple types of rock to build their civilization. This granite was quarried near Aswan to the south, then transported by boats during the Nile flood to Karnak.

Afternoon crowd at Karnak - likely from a river boat moving through town. This is still just a fraction of the visitation that Egypt normally receives.

Karnak is truly impressive

Our group was treated to an evening dinner in the Temople of Luxor at night after it was closed to the public

Serengeti National Park - Landscapes and Wildlife

Like anyone who has ever visited, I love the Serengeti in Tanzania. The combination of wildlife sightings and landscape scenery is unparalleled. The eye can see across the wide plains and the worlds seems right here.

We begin at the Kilimanjaro Airport with a one-hour charter flight to the park

Our group traveled together to get shots like this

We soon crossed a portion of the East Africa Rift, a place where the earth's crust is being pulled apart such that huge blocks of land are subsiding downward relative to the rift shoulder. This is a view to the south with the high-standing rift shoulder to the right (and covered in vegetation) and the rift valley to the left  covered in brown grass).

Looking out the other window to the north gave us a view of the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano, an active and rather unique volcano that often erupts carbonate lavas. You can read more about it here. This volcano is rising up to the surface along the East African Rift Faults.

Another volcano crater located along the rift zone

We finally arrived at the dirt airstrip and began our safari

It wasn't long before we saw a black faced vervet monkey

My 300 mm lens was able to capture a nice facial expression. More information about these monkeys can be seen here.

We soon came to a Hippopotamus pool where there were about 35 individuals

These grazers stay in the water during the day time but then come out at night to graze on land

They can be quite dangerous but otherwise look very interesting

Nearby, a solitary water buffalo lounges in a the river

Profile of an acacia tree

An old bull elephant came close to our vehicle but then backed off

We were on safari for only one and a half hours and saw all of these animals before sunset. This photo was taken from the deck of my hotel room.

The next morning we saw another water buffalo

Africa is a land of many colorful birds. This is the lilac breasted roller.

We drove far to the south where the short grass prairie is located. This is animal called a tope.

The long drive was taken to see the migration of wildebeast and zebra north to the Massai Mara. Look at how many animals are in the background - all moving northwest this time of year.

It is estimated that 200,000 animals are on the move right now. Naabi Hill in the background.

After lunch two of my tripmates and myself walked to the top of Naabi hill

Here is a female lion we saw sleeping by the side of the road

She had a collar on for scientific tracking. The male was nearby and we saw them mate. Mating in lions goes on for one week.

On the move

Giraffes were plentiful on this trip to the Serengeti

They move gracefully and with their long necks they are perhaps reminiscent of large reptilian herbivores from the Jurassic time period

We found a sleeping leopard high in an acacia tree. These are the most difficult of the big cats to spot since they are solitary in nature.

The baboons were everywhere and so fun to watch. They can be vicious though when threatened.

We saw many infants riding on the backs of their mothers

I took over 400 pictures and this is just a taste of what we saw. A safari is such a great undertaking.