Thursday, December 1st, 2005 Visiting the tombs of the Kings….
Up at 4:00 am, yes another early morning, we left shortly after 5:00 by motor boat to cross the Nile for our Sunrise Breakfast at a farm on the West Bank of the Nile River. They had created a very large room by placing huge rugs on the ground and hung carpets on frames to create an Arabian style room that was open on the side facing east and overlooking the river. We were seated at low tables and sat on short stools during the meal. During breakfast we enjoyed the brilliant sunrise over the city of Luxor and then walked to the farmhouse for a visit with the farmer and his family. Amazing to see T.V.’s and refrigerators, wiring is hung on the walls with little effort to hide the wires, and then extremely poor living conditions in the same room. The barn was attached to the house as though it was the “garage”. Animals were running in and out of the house along with many grandchildren of his eight daughters and one son. Several generations lived together in this farmhouse. Off through the mud past the cornfield we found our bus that had been backed into the area to take us out and on our way. I noticed the bus driver had put down cardboard in the aisle for us to walk on. Maybe we were bringing more than mud into the bus!
We noticed during this visit that in looking at nearby buildings you could see exactly where the stairs were in each house. The concrete floors were built first and then the walls filled in with bricks leaving the outline of the stairs very visible. There is no need for insulation because of the temperatures and they don’t add any paint or stucco over the brick walls. And as usual the roof is open with expansion room for future use. The top floor acts as the roof until another floor is added. The house had running water inside but I noticed a small boy priming a pump in the yard to obtain water for the animals.
We were already on the West Bank and continued to the Valley of the Kings. There are sixty four known tombs of Kings and we were allowed to visit three of the ones that are currently open with our entry tickets. We entered the area by tram cars and then walked all the way to Tomb # 34 of Tuthmosis III. It’s located at the far end and high up on a cliff and is one of the oldest in the valley. Once we’d entered the tomb we then descended several levels down into the tomb to reach the burial chamber. The walls were still decorated with painted rows of figures portraying the Book of Amduat and there was a red granite sarcophagus in the burial chamber. It was very warm inside plus we had just climbed up ninety-eight feet of stairs on a warm day before entering the tomb. So, I was very happy to accept the piece of cardboard offered by a guard when I entered to use as a fan while I was inside. I was surprised when I returned it to the guard on the way out and he indicated that he expected a tip. Never ceases to amaze me at the ways they can continue to find ways to get money out of us on this trip. At this point Jim and I split up and each went our own ways. He takes too long…likes to really study the walls! Me, I’m in and out just like a good book! I’m looking for overall effect only.
I went down to visit Tomb # 11 of Ramses III which turned out to be the grandest of the Ramesside Tombs that was open that day. The walls are decorated with colorful reliefs including scenes taken from everyday Egyptian life. Then I enjoyed a special treat by paying the extra fee to visit Tomb # 62 of Tutankhamur or better known as King Tut. This is the most popular and the only way to enter is by purchasing a separate ticket at the entrance to the valley for seventy Egyptian Pounds or about $14.00. Very small and some of the walls were unfinished. The unique aspect is that the burial chamber actually contains the king’s body inside of the gilded coffin. And that room was completely decorated with scenes depicting the “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony.
My next and last visit was to Tomb # 1 of Ramses VII. The colors on the walls were vivid but it was a small tomb and easy to visit. Jim ended up getting into five different tombs. He saw the three he was allotted and then borrowed Carol’s ticket for a fourth one as she was not feeling well and decided to quit early. And his fifth one was a small bribe to the guard for entry without a ticket! The one that he really enjoyed was his visit to Tomb # 2 of Ramses IV. Contrary to protocol, Rita went in with him and gave him a private tour explaining the various scenes on the walls. A bit of a reward for always being there with the right answer due to his work at the Bower’s Museum. After braving the vendors we returned to our bus and headed for the Valley of the Queens.
The Valley of the Queens has eighty tombs of Queens and royal children but only a handful are open at any one time. Unfortunately, the most famous is that of Queen Nefertari, and it was closed during our visit. We toured Tomb # 55 of Amunherkhepshep (son of Ramses III) which was the highlight of the Valley of the Queens until the reopening of Nefertari’s tomb. Our next one was Tomb # 44 of Khaemwaset, another infant son of Ramses III. And the last one was Tomb # 52 of Queen Titi.
Next on our list today was an Alabaster Shop where we watched students learning the art of creating works of art out of alabaster stone. And, of course, we were given the opportunity to purchase some of their beautiful wares inside the shop. Some were considering purchasing vases until they found out that water dissolves the stone. Definitely designed for dry flowers and yes, they did go ahead with the purchase even after learning that important piece of information! I learned the hard way when I washed some doves made of alabaster several years ago…the feathers disappeared!
Our next stop was at the sixty foot statutes of Amenhotep III that we’d seen from our Hot Air Balloon. They were even more impressive on the ground. At this point Jim, Kevin and Josef met their car and driver for a more extensive tour including the Valley of the Nobleman where they toured the tombs of both Sennefer (# 96) and Rekhmire (# 100). The rest of us enjoyed a visit in a private home that was built by a man who was determined to convince the people to move out of the tombs that they were living in. He built a whole village complete with a Mosque and eventually the people came to live there with him. The construction of the house was very unusual as it was built without a foundation and the walls were very thick, similar to the adobe walls in old California homes. The man who now lives in the home with his family worked for the architect and was rewarded for his loyalty with a gift of the home for his long years of service.
Finally, we were back at the hotel where we enjoyed lunch on our own. Jim and the guys arrived by 2 pm. Time enough for some R&R before our next adventure that began at 3:45pm.
This is our last day in Luxor and to celebrate they’d arranged a sunset (like we really needed another one) sail in a Felucca on the Nile River. We were provided with our choice of beverage and a wonderful view. Along the banks we watched as children played among the camels and donkeys while watching the crazy tourists. Remember those funny looking oars…the wind died completely and some of the Feluccas were being towed by motor boats and others, like us, furled the sails and manned the oars for a slow ride home. Josef took the tiller so that both of the boat hands could provide the power with their oars and we had a slow but steady trip back to the east bank and our hotel. We took advantage of arriving early and walked through the very staid and richly decorated Old Winter Palace lobby. We’re staying at the New Winter Palace next door. We almost didn’t get in as we were still wearing shorts from our sailing outing.
Dinner was a BBQ Buffet at our hotel. We were all surprised when the D.J. and two singers were dressed in Western clothes and sang mostly country western songs. We eventually started to dance and Paul (who hadn’t walked for a year after having his ankles fused) surprised us all by cutting a rug on a few numbers. No one stayed very long…we had another early morning for our flight to Cairo.