Luxor is said to be like Cairo but a smaller, nicer version. That’s debatable – we really didn’t like the place. The city sits on the east bank of the Nile but we opted to stay on the calmer West Bank which was a great decision in the end. A public ferry connects the two sides but whilst walking along the promenade to reach it we were constantly shouted at to take a private boat. People called after us and lied saying “this is the boat here, public ferry here”. Luckily we had our map to guide us. The boat had all open sides so as we departed men ran down the jetty and continued to jump onboard through the open windows. We spent the rest of the day relaxing in our hotel and then walking quite a long way in search of a cheap local eatery. We managed to find a busy place and ordered a couple bowls of Koshari for just 50p each but it was so spicy I could barely eat it. We were treated to a lovely sunset on our walk back, across some unexpected farming fields with silhouetted palm trees.
The following day we rented a couple of retro looking bikes so we could reach the Valley Of Kings. The owner dropped the price twice without us even bartering so they cost us just $2.50 each as appose to a $12 private car tour our hotel tried to sell us. I picked a lovely pastel green one with flower shaped foot pedals and it felt so nice cycling out of town with the wind in my hair. We were surprised how undeveloped the West Bank was, there was lots of lush green agriculture, no doubt watered from the Nile. As the distance from the Nile grew greater though, the landscape turned back into barren desert and beige hills. But that was the reason we were there, because hidden amongst the dusty slopes were the great tombs of Egypt’s most important kings and queens.
When tomb raiding became a popular crime the ancient Egyptians realised burying their kings in giant pyramids in empty deserts was just asking for trouble. They needed to be more discreet with their tombs so they began rock cutting to hide them underground. What’s now known as the ‘Valley of Kings’ became the principle place to bury royal figures and privileged nobles. The tombs vary in size from small pits to underground labyrinths with 120 chambers. The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and they give clues as to the beliefs and funerary rituals of the period. The kings and queens also had all of their possessions in the tomb with them, plus mummified food supplies to keep them fed for eternity.
On our way to the valley we pulled over at Colossi of Memnon where two huge statues of a Pharaoh marked the start of our historic cycle route. We then veered onto a narrow trail and pushed our bikes up a hill to get a vantage point of the Temple of Hatshepsut which sits beneath a sheer rock wall. To enter the temple you need to pay 100EGP / $6 so we gave it a miss as all the entrance fees really add up, but we got a good enough view from a distance. They say Hatshepsut was considered one of the most formidable women of ancient Egypt. She was in power for 22 years and regarded as one of Egypt’s most prosperous leaders as major accomplishments were achieved during her reign. After she passed away her nephew tried to destroy any evidence of her, smashing and burying statues, and stripping her name from obelisks.
We continued cycling to the Valley Of Kings which was a rather brutal uphill slog on the gear-less bikes. The price to visit the valley was 200EGP $13 but it only included entry into three out of the ten or so accessible tombs. There are actually 63 excavated tombs in the valley, 62 of them were discovered before 1922 whilst the most recent was found in 2005, just 50ft away from king Tutankhamun’s legendary tomb.
We tried to do a little research beforehand to work out which were the best three tombs to visit. The first one we opted for was KV2 and our ticket was stamped by a guard who was smoking inside the entrance of the tomb…a great way to help preserve these ancient arts. We walked through a sort of tunnel carved into the rocky hill. The walls and ceiling were covered in paintings and bursting with colour. We were shocked at how well preserved they were, we’d seen many carvings already in the ancient sights but colour was a new feature for us and it was very impressive. There were complete stories painted across the walls with a variety of animals, kings and slaves pictured. The tunnel opened up into a sort of chamber where the kings sarcophagus was resting. There was a small tour group when we arrived and two ‘workers’ were taking everyone’s photo for tips and they wouldn’t hand back the persons phone until they paid a tip! One worker tried to entice us through a roped off area, again for a tip so we brushed him off and after a few minutes everyone dispersed.
It was quite something to gawp at our surroundings; The detail was incredible and the colours were so well preserved that we actually wondered if the whole ‘Egyptians were Aliens’ conspiracy theory was true. It almost looked like they’d been repainted to cover up the story!
The second tomb we entered was KV8 Merenptah. It’s said to be one of the largest tombs in the valley and a long corridor and the occasional staircase led us down into a very hot and humid environment. There wasn’t as much colour as the previous tomb but it was impressive to see the efforts they went to to create the ideal burial place for this king. A mummy shaped sarcophagus was in the final room but it was hard to set the scene whilst a nearby worker watched YouTube videos out loud on his phone. The walls also lacked any art in the final chamber, maybe the humidity ruined them all. When we exited the guard had the cheek to ask us for money or pens for his children, to which we complained about the extortionate fees we’d paid as foreigners to enter the sights and how he shouldn’t be asking tourists for anything.
There were a couple of tombs which involved an additional fee to visit (to go into Tutankhamun’s tomb it cost an extra $20 per person, and the best preserved tomb was a whopping $65!) So instead of forking out that hefty fee we opted for KV9 tomb for 100EGP $6 as it was said to be very beautiful. We actually had the tomb completely to ourselves which added to the tranquil feeling. The chamber at the end had a curved roof with black and gold pictures across the ceiling. There were human figures and animals everywhere we looked, some carvings were separated into little boxes like an ancient calendar. Two sarcophagus’ were in the final chamber and one was stuck back together after being shattered into pieces by tomb raiders. Many of the sarcophagus’s were broken open though – it’s no wonder people talk about the ‘curse of the mummy’. In fact the person who first opened King Tut’s chamber died just two months after and members of the team dropped off like flies in the following year or so.
The final tomb we visited was KV11 which was once again covered in wonderful paintings. Sadly this one had most of its walls covered in a plastic sheet to protect the art from tourists touching it. Once we’d visited the four tombs we followed the wide path to the many tomb entrances tucked into the rock-faces. Some of the tomb entrances were filled in with rocks and just a number plaque marked the site. Sadly, locals used these rock piles as rubbish pits and it was so upsetting to see them disrespecting places where people were buried. We managed to peak our heads into a few more tombs, wearily shining our torches through the gates into the black abyss, scared shitless about seeing a ghost. Gradually the tombs all began to blend into one and were much of the same. But one king, Thutmosis asked to be buried in a very hidden area – they even built a well within his tomb to delude thieves. Two flights of ladders led us up the rock face to his tomb but it was closed off as they rotate which tombs are open to help preserve them due to the astronomical amount of humidity created from humans visiting.
By the later afternoon we were ready to head back to our hotel and relax, luckily the bike ride was a doddle as we were mostly rolling downhill.