Luxor - Day 2

Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Two from our group were on their way at 4:30 am for a balloon ride over the town. Having had such a spectacular experience in Capadoccia, it was easy to take a pass on this activity.

So we started our day at a slightly more sensible 7 am, and headed for the West Bank of the Nile (our boat was docked on the East Bank) toward the Valley of the Dead-with several stops and multiple checkpoints in between.  In addition to the armed guard on our bus, it seems as if there armed guards/police and heavy security checks from time to time.  We feel very safe.  We drove over a modern bridge and headed for the Colossi of Memnon. Rising 60 feet tall, these two statues of King Amenohtep III are all that remain from his mortuary temple (or at least known of for now—archaeologists are constantly at work here, and new findings are unearthed fairly frequently from eons of sand cover).  

 Next stop:  The temple of Hatshepsut.  She commissioned her mortuary temple at some point soon after coming to power in 1479 BCE and had it designed to tell the story of her life and reign and surpass any other in elegance and - grandeur. It is built into and in front of the long face of a high, nearly straight up, mountainside.  There are three levels, each fronted by an impressive array of columns.

It was rare for the Pharaoh to be a woman, and, for the most part, her time as Pharaoh is characterized by successful trade, a booming economy, and her many public works projects which employed laborers from across the nation. In c.1457 BCE Thutmose III (her stepson) took control from her and became the new Pharaoh. At this point, her name disappears from the historical record. Thutmose III had all evidence of her reign destroyed by erasing her name and having her image cut from all public monuments, and from many places inside this temple (you can see glyphs where one side shows a clear picture of Thutmose, and the other side has been chiseled clean). To erase one’s name on earth was to condemn that person to non-existence. In ancient Egyptian belief, one needed to be remembered in order to continue one’s eternal journey in the afterlife.

Although Thutmose III seems to have ordered this extreme measure, there is no evidence of any enmity between him and his step-mother; rather it may indicate that he did not harbor Hatshepsut any ill will personally but was attempting to eradicate any overt evidence of a strong female pharaoh.

Back in the bus for a short ride to the Valley of the Kings. This is a necropolis of over 60 Pharoahs (and perhaps many more), including Ramses II and Tut. Starting around 1504 BC, they chose this valley as the secret place where they would be buried underground. It was partly chosen because it was isolated (so no one would break into and rob their tombs), and desolate (to help preserve the tombs for eternity). The other reason was that the top of the mountain has a natural pyramidal shape; the pyramid represents the afterlife.

But it seems like this idea was doomed from the start: so many people worked on these tombs over the years, that it was impossible to keep them a secret. So nearly all of them have been robbed over the centuries of their mummies and gold and precious stones. That is why the discovery of Tut’s intact tomb in 1922 was such an archaeological triumph. And that event was a real fluke. You see, years can go by without any rain here. But it actually rained for two straight days just as Carter’s team was about to finish their current explorations. The rains washed away enough material that the entrance to Tut’s tomb was exposed….in a place that people had walked by for thousands of years!  
At any one time, only about 10 tombs are open to the public. Each one is labeled KV##, for King’s Valley and the number in which it was discovered. Tut is KV62. Each is at the end of a long rectangular tunnel carved horizontally deep into the limestone. Only a few of these have well-preserved hieroglyphs and wall paintings. Photography is forbidden, so here are some pix from a CD we bought on the way out.

We visited 4 tombs—a highlight of which was King Tut’s (the boy wonder).  The Egyptian Museum was chock-full of his treasures but the tomb in the Valley of the Kings had his actual mummified remains.  He was a little guy (only 18) and, apparently, had club feet from all of the in-breeding across Pharaonic lines (quite commonplace).  The sarcophagus was amazing.

That was all the touring for the day. Soon after we got back, the boat started moving as we finally headed upriver. We were a little late in getting started, and by the time we got to the lock at Edfu it was dark, so we weren’t able to see the process. But we had previously seen this on our Yangtze River cruise, so it was not much of a disappointment. Besides, we had to get ready for the special Egyptian Dinner buffet and Costume Party! Everyone was invited to dress in current traditional clothing (the gelabaya). We had known about this from the itinerary and from a friend who had taken this trip in October. We knew that they sold these on the ship and figured it would be a rip-off, so we bought ours on Amazon before the trip. But it turned out that the ones on the ship were very cheap ($15), so we didn’t need to be over-achievers after all. But we did spend $5 each for head coverings to compete our outfits.

The dinner was really fabulous: lots of authentic Egyptian food including yellow lentil soup, Kushari, fish sambosek, lamb kebabs, baba ghanoug, tahmya, Nile perch, dolmas, and freshly made pitas and hummus. We asked for and received the recipes for the soup and kushari; looking forward to making them when we return. It was representative of a typical Mediterranean diet. Oddly, they were also carving a whole roast turkey!

It was so much fun seeing everyone’s costumes.

Afterwards, we all went into the lounge area for dancing! The staff played instruments and sang some songs, then put on some canned music: some traditional Egyptian songs, as well as Chubby Checker’s ‘The Twist” and “YMCA” (always a crowd pleaser). The Egyptian pop numbers were really fun and the staff from the ship were totally into it and quite energetic (though politely so) in encouraging passengers to join in the fun. Finally, a chance to burn off some calories! There was a professional photographer in our midst taking pictures of the action. (Of course we bought the pack of pix that was prominently displayed outside the dining room the next morning; too cute to pass up!)

The fun lasted for over an hour, and then to bed as we continued upstream (though we are on the top passenger deck, the engines were pretty loud the whole night).

All in all, a super day!

Love w&w.....

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