The Tomb & Mummy of King Tut… and a staircase that was a hell of a climb…
Thursday, May 6th 2010: Luxor (Thebes), Egypt
It became harder and harder to wake up each morning. But once I was up and moving, looking forward to the day’s activities, it wasn’t so bad. That day, we were up early enough to get in a couple different places before our final disembarkment from the boat to head back to Cairo on the evening train.
Driving to the Valley of the Kings, I noticed the little wave of sadness that slowly settled in my stomach, knowing it would all be over soon. I stared out the bus window. The Nile had been ever-present the entire time and I watched it pass by, calm and misty in the early morning sunlight. By now, we had been through so many small towns, passed by so many conventional homes and seen so many local faces, it seemed like a mini-manifestation of ‘a home away from home’ (cliché I know). It was strangely familiar to see a man praying in the field behind his house, as if I knew he would be there before I saw him. And I say ‘strangely familiar’ because I already felt so well acquainted with little everyday customs, and at the same time, knew I was still surrounded by an entirely new world. Across the field, the hot air balloons rising in the distance were a little hard to see because of the mountain in the background. Following the downward slope of the land, the Tomb of Hatshepsut came into view sitting on a plateau and, from afar, it seemed beautifully eerie and mysterious. This was the cue for Sherif to alarm “Yalla Yalla Sleeptiki…!” since mostly everyone else had been asleep the whole way there.
There were several other buses already there, and I stopped to take pictures of the 360° degree view from the wide open parking lot. The peak of al-Qurn, the pyramid-shaped mountain overlooking the valley, was very distinct and really did resemble its counterparts in Giza. We each got our tickets, and of course, I opted to buy the extra tickets to get into the tombs of Ramesses VI and Tutankhamun. Oh, and once again, no cameras. If I knew the terrain, and walking and climbing I was about to take on, I would have been more grateful for the golf carts that took us from the entrance to the main gate of the ‘Valley’. The regular tickets got us into three tombs and the first one Sherif took us to was KV34, belonging to Thutmosis III. The first thing we all noticed was that hell of a steep staircase leading up the tomb’s entrance. If I was afraid of heights then the trek across the wooden walkway over a deep pit wouldn’t have been fun at all, not to mention looking at the equally steep climb down into a tunnel where it got more hot and musty with every step. One would have thought it might have been cooler inside since it seemed so far underground, right? Nope. Finally in the first antechamber, I distinctly remember the two large columns in the middle of the room, and the walls being painted in colour with people and stars. There was another sets of steps leading down into the burial chamber but it was closed off. I couldn’t spend much time down here because the air was thick and it was a little hard to breathe. So trying to climb back up was somewhat of a mission and when the air ‘cleared’ I gulped in a deep breath only to inhale the smoke from the guard at the top of the climb who was puffing on a cigarette. I could have slapped him senseless. It could be a little rough if you’re not in shape, but it’s actually not as bad as it sounds, and was totally worth doing.
Regrettably now, I can’t remember much from the other two tombs. I just knew it was hot, and I was on a slow-enough, but steady pace in and out of the dark musty rooms. The tombs had entrance tunnels and/or steep staircases if they were located around a slope or hill, and the tombs located down closer to the base of the valley, like Ramesses VI and Tut, had wide open corridors on a gentle incline. The tomb of Ramesses VI, KV9, felt like it had the longest entrance hallway of what we’d seen so far. The walls were painted from floor to ceiling with text, symbols, and pictures depicting various religious scenes and the detail was simply extraordinary. You could tell the now fading colour was once bright and vivid, and the pieces of wall now chipping away told full stories with perfectly drawn images and hieroglyphs. Just before we entered the sunken rooms below, I looked up at the ceiling to see the painting of the Goddess of the Sky, Nuit. She ‘lay’ up there, stretched across the width of the corridor, appropriately arched around the tombs entrances since she was believed to protect the dead as they entered the afterlife. The burial chamber was just as intricately decorated with full walls of paintings and my immediate surroundings (the huge pillars, old slabs of rock that were broken or worn away into large pieces, and the wooden floor) dug up an instant flashback of Lara Croft hopping and jumping all over the place with her pistols. Lol.
I was in a mix of fascination and a heat daze. I stood in each tomb and fully appreciated the manual labour that went into each one. These chambers were almost like a time line for each king that they belonged to – the deeper and more intricately decorated the tomb, the older a pharaoh was when he died. So the famous tomb of Tutankhamun, KV62 was much smaller than I had imagined since he died at such a young age. Similar to the floor in the Pyramids, the ladder-like wooden planks led us down a short walk into a small rectangular room. There was another guard who was friendly and, like many others that week, made small talk and asked where we were from. This one happened to be a fan of all things Jamaican and started crooning a Bob Marley song, while holding on to our handshake a little longer than I liked. Come on guy, I came all this way to see Tut himself, let me get at it already. When I finally pulled away, I wandered over to the right toward a second adjacent rectangular room that held Tut’s shrines and sarcophagi. The four wooden shrines, which we saw at the Museum in Cairo, apparently filled that entire room so it was hard to imagine the excavation process and trying to fit people in to get the first sarcophagus out. Now there was only the stone sarcophagus surrounding the pure golden coffin that Tut was buried in, with a glass cover protecting it. The stone casing was painted with symbols of deities to protect the body. The walls were painted with images of the burial process and of vultures and monkeys that looked more like baboons. We weren’t allowed down into the burial chamber, but it was amazing to see the shimmery yellow gold that actually held the famous figure. Directly behind us, going back over to the left (and carefully avoiding the handshake happy guard), was the mummy of the man himself. Sealed in a glass case, the mummy was wrapped in a shroud of gauze-like material covering all of his body except his head and feet. His head was very tiny, as was the rest of his body and his feet barely longer than my own skinny hand. His stomach was noticeably distended like that of a starving child – which we all know he wasn’t, so we assumed it must have been a reaction from the mummification process. Past his feet, in the corner of the wall, was an empty doorway to a dark room that was barriered off, but we were told was where the treasure was kept and found. There was also another treasure room off to the right of the burial chamber as well. From the history lessons, and first-hand looks of things, I may not have minded being one of several wives to this young king *wink*wink* 😉
We stopped to see the Colossi of Memnon before heading over to the Temple of Karnak and by now the sun had made its presence known and any opportunity to sit or stop in a shady area was not missed. I had my camera out and was snapping away as usual as we walked into the temple. The entrance was a wide pathway with Ram-headed sphinxes lining either side. We passed through several passages and saw the two tall obelisks in an inner court. There were rows of column after column, and pillar after pillar with hieroglyphics deeply etched in from top to bottom. Some of the cross beams between the structures had paintings of vultures and stars and… *weeeeee*whiiirrrrrr*click!* My camera died. I guess couldn’t complain since I had only charged it once since leaving Cairo. I wish the battery had lasted just a little longer though. We were just on our way to the outer courtyard where the olympic sized ‘swimming pool’ was built. It wasn’t really a swimming pool, but where religious ceremonies that required a body of water were carried out. I noticed there was a stone scarab in the yard and people would start walking in circles around it, literally. Not talking to anyone or really looking at the scarab… they were just, walking. Sherif came along and told us that there’s an old story that says if you start at the behind of the scarab, and walk in a circle around it seven times making a wish each time you complete a full round, your wish would come true. Women in days gone by apparently wished to be with child and Sherif implored that we wished for something other than Contiki babies 🙂
We headed back to the boat after, and some of the group opted in for the village visit. I did not. I was feeling drained from the sun and heat and decided a long shower would be a little more enticing. Some of the folks who didn’t go to the village went off on their own and saw the tomb of Hatshepsut and said it was a pretty awesome sight to see. There was a photographer on board who was taking shots of the boat for a brochure and three of us girls got pulled in to sit for various shoots in the lounge and bar. Compensation? Free drinks. We just thought it funny that pictures of us sipping on cocktails would randomly be circulating somewhere in Egypt. Once everyone got back, and had a chance to freshen up a bit, we left the boat for good and headed to the train station to overnight it back to Cairo. I will say that this trip wasn’t nearly as bad as the trip down. There was a little more space and I actually slept – although that could have just been from sheer exhaustion…