"Well that was a nice easy day. We didn't do much".
"No" replied Yuki "Just six tombs in the valley of the Kings and Tutenkamun's tomb"
We looked at each other and laughed aloud. Travelling in Egypt can we a bit like that after a couple of weeks: just another 4,500 year old tomb or temple.
Yesterday was our second visit to the valley, choosing to go mid-afternoon, long after most the tour buses have departed. It was much quieter, cooler and nicer and we even had some of the tombs completely to ourselves.
Despite what the LP guidebook says, Tutenkamun's tomb, while small and plain, we still pretty interesting particularly since they've left not only his mumified corspe but also one of the outer sarcophagus so you get a sense of the tomb in situ. Another one, the deepest one we went down, that of Tuthmosis IV, we had all to ourselves and the gatekeeper not only showed us around, but also allowed us to look closely around the huge pink granite sarcophagus. This was hewn from a single piece of granite, was as tall as I was and as wide as my arms would stretch ... on the way out I was trying to work out how they got it down here as the tunnels and entrances were only wide enough plus about 2cm on each side. Pretty tight.
Apparently, in one of the other tombs (which one?) they unusually got the measurements wrong so you can just imagine the scene 4,000 years ago: after much preparation, the huge procession arrives in Luxor by boat and meanders it's way up the valley to great ceremony. I would imagine there would have been a few thousand people in attendance when after much effort, they arrive at the entrance of the prepared tomb with this huge granite sarcophagus weighing several tons and ... oh shit, it doesn't fit. Can you imagine? What do they do? Try again ... it must fit. No? Try the other way around? Sideways? Upsidedown? Now what. How long did they wait there? Did they go back to Luxor while they decided what to do or did the stonemasons just go to work and start chiselling? They go to great lengths to decorate the entrance tunnels and must have had to decide to chisel off much of this to get the thing inside. I wonder whose fault it was and what happened to them?
Even in the middle of winter, days here in Luxor are hot bordering on unpleasantly hot, particularly when you are trapesing around the valley of the Kings or other temples where the light is so bright it almost hurts. Harsh light and heat reflecting off every hard rock surface with a surprising intensity which would be amplified considerably at any other time of year. Coming from Australia we are pretty well covered with clothes, sunscreen, hats and with backpacks well stocked with water ... others, presumably from a wintery Europe are about as prepared as a stroll by a quiet English river in spring and subsequently are bright pink and fading fast by early afternoon. In fact I wonder why many of them come at all - one coach party arrived at the tomb of Rameses VII shortly after us, walked in nattering away to each other and walked out again nattering about a minute later, not seeing anything. What? Three tombs in 10 minutes then back on the bus for Karnak? Luxor temple was much better; we headed down there at sunset the other day and found the place heaving with about maybe 10 tour buses. We struggled around not able to see or enjoy much and then headed for the exit ... only to find rivers of tourists from probably over 100 buses streaming into the place to snap the temples at night, pictures we've all seen in books and on TV a thousand times before. Horrendous tourism at it worst.
I have heard other people describe the tombs of the valley and say how disappointed they were, we we weren't really expecting too much, but given how many tourists they have to deal with, I thought it was all done rather well. It's a bit of pot luck which tombs are open and which are not, but the ones we went down into gave an excellent insight into a long lost culture.
Most of the tombs here are about 1600BC which is about 1000 years after the great Pyramid of Khufu, and the one question that I'd love to know the answer to is why weren't more pyramids built? Was it just too hard? Or did they lose the knowledge of how to build them? The tombs and temples here, however impressive, pale into insignificance compared to the engineering of the great Pyramid.
((1st visit: Ramses III, Tuthmosis III, Siptah and Tawosret.))
((2nd visit: Ramses VII, Ramses III again, Tutenkamun, Tuthmosis IV, Seti II, Rameses IX))
Actually, it is with great irony that arguably some of the best decorated tombs are in the Valley of the Nobles, that of those people responsible for the construction of the pharoe's tombs made sure that their own tombs were arguably better than those of the people they served. Personally, my favourite was the Tomb of Sennofer, overseer of the Garden of Amun was perhaps the best tomb we've seen anywhere with wonderful wall paintings. Hassle here is much worst than the Valley of the Kings but a couple of gatekeepers are pretty knowledgeable about their charges and had built crude reflectors made of cardboard and tinfoil that were astonishingly effective at getting natural light into the tombs.
I've never seen anything quite like the Nile valley: in any other part of the world I've ever been, the lush fertile lands gradually give way to scrub which in turn gives way to desert, but here, here the line is from one side of the road to the other. One side has lush green fields irrigated by the Nile and growing sugar cane and corn, and the other has absolutely nothing growing on it, not a tree, shrub or blade of scorched grass to be seen. And you can certainly appreciate just how important the river was to life here: if for any reason the rains further south failed and the river didn't flood, the land would have become barren in no time at all.