When I decided to travel to Egypt, it was less to know about the history – the pyramids and the pharaohs, but more to witness the unique landscape that this country has to offer, to experience the lifeline of the country- the blue river. The early part of the journey had not disappointed at all – from the city of Cairo to the old mud town of Al-Qasr; from the oases of the west to the amazing white desert. However, I surely was left with appetite for some more adventure.
Arriving at Luxor via a rather obscure route starting from the western oasis of Bahariya was in itself quite exciting – shuttling between vans, buses and trains with practically no other tourists on the way. I couldn’t have complained, after all, this is what I was seeking. Finally, when I arrived at Luxor, the amount of history that I found myself engulfed with was overwhelming. I succumbed to it for a day- to see the ‘mandatory’ sights: the temple of the queen of Hapteshut to the wonderful temple complex of Karnak.
During the next evening, I figured out at the hostel I was staying at that there are Balloon tours on offer in Luxor – there are about 2-3 operators and almost every hotel has contacts with them. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that an hour’s flight cost only about 80 US dollars. I was on a shoe-string budget, but this came across as a great value for the moolah. I presumed that it must have been to do with the lull in tourism that Egypt was experiencing owing to the political revolution.
“Most of the tourists had stayed away owing to the Arab Spring”
This was very apparent during my conversations with people working in the tourism industry – and the staff at the Oasis hostel in Luxor voiced no different opinion. I booked a flight for the next morning.
Booking for a sunrise flight meant a rather awfully early morning. A van picked me up from the hostel and we drove through the eerily silent streets of Luxor at 4 in the morning to a ferry point on the East bank of Luxor. Sitting on a boat on the Nile in the bone chilling coldness of December wasn’t great fun, but the chai on offer was a great relief. Once all the folks were on board, we were transported to the take-off ground on the West Bank. It was quite a sight – some of the balloons had just taken off, some were preparing to – the fiery flames lighting up the myriad colours of the balloons against the purple sky. Soon, hot air was pumped to inflate the canopy, the ropes were let loose and off we took. All eyes were full of anticipation and excitement. A few nervous hearts must have skipped a beat or two when the pilot joked about this being his maiden flight!
On one side the fiery red sun started its journey, and on the other side the temple of Hapteshut seemed to be watching this drama ever so silently. In no time, we were gliding over the paddy fields, the ancient monuments, the burial tombs.
“Within a few minutes, the entire desert landscape transformed from a dull brown to golden-orange, and the shadows became as much a part of the landscape as the objects themselves”
The pilot kept everyone enthralled by his knowledge about the history, especially about the Queen of Hapteshut. It seemed all too short when we started to descend after 45 minutes or so. Seeing us descend, the support staff arrived in a van at the landing spot. Young kids cantered along on donkeys to greet us. Finally, the basket gently caressed the ground, followed by the customary round of bakseesh.