CONTENT WARNING: DEAD DUDE! We saw the mummy of Tutankhamen and I’ve included a photo of him in this blog.
Ancient Egyptians only lived on the East Bank of the river Nile. They worshipped the sun disc which rose in the east and set in the west, and why would you live where your god dies every night? The west bank is where they buried their dead and the Valley of the Kings and Queens have some particularly spectacular tombs. Over the centuries the tombs were raided so none but the tomb of Tutankhamen were found intact but some of them are, nonetheless, amazingly preserved.
There’s no public transport to the Valley of the Kings. You can take a minibus so far but then you still need to walk a fair way and the distances between the different sites on the West Bank are just far enough to be too far. If we were brand new to Egypt we’d probably have taken a taxi one way and attempted it on foot like the idiots we are but we knew from experience that the heat nicks off with all of your energy and any moisture you might have carelessly left lying around will be claimed by the sun. One kilometre in the desert might as well be seven of the fuckers. We hired a driver out of a desire to not die and, to be fair, he was great.
First stop then, the Valley of the Kings. You’re permitted to visit three tombs with your entry ticket then there are three tombs you have to pay extra for. We opted for Ramses V and VI, and Tutankhamen as our optional extras but not Seti I as it’s pricey and we could only warrant visiting one of the obnoxiously expensive tombs. We wanted to see Nefertari’s tomb instead over in the valley of the Queens.
Even if you have a guide they’re not allowed in the tombs so we couldn’t glean any information by pretending to be really really interested in one particular hieroglyphic on the wall as we eavesdropped on the closest tour group so it was basically like visiting a slightly morbid art gallery. I’m just going to bombard you with photographs of some of the artwork on the walls, I’m not sure what any of it means but it was just awesome to be here. We ended up on a bit of a Ramses fest on account of the fact most of the tombs that were open that day belonged to one Ramses or another.
The eighth pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty.
The boy king, a buck toothed kid with an elongated skull who walked with a limp and the aid of a stick. His mother was his father’s sister so that explains that then. Possibly the most famous of the pharaohs and the only tomb in the Valley of the Kings to be found intact in 1922. In fact the 100 year anniversary is in a couple of days. The last king of the 18th Dynasty, he took the throne at the age of 9 and died 10 years later. His tomb is tiny. They obviously weren’t expecting the poor bugger to snuff it so soon despite the inbreeding defects and they had to quickly paint something for him to be laid to rest in. He’s actually still here, it’s the only tomb with an actual mummy inside.
There’s always a chap in the tombs who will follow you in and provide snippets of information and take pictures for you in exchange for baksheesh. Don’t try to fight it, it’s going to happen, just chuck him LE10 or LE20 and smile for your photos. This guy was very enthusiastic, squeezing through barriers with Tarrant’s phone to take better photos of King Tut’s mummy. Then he got us to pose on the other side of the glass case with the mummy resulting in two bewildered tourists grinning over the corpse of a 19 year old king. Even I realised the inappropriateness of it and I’m obsessed with dead shit. Oh Egypt. Don’t ever change.
Ramses V & Ramses VI
The tomb was started for Ramses V then was taken over and completed by Ramses VI, both 20th Dynasty kings.
Another 20th Dynasty king. His tomb goes to a dead end then veers off to the right because the builders accidentally burrowed into a neighbouring tomb. Oops.
A 19th Dynasty king. We just needed to pick a third tomb included in our entrance fee and this was the closest.
We probably should have finished with the Valley of the Kings, nothing was going to top that, but it had already started to fill up with bus tours and you don’t want to be trapped in a hot tomb as they start filtering in. If you weren’t claustrophobic when you started you would be when faced with a wall of tourists blocking your exit. It’s best to get there as early as you can.
Next stop was the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut which is incredibly striking on account of the fact it’s been restored. It looks amazing but the reliefs are very faint. After she died her stepson who succeeded her obliterated her name and image, then the images of the gods were vandalised by Akhenaten when he decided there was only one god and dragged Egypt into monotheism. It was actually Tutankhamen who restored the pantheon of gods when he took over.
Anyway. Hatshepsut is important because she was actually only meant to be the co-regent for Thutmose III when he ascended to the throne aged only two. Then she was like fuck it, I’m the pharaoh now and ruled for over twenty years like the badass queen she was. She brought peace to Egypt, was depicted in traditional pharaonic attire complete with fake beard, and was buried in the Valley of the Kings. She wasn’t the first confirmed female pharaoh but she was certainly significant.
The Valley of the Queens is only worth bothering with if you want to splash out on the tomb of Nefertari. Go on. Treat yourself. It really is a fair wedge of cash though. I think they’re trying to dissuade people from visiting it, breathing and sweating all over the stunningly preserved paintings.
Nefertari was Ramses II’s favourite queen, he built a temple for her at Abu Simbel and everything, so it’s only fitting that her tomb is the most spectacular tomb of all. You’re only allowed ten minutes inside and you’ll be watched intently by a bloke who I guess is there to make sure you don’t try and lick the walls or some shit.
There are only three other tombs open here so we had a gawp at them before calling it a day. Mahmoud recommended that we visit at least one other place but we were pretty tombed out by this point. I think we’ve decided we’re not going to bother with the rest of the monuments on the West Bank. I’m sure they’re amazing but we’ve seen so many cool things and we want to leave it before we start resenting ancient monuments built by pharaohs with egos the size of Mars.
Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Egypt
الأقصر ، محافظة الأقصر ، مصر
Stayed at: Adam & Eve House, Luxor
Useful shit to know…
- We had many offers for taxis but we went with a chap called Mahmoud who owns a shop called Grüne Apotheke.
- He asked for LE350 for the whole day until 5pm. We started at 7pm. He was happy to take us to as many places as we wanted in that time.
- We didn’t haggle, it’s a price we were very happy with and people in the tourist industry are really struggling at the moment so I’m not going to argue with a man over a few pounds.
- We were warned by our guesthouse owner that he might want to take us to an alabaster factory, drivers get a huge commission on any purchases made which, of course, would be added to the price. He did ask us if we wanted to but took our first “No thank you” as our final answer.
- The Valley of the Kings cost LE260 each and this allows you entry to three tombs, not including the three that require a special ticket. If you want to see more you need to buy another entrance ticket.
- We opted to pay the extra LE100 for Ramses V & VI (worth it) and the LE300 for Tutankhamen (objectively not worth it but it’s the only tomb that still contains its mummy).
- There’ll be a list of the tombs that are open that day.
- You can pay LE10 for an electric buggy to take you from the ticket office to the tombs and back. Pay at the booth marked “Taftaf”.
- The Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut cost LE160 each. There’s also a LE10 buggy if you want it.
- The Valley of the Queens is only LE100 but it only has four tombs and one of those costs a lot extra. Unless you want to visit Nefertari’s tomb for an extra LE1400 (yes, really) it’s probably not worth it.
- Is Nefertari’s tomb worth the £50? It depends on your priorities. It’s a beautiful, well preserved tomb. The high cost is, apparently, an effort to protect it from too many people breathing all over it. You’re only allowed ten minutes but that’s plenty. It’s certainly worth paying extra but the asking price is huge. I don’t regret it, but if you’re on a budget your money is probably best spent elsewhere.