This is a long review but a shorter one will not do either Aswan-Individual or Aswan and Luxor justice.
So after lots of research for our Aswan / Luxor leg of our trip we zeroed in on Aswan-individual and mailed them with our requirements. Petra Dressler who helps Aswan Individual with their emails and interacts with the clients was extremely prompt and clear with her email responses, which was a big plus. She also had some great advice. We had entrusted Aswan Individual the responsibility of looking after us from Airport pickup to airport drop and everything in between except for the hotels in both Aswan and Luxor.
Waleed is the person in charge of Aswan Individual in Egypt. Waleed is the facilitator and the guide he had chosen – Eslam was really out of this world. He was young but extremely knowledgeable and passionate about Egypt. He was not like guest of our family but our family for the 4 days we were with him.
The charges and tariffs of Aswan Individual work like this – it’s not per person but for a group of anywhere between 1 to 6 persons or maybe more and includes the van, driver and guide and you pay for all the entry tickets. Other tourists are not put with you. There are no hidden costs, parking charges, airport toll, other toll, driver lunch etc. No personal sob stories to make you part with money. All of them are through professionals. Most importantly their tours are all private and you can modify, reschedule or change the itinerary, as you will read about little later, and you can spend more time at an attraction which interests you and lesser time at an attraction which does not appeal to you as much.
We left Cairo at 11.30 AM and Waleed picked us up from the airport and onto the hotel on Thursday. Had lunch and Waleed left after he introduced us to the Captain of the Felucca on which we spent a magical 2 hours during sunset.
Went across to the Philae Temple Sound and Light show in the evening. Waleed picked us up from the hotel, we drove to the boat Jetty where he negotiated with the boatman for a return trip to Philae Temple and left informing us that the van would be parked and waiting for us at the jetty on our return. According to me none of the Sound and Light shows in Egypt should be missed as all of them are remarkable.
Next day morning (Friday) Waleed came over and introduced us to Eslam our guide and left us with him. We went to the Unfinished Obelisk, the Philae Temple and the High Dam and later onto the Cruise boat.
Waleed’s forte is in locating and booking cruise boats with last minute deals and he was overjoyed that he had got us a great cruise boat at a very reasonable price. Waleed accompanied us and checked us in to the cruise boat. We were in time for lunch as scheduled and the food was good too. The cabin was nice and comfortable with a full length sliding window. Waleed wanted to know how Eslam was and we gave him a thumbs up. We asked Waleed if Eslam would be our guide in Luxor too and he answered in the affirmative provided we were happy with him which we were.
We set sail and reached Edfu that evening.
Kom Ombo Temple was not open due to some demonstrations and we could not go there which was a bit of a disappointment.
Eslam was waiting for us at Edfu on Saturday Morning at 7.30 AM and we took a caleche to and from the Edfu Temple and back to the boat to sail to Luxor via the Esna Lock. Fortunately Eslam also got onto the boat with us in a separate cabin when we returned from Edfu Temple. We reached Luxor by about 5PM and as we were free doing nothing checked with Esalm if we could do the Karnak Temple Sound and Light Show that evening instead of the next evening and he was most willing and also happy. He set up everything - Van, Driver etc in a very short while and we were able to go across for the Sound and Light show at Karnak Temple. On the way back to the boat we stopped off at supermarket and then to KFC for a take away as it was past dinner time on the boat and went back to the boat by around 10.30. That everybody was so accommodating for even small things was what was most appreciated by us.
Sunday morning we checked out of the boat after breakfast with the luggage kept in the Van and off to Colossi of Memon and Deir el-Bahari. After this we went to the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Kings consists of 62 tombs as also the newly discovered 3 tombs so a total of 65 tombs. Out of the 62 to 65 tombs details of only about 29 to 30 are known. The others are of unknown ownership. Eslam took us to the best tombs in his opinion which were (1) KV - 15 The Tomb of Sety II, (2) KV - 14 The Tomb of Tausert/ Setnakht, (3) KV - 3 The tombs of Rameses III and KV - 62 The Tomb of Tutankhamen. The entry ticket is for any 3 tombs of your choice barring the closed ones for repairs / restoration. The entry to The Tomb of Tutankhamen has a separate charge of 100EGP per person.
For the Valley of the Queens similarly the entry ticket is for 3 tombs (1) The Tomb of Amen Khopshef Son of Rameses III (2) The Tomb of Kha_Em Wast & (3) Seth-her-khopsef, son of Rameses III. We were allowed into one more unnamed tomb by the ever obliging and smiling security which was under restoration after which we drove to visit Medinat Habu. Awesome!!
We wanted a small rest but were free in the evening so asked Eslam for suggestions and he suggested we go across to the Luxor Temple in the evening which would be illuminated instead of visiting it the next day morning. We agreed and it was a great decision. The temple all lit up and was magnificent. We strolled across to the Luxor Souk afterwards to shop for some trinkets and a book shop to pick up some books about the Valley of the Kings.
Next day (Monday) we had only the Karnak temple to visit which we finished off pretty early in the morning and the Itinerary which as discussed with Petra was completed with a day to spare. So we again turned to Eslam. After little discussion with Eslam we decided to do the Tombs of the Nobles and later that evening, go over to the Luxor Museum.
Aren’t we glad that we did the tombs of the Nobles. Some of them were in much better condition than those in the Valley of the Kings and the Queens - very colourful and extremely well preserved. We visited the Tomb of Sennofer, Tomb of Rekhmire, Tomb of Userhat and the Tomb of Ramose. If you want to see some wonderful pictures of these Tombs, Google for images of the Tomb of Sennofer with its vine leaf paintings on the roof and walls.
You will find the maximum crowd at the Valley of the Kings followed by the Valley of the Queens and very few at the Tombs of the Nobles. Photography is not allowed in any of the tombs and the guides are also not allowed inside to reduce the no of people in the tombs. The guide usually explains what you will see before hand at a particular tomb and after you come out will answer any questions you have.
We make it a point to eat the food of the locals whenever we travel and that was what we were doing on the entire trip rather than eat at the hotel except for breakfast out of necessity and my daughter asked Eslam if there was a Shawarma place on the way back to hotel in the afternoon and after consulting with the driver took us to the place a little distance from our Hotel. Both Eslam and the Driver were glad to go a little bit out of the way for us and these small things made us feel really nice.
We went across to the Luxor Museum by around 5.15Pm but were surprised to find it closed. They had recently decided to close the museum early on a temporary basis on instructions from Cairo. This was the only glitch in our entire Itinerary.
Eslam was feeling really bad and apologised numerous times and we had to keep insisting that it was not his fault and he could not be responsible for the museum being closed. He refused to take any payment for the Museum tour even though the driver and van came to our hotel, picked us up and then dropped us back to the hotel.
Eslam left the same evening back to Aswan and we all were missing him as he had become part of our family during the very short time we were together.
On a lighter note - when we first met, Eslam could not pronounce my name and asked me if he could call me Carter after Howard Carter I presume and that’s what he referred to me the entire time he was with us – Mr. Carter!! (For the uninitiated he is the one who discovered the Tomb of King Tutankhamen the only Tomb ever discovered with nearly everything inside intact. And you will hear his name a lot in Egypt)
The next day morning the van was there waiting to drop us to the Luxor Airport and so ended one of the best holidays me and my family have had.
It’s not that that I am singing praises only of Eslam. Waleed was in constant touch with Eslam, the tour van driver as well as the tour company in Luxor and the Cruise boat. I was very much aware of his frequent interactions (at least 4 or 5 times a day) with Eslam as well as the Driver and tour Company as I was able to pick up bits and pieces of their conversation in Arabic. He was behind the scenes orchestrating everything so that we would have a great time. He was the facilitator and is the star behind the scenes and responsible for our having a great time.
Last but not the least - nothing of the above would have been possible without Petra. She was the unseen heroine whom we did not have a chance to meet.
The people of Egypt are really warm and they welcome you literally with open arms. We only hope that all their political troubles come to an end shortly and they get as their leader a visionary of a country that goes right back to the beginning of civilization. The Egyptians are a people who created some of the great masterpieces which mankind is today so proud of and maybe they will do so again.
As the introduction to the Karnak Temple Sound and Light Show says
“O traveller you will travel no further because you have come. You are at the beginning of time.”
So yes, in Egypt we did feel that for a few days we had travelled back to the beginning of time thanks to a hassle free efforts of the Aswan Individual team.
We’ll miss all the wonderful people we met in Egypt.
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