Egypt: Part V (this is getting unmanageably long)

Luxor. I likely already mentioned this, but in Luxor, everyone is trying to help spend your money. Transportation or trinkets are the main avenues and while it’s perfectly understandable, it’s also a bit frustrating. It’s also impossible to tell if the taxi driver or guide you’ve booked is any good until you’re out in the middle of the desert. Although is does make for a more interesting adventure.

Luckily for us, we managed to meet someone who proved to have excellent connections and a fantastic knowledge of local sites and history. And while he ended up approaching us on the street like every other vendor, Ibrahim won our hearts by not working the hard sell approach. Frankly, I think he should quit organizing tours and just start a business teaching the rest of the Egyptian tour industry how to obtain rather than scare away potential clients.

Anyway. Thanks to his planning, less than nine hours after meeting outside the Luxor temple we were viewing the sun rise on the way to the Valley of the Kings. On the way we ran into some colossal legs:

It surprised me how close all the major sites were in Luxor. Similar to Giza, with the city and the pyramids battling for space in Cairo, the West Bank of Luxor and the major sites in Thebes are very close neighbors. Thus, after a quick drive from our hotel we found ourselves onsite at the Valley of the Kings, first visitors though the gates and into the tombs.

The site contains the royal tombs from the 18th Dynasty and around 500 years onward, including the well known Tutenkhamun. As I understand it, rather than going for impressive above-ground structures, tombs were lavishly decorated below ground, in hopes of preventing excessive looting. The overall site was much more compact than I had imagined, with most of the tombs less than two hundred meters apart, and some much closer.

First stop was the tomb of Ramses IV. The guard actually had to unlock the gate for us, we were so early. The tomb is a long, slanting hallway down to the final room where presumably the sarcophagus would be stored.

It. Was. Breathtaking.

Every square inch of wall and ceiling was carved and painted. Hieroglyphs, stars and other images. Unbelievable amounts of work.

Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside. Being the first ones through, we were under special scrutiny by the guards, either to enforce the no photo rule, or to ensure they got a premium tip. Chad even had to scroll through his cell phone photos after one guard slipped stealthily down the hallway and popped around a sarcophagus trying to catch him. Thus all tomb photos are care of googling.

The shared tomb of Ramses V & VI was even more beautiful, larger and more detailed. And if I remember correctly, we had that tomb 100% to ourselves as well. Both were far better than expected and made the 4:30 alarm more than worth it.

The entry ticket into the valley includes entrance to three tombs, with the option of paying extra to see tombs of Tutankhamun or Ramses III. Based on research, we opted to skip Tut’s and instead sprung for Ramses III. After exiting our second tomb (Ramses V & VI) we noticed a number of tour groups had suddenly swarmed onsite and realized our time of solo tomb exploration was finished. Thus we headed a bit deeper into the site to visit the tomb of Siptah. Unfortunately, this one had been damaged due to flash flooding (I think), but still maintained some great ceiling painting and the overall general structure.

By a stroke of luck, I was also able to sneak into the tomb of Sethos II, as we somehow had one punch remaining on one ticket. While his tomb wasn’t fully finished, and was nothing near the grand scale of the Ramses, it did show the sketches used before carving directly onto the walls. Up and down the sides of the tombs, red sketches show the outlines of where the decoration would have gone, had there been more time (he only reigned for six years).

At this point in the day (I think possibly 8am?), the site was crawling with visitors, tour groups and vendors. It was nothing like the peaceful valley we walked into. With our last ticket in hand, we took a deep breath and braved the craziness of Ramses III.

It was overwhelming. Large groups were blocking the walkway, guards were trying to share their flashlights with visitors in return for tips and there was no sense that it was any sort of peaceful tomb at all. If anything, it made us all the more appreciative for the peace and quiet in our first pair of tombs.

Overall, the site was excellent. But in my opinion, at least half of our fantastic experience hinged from having time alone to view the tombs. For the most part, that isn’t realistic. But if it is at all possible, it’s a must.

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