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Valley of the Kings

Don’t take the donkey ride from Luxor to the Valley of the Kings if you haven’t got a sports bra. There are many vendors in Luxor who will try to entice the unwitting traveler to sample this traditional mode of transportation. Take my advice, for the experienced Donkey-back rider only!

We passed many grimacing faced donkey-back riders in our taxi and were so relieved we passed up on this obviously brutal experience. If you’re travelling alone, try to collect enough fellow temple trotters to fill your cab, thus reducing the expense for all concerned. Luxor is full of travelers so this should be a relatively painless exercise.

Your friendly cabby will now skillfully negotiate the ramshackle streets to the dock of the Nile Ferry. Yes, we get a trip, not down, but across the Nile to the silent desert on the other side, a far cry from the seething city we’ve just left behind. Hidden behind the Theban Hills on the West Bank of the Nile is the Valley of the king’s. For a fee, the cabby will wait for you, or you can arrange for him to come back at an agreed time, as we did with ours.

Its desert out there, rocky barren desert, so don’t expect to be impressed with the scenery ­ you won’t be. There’s a box office at the entrance of the valley where one must buy “entrance tickets” for individual tombs. It’s a long, silent walk to the tombs themselves, interrupted intermittently by the miniature bus-that-looks-like-a-train, ferrying weary tourists to and fro, so oddly out of place here. Finally, we reached the tombs.

I imagined pyramids, or temples or something incredible and spectacular above ground, but there isn’t anything, just the gently sloping sides of this desert valley, its many draws each hiding the entrance to a tomb. Entering the tomb is like walking through the Stargate, being immediately transported to another realm far from our current reality. The cool dark interior, the musty, dry air, the dust mixed with sand on the floor, all reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie, but this was real! Every tomb I entered had the same mural on the ceiling, the night sky, deep lapis blue with symmetrical rows of bright yellow stars, still vivid and striking after thousands of years. Most of the tombs are carved deep into the bedrock and contain a multitude of rooms with carved and painted hieroglyphic texts depicting magical and symbolic scenes. The narrow steps go down and down, becoming little more than a ladder in some places.

Well known tombs include King Ramses II, King Amenhotep II and perhaps the most famous of all Tutankhamun. It is believed that the small tomb of Tutankhamun was destined for someone of lesser importance, but due to the untimely demise of King Tut, a rush job was put on the tomb. The fact that the burial chamber is the only part of the complex to contain wall paintings is evidence of this. The king’s mummy lay within a nest of three coffins, the innermost of solid gold, upon his face, the famous gold portrait mask. The burial chamber and other rooms were filed with furniture, shrines covered with texts, clothes, chariots, weapons, staffs, jewelry and amulets. King Tut’s tomb is the only one to have escaped wholesale looting in ancient times.

Emerging from the tombs, the dazzling desert sun seems harsh and intimidating. True to form, our cabby was waiting for us at the entrance gate. Now don’t just go straight back to Luxor, there are more delights in the desert, among them I would highly recommend the Mortuary Temple of Deir el Bahari, AKA Hatshepsut’s Palace. The most dramatically situated temple in the world, at the head of a valley, overshadowed by the peak of Thebes. From a distance, the rigid, symmetrical structure looks like a modern office building, but close inspection reveals row after row of intricately carved columns, ramps, statues and sphinxes of the queen, which form this massive ancient temple.

After taking much time and many pictures, we returned to our patient cabby who drove us back to Luxor, passing the tortured, hemorrhoid inflicted, Donkey-back riders on the way. Poor soles…

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