After waking up quite literally before the crack of dawn to do a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, I was elated but exhausted. Combined with a lovely case of the infamous developing world stomach bug, M and I were certainly a sight to behold!
Crawling our way up to the rooftop terrace in Luxor, we passed out on the couches for a few minutes as the warm morning sun rose over the Nile River lined with palm trees with Luxor Temple and the famous West Bank in the misty distance. Laying there with a cool early morning breeze blowing across my closed eyes, carrying the smell of spices and turkish coffee, I was reliving the glory of a dream come true, remembering the sun rising over the mountains speckled with dark holes leading down to ancient tombs. In a few minutes I would be heading back across the river to the ancient Theban acropolis to visit the renowned Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut and Medinet Habu Temples and see, you know, King Tut’s mummy!!
Today was going to be a day I would never forget.
Entrance to the Valley of the Kings
After taking some more anti-nausea pills and wolfing down some bread and mint tea, we piled in the back of a van straight out of the 70’s. Brown shag seat covers and all. We booked a morning tour through our hotel,Nefertiti Hotel, with Aladin Tours, run by, you guessed it, a jolly guy named Aladin. Dealing with negotiating a car and driver, deciding on what sights to visit, their limited hours, how to get there, ect, was too much for us, so when our hotel offered us a scheduled tour, we jumped on it. I am not one for organized tours (in fact, I actually hate them) but there was so much I wanted to see and do in such a short period of time, I really had no choice. However, Aladin turned out to be the most hilarious and well-informed guide, which made it worthwhile. Cracking jokes with the biggest smile on his face made the day much more enjoyable, especially in the 100+ degree heat.
As much as I had read in advance about Ancient Egypt and Thebes, nothing can really prepare you for seeing these places in person. Thousands of years old and columns covered in hieroglyphics are still standing in the hot desert sun. Walking around the Valley of the Kings was a dream come true. Unfortunately I have no photos since they don’t allow you even to bring a camera into the valley. I’m pretty sure I would have been publicly executed if I tried, unless I had enough Egyptian pounds to bribe every guard in sight.
But I can still close my eyes and remember it perfectly. In April it was unbearably hot in the morning and walking into the stuffy tombs was anything but a reprieve. Make sure you bring a lot of water with you. Under a bright blue sky you pick and chose the tombs you want to go inside, many of which are closed for repairs. They have a rotating schedule every few years. As you climb down the occasionally really steep stairs/ladders (or slide down on your butt) you emerge in another world.
Dimly lit with a giant sarcophagus in the center, the walls and low ceilings of these tombs are almost as colorful as they were thousands of years ago. Craning my head around every which way, I tried to snap mental pictures and take it all in. For the most part, the tombs have no blank walls, covered with bright, shining hieroglyphics. Dodging around tons of tourists, I began to play a game of trying to spot the gods that Aladin taught us.
But age and neglect has taken its toll on these great tombs, some walls aren’t even protected with plexiglass which means idiot tourists think it’s an interactive museum-touch as much as you like. You can see the colors fading and parts that were destroyed long ago or more recently; the humidity from our breath is slowly dissolving them, sparking a debate about if they should be closed to the public. It’s sad to walk around these once revered and holy places, trying to imagine what they must have looked like, filled with treasures and mummies before they were discovered and looted. Or if you are me, imagining that you are a late 19th century explorer, discovering a brand new tomb on a dig. Flashlight and all. If only I had an Indiana Jones hat. Next time.
King Tut’s mummy, Source
Of course the highlight of the Valley of the Kings for me and much of the western world is to see King Tut’s tomb. Not all that impressive since he was a lesser pharaoh, but well-preserved and shrouded in legend since Howard Carter discovered it a century ago, to go inside you have to buy an extra individual ticket, but it’s worth it since his mummy is now on display within. Tiny compared to the rest of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, King Tut’s tomb is in great condition, and getting to stand inside a place of such historical significance is unforgettable. Nowadays is the perfect time to go since tourism has dropped so much. I was told only a few hundred people visit the Valley of the Kings daily now, when it used to be up in the thousands. It seemed crowded to me, so I can’t imagine what it must have been like before the revolution.
Have you ever been to Egypt? Do you want to go to the Valley of the Kings and see King Tut? How do you feel about tourism slowly destroying these famous places? Do you think these tombs should be closed to the public?