Chapter 2 : By Train to Luxor, Aswan and back

Modern flats in Cairo

Modern flats in Cairo

The scene is the Alamein House hostel in Cairo, on the morning of Friday the 16th of February 1945, at eight o'clock in the morning.

The three of us had just woken up after a very comfortable night in bed, though once or twice I found my feet wandering out at the bottom, for the bedclothes were not meant for one of my length.

In an unhurried manner we got up, and washed and dressed, also packed our bags for we hoped to be away from Cairo that evening.

At nine o'clock we had our breakfast, and the waiter was a perfect pest, he must have been half Sudanese and half Indian I think, for when he discovered that we were leaving that morning he worried us to death to give him a tip. Unlike the waiters at home who just hang around in the hopes of hinting to you that way that they would like a tip, this one quite openly asked for it, as is the custom with most of them here.

The more that is given to them the more they expect, and most chaps discourage them, also we were coming back to Cairo later on and told him he would have to wait until we had finished our leave.

It was about half past nine when we left the hostel, taking our kit with us, and we went direct to the YMCA where we left our kit and our greatcoats in the luggage room.

The booking office for the tours was very near and we first of all booked our places on the tour that was leaving for Luxor and Aswan that night.

We were to be away about six days in all and the cost to us was just under £10 each, with second class railway fares, everything included. This may seem a lot of money but it was well worthwhile for we would have had to have paid many times that amount in peace time.

Having fixed things up for this alright we went for a walk round the town, making for the Pay Office where I wanted to enquire about Tom White, but we were rather a long while getting there, as on the way we met a couple of chaps who used to be up here and who are now stationed in Cairo.

We stopped talking for a long while, for they had lots of news to tell us and likewise we were able to tell them lots of news about the chaps they used to know up here.

Eventually we arrived at the Pay Office and I went in to enquire. I went to the far end and asked a chap who was coming out of one of the offices, but you can imagine my surprise when he turned round and said to me, "There he is", for Tom was only about six yards away, working at a desk.

I went across and spoke to him, then fetched Ken in as well, and we stopped talking for a while, though of course it could not be long as he was busy with work. Anyway we arranged to meet him the following Wednesday morning in the office when we returned, and in the meantime he was to contact Les Alexander and get him to try and come along as well.

Leaving him we continued our walk round the town and bought a couple of films, at about half the price that they ask for them up here, though some of the shops that we went to were asking just as much.

In a city like Cairo there is always plenty to see even if you are only walking around looking at the shops, and for lunch we made our way to the Victory Club, which is a very pleasant place indeed and much like our own club.

You know how fond I am of salads, well at the club I found that they had green salad on the menu and so I had some for my lunch, to be followed by many more during the following days. It was appreciated very much for we do not very often get them up here in the Mess.

That afternoon we went for a walk out from the city to the Nile and walked across the English Bridge to the far side, meeting some more chaps on the way who we knew up here at one time.

Coming back into town again we went to the YMCA where I wrote a lettercard, then we had some tea there for we had a long journey in front of us that night.

While having tea we met yet another chap who had been posted from here only a few days before and was on his way through to Benghazi.

He had his brother with him, and they were spending the day together before the one from here went on his way up the desert.

Collecting our kit, we joined the rest of the party and at six o'clock we drove off to the station in a bus which was conspicuous by its newness and modern stream-lining.

Arrived at the station we waited at the booking office while our tickets were bought for us, and it was while waiting there that I noticed a chap in the party who I felt convinced I had seen before.

On speaking to him, it transpired that he had been working up here in one of the offices for a while some time ago, and so that made another friend in the party.

Our dragoman put us four in a compartment and said that we would not have any more than that, but the train was packed and we finished up by having eight in each compartment, so that there was very little room to move.

The night was uneventful, for the train rolled steadily on, stopping now and again at a station but it was dark and we could not see very much, so most of us took to reading for a while, and then we tried to snatch odd moments of sleep, with our heads nodding forward, but I was glad of my greatcoat and blanket as it was very cold around two and three in the morning.

It was half past seven in the morning when we arrived at Luxor station, and we left it by walking along the platform to a bridge by which we crossed the rails and then out onto a road through the station booking office, which was a rather dark and shabby looking place.

Waiting outside were a number of gharries drawn by very thin and seedy looking horses.

In one of these I was taken through the streets of hard earth, with typical shabby looking Egyptians house on either side, to the Hotel Familia.

It was quite a nice place that some Egyptians had taken over and tried to run on Western lines, making quite a good job of it, but falling down in some things, when their own habits crept in. The mainstay of the place were the Sudanese servants who were well trained in western manners and methods.

Having unpacked our things and got cleaned up we again entered the gharries and were driven out to the ancient city of Karnak.

Karnak: Medinet Habu

Karnak: Medinet Habu temple ruins

The morning was spent in looking around here and for me to describe it all in its full detail would take a very long time and many pages, so I will not attempt it here, but will give you a brief idea of the things that we saw, and leave you to see for yourself with the aid of the photographs I will send, just what things are like.

First of all we entered by the gateway of Euergetes which was erected by Ptolemy III in BC 222, and now I'll just list the other things there which we saw.

Karnak: Temple of Khonsu

Karnak: the interior of the Temple of Khonsu

The most outstanding is the Temple of Khonsu which was started by Ramses III in BC 1167 and later completed by Pharaoh Herhor (ex High Priest) in BC 1085, who was responsible for the inscriptions and reliefs on the walls and columns.

Karnak: the Court

Karnak: the Court and colossal figures of Ramses III as Osiris

The Temple of Amen-ra was not completed at any one particular time, for parts were built by many different people but the dates vary widely, the earliest being about BC 1580 and the latest BC 304.

Many different buildings were built on the sites of others that had crumbled or been destroyed and the temple of Ptah and Hathor is one, that was completed about BC 23.

Karnak temple ruins

Karnak temple ruins

Another example of work carried on through the years is the courtyard at the side entrance to the temple of Amen-ra which was built in the reigns of the Pharaohs.

Near this is the sacred lake of the temple of Amen-ra which still has water in it, but time and weather have left their mark as everywhere else.

Two of the Pharaohs temples are those of Amenophis II and Mut, both of which are in ruins, and even they used the stones from earlier temples to build theirs.

Karnak obelisks

Karnak: the two obelisks of the Queen Hatshepsut and her father Thotmes I

There is much much detail that I could tell you about the size, shape etc., of each archway or statue, but it would take me weeks, so sufficient to say that we spent the morning seeing all these things, in weather that was really hot and by midday I had taken off my tie, undone my collar and my jacket.

For lunch we returned in the gharries to the hotel and changed into KD, which I was very glad we had brought with us.

On our way back to the hotel at lunch time we drove down the avenue of sphinx from Karnak to Luxor, which contained a thousand in all, five hundred on each side, though most of them have been defaced long ago.

Karnak: the avenue of sphinx

Karnak: the avenue of sphinx

After lunch we walked through a part of the town to the river Nile and to the Luxor temple, on the way to which we stopped to have our photographs taken and I am enclosing a copy of this so that you will be able to see the party that we were with. My best way to describe to you the things here, is to take the town first and then the temple.

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