We hired a taxi at the hotel for E£120 (what we thought was a fair price) to take us to Karnak, the Valley of the Kings, and back to the hotel thinking it would save us from having to negotiate and haggle our way to where we wanted to go. We were a bit disappointed to learn from Khaled, our Karnak Temple guide, that we could have taken a taxi from the hotel for E£10 to the public ferry; paid E£2 each to cross the Nile; and paid another E£10 to the Valley of the Kings entrance! Saving us a whopping E£60 and about 40mins!! And we would have really loved taking the ferry. Now that I’m thinking about it, we could have saved another E£20 by taking the hotel’s courtesy bus to the Luxor Museum which is right across the street from the ferry! Live and learn… something to remember for next time.
So, off we go with Hamdy to the Luxor’s West Bank. Before we leave the city, we stop briefly at Hamdy’s so he can drop off bread for lunch at his house. The open door is the entrance to his home. As we drive through the narrow, one car dirt street, we stop at a teeny, tiny little store where Hamdy buys some pocket kleenex. It’s literally a drive-thru as the road is so narrow. But just around the corner, Hamdy tells us that’s where the “big” house is – where his parents, his sister and his brother live. And now we’re on our way!
Everything is so green and lush considering it’s probably about 100F outside. We cross the bridge to the west bank and drive parallel to the Nile for about 20 mins. We don’t see much movement – everyone is inside keeping cool! There are green fields lining both sides of the 4-lane road all way to the base of the nearby mountains. We are heading towards the mountains that we can see across the river from our hotel room. Then, in the blink of an eye, the green is gone are we are now driving through desert and stone.
We pass small hand-painted signs that say “Tomb …” and the tomb number. There are 63 royal tombs. Never having been here before we had no idea that this was the ‘back’ of the tomb entrance. We keep driving and see many small stores with signs saying they’re all alabaster ‘factories.’ By this time we are wondering if we are just being taken to the middle of nowhere and being left there as there are no signs saying “this way to Valley of the Kings.” Hamdy asks if we would like to stop at a factory, I say yes, Atiq says no and Hamdy turns off and heads to a specific factory/store. We park, get out of the car and walk around the car to the three men sitting on the ground under a wooden canopy. This is the “factory” demo.
I forgot to take pictures because I was just so fascinated by what we were being shown. Alabaster jar has new meaning and way more respect from me now. To make an alabaster object, let’s say, a jar for example, you have to first start with a piece of stone large enough for the finished product. The you use a hand-drill that’s about 3 feet long – you know one with the funny “S” kink in the middle. At one end is the handle but it’s got a large square on the end; at the bottom is the drill bit but it looks more like a fan blade. You put the blade on the stone lean over the drill positioning yourself so that the little square thingy is on your chest, lean into the drill and start turning the handle. Yikes!! It looks like back-breaking, chest indenting, manual labor. I appreciate everything alabaster now!! A small alabaster vase takes 7-months to complete. A factory one a lot, lot less. Factory-made is heavy and thick; hand-made is light and delicate. We know now what to look for if we’re in the market for hand-made alabaster. We didn’t even enter the little souvenier shop.
On to the tombs! We continued back onto the road as it curved and winded its way up and in between the mountains. A very secluded area and one can understand how this area was chosen as the pharaohs’ final Earthly resting place. We did pass a couple of tourists on bikes – braving the heat and steep road.
We passed a checkpoint where Hamdy had to hand over his credentials and drove up to a huge parking lot with a few buses already parked. I didn’t get a chance to get a picture of the entrance, I was too busy trying to dodge the big tour bus and wend my way through the tourists getting off the bus and walking to the entrance.
Inside there is a huge silicon model of the mountains showing the depth, chambers and tunnels of the tombs. Really puts everything in perspective. After getting our tickets we got on the little “train” taking everyone up to the inside main gate. We were both glad we decided to take the tram and not walk.
Once we got to the next gate, we bought tickets for the tombs and I had to leave my camera. No pictures were allowed. I thought it was for the same reason that museums don’t allow photography – the flash issue but later I realized that it could also be the fact that in this part of the world taking pictures of graves is frowned upon.
Here is proof that we really were at the Valley of the Kings.
We went into the first tomb that we came upon (I think it was Ramses VII). The colors are still beautiful and the detail is amazing. This tomb had class covering the walls to prevent more atmospheric damage. Because there were so many people, we headed up to the top where the tourists had reached yet.
We went into Tawroset’s tomb. She took over after her husband SetiII and his successor, Siptah died. She reigned for 2 years. Her tomb is shared with her successor, Sethnakht who plastered over some of her images after she died. After having seen two tombs, and not being able to distinguish the carvings and paintings from one pharaoh to another we decided to leave.
No disrespect but unless you are familiar with ancient Egyptian symbols, can read hieroglyphics and/or know your pharaohs, we found that the tombs were very similar. I’m glad we were able to see this amazing, wondrous place. As I was walking through the tombs, I wondered how the artists must have felt to create what the pharaoh(s) wanted. What an honor to know you helped the transition to the Afterlife. And to never know that your work would be discovered and admired thousands of years later. And I saw their work. I walked where they walked. I stood where the pharaohs stood. In the exact same place!! Just so mind-boggling…