Valley of the Kings, Medinet Habu Temple, Colossi of Memnon
05/12/2011 92 °F
We are up early and out of our hotel by 6:30 a.m. this morning: we have a seven o’clock train to catch for Luxor. Having tried three times in the last three days to purchase our tickets in advance, we are going to purchase our tickets on the train. We have read up about this – thank you seat61.com! – and the Egyptian government claims to only sell the sleeper train tickets to tourists (it’s safer they say). But there is a way around this. We get on our preferred train and sit in the class car we want to pay for: first, second, or third. After the train leaves the station, the conductor comes through and we purchase our tickets from him. There is a charge of about five Egyptian pounds per person for doing this so our total is 92 Egyptian pounds (about $15.33 USD) for two first-class tickets to Luxor. I walked through the first- and second-class cars and I can’t tell the difference between them on this train.
We arrive in Luxor about ten thirty (on time as per the schedule!) and there is a taxi from our hotel waiting for us. Actually it’s not a hotel, it is a guesthouse called Mara House. It’s very nice and we are greeted by Mara herself. She orders coffee for three of us and we sit and chat for about an hour before going up to our room.
We ask Mara for some advice on how much time it might take to visit a few of the sites this afternoon. We decide to hire a taxi driver and hit the Valley of the Kings (KV) and Medinat Habu with a quick stop at the Colossi of Memnon before heading back to Mara House.
It's warm today and we arrive at the Valley of the Kings about twelve o'clock. I'm hoping most of the visitors will decide it's too hot to visit in the middle of the day but there are several large groups. They say no cameras are allowed in the Valley of the Kings so we leave our camera in the taxi. There are "guards" everywhere in KV so if we were to sneak a camera in we would need to be discreet about taking any pictures.
The ticket office has a list of of tombs that are open this year. We had wanted to visit Seti I's tomb but it is closed. We can purchase a ticket to see three tombs of our choice but several tombs are not included on that ticket; Tut and Ramses VI are extra tickets. We purchase the three-tomb ticket for Merenptah (KV 8), Ramses I (KV 16), and Ramses III (KV 11); we also purchase the extra tickets for Tut (KV 62) and Ramses VI (KV 9). Then we hop on the tram (an additional 2 LE) that takes us up into the valley where the tombs are located.
Turns out that it's a good idea to purchase the extra tickets: we are by ourselves in Tut's and Ramses VI's tombs. Excellent! Well, almost by ourselves. There are those guards who have the job of keeping an eye on us. They keep telling us (gesturing really) we can climb over the gates and fences in each of the tombs, for a price of course. We decline each time. The only guard who doesn't encourage us is the guard in Tut's tomb. He tells us the inspector has been visiting KV in recent days and the guard seems concerned about getting caught letting visitors in the forbidden areas of the tombs. Too bad - I would love to get closer to Tut's gold coffin inside the sarcophagus in the Burial Chamber.
Except for Tut's, all of the tombs are so much bigger than I ever thought. (It's good to be king!) The pictures and documentaries I have seen don't do them justice. It is amazing to walk through the corridors leading down into the chambers. We spend about an hour and a half in KV and it's hot and bright thanks to the white rock throughout the valley. My sunglasses need sunglasses. KV seems very quiet today but I still try imagine what it must been like one hundred plus years ago when it was busy with people digging out recently discovered tombs and excavating for any signs of a new tomb (with undisturbed funerary treasures to be discovered inside it, of course).
Next on the agenda is Medinat Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramses III. It is huge and, according to the guide books, second only to Karnak in size. We have not yet visited Karnak so Medinat Habu is very impressive. Many of the reliefs in the second court still retain their original paint colors - it's beautiful. Also, many of the hieroglyphs were carved deep into the stone, some as deep as eight inches. One of the main theories for such deep carvings is that Ramses III had no intention of being usurped and losing his temple to a future pharaoh (taking his lead from Ramses II). Not uncommon for the new pharaoh to come along and chisel out the name of the old pharaoh replacing it with his own. Nice deep carvings might prevent someone from taking the trouble.
We passed the Colossi of Memnon as we made our way onto the West Bank and now that we are headed back to the East Bank we stop to have a quick look at them. (I think this may be the only "free" ancient site to see in Luxor - no tickets to buy.) The Colossi of Memnon represent Amenhotep III and are all that's left of his mortuary temple, thought to have been the largest ever built in Egypt. The temple was gradually destroyed by the annual floods of the Nile and plundered for building material by later pharaohs.
We are now headed back to Mara House for a rest and some dinner before heading out for this evening's entertainment: the Sound and Light show at Karnak.