Sunday, June 15, 2008

Egypt Trip: Valley of the Kings, Hapshetsut's Temple, Valley of the Queens, Karnak and Luxor (twice!) (Day 6)

05:00 hrs Yep - alarm call at 5am. Mary showered, I rang the girls. I am also 'uncertain' in the 'lower abdomen'. Ho Hum - my turn already?

Breakfast, lobby, coach. Colombians (or was it the Belgians?) and a couple of Americans late so we actually started out at 06:10. This was a pity - see later.


Got to the ticket office for the Valley of the Kings. This also served as the ticket office for the extra tickets for the tomb of Queen Nefertari (only 150 visitors allowed per day) in the Valley of the Queens, extra tickets for King Tut's tomb in the Valley of Kings plus the camera tickets for the Valley of the Queens (with me so far?). We only had enough extra money for Mary to visit Nefertari (LE100 each) so she queued. I bought 3 camera tickets for the Valley of the Queens - turns out that this is per tomb. As we are only visiting one in the V of Q, that means we can all take photos!

Forgot to mention that on the journey from the ship, Ahmed gave some more background to Egyptian Heaven/Hell/Reincarnation/Eternity etc plus the Body as a shell for the Soul (a precursor for the Alabaster Institute later in the day). As he was doing this the miserable German (remember him in the Felucca on Day 3? - he has been consistent throughout, even though his wife and daughter are jolly) moaned loudly something like "Stop all this talking round things and tell us what we see" - meaning the Colossi of Mnemnon that we had just passed. He is obviously of the 'Its-Friday-so-this-must be-the-Valley-of-the-Kings' whistle-stop school of packaged sightseeing holiday maker. This caused a distinct polarisation within the 'team'. Yep - us against them. Ahmed politely said they needn't listen, told them what the statues were, and, as a little put down, that we were scheduled to stop there on the way back for an explanation and a photo opportunity.

Back to the main storyline - all 150 Nefertari tickets sold, about 30 people before Mary, so no-one on our coach got a ticket. As we all trooped back onto the coach, Mitch (the American 'funny' man) grabbed the microphone and thanked, on behalf of the rest of us, all those that were late for the coach thus causing us not to get tickets for this spectacular tomb!

Valley of the Kings

Short coach ride to the Valley of the Kings. Ahmed distributed the tickets and then we got on the funny (silly?) little trains (Disney as described by Ahmed) to drive up the road to reach the head of the valley. The rock formation at the head of the valley resembles a pyramid - no doubt this was one of the reasons the area was chosen. No video recording of any sort is allowed, so all such recorders have to be left in a secure area, something that Diego (an American) seemed not to understand - despite being on the front seat of the coach, right by Ahmed. Consequently in the 1st tomb, said video camera (and we are talking large here) was confiscated "Budid snod switched arn!!"

We viewed three tombs in all. 1st Diego's Downfall aka Amenhetep II's tomb, was deep in the ground. When we got near the burial chamber all the walls were covered with hieroglyphs, the ceiling covered in stars. The sarcophagus 'pit' was closed to the general public, but whilst we were there a group of people were lead in, circled the sarcophagus, joined hands and started chanting their 'OM' quietly. Now that is eerie! Took lots of photos without flash - hope they all come out. Afterwards, Ahmed told us that there are many Osiris etc worshippers who pay extra to do that - many are based in Scandinavian countries! 2nd tomb was a trek up the side of the valley to one of the highest tombs - that of Tuthmosis IV. This again contained lots of wall paintings and hieroglyphics. 3rd and last was the deepest into the hills down a long steep shaft to the burial chamber of Merenptah. The bulk of the sarcophagus had been moved to a different chamber and turned upside down, the carved top remaining in the large vaulted burial chamber as the lowest point.

Finally took the obligatory photograph of Mary standing next to the brass plaque at the entrance of King Tut's tomb. There is absolutely nothing of interest to see in there as it is small and everything is either in the Cairo Museum or spread around the world. All 3 tombs visited were amazing with colours, sarcophagi and great humidity. The new (too large) shirt from Milletts seemed to wick away the sweat very well. Drank lots of water, walked the gauntlet of hawkers successfully (twice), rode the Disney Trains, and back onto the coach. Back to main crossroads to get tickets for V of Q, I had already bought our camera tickets for that.

Queen Hapshetsut's Temple

Firstly though we went to Deir El-Bahari to visit the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. As we walked through the obligatory hawkers, someone shouted to Lee (who is of Afro-Caribbean descent) "hello my cousin". This caused great mirth in the group, Lee explaining that it happens a lot when he is abroad! The Temple is a spectacular looking edifice carved partly into the cliff face. It is also unusual because it is built on 3 levels, rather than spread out. She is the queen who wanted to rule, so woke up one morning and stated that she 'had had a dream' that actually she was a man 'cos the gods had given her a choice of what 'shell' to use in this life. Declared herself king, dressed as a king and wore the ceremonial beard of a king. The architect of the Temple was her 'secret' lover. Apparently carved into and painted on the walls of the workers caves along the roadside was found the 'Karma Sutra of Egypt' depicting him/her in 22 different positions with her lover. We didn't get to see those! What was amazing was the fact that we were rubbing up against wall decorations that were thousands of years old!

Valley of the Quuens

Next stop the Valley of the Queens to visit the Tomb of Amen Khopshef, the favourite son of Rameses III. (The V of Q is a misnomer because minor kings, princes and other royalty are buried here - not just queens). This tomb is also spectacular - went down in groups of 12(ish). The colours were amazing and fresh. As Ahmed told us before we went in (guides are not allowed in the tombs) this was one of the only examples of pictures of women with curves. Little man in the burial chamber handing out bits of cardboard to fan yourself with - it is incredibly humid. He got some baksheesh from me for that.

Alabaster Place

Then on to the Alabaster place. This is interesting as it is run by a Mancunian, Stuart, and his wife Angie. Their business partner is a German, Peter. Stuart gave a demo of how the Ancient Egyptians worked the Alabaster to make the pots and figurines, showing the sort of tools they had used (and still do now). It seemed very strange to hear a Manchester accent out here in the desert. Then into the shop - air-conditioned. Ahmed and the Mancunian had both said the prices were fixed, just like in the Papyrus Institute, but as usual the Americans tried to haggle. Sometimes I think that some nationalities only hear selectively to suit themselves. We bought 3 little figurines - Elephant, Hippo and Camel. The usual hospitality thingey meant mint tea and coffee were free. Most people bought water and fizzy drinks instead - cold. Also the toilets were clean. A real oasis in the desert. Whilst we were shopping Ahmed was using Peter's PC to get his email from the Internet - have phone line will surf!

Back on board the coach, Diego said he would probably get his name written in hieroglyphics in a cartouche on a T shirt - I said it would be spelt S O N Y and he saw the joke. (Besides his large video recorder, Diego was carrying a Psion Palm Top, digital camera etc, talked incessantly about computers. and was travelling alone - saddo geek).

OOPS the Grumpy German has just tooted the coach horn - obviously seriously fed up with commercialism!

Colossi of Mnemnon

From there we travelled back towards the Nile, stopping to have an explanation and photo-shoot at the Colossi of Mnemnon - remember passing these two earlier on had caused the German to complain. These two huge statutes are in a bit of a state with weathering and earthquake damage. Story was that the locals have seen tears and heard the gods singing from these statues each day. This is really morning dew and the wind whistling through the weathered cracks - so they say.


Finally back to the ship and time for lunch - yes lunch! After all that travelling and sight seeing it is still only lunchtime 12:15!!!!

Next trip is not due until 4pm, so Mary and I walked to the Movenpick resort (Jolie Ville) a few hundred yards along the bank of the Nile, to change some Travellers Cheques. The whole complex has chalets, pools, restaurants, couple of shops, bank and, of course, the private mooring for our ship. We need money because today's the day we input to the collection for ships staff and crew and also Ahmed's 'fund'. Lee, the keeper of the baksheesh, is also dealing with this aspect of the funding. Mary bought a couple of small things in the site shop - she remarked that it was strange that no-one rushed up to see what you wanted to buy!

A Rare Rest and a Naughty Boy

Rest of the afternoon spent sunbathing on the sundeck (afternoon tea was early at 3pm). It was during this rest period that Ahmed's truly naughty-boy nature came out. Having come to chat with us (because Katie and Lucy were in bikinis), he noticed a slim Italian girl, also in a bikini, whose 'upper torso' was....well...magnificent. So he went over and asked her if they were real or silicon implants! Her answer indicated that they were indeed real and she seemed more flattered and mildly amused than offended or embarrassed. Her friend, however, seemed put out and went to tell the mother - who was having tea in the shade. He got away with it! Mary had already sorted out his personality. Ahmed confirmed it - yes he had been a naughty boy, yes he was dreadful in schools, very disruptive but always got top marks. Charmer.

Temples at Karnak

At 4pm we got on the coach again, this time to visit the Temples at Karnak and Luxor. 1st stop Karnak. On the way in through the ticket booth there was an American youth trying to explain that his ticket had blown away (it was quite gusty) - but they wouldn't let him in. He asked Ahmed if he would go to the ticket office with him to explain. Ahmed, fairly forcefully, said there was nothing he could do "No-one can help you man". When Ahmed doled out our tickets he had some spare as 2 people had not come - he immediately ran back to find the youth to give him one, but, alas, could not find him. Softee.

The Temple is HUGE. All the photos I took will probably not do justice to the size of the place. In several places the colours were still evident. There was originally a roof. The windows in the roof, because the central isle is higher than the rest, were positioned so that the light from various constellations shone on the correct hieroglyphics on the columns - clever.

There is also an amazing theory about the paired obelisks - 40 pairs at Karnak - reckons that they were used to send signals to the relevant pairs at any of the 40 'provinces' of Egypt. No obelisk is built with any true perpendiculars, so all sides slant, and no sides are parallel with each other, but the pairs match exactly. All are granite. The one lying on its side near the Sacred Lake, Ahmed hit with the ball of his hand and it rang like a tuning fork! A Physicist reckons that the pairs were tuned together so that rhythmical tappings get amplified between them and eventually do a broadband transmission that can be picked up by the relevant tuned pair in another part of Egypt. So the ancients could communicate by 'radio' - as I said, an amazing theory. Some wag (Diego) asked at this point when do we get to see the Stargate!!

Getting darker so back towards the coach to get to the other Temple at Luxor a couple of Kilometres away. On this walk back Ahmed let slip that the miserable German was apparently a Diplomat. Ahmed then told us that Diplomats can get into anywhere free without queuing. Ahmed then told us he had told the German this - he needn't have, but he did, just to see the reaction. It was the one he wanted - anger and frustration! This made us all happy too.

Temples at Luxor

At Luxor it was 6ish, so dusk and lit up. There is a Mosque and a Christian Church with various Temples all built into the Luxor complex. Again it is HUGE, like Karnak. The avenue of Sphinxes was apparently nearly 3Km long, stretching from Luxor to Karnak - that's a lot of Sphinxes! There is no way that the extent of the avenue will every be dug out as it runs smack under the Police Station, a Mosque, the Town Hall etc. The entrance door to the Mosque within the Temple is about 20 feet up one wall because it was built before the excavations found the true level of the courtyard!

At one point I asked Ahmed when we would be finishing, as we were due to come back for the Sound and Light show at Karnak, starting from the ship at 7:45 pm. He said "No problem". He was, of course, wrong.

Luxor Sound and Light

Eventually arrived back at the boat at 7:30pm. Whilst I and the girls went to get changed, Mary organised some sandwiches and drinks from the restaurant. 7:45 and Mostafa the rep was waiting for us, so we dived into the mini-bus clutching our sandwiches and 7-Ups. He got our tickets and then left us to get in by ourselves. Whilst waiting on the steps for things to start, I whispered to Mary that all the Brits were surrounding us - so all the foreigners must be at the front. Then I started to giggle having realised that we were actually at the English Speaking concert 08:30 to 09:15. Well - its been a long day!

The couple of stops throughout the Temple were quite spectacular - I hadn't taken my camera this time. It told the story of who built which bits and why, illuminating the salient edifices as it went along. We eventually ended up at the far side of the site on tiered rows of seats overlooking the Sacred Lake. 15-20 minutes of talk booming over the loudspeakers with buildings opposite being lit/unlit/different coloured lit etc. Probably due to the length of our day so far, but my attention wandered - Lucy got the giggles about something in the middle - I helped this fit to continue longer than it probably would had I not been there - well you do don't you?

Eventually trooped out with the crowds and found Mostafa. He was on his mobile, stayed on his mobile whilst walking across the car park, and during most of the journey back from Karnak to Luxor. In Luxor he actually got out and reminded us to "see to the driver". This we duly did, but I am afraid Mostafa will only get a handshake at Luxor airport tomorrow!

Back onboard

Back on board ship hot and tired at 10pm(ish) - after a 6am start remember. Gave money to the girls to go to the bar whilst I settled our bill for the week. Then up to the bar where a cold beer was waiting. This went down very well. Mary had also organised our ice-cream from dinner - this duly arrived and was consumed at the bar - delicious. Girls went to the rooms to pack and I took our questionnaires down to reception.

On the way I met Ahmed, who asked if I would sign a sheet of paper saying I was happy with him as a guide - ? Apparently the miserable German (Diplomat) had written a long letter of complaint about Ahmed, his lecture content, attitude etc. I issued the immortal words

"Give me a sheet of A4 and a pen"

and sat down to write a letter extolling Ahmed's virtues, the balance he had brought to the comparative religion, tomb plundering aspects etc and his mention of both traditional and the newer more radical Egyptological theories.

The letter also mentioned that a 'very small minority' of the group didn't like his content - but that this had been dealt with, with charm and diplomacy (I had to get that word in didn't I?). Ahmed was so impressed that he went off to find the others in the group to sign the back as well. I will email him next week to see how he got on.

We eventually finished packing at 11-ish ready for our early-ish start tomorrow.

So... to recap:

* 05:00 wake up - 23:00 to bed.
* Valley of Kings,
* Hatshepsut's Temple,
* Valley of the Queens,
* Alabaster Shop,
* Colossi of Mnemnon,
* Karnak and Luxor temples,
* Karnak Sound and Light,
* Beer,
* Ice-cream,
* Letter to rebuff Germans.

What a full day. (Yet another Typically English Understatement)

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