Our journey started off in Luxor, about 240 miles down the Nile from Cairo (actually it’s technically up the Nile since the river goes “downstream” towards the Mediterranean). Now despite what you might think from the great pyramid in Las Vegas, there are no pyramids in the real city of Luxor.
Luxor is split into two parts, with the Nile dividing the city. On the West Bank of the Nile, you have the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens and no real population living over there. The East Bank has the temples and markets. In the later dynasties of the Egyptian civilization, the royalty were buried on the west side of the Nile to harmonize with the setting sun. We took a ferry over to the west side very early in the morning to get to the Valley of the Kings before the crowd, and the heat of the day.
Unfortunately (like a lot of the trip), we weren’t allowed to take pictures in either of the Valleys. And they were serious about us not bringing our cameras in; like soldiers armed with AK-47s serious.
As disappointing as this was, I understand the need to preserve the tombs and respect the dead. In the Valley of the Kings, our tickets allowed us to visit any three of the several tombs we wanted. Walking through the valley, one certainly has the Indiana Jones feeling. The sky was clear, it was quiet, and you’re surrounded by mountainous, dusty hills. The locals were sitting on the hills smoking and lounging, and within these hill were openings that marked the tombs of the pharaohs. The first tomb we visited was that of King Ramses IV. The first thing I was struck by was the presence of color that had been preserved. The entire hallway which leads about 50 meters down to the tomb was covered in colorful hieroglyphics that made the entire room and hall look like a giant coloring book. I was surprised by the fact that in this room, there was no glass or plastic covering the walls or the tomb itself, so we had the ability to touch the writings. It was quite a surreal experience.
The second tomb we visited was Ramses IX who had a similar setup as IV, but this tomb had the expected glass lining the walls and the tomb (which amusingly read “Please don’t touch glass or clean” while a guard was leaning his hand up against it). We passed by the tomb of Tutankhamun (better known as King Tut), but decided to pass on it since it was said to be mostly empty and that items in the tomb were at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (which was where we were going later in the trip). The third tomb we visited was probably the most intriguing. Tuthmosis III’s tomb had a fake entry which was built to deceive the grave robbers. The real entrance required you to climb over a hill and down into a hole on the other side. The tomb was deep into the ground and it certainly is NOT for those of you who suffer from claustrophobia. The tomb itself was multi-leveled with much more intricate and sophisticated hieroglyphics. And even though there were A/C units underground, it was hot and stuffy down there.
After the Valley of the Kings, we made our way to the Valley of the Queens. This valley was much smaller, and the tombs we visited were less glamorous. But I will say it was almost nicer because of the fact that there was almost no one there yet (all the tour groups were still at the Valley of the Kings), and the quietness gave the valley a really serene feeling.
On this day we also visited an alabaster factory where the workers described how they create alabaster statues, bowls, and all sort of items. They demonstrated the solidness of the alabaster by chucking a statue on the ground and showing how it doesn’t shatter. The alabaster factory also gave us a look at glowing limestone which is a rock that naturally glows Slimer green when the lights turn out. It was a neat experience, but not one that tempted us to buy anything.
I’ll describe the sights in Luxor on the East Bank of the Nile later on since we hit up that side when we got back at the end of our Nile cruise.
In the meantime, here are a few tips about Luxor:
-This applies to all of Egypt. Everyone looks for Baksheesh, or tip. Everyone from people in the bathroom, cab drivers, guides, and even the damn soldiers who are guarding the place. So make sure to immediately break a large bill at the airport or somewhere to get small change.
-If you take a cruise into Luxor, which most people do, watch out when you get off the boat. The second you get off the boat, you’ll be approached by someone claiming to be a chef on your boat. He’ll say something to the effect of “Hey yeah I make the bread, but I’m on my way to lunch now. Do you want to see where the locals eat?” I’ll be honest, we fell for it and followed him. We were lead to a papyrus factory where the owner tried to get us to buy some papyrus paper. Most of the time the hustler will be harmless, will even say he doesn’t want tip, just wants to show you around, and you’ll follow him. But he’ll lead you to a market where he gets some sort of commission, drop you off, and the market owner will try and sell you goods. So watch out for those guys if you don’t feel like being lead astray. It was quite amusing when we docked back in Luxor a few days later on the end of our cruise and someone else tried to stop us on when we got of the boat. This time we knew better, and my mother did a pretty amusingly smooth job of calling the guy out: “Lemme guess, you’re on our boat, you make the bread, and you want to show us where to eat right?”. The dude didn’t say anything, kinda smiled and walked away. Boosh.
-When you’re in the tombs, don’t accept at the entry the pieces of cardboard to fan yourself. You might think the people handing them out work there, but they don’t. They just want tip.
-Find the local supermarket if you want to get water or food. If the place looks clean, and has “western” snacks and drinks on the outside, its probably not local. Look for the dusty place that has several local people coming in and out of it. A large bottle of water at these local places will be only around 3 Egyptian pounds or 60-70 cents. The tourist markets will try and sell you a small bottle of Dasani (which the one guy was trying to tell me was the greatest water in the world, with me responding, “I know, I drink it everyday”) for 10 Egyptian pounds or $2. Yes, I’m arguing about mere dollars and cents, but its the principle.
Despite the lack of pictures at the tombs, here are a few pictures I was able to take during the day: