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September 2018 Tour Day 4

Valley of the Kings

With breakfast out of the way and a fresh supply of cold water on board, we set off for the world’s most famous cemetery. Here, again, the Luxor Pass really came into its own, not only could we visit the tomb of Seti I, but also any of the other tombs that were open. With 11 tombs open, here was another good return on the pass price.

Seeing as there were already several tour buses in the parking area, we elected to hit the most famous first, before it got too busy. Strikingly different from the other royal tombs in the valley, Tutankhamun’s is cramped and gives the impression that it was finished in a hurry. As always, we drew a small crowd as we talked through who was who in the wall paintings, and what the hieroglyphs said.

Next door and next on the list was the long descent into KV8, the tomb of Merenptah. On the other side of the valley was Seti I, and for sheer majesty alone, I don’t think this tomb can be beaten, with possibly the exception of that of Queen Nefertari.

Back across the valley to the other side of KV62 lies the joint tomb of Ramses V and VI, here one cannot help but be awed at the sight of the huge anthropoid sarcophagus that lies at the end of this traditionally straight Rameside tomb, even in its somewhat broken state.

Ramses III, for me, along with KV14, Tausert and Setnakht, is one of the most beautiful tombs in the valley. Maybe it is the contrast of the rich colours against the white background. Close to KV14, lie the resting places of Seti II and Siptah.

There was still time to do Ramses IX, before visiting KV1 and KV2 as we headed off in search of lunch. By popular consent it was a return to the Ramasseum Rest House and the Abd el Rasoul family kitchen.

Western Valley

After lunch we headed back to the Valley of the Kings, this time taking the road off to the right and up the Western Valley. Ostensibly we were going to see the tomb of Ay, the successor to Tutankhamun, but there was tacit understanding that we would all keep an eye out for whatever was going on in the way of the current dig happening under the watchful eye of Dr Zahi Hawass. Plenty of signs of recent activity, but nothing really to report other than a tent and some chairs. We all wait with bated breath for next year. On the way out we stopped off at WV25, possibly the beginnings of a royal tomb for the young Amenhotep IV. We also paid a visit to the entrance to the closed final resting place of Tutankhamun’s grandfather.

 

All this Amarna family related activity reminded us that the Aten was slowly sinking behind the mountains and it was time for the pool and something cold.

September 2018 Tour Day 3

Day 3 started with a split in our company as our last arrival needed to get her Luxor Pass, which meant a trip across the river to the offices behind the museum. Although it was nice and cool on the water, the general temperature was still in the 40s. The Luxor Pass process was quick and painless, and with our coffers refilled from the neighbouring ATM, we set off in search of the rest of the gang.

The Ramasseum

Not wishing to waste anyone’s time, we had sent them ahead to the mortuary temple of Ramses the Great. The Ramasseum, so named by Champollion, is another vast monument to the glory of this particular king. The fallen statue that lies by the second pylon would have stood 62 feet high. As with most of the Ramses the Great buildings, much is made of the Battle of Kadesh. Going further into the body of the temple, you cannot help but let your eye be drawn up the towering columns with their depictions of the erstwhile king making offerings to the entire panoply of mortuary deities.

The Abd el-Rasoul Family

Magnificent though the Ramasseum is, I couldn’t help but wonder if somewhere the ka of Ramses II is not a bit put out that the temple just down the road at Medinet Habu, that of Ramses III, is, perhaps, the more impressive.Having re-joined as a group, the next place to visit was the Ramasseum Rest House for a spot of lunch. Upon wandering inside, we were amazed to see all sorts of photographs of Howard Carter and Sheik Hussein Abd el Rasoul, the young water-boy made famous by the picture of him wearing one of Tutankhamun’s necklaces. All was explained when the owner revealed himself to be the son of the young boy who supposedly had noticed the first step on that day back in November 1922. What a pleasure and indeed an honour to be waited on by the son of such a legend, and of course the great grandson of one of the infamous Abd el Rasoul family of tomb robbers.

Tombs of the Nobles

Lunch over, it was time to cross the road and begin the walk up the slopes of the Qurna hillside. The tombs of the Nobles are scattered over a wide area and number in their hundreds, so with that in mind, plus the ongoing heat, we settled for a handful.

Ramose, Nakht, Menna, Sennefer, all well-known figures in and around Thebes during the New Kingdom, and their tombs reflect this. Perhaps tombs is somewhat of a misnomer as they seem to contain so much emphasis on life rather than death. The royal tombs and their associated mortuary temples are about the funerary process, and the importance of the deceased king in his relationship with the gods in the hereafter, while the Nobles tombs, and to a degree, the tombs at Deir el-Medina are about celebration, about keeping alive what made the tomb owner in life, and so we see scenes of the everyday; the sowing, the harvest, making beer or wine. We see the festivity of the burial, not the mortuary functions. It is important to remember that these so-called tombs, although housing the body of its owner, usually in a deep shaft somewhere in the back, were kept open, and were visited by the family and friends of the deceased to celebrate the now justified occupant and the cult of him and his life.

DB320

It was getting late and some of us needed to cross the river for certain items not readily available on the West Bank. We opted to take the National ferry rather than a private boat, and it was refreshing to travel with and in the style of the locals.

While we were crossing the river, others of our party, no doubt inspired by meeting a member of the Abd el Rasoul clan, had elected to make the long hike in search of DB320, the site of the important mummy cache from 1881.

Tut Ankh Amoun

We all met back in the foyer of our hotel at 7pm, and set out on foot, south along the river bank in search of the highly regarded Tut Ankh Amoun restaurant. As we stepped off the pavement onto a dimly lit dusty road, I couldn’t help but hear the uncertainty behind me, but soon we saw the sign. Up a few stairs and we found the restaurant with its splendid view across the river and one of the finest meals you could ask for.

 

September 2018 Tour Day 2

Colossi of Memnon

With our number bolstered by the first of our late arrivals, we set out for the Valley of the Queens. Armed with ice-cold water we set off in our minibus taxi up though the villages, past the Colossi of Memnon. It was great to see just how much of the layout of Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple has been uncovered since I was last here.

Valley of the Queens

A few minutes later we were at the parking area before what was known in ancient times as “The Place of Beauty”. As we disembarked, the heat hit us like a sledgehammer, and it is at that moment that you realise that you are now in the desert, and that not much stands between you and the Atlantic Ocean but sun-scorched rock and sand.

Our Luxor Passes got us through the security checkpoint with ease, and after collecting our photo passes, we set off up the valley. There are only a handful of open tombs in the Valley of the Queens, but each one is interesting in its own right. First stop was the tomb of Prince Khaemwaset, one of the sons of Ramses III. For most of the group this was their introduction to a royal tomb and the looks of disbelief were great to see. It is one thing to see pictures or videos of theses artistic wonders, but to stand in one and realise that what is in front of you was commissioned several thousand years ago is something else entirely.

Although the tomb of Nefertari was the big prize, we left that to last, and moved on to the tomb of Queen Tyti, a wife of Ramses III, and probably the mother of Ramses IV. Another prince, Amun-her-khepeshef, another son of Ramses III. The walls show the young prince being led by his father into the presence of the gods. Next up, QV66, the final resting place of Nefertari, Great Royal Wife to Ramses the Great. This magnificent tomb has been hailed as the finest in the whole Theban necropolis, and its beauty and vibrant colours are simply breath-taking. This was a return on our Luxor Pass investment.

Deir el-Medina

Leaving the Valley of the Queens, our next stop was on the other end of the social scale as we were heading for the worker’s village of Deir el-Medina. A short trek over the hillside, past the rock-cut shrine to Ptah and Meretseger, seemed a better option than the easier, but much longer, road route, especially considering the heat. We soon arrived at the rest stop overlooking the ancient village. This was home to the craftsmen who actually built the tombs, who laboured away, cutting through the rock, plastering the walls and crafting out the splendid decorations of these hallowed spaces for their kings and queens. This UNESCO World Heritage Site carries one of the best documented accounts of community life in the ancient world, spanning almost four hundred years. Just behind the rest stop lies the glorious tomb of Sennedjem and his family. The Ministry of Antiquities has recently opened more tombs for general viewing, for example, the tomb of Amennakht, plus the temple of Hathor at the northern end of the village is worth a visit.

Lunch was calling, and it was a reasonable walk from the village to the front of Medinet Habu, where we were welcomed by the genial host of the Café & Restaurant Maratonga.

Medinet Habu
Medinet Habu is the mortuary temple of Ramses III. Its walls carry more than 7,000 m2 of decorated reliefs detailing the king’s military campaigns against would-be invaders from the north, in particular the Sea Peoples. It is interesting to note that the original entrance is through a gate house, very much in the style of the Asiatic migdols of the period. The temple is probably the best preserved on the West Bank and its interior decorations are superb, especially higher up towards the remaining ceilings. Medinet Habu also has the only record of a decisive Egyptian sea battle, showing Ramses III defeating the so-called Sea People.


By now our final group member had arrived, and she, the pool, and something cold were all waiting back at the hotel.

September 2018 Tour Day 1

Egypt

Finally the day had arrived, time to head north for Egypt. A long delay in departure put us under pressure, as we only had a short turn around between our arrival in Cairo and our departure to Luxor. In Cairo it appeared that there had been a sudden influx of travellers as Egyptair was doubling its scheduled morning southbound flights from the capital. Some of us made the mad scramble from international arrivals through passport control to the far end of Terminal 3 and domestic departures, while others were not so lucky and were obliged to get the next flight. Needless to say, nobody’s luggage made that initial connection.

Arrival

After several hours waiting in the Luxor Airport arrival halls, we had our starting group and all our luggage. Two more people were to join us over the next couple of days. As we walked out of the airport to our patiently waiting transport the heat hit us like a wall. It was over 40 degrees Celcius!

We got to our West Bank hotel, dropped off our luggage, and immediately set off across the river to get our Luxor Passes. We had secured the services of a local motor boat owner who became our ”fixer” for our time in Luxor. 
(If anyone needs such an aid while in Luxor, please email us contactus@gnttours.co.za for his details. We also used a Luxor based company for airport transfers and for a full day to the Valley of the Kings. Again, email us for details) 
Luxor Pass

Although it felt cool while crossing the Nile, the temperature had reached the mid-forties, and we were all feeling the effect of the heat combined with the weariness of overnight travel.

The Luxor Pass office consists of a couple of small rooms in a small alleyway just behind the Luxor Museum. The process was fairly simple, just make sure you have your passport, a copy of your passport and a passport type photo and the required fee. Unfortunately, news is that the price of the Pass is to increase from November, however it is still good value if you plan to use it to its fullest extent. It also saves a huge amount of time at the entrances to all sites.

Luxor Temple

The Luxor Museum being closed in the afternoons, we took our boat upstream to Luxor Temple. For most of our group this was our first introduction to Pharaonic Egypt. The imposing pylon built by Ramses the Great with its colossal statues and its one remaining obelisk are certainly awe-inspiring.

Further into the temple, one cannot fail to notice the change in style as you move back in time from the relative crude work of the 19th Dynasty to the lighter and more graceful work of the 18th Dynasty.

Luxor Museum
Although tired and weary, there was still more to do, and after a short refreshment break in the gardens of the Winter Palace, it was time to head downstream to the now open Luxor Museum. Although small, the Luxor Museum is one of the finest, with its well laid out exhibits covering the New Kingdom and in particular the 18th Dynasty. Highlights must be the Kamose Stela telling the tale of the expulsion of the “vile Amu”, the recreation of a talatat wall from the early years of Akhenaten, and the below-ground display of the various statues discovered in the Luxor Temple cache.

Once more across the river to our West Bank hotel (mail for details) and a delicious spread to round off a long hot first day.