I quickly stuffed my small Nikon camera back into my front pocket when the angry voice reverberated off the stone walls around me.
My friend had just gotten busted taking pictures of the walls inside one of the tombs, and now the Bedouin man that “guards” the place was not so happy and was holding my buddy’s $1500 professional camera in his hands precariously. We were very careful not to use the flash which would damage the 4000 year old colors, but there was a sign clearly posted outside telling us that pictures were a no-go. He lectured us about how it was against the law, blah, blah, then suddenly became very friendly when we produced some Egyptian pounds to get the camera back. In fact, the law flew out the window when he asked us if there was anything else we wanted a picture of! I did not have the maroni, but more than anything I wanted to ask him to pose in front of the hieroglyphics for us. This was not the first time that I bribed an official in Egypt to stay out of trouble. I know, Im not the perfect example backpacker sometimes. 🙂
This afternoon, I went with my 2 Swedish friends to the Valley of the Kings. The 2nd largest archaeological find in Egypt only to the pyramids. We made our way past scams and pushy touts offering everything from boat rides to drugs…not just weed and opium…even cocaine and heroine! The Valley lies on the West bank of Luxor, so we negotiated a boat across for 5 pounds (about US $1). It was 70 LE to enter the Valley, and you can only choose 3 tombs from quite a many. Once again, I wonder where all this money (that is a huge sum by Egyptian standards) is going? The infrastructure around the monuments is a joke, and you might find a portable toilet if you are lucky. Its probably going straight to an official’s pocket. Several of the tombs only have numbers like “KV34” because they have no idea who is actually buried there. The first one we went inside was Ramses the 1st.
Instantly, I was blown away. It was a simple tomb, just a passage underground to a square chamber where a large granite sarcophagus sits, but the walls were mesmerizing. Almost every inch was covered with the original, colored, hieroglyphic text. The entire room told a story. Honestly, I have never had a thirst for more knowledge of something sparked inside of me so quickly. I want to buy books, take classes, move to Luxor (well, not really) or do whatever it takes to learn more about these ancient people. Like everyone, I have seen it countless times on television or in textbooks, but seeing it in person astonished me. I dreamed of being an archeologist when I was growing up, but like others, I learned that it was not all Indiana Jones stuff, that I would probably spend 15 years in school and then sit around a dirt hole with a paintbrush in my hands looking for pottery shards.
The next 2 tombs were equally as impressive. We watched as many tourists would simply come inside, make 1 round around the sarcophagus, then leave and check it off their list of sites. It takes time for such a place to sink in, but I could feel something new in my chest when I left and it was well worth the money. We lingered inside the last tomb, a chamber buried deep into the mountain, sweating, and trying to make sense of the art on the walls. The longer we looked, the more stuff was revealed to us. One scene, clearly showed people bound with hands behind their backs, on their knees, and a man with a blade cutting their heads off. The servants of the dead king? Supposedly a multitude of servants and harlots are buried with the dead pharaoh to keep him occupied in the afterlife.
To be honest, I approached the Valley with the same monument-numbed mind that I approached the pyramids with, but this has opened my eyes. I actually enjoyed this more than the pyramids, if you can believe. I am considering postponing my move to Hurghada (in search of some craic) tomorrow and paying the 70 LE to go to Valley of the Queens or Nobles, or one of the other sites here. Damn good stuff!