Journal: Friday 14 January 2011
Four days in Egypt and we seem to have been dogged by water problems. That is, water or the lack of it. Each day the water in our apartment has gone off for most of the day and sometimes at night too – something to do with the mains running along this stretch of the Ramla road. Malcolm and Fiona next door haven’t had a problem, so we think it’s related to the pump to our second floor apartment. This morning Sam and I woke to a flooded apartment, when I stepped out of bed I was ankle deep in cold water. It would seem that a bathroom tap had been left open when the water was off! Thank goodness for tiled floors. We spent a couple of hours with squeegees mopping up before breakfast, but at least the floors were spotless by the time we had finished.
This morning’s entertainment from the balcony included a hot-air balloon dipping and hovering only a few metres above the Nile. I love hot air balloons but I was grateful not to be in this one.
Later in the morning Fiona, Malcolm and I went over to Luxor on the ferry to change some money. The ferry boat was as usual crammed with locals and tourists alike, crossing the Nile at frequent intervals. This is a pastime I always enjoy because river life is so vibrant and varied and there was a great assortment of boats out on the water this morning. We didn’t spend long in Luxor, just went to Thomas Cook to change money, followed by a walk through the Winter Palace gardens that we all love so much. The gardens always seem so green and lush with flowering plants and dazzling shades of bougainvillea, the lawns fluttering with hoopoes and colourful finches. Walking up to the new Aboudi’s bookshop we happened across a strange procession of Egyptian pharaohs. This was a band of men dressed in pseudo-ancient-Egyptian costumes and playing a cacophony of brass instruments. Hmmm… !
Back on the West Bank we took an arabeya up to the monument area. It’s quite a few years since I visited the Qurna tombs and I had not been in any of them since the village of Old Qurna was completely bulldozed a couple of years ago. The slopes of the Theban hills look almost naked without the colourful clusters of houses and while I deplore the villagers losing their homes I had to admit that visiting the tombs was much easier without the hassle of crowds of village children and packs of village dogs. However, to me the loss of homes in the name of tourism is despicable.
Our first visit was to the Tomb of Rekhmire (TT100) which is on the slopes of Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna area. Rekhmire was Governor of the Town of Thebes and Vizier during the reigns of Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II. I had forgotten just how fascinating this tomb is, especially the long passage with a steeply sloping ceiling that depicts all sorts of industries of Dynasty XVIII, mostly connected to the Temple of Amun at Karnak. The paintings here show the artisans at work on their crafts, with leather-workers, rope-makers, carpenters, metal-workers, brick-makers and builders. Sculptors haul stone to be used in the manufacture of two royal colossal statues. These are important scenes showing the methods of production of the crafts of ancient Egypt. The quality of drawing and the detail of the scenes is superb.
Further up the slope is the Tomb of Sennefer (TT96). Sometimes called the ‘Tomb of Grapes’, Sennofer’s burial monument is in contrast more roughly executed than that of Rekhmire and is famous for the undulating plastered ceiling covered with vibrant painted grape vines. Another important official of Dynasty XVIII, Sennofer was Mayor of Thebes and is depicted in the tomb chapel with his sister-wife Senet-nefert. This has always been one of my favourites and on entering the antechamber after descending a long deep flight of stone steps, the colour and freshness of the painted walls stuns me every time.
It was late afternoon by the time we walked across to the Tombs of Menna (TT69) and Nakht (TT52). Unfortunately we made the mistake of asking a local young man who passed by on the path if we were going in the right direction. It turned out that the first tomb was only a few metres from where we were and we thanked him for his help and said goodbye, but the man insisted on coming with us, staying with us and demanding money afterwards for his services which we had not requested or needed. While I am happy to give baksheesh for genuine help I find this kind of persistent pest a nuisance and must be very off-putting to tourists. He didn’t get his extortion money and I should have known better.
We had little time left to see these last two tombs, as it was almost closing time. They are often described as among the most beautiful Dynasty XVIII tomb chapels in Qurna for their well-preserved colourful painted walls depicting agricultural and funerary scenes. But of course photography is no longer allowed in the tombs.
Back at the apartment in Ramla, Abdul told us that he has finally got permission for us to go to the Wadi Gedid, the New Valley oases of the Western Desert which is the main part of this year’s trip to Egypt. It has taken several days and long waits in various offices for Abdul to get the necessary travel permission. Apparently one branch of the police and the big tour companies have done a deal and are trying to stop individual travel there from Luxor!