Our first Luxor night had been spent on the boat and we had gone to bed early. The ship had remained docked at Luxor that night and the gentle lapping of Nile had rocked us occasionally. It had been a noisy, brightly illuminated night as both sides of the river had reverberated with tourists having fun. The Eastern bank, also known as the land of the living had been brightly lit up with pretty waterfront shops, hotels, restaurants and the place of the dead or the West Bank had throbbed with loud music and party noises. The West Bank had held more backpackers than the upper crust eastern side and then there had been people like us floating between the dead and the living. Many party barges had sailed up and down the Nile and raucous laughter, booming music and loud cheers had flowed out of them. Needless to say, it had been a disturbed night and neither of us had managed much sleep. We had tossed around on our bed uncomfortably until early dawn and it had been a disastrous start of an action packed second Luxor day. Our itinerary had revealed a long list of activities and we had gotten out of bed, groggy from sleep.
Hot air ballooning had been the first thing to do on our itinerary and it had been followed by a visit to the famous Valley of Kings. A short market and local souk trip too had been punched into the already busy day and post lunch we had to be on our way to Hurghada. It had been still dark, when our car had driven towards the hot air ballooning park and the dirt road had made us bump along wearily. The night had been receding at that time, yet huge crowds of stars had filled the inky sky. The entire countryside had been silent and after the cacophonous night, the absolute quiet had seemed delicious. We had dozed off in the car until, woken up by our guide Mohammed and much to our surprise, the sky by then had been stained silver. Huge neon flowers, fed by roaring gas fires had bloomed in front of us and pilots had busily carried about their pre flight checks. I had never been on a hot air balloon until then and for me it had been a most anticipated activity.
Luxor, being a tourist mecca, had many such exciting activities being offered to tourists and until a recent fire accident, watching the sunrise over the West Bank from hot air balloon had been “the thing to do out there’. Surprisingly, despite my eager anticipation, I had not enjoyed hot air ballooning much and had found the take off or landing to be extremely unnerving. The fire had looked large from underneath and the billowing wind had made the balloon walls get too close to the blaze. The entire thing had made me very nervous and I had looked out of the basket for distraction. The sun had not yet risen when we had taken off from the park and a pale silver light had created deep mysterious shadows. The ancient land had remained shrouded in mists and the rising sun had burned them off, making mysterious wisps rise up like sensual curls of incense. The young dawn’s beauty had made been breathtaking and I had watched mesmerized as the sun had slowly covered the West Bank like a golden shower. It had been worth tackling my fears of hot air ballooning and the shimmering river Nile had divided the banks of the living and the dead.
While the East Bank had looked postcard pretty touristy, the West Bank had been a mix of green, gold and sandy beige. Dark rows of brooding hedges had grown at the foot of scraggly date palms and neat patches of agricultural fields had lain interspersed between them. A few hutments had also been visible from the top and beyond the flourishing green carpet, the dead had lain sleeping. The broad city of the dead or Necropolis, had started immediately and the golden grooves of the folded hills had held royal tombs, mortuary temples and other somber establishments. While the thought of a city of the dead had sounded awfully morbid, in reality, however, the West Bank had held more archaeological treasures than its eastern counterpart. We had visited it after the balloon ride and a quick ferry crossing had taken us to Necropolis.
An isolated valley marked by the conical mountain peak of Al-Qurn, the Great Necropolis of Millions of Years of Pharaoh had been spread over quite a huge area. Also known as the the Place of Truth and the Valley of the Kings, the princely burial space had 63 magnificent royal tombs, with each being quite different from the other. Naturally, the Valley of the Kings had attracted an endless stream of treasure hunters, bandits, archaeologists, explorers and adventurers throughout centuries and many myths and urban legends had surrounded it. From the curse of the mummies to blood curdling supernatural stories, the Necropolis had them all and I had been a bit apprehensive about visiting the royal tombs. The reality had been farthest from my conjured up scary image and tourists, touts and shopkeepers had crawled all over the entire West Bank like armies of black ants.
The massive faceless Colossi of Memnon had our first stop at the West Bank and the pair of famous monolithic statues had left me speechless. Dedicated to Memnon, the famous African king who had been killed by Achilles during the Trojan War, the faceless enthroned figures had stood in front of a newly excavated funerary temple and they had welcomed every traveler to the West Bank. Originally, said to have been representing the pharaoh Amenhotep III, the Colossi of Memnon had been popular tourist attractions from the Graeco Roman period and a keening sound, caused by wind passing through a crack in the statues had created stories of his mother Eos, weeping over his premature death. A repair job commissioned by the 3rd century AD glitterati Septimus Severus had made Memnon stop crying and ever since the faceless ten thousand tonne statues had watched over the city of the dead like silent sentinels.
Our tour of the Necropolis had started after leaving the Colossi of Memnon and though, we had spent more than half a day out there, I have very vague recollections of my visit. Technically, the entire West Bank had been honeycombed with tombs of the royal family, their nobles, courtiers, priests and even pets, of which the Valley of the Kings had constituted of 1 zone. The Tombs of the Nobles, Valley of the Queens, ruins of Deir el Medina/Valley of the Artisans etc had made up the rest of the area and I had gotten hopelessly tangled among such fantastic names like Tutankhamen, Ramses, Hatshepsut etc. For a dawn that had started so fresh and dewy, it had become unbearably hot very fast and a huge sun had blazed from the open desert sky. Sections of the most important honeycombed tombs had been connected by an open stony walk and illustrious pharaohs and their queens had lain sleeping in eternal slumber on either side of the track. Most of the tombs had been located underground and nearly all of them had been open to public. The hot, dry climb however, had made visiting all of them in one day a next to impossible task and the entire Necropolis had been squirming with over zealous peddlers selling overpriced water bottles, soft drinks, cigarettes and horse cart rides.
I remember visiting a few tombs and being creepily awed by the exquisite fresco decorated burial chambers of the erstwhile rulers. Images of various deities, scenes of netherworld, the journey of the soul, post death preparation of the body etc had been vividly painted on the walls and most of them had given away the mortuary secrets of that era. Nearly all the tombs had consisted of more than 1 chamber and their highlight had been the sarcophagi which had contained the dismembered vital organs of the buried. The treated, hollowed out, bandaged mummies had originally slept in neat tombs in the well planned burial real estate complex and the Theban Mapping Project had revealed the importance of death in the ancient Egyptian society. For them, death had been yet another journey for the ever pulsating soul and they had eased the dead’s passage by surrounding him/her with their familiar and favourite objects, animals and people.
Although, exceedingly thrilling, I had not enjoyed my visit to the Necropolis much and had quickly got tired of the morbid tourism after visiting a few tombs. The unbearable heat, long dusty climb and death centric excursions had not made me terribly excited and I had found the tomb of the celebrated Tutankhamen to be very unimpressive.
Owner of the fantastic burial mask and the much hyped fantastic treasures, the tomb of the boy pharaoh of Tutankhamen had been something I had eagerly looked forward to and unfortunately, it had turned to be a hastily completed, inglorious project. The young king had died at tender adolescence and stories of treasures filling his burial chambers had caused it to be looted throughout centuries. This had given rise to many urban legends like curse of the mummy etc and it is popularly believed that Egyptologist Howard Carter, who had slaved for six seasons in the valley, to discover his tomb, had himself been afflicted by them. Curses, empty tombs, mummies, sarcophagi and heat had unnerved me a lot and we had made a hasty retreat out of there. Our last stop had been the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut and it had been a gorgeous rock cut structure.
Located a short drive away under the craggy golden cliff of Deir el-Bahari, the queen’s mortuary temple had undergone recent repairs when we had visited and though remodeled to its original glory, much of its beautiful frescoes had been nearly wiped out. Constructed to commemorate the glory of the patron pharaoh, mortuary temples had also been used as the resting place of the boat of Amun, when he had traveled to the West Bank during the Beautiful Festival of the Valley and the temple of Queen Hatshepsut had been considered Djeser-Djeseru or the “Holy of Holies”. While, the title, undoubtedly had been given to her temple because of her power, the building had been truly architecturally splendid. Set into the cliffs, the three storied colonnaded building had been surrounded by a beautiful garden and it had glowed a dazzling gold underneath a cloudless, azure blue sky. It had been an unforgettable sight and thankfully with that memorable visit, our West Bank day had come to an end.
After the serious overdose of death related celebrations, I had not minded getting back to the bustling East Bank, where a quick horse cart ride through the city’s produce market had finished our Luxor day. We had taken a breather at a local restaurant, where the slightly overbearing sweet scent of sheesha had mingled with smoking kebabs and gurgling water pipe noises had drowned slow slurping of thick Egyptian coffees. Mellifluous local tongue had fallen pleasantly on our ears and we had been glad to be back among the living, before making our way towards Hurghada. After the intensity of Egyptian antiquity, we had looked forward to some R&R with the sun, sand and sea at Hurghada.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE