Sunday 19th December 2010
The path from the summit ridge of el-Qurn to the main plateau first descends a ‘col’ between the two high points then winds its way up the other side. The distance turns out to be far less than I had imagined when I first stood on this point in January 2008 which demonstrates how easily the eye can be deceived in desert surroundings. Once up on the plateau I see the first signs of rock shelters which I am to become quite familiar with on my subsequent ventures into the high desert. Beyond these the path becomes more distinct and the walking very pleasant. I am encouraged to see that the GPS waypoints which I had plotted from Google Earth back in the comfort of my study in England match exactly with the features on the ground. The further I venture out into the desert plateau, the more comforting this level of accuracy will be.
After about half an hour’s walking the track approaches the edge of the cliffs, beyond which the desert stretches into seeming eternity. For a while I sit and acclimatize myself to these remarkable surroundings. Immediately below me the hills descend in a succession of terraces to the level floor some 300 metres below. Each rocky terrace ends in vertical cliffs which, like those in the Valley of the Kings, seem to echo the majesty of those ancient rulers who sought their final resting place among these silent ravines. And as my gaze reaches out beyond the cliffs and crags to the wind-blown sands of the western Sahara it is this silence that dominates the scene and gives the desert its peculiar splendour. The sense of calm is palpable. If I were to find God anywhere on Earth it would be in a place like this.
However, back on the track I am soon reminded that I have not yet come far from ‘civilization’. As well as the increasingly-frequent pottery scatters, evidence that people used these tracks over thousands of years, there are one or two signs of what I call ‘landscape vandalism’ where people in much more recent times have scraped up stones from the desert floor to make words and signs that would be visible from the air, if not from space. I had first come across this phenomenon at the Temple of Horus in 2009 and once again the the motives for leaving such a destructive mark on the landscape confound me.
But soon this is temporarily forgotten when I glance down at the GPS and realise that I have joined the ancient “Farshut Road”, the caravan route which for centuries took traders, soldiers and kings across the high desert plateau, thereby cutting off the great obstacle to the northern flow of the Nile now known as the Qena Bend. One day I hope to continue across, a desert trek the length of a marathon. But on this occasion there should be excitement enough from an exploration of one of the high desert ‘wadis’ and, if my desktop plans prove feasible, a return via a circular route to the temples and tombs of Luxor in the valley below.