2/2/10

Tomb Raiders


A trip to Luxor is not complete they say, without visiting the tombs of ancient VIPs - make that Very Important Pharaohs. Their final resting place is the appropriately named Valley of the Kings hidden behind the Theban Hills on the West Bank of the Nile. There are at the moment 63 known tombs. Through antiquity, these tombs have been plundered of their treasures except Tutankhamun's which was comparatively intact when discovered in 1922. With that in mind, we have come to expect seeing royal tombs that are empty. Or, were they?


In the old days of Egyptology, archaeologists used donkeys to transport them to the valley. That's how exactly our group traveled as well, not on the usual tour buses or vans. After being matched with the right beast, I found myself staring at a female donkey which I christened Shreka. Her saddle looked nothing more than a pillow and I wondered aloud if riding her won't be such a pain in the ass literally. We started without even being told how to tell the animal to turn left or right - and so I ended on the rear end following the rest of the group as we passed through some village. "Shooo, shooo, shooo, come on Shreka!" Behind me yelled Waleed in a throaty "Yalla!" Let's go! Oh yes, yalla indeed.


After finally coaxing my donkey to move faster, we got into the main road leading to the valley. While we tried to stay clear away from speeding tour buses bolting ahead of us, the beasts seem unperturbed being on a busy asphalt road. Waleed and Hassan, another tour leader, kept reminding us to stay on the right side of the road. All around us were barren hills that form part of the Theban Hills. What took just 10 minutes for buses to accomplish, it took us an hour to reach the Visitor's Center. Even though my thighs were sore (I walked almost like Charlie Chaplin!) I thanked Shreka for bringing me in one piece to the Valley of the Kings.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to bring cameras with us! There's an airport-style security screening at the entrance so I wistfully shoved my camera back to my bag and into the van that will take us back later. Atef, our local guide in Karnak, was our guide again during the visit to the tombs. Our tickets cost 80 Egyptian pounds which allowed access to three tombs. Since Atef knew best, we let him decide which three we will see. The ever popular tomb of Tutankhamun is another ticket (costing 100, more than the 3-tomb ticket!) and as per Atef's advice and travel forums I've also checked, it's really not worth the money. After all, it's a smaller tomb compared to the others - and Tut's treasures are all in the Cairo Musuem which I already saw.

the entrance to the Valley then . . .
(photograph taken 1910 by Lancelot Crane)

. . . and the entrance to the Valley now
(No cameras allowed beyond this point)

What I realize as our group of nine marched on the dusty path to our first tomb is that the Valley is definitely a huge crowd drawer. And this being a peak season, visiting the Valley of the Kings felt like All Souls Day in Philippine cemeteries - minus the picnic. In front of the Visitor's Center is a parking lot with buses, vans and cars parked side by side, disgorging tourists, most of them coming from the Nile river boats docked in Luxor. There's a Disney-like trolley that transports visitors closer to the tombs but our group, ever wanting to stay active, walked all the way and saved some money in the process.

While there are plenty of tombs, not all of them are open to the public. Some are undergoing further excavations while others go through restoration. The tombs are all numbered based in the order it was 'discovered'. Since guides are not allowed to lecture inside the tombs, Atef discussed each tomb right at the entrance of three really good ones we were able to visit: KV6 (tomb of Rameses IX), KV11 (tomb of Rameses III) and KV16 (tomb of Rameses I).

Visiting these tombs is quite like no other - I've been to cemeteries but nothing like these that were carved out literally from the hills. All of them have mind-boggling hieroglyphics, depicting scenes culled from the Book of the Dead, the Book of Gates, the Litany of Ra and some other ancient Egyptian scripts. What is fascinating is seeing these finely-detailed paintings and reliefs on the walls and corridors still so vivid after some 3,000 years. Imagine how the tombs would have looked if the treasures intended to accompany the dead pharaohs into the afterlife were still there?

After seeing the tombs up close, I can only say the ancient Egyptians knew how to bury the dead in a truly grand style. But with throngs of visitors choking these narrow passageways and burial chambers, I wonder what the once mighty rulers of ancient Egypt has to say that their tombs are getting raided yet again - not for their treasures - but for their popularity? Empty tombs they're certainly not!

14 comments:

  1. No cameras allowed? Sayang! How was the donkey ride? Was it, de-virginizing?

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  2. The Nomadic Pinoy8:21:00 PM

    LOL! I got sore in my inner thighs but that would have been alleviated if photography was allowed inside the Valley:)

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  3. I have noticed on the train ride from Alexandria to Cairo that on the fields that we passed by, they were using a lot of donkey as farm animals too.

    Oh am so envious with your trip.

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  5. sidney19:51:00 PM

    hahaha...looks like fun too !
    It seems like a very well organized trip !

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  6. OMG, I can just imagine myself being one of the riders. Exciting!

    Haha, natawa naman ako sa VIP. =p

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  7. the only luxor i've been to is the hotel named after it in LV., hehe.
    sayang, cams weren't allowed to the tombs for your lens to bring us there; free without a visa and tickets and airfares =)

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  8. wala akong masabi sa lugar. now im quite convince why this place should be in my bucket list. i like the second photo and the last photo the most.

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  9. The Nomadic Pinoy9:51:00 PM

    I believe the donkeys are the Egyptian's beast of burden, just like Carabao are to Pinoys.

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  10. The Nomadic Pinoy9:51:00 PM

    Gecko's - just like GAP Adventures and Intrepid - runs their trips very well. Would like to travel with them again!

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  11. The Nomadic Pinoy9:51:00 PM

    It was exciting at first pero sumakit din ang balakang ko.

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  12. The Nomadic Pinoy9:51:00 PM

    LOL Doc Gelo! I've seen that hotel in Las Vegas too. It really was a bummer that they don't allow cameras inside - puro naman bato yung nasa loob.

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  13. The Nomadic Pinoy9:51:00 PM

    You'll never regret visiting Egypt Dong - history is written all over it!

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  14. Fascinating! I have just been through your Egypt series and that's definitely a place I want to visit. I wonder if visiting tombs is spooky... or do you just forget about it?

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