July 1997

Egyptian Interlude

In early June I was sitting on the college steps after a lecture with my three ‘study-buddies’, when Robin said, ‘I saw a really good deal. A week in Luxor, including flight and hotel for £99!’ We sat and mulled over this interesting snippet of information for at least five seconds before chorusing, ‘Lets do it.’. The only problem was that the offer was for July – only a month away and the hottest part of the year in Egypt. Well, I thought, it would be good to experience the country in all seasons and it didn’t take any persuasion at all to get me on a plane back to my beloved Egypt.

Robin, Sam, Eve and I drove to Gatwick together, chattering excitedly and playing tapes of Egyptian music all the way, before meeting up with another friend, Jan, at the airport. The plane was a frustrating hour late on take-off, but soon we were cruising high over the Mediterranean at thirty thousand feet with the jagged white-capped waves swirling around the Greek Islands below us, backed by a vivid sun setting over the western horizon. It was 9.00pm local time and dark by the time we landed in Luxor but the temperature as we walked off the aircraft was 34 degrees C. That feeling of hot dry desert air was wonderful.

We bought our visas, negotiated the crowded baggage hall and were soon on our way into Luxor, drinking in the sounds and smells of a now-familiar town, still bustling with life in the late evening. I felt like I had never been away. This time we were staying at the New Emilio Hotel on Youssef Hassan Street in the centre of town, it was basic but adequate for our needs and to be honest I would have camped on the pavement in a tent, just to be in Egypt again. It had been twenty two hours since I had left home and I slept very well that night.

Five go to Karnak

An early breakfast of a hard boiled egg, processed cheese triangles, torpedo rolls with fig jam and several cups of coffee, not quite the cornucopia breakfast buffet I was used to at the Isis Hotel, but a good start to the day. We were out on the street by 7.00am to try to beat the intense heat which was already threatening. As it was still reasonably cool we walked to Karnak, up Sharia Karnak and the remaining avenue of sphinxes and around to the main temple entrance. Surprisingly we seemed to have beaten the coach tours, or maybe it was not so busy in 1997 as I remember from more recent winter visits.

The Seventh PylonAfter a quick walk through the main Temple of Amun, we all decided to investigate the transverse axis, consisting of the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth pylons. During our studies we had discovered a wonderful reference work, the ‘Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Statues, Reliefs and Paintings‘, by Bertha Porter and Rosalind Moss, published in several volumes by The Griffith Institute. This has become my most valuable source of information on the Egyptian monuments and it is usually referred to affectionately as ‘Porter and Moss’. Beginning at the court in front of the Seventh Pylon my friends and I worked as a team, looking at the reliefs with reference to Porter and Moss, listing and photographing each scene. When this court was excavated, a cache of 750 stone statues and stelae were found, along with over 17000 bronzes which now form a large portion of the Cairo Museum collection. Some of the statues are also now in Luxor Museum. They were probably buried during the Ptolemaic Period, but no-one knows exactly why.

The way through the eighth to tenth pylons was blocked off due to work on the ninth pylon which was being painstakingly taken down and reconstructed. Blocks from a temple of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) were used as infill here and I had seen some of these talatat blocks in the Luxor Museum where a wall has been reconstructed. This part of the temple was deserted and the guard allowed us to go through beyond the eighth pylon to the Temple of the god Khonsu, who was the son of Amun and Mut. This was a small but well preserved temple from the late New Kingdom, built towards the end of the Ramesside Period, which had the feeling that it was built in miniature, with squat pillars and low ceilings, which seemed appropriate for Khonsu, the child. Reliefs in the rooms to the back of the temple still had some good colour. We went up onto the roof of the temple from where there was a magnificent view over Karnak.

Through a doorway from the Khonsu Temple we came to a later structure adjacent to it. We consulted Porter and Moss and found that this was a temple dedicated to the hippopotamus goddess Apet, or Opet (not to be confused with the festival of Opet). She is said to have helped women in childbirth, possibly a later aspect of the goddess Tauret. The temple was in a poor state of repair and the key to the door was not available but we could peer through an iron grill and could see that the blackened reliefs inside the temple depicted the funeral rites of Osiris. By this time it was mid-morning and the sun was beginning to bear down. I was glad that there were five of us to share the load of necessary books, notebooks and cameras and bottled water we were toting around. I could see why Victorian lady travellers had porters to carry their baggage. Right then I could have done with the one of the parasols those Victorian ladies also carried, but we settled for a cool drink at the shaded café by the sacred lake. So this was where the crowds were hanging out!

Tuthmose III Festival TempleFeeling refreshed we next went to look at the Festival Temple of Tuthmose III, beyond the central Middle Kingdom court. This was built as a memorial temple to Tuthmose and his ancestral cult. The pillars inside the hall are said to imitate the ancient tent poles of a pavilion, unique in Egyptian architecture, and still show good remains of the coloured decoration. One of the rooms to the southwest of the pillared hall once contained a famous table of kings which listed the names of 62 kings and is now in the Louvre in Paris. There are several ruined statues to the north of the hall, in an area which was used as a church in the Coptic era. Behind the columned hall is a suite of rooms dedicated to Amun. A larger room to the north is sometimes known as the Zoological Garden, or Botanical Garden, because it contains superb delicate carvings representing plants and animals which Tuthmose encountered on his Syrian campaigns. These were reliefs I particularly wanted to see and the carvings were very beautiful, though I have had to visit them many times since then at different times of the day to get good photographs.

Botanical reliefs

It was now past mid-day and too hot to do anything else. We found a taxi to take us back to Luxor and when we stepped out in front of the hotel the surrounding buildings were giving off heat like storage radiators. It was time for that sensible Egyptian custom, the siesta!


Robin and I had arranged to meet the others at 5.00am to go to the West Bank. Some people are just so lazy! They didn’t show up at breakfast, so at 6.00am we decided to go on our own, walking down to the Corniche and crossing to the West Bank on the local ferry, which cost us LE1 for a return ticket. Luckily most of the West Bank was crossing to Luxor at the same time, so we didn’t get caught in the rush. We found a taxi parked near the ferry dock and interrupted the driver, a trusty-looking man dressed in a galabeya who was drinking tea with some friends. They all looked as though they had just woken up. We asked him to take us to Malqata and agreed on the price of LE40 for the use of his taxi for the morning.

We first wanted to visit the tiny temple at Deir el-Shelwit, which was on the road to Armant, about 4km south of Malqata. At the time there was no problem in driving that road, but today there is a police checkpoint and tourists are not allowed beyond Medinet Habu and the Queen’s Valley road. The small Roman temple at Deir el-Shelwit was dedicated to the goddess Isis and decorated by several Roman Emperors. Unfortunately the door was locked and no guard was available to let us in, so we had to satisfy ourselves with peering through an iron grill over the doorway into the two visible blackened rooms beyond. We saw reliefs depicting Isis, Horus, Amun-Min and Sokar. There was also remains of a large propylon gateway which was richly decorated with deeply carved reliefs. We walked around the small building and noticed several upside-down blocks built into the base of the temple wall.

Malqata from the French HouseBack in the taxi along the road we had come, we stopped at Malqata, which was just a little to the south of Medinet Habu. Robin and I had wanted to see this important archaeological site, once the palace and town of Amenhotep III which is now bisected by the dirt road. On the eastern side, overlooked by the French excavation house, lies the site of the royal palace, now only barely marked out by low stone walls and a few excavation ditches. It is thought that the young Tutankhamun may have lived there as a child. There really was little to see, but I loved the feeling of the place, right on the edge of the desert. A guard appeared and offered to show us around the site. We saw the king’s throne room, with it’s dais still in place and the harem rooms for the royal ladies, as well as a kitchen area. He pointed out areas which had been excavated in recent years and we could see remains of painted limestone walls in the trenches where the wind had uncovered the back-filled sand. We saw several large pieces of Amarna-style pottery, decorated with swirling designs in the reds and blues of the period, just lying on the ground and I was amazed that it had just been left there, very lightly covered over. We also had a tour of the western side of the site, the town area where shapes of houses could still be seen marked out. At one place, a skull was poking out of the ground! Across the desert towards the mountains we could see a little green oasis – a Coptic monastery which was still in use.

Pottery at MalqataTo the south-east of the palace and town site, Amenhotep constructed a huge artificial lake or basin called Birket Habu. The area is still bordered by the massive earthwork created by its original digging – a series of artificial hills which enclosed the lake’s southern shore. We scrambled up the hills to get a good view of the site and noted that the ground was littered with pottery sherds. There was a tremendous atmosphere at the site and I instantly loved it.

When our tour was over, the guardian invited us into the garden of the French house for tea. It was mint tea, shai bi-nana, brewed over a little gas stove, and the best I have ever tasted. I fell in love with the French house and decided that if I lived in Egypt, it would have to be here. The gardens were lovely, full of exotic flowers and plants and obviously well-tended. There was even a small swimming pool. I wished I was an excavator and could spend time living and working in this beautiful place.

Meeting Sekhmet Again

That afternoon, after lunch and a short siesta, Robin, Jan and I decided to see if we could visit the Temple of Mut, which is a part of the Karnak Temples complex not normally open to visitors. Well, it was worth a try! We met at the entrance of the hotel and were about to set off when Jan fell off the pavement and hurt her ankle. I should explain that the curb stones in Egypt are very high and we are often unaware of the extra care required when stepping off them. I can only imagine the reason for such high curbs is because there are no surface drains and the high pavements would keep any light flooding in the road. Poor Jan, her ankle instantly started swelling and looked like a bad sprain, so I went off to a pharmacy to find a bandage and seek advice while Robin went back inside to help her bathe the foot. Needless to say, Jan decided not to go out again that day.

The Temple of MutRobin and I took a caleche to the end of Sharia Karnak, past the bridge and through Karnak village to the Mut Temple. We spoke nicely to the guards, who agreed to let us in to have a quick look around, as restoration work had finished for the day. They were very friendly and helpful and were obviously proud of the remains in their care, offering to guide us around the various areas. We gratefully accepted because all we could see from the entrance was cracked paving and long grass and scrub. It was difficult to make out any kind of plan, and we had forgotten to bring our copy of Porter & Moss with us. We knew that the temple was first constructed in the 18th Dynasty by Amenhotep III and had been added to by many other pharaohs.

Mut is the great mother goddess, who with her consort Amun and their son, Khons, is part of the holy trinity of Thebes, where she was thought to have ‘brought all things into existence‘. Her hieroglyph is the vulture, a symbol of protection and the goddess is often depicted with folded vulture’s wings or headdress. It was from this temple that her image was carried to Luxor to unite with Amun in the annual festival of Opet. The temple was in ruins, its stones tumbled haphazardly over the pavements, but to my delight I saw a large well-preserved relief of the little dwarf-god Bes on an entrance gateway. We passed through into a wild and eerie area with little shade and the blazing sun was still very hot in the late afternoon. Here, in the overgrown court, stood dozens of large stone statues of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet, which was the main reason I had wanted to visit the temple.

Sekhmet at the Mut TempleI had bought a lovely statue of Sekhmet on my last visit to Luxor, after my first powerful meeting with her image in the Temple of Ptah at Karnak. Since then I had read everything I could about the goddess who had such an ambivalent nature. Like everything in Egypt, duality is the key to understanding her character. She is usually described as a blood-thirsty, violent goddess who accompanied the king into battle. Her body was said to control the violent heat of the sun and her breath was the hot desert wind. But she is also an aspect of other goddesses, especially Hathor and Bastet, and also was known as a healer because of her knowledge of magic. This would explain why she can look both fierce and benign. She was an appropriate figure to encounter in this sun-scorched temple. Amenhotep III, who began building the Temple of Mut, though probably on earlier remains, was known to have had hundreds of Sekhmet statues carved for his mortuary temple on the West Bank and several of these found their way here to Karnak. A huge number have been excavated over the centuries around the Theban area (about 700 at the latest count) and many of them can be seen in museums around the world. I thought the statues here in the temple were hauntingly beautiful.

The Temple of Mut was surrounded on three sides by a crescent-shaped lake which can still be seen at the southern end of the enclosure, although it too was overgrown with grass and weeds. On the western side of the lake we saw a small temple of Rameses III, where two ruined colossal statues of the king still stand in situ. On returning to the entrance, we were shown a famous relief of an unusual circumcision scene, in the remains of a small temple of Khons, before we were offered a very welcome cup of tea with the guards. By the time we left it was almost dark, the guardians had been very patient with us and had earned their baksheesh.

More Temples

The intrepid five spent another morning at Karnak Temple, arriving at 6.00am to try to beat the heat. This time I spent most of the morning in the Open Air Museum, which I hadn’t visited before. One of the most memorable structures here at the centre of Hatshepsutthe museum area was the work in progress of a reconstruction of Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel. Many of the red quartzite blocks of this chapel could still be seen stacked on risers in rows at the entrance to the museum, about 300 of them which had been found in the foundations of the third pylon. The French Mission at Karnak was carefully reconstructing the blocks into a representation of the queen’s original barque shrine. The walls were about 6 feet high and it looked like it was quite a challenge to match the jig-saw puzzle of blocks and get them into the right place. The individual reliefs were very delicate, depicting the female pharaoh and her co-regent Tuthmose III with various deities. It was also very interesting to watch the restorers at work. I chatted to one of the team called Hammad for a while and he told me about the reconstruction work. At the back of the museum there was also ongoing work on a reconstruction of a temple portico of Tuthmose IV.

Barque shrine of Senwosret IThere were also a few other small reconstructed shrines, but my favourite structure in the Open Air Museum was the 12th dynasty barque shrine of Senwosret I. These white limestone blocks had also been recovered from the foundations of the third pylon and the ‘White Chapel’ was reconstructed here in 1938. It has become one of the real treasures of Karnak as there are very few of the Middle Kingdom buildings still in existence. This important structure was decorated with very detailed raised hieroglyphs, the most beautifully carved I have seen in Egypt, depicting scenes of the king, wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt and the white crown of Upper Egypt, offering to various deities. Around the base on the outer wall, is a list of the Nomes of Upper and Lower Egypt during the 12th dynasty. By late morning we all met up at the café for a drink and decided we had had enough of Karnak for today. Five hours in this heat and I felt like I had been microwaved – my brain had given up a couple of hours ago!

In the evening we all had dinner together at the Amoun restaurant near the bazaar, a favourite with tourists in Luxor which always offered good food, both western and Egyptian, at very reasonable prices. Their soups are delicious, but tonight I settled for babaganoug and Egyptian salad. I also favour lemon juice as a good refreshing drink on a warm evening. The staff knew us all quite well and were always welcoming. It seemed odd to me that by 6.30pm the darkness had already descended after such a hot bright day. It was still hot, but I was used to the long summer evenings in the UK and nights when the sun sets slowly over the sea and stays just below the horizon so that it is never truly dark. The Amoun is a great place to sit watch the world go by.

Luxor Temple at nightLater we walked down to Luxor Temple, which is floodlit at night and open until around 10.00pm in summer. There is a very different atmosphere at night here and many of the reliefs which are in low contrast during the day, stand out beautifully in the artificial lighting. I saw quite a lot of scenes I hadn’t even noticed before. One scene I especially love in Luxor Temple is the birth scene of Amenhotep III, his mother Mutemwiya being impregnated by the god Amun and the king’s ka being fashioned by Khnum on his potter’s wheel. This scene is almost invisible by day but in the spotlights it is very well-defined.

We wandered around the temple until it was closing time, then walked up through the bazaar stopping to chat with stall-holders we had got to know. I love these late Egyptian evenings when everyone is out and about, the town still bustling with life until well after midnight.

West Bank Tombs and Tomb-robbers

The Western ValleyUp at 5.00am for another day on the West Bank, this time in a taxi from Luxor crossing by the car ferry. Sam and Eve were going somewhere else, so Robin, Jan and I had arranged with one of our friendly taxi drivers to spend the morning at the tombs. Our first stop was to be the tomb of Ay, in the Western Valley, only opened as recently as 1994 after its restoration. Just before the entrance to the King’s Valley, we turned right onto the road through the wadi and collected a sleepy guard from his hut at the entrance, driving on up through a steep, rock-enclosed, barren valley, where the morning sun had not yet reached. On the way, we stopped to have a look at the entrance to the tomb of Amenhotep III, which has since been re-excavated, but at that time looked very derelict and we also saw the tomb thought to have been begun for Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) but never completed. At the head of the Western Valley the taxi stopped outside the tomb of Ay and the guard went to open the door. The generator used to power the electric lights would not start, so after about 20 minutes the guard produced a couple of torches and led us down the staircase into the pitch-black tomb. At that time I had not seen the tomb of Tutankhamun, but I had seen enough photographs to presume that the decoration in Ay’s tomb was very similar. The wall-paintings were quite damaged, but the most unusual scene in the tomb depicted the king hunting in the marshes with his queen, an image which is unique in a royal tomb, being more common in the tombs of the nobles. Ay was Tutankhamun’s successor and it is often suggested that this tomb may have originally been intended for Ay before he was king, or for Tutankhamun himself. Ay’s large restored granite sarcophagus dominated the centre of the burial chamber. The tomb was very atmospheric by torchlight. Only the burial chamber was decorated and we could only see small sections at a time, but in my imagination I could picture how it must have been in ancient times when the artisans were working there.

We had a short break for a cup of tea in Hatshepsut’s restaurant, with its rooftop terrace giving an excellent view along the edge of the cultivation. Our next stop was at el-Khoka, where we saw three nobles tombs from the Ramesside Period, Neferonpet, Nefersekheru and Djutmose, whose burial chapels share the same courtyard on a hill between Deir el-Bahri and Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna. Armed with my trusty reference, Porter and Moss, my notebooks and camera, we spent a long time looking at the paintings in these well-decorated tombs. The ceilings were especially beautiful.

Our taxi driver then suggested we stop at his cousin’s house nearby. The cousin invited us in for a drink and we had a long and very interesting talk. The old man, like his cousin our taxi driver, was a descendent of the the Abd er-Rassul family, three brothers who attained notoriety in the early 1880s after the accidental discovery of the Deir el-Bahri cache of royal mummies. Only after certain antiquities turned up for sale did the authorities discover the existence of the famous treasure. Other members of the Qurna family later worked with the Antiquities Service, but tomb-robbing must have been in the blood. The old man brought out a large box of bits and pieces, some broken pottery and jewellery – the family’s antiquities collection! I was convinced that some of them at least were genuine. He also showed us some old photographs of Howard Carter with the Abd er-Rassul brothers taken in the 1920s. I felt privileged to meet one of Luxor’s most notorious historical families. Another family member owned a hotel on the West Bank, at the time known as Sheikh Ali’s, where we later stopped and had a drink in the lovely shady garden. This is now the Marsam Hotel, next to the Temple of Merenptah.

By this time it was mid afternoon and very hot on the West Bank as we headed back over the Nile on the car ferry. The breeze on the river was wonderfully refreshing and I felt we had had a very satisfying day.

A Day on the River

By the fifth day of our short Egyptian break, and having worked quite hard so far, we felt we deserved a day off. Robin, Jan and I had negotiated a price for a whole day’s felucca sailing in a boat belonging to a friend of a friend. We were on the Corniche by 7.00am and met our captain, Mohammed, on his felucca. He was busy organising boxes of bottled water and other supplies, including a huge block of ice which had arrived on the back of someone‘s motorbike. A young boy of around ten years old, called Ahmed, who acted as crew and gofer, was busily stowing the provisions under seats and in lockers around the boat. We climbed aboard (Jan limped aboard with her sprained ankle) and made ourselves comfortable on the cushioned seats to watch the bustle of the early morning on the riverside. Before long we were ready to go.

Felucca on the NileThe Nile in Egypt flows from the Ethiopian Mountains in the South right through Egypt to the Delta and the Mediterranean coast, making it the longest river in the world. If it was not for the Nile, the ancient civilization of Egypt would never have developed in the way it did and there would be no fertile green strip decorating its banks. The current flows from south to north, but luckily the prevailing wind blows from north to south, a combination which has always made water travel possible in either direction. On this morning however, there was very little wind and as we were heading south, we needed the assistance of a motorboat to tow us out into the river. Once a little way up river we were left on our own and we wallowed in the still morning for quite a while, the breeze hardly causing a ripple on the water. I didn’t mind. It was peaceful and there were birds to watch; kingfishers occasionally diving for fish and insect-eating birds skimming the surface looking for breakfast, while white egrets fed in the marshy banks and in the fields. We saw shoals of tiny fish at the edges of the river and every now and then a crocodile skulked past just under the surface. The crocodiles, however, all turned out to be no more than large floating logs, which was a relief.

I was lying on my back on the cushions under the awning, reluctant to move, totally relaxed, while distant sounds of life on the banks went on. The steady drone and thud of irrigation pumps mingled with the occasional tractor or screeching of birds they but didn’t intrude on my reveries. Then Captain Mohammed had an idea. Music was called for and a cassette player brought out. From that day on I have always associated Bob Marley’s reggae music with sailing on a felucca!

Children on the riverbank

As we sailed on up the river, Ahmed occasionally letting out or pulling in a sail (there are probably correct nautical terms for this activity) and Mohammed correcting the steering now and then, they began to prepare lunch. I watched engrossed as potatoes were peeled and set to boil, fresh tomatoes skinned and braised. Onions fried and rice set to simmer. Pieces of fresh chicken were added to a pot of vegetables and also set to cook. All on a couple of tiny gas stoves! After about an hour and a half, lunch was ready and I have never tasted anything so good. It was followed by fresh fruit and cold drinks from the cooler. Then cups of steaming sugary tea. Absolutely delicious!

We sailed almost as far as Armant. Children stopped on their way home from school to call out greetings and wave at us. Black-clad women looked up from their chores by the banks to watch us sail by. Eventually we turned around to retrace our route downstream, faster now we were going with the current instead of against it. Mohammed brought out his drum and played along with Bob Marley. It was quite a party atmosphere. Sometimes we saw other feluccas filled with tourists or just one or two people and the captains would pull alongside and chat for a while. It was late afternoon by the time we reached Luxor and the sun was going down. It had been a wonderful way to spend a very hot day, relaxing and enjoying the cool river breeze.

Socialising on the West Bank

On this trip we all seem to have made so many friends and met lots of new people. Egyptians are always so generous, they insist on you eating at their houses and meeting their extended families. It was difficult to keep refusing and making excuses, which seemed rude, so today Robin and I went over to the West Bank for lunch with an Egyptian family who had invited us several times. The Sayed family had four sons and two daughters of varying ages and we all had a lovely lunch together before being shown over their house.

The narrow house, typical of many on the West Bank, was divided into three stories with an impressive double metal door opening into a wide hallway. To the right was a reception room for guests, where lunch was served on a large central table with wooden benches down each side. The hallway led into a large kitchen or family room behind, which doubled as a bedroom for some of the children, with a cooking area beyond that – the domain of the women. Upstairs was an apartment for the eldest son, with another opposite and two more on the floor above, still in the early stages of construction. Mr Sayed explained that new floors were added to Egyptian houses as the sons became adults, and they would eventually live in these separate apartments with their own families. It all took time and building work was done whenever money became available. This is the reason why many Egyptian houses look unfinished, with iron girders sticking out above the roof level, always ready to have another floor built. I think that the maximum number of stories allowed is five. Each separate apartment had a lounge, bedroom, kitchen and shower-room behind its own front door. The interior floors were beautifully tiled throughout with large ceramic tiles, the cool floor-covering favoured by Egyptian families. We went up onto the roof, where we could see right down to the river and across to Luxor in the distance. To my surprise there were chickens kept up here too.

Later in the day we took up another invitation, this time from Ali, one of our taxi drivers. All five of us crossed the river on the old passenger ferry to Geziret and were met by Ali with his taxi. He had wanted to show us a special place before dinner but wouldn’t tell us where, so we were intrigued as we drove up the road towards the monument area, turning right and then left into a wadi near Deir el-Medina. This, he told us, was called Gebel el-Alwan, the Valley of Colours. We walked up a narrow footpath in the valley bottom and there really were rocks and boulders of many different colours. Some of them had been broken open and we could see the powdery pigment colours of reds, browns and ochres which were used in ancient times to create the colourful tomb paintings. The path was also strewn with pieces of pottery and flints. I picked up a large flint and turned it over to look at the worked edge. It was much bigger than anything I’d seen at home and the napped edge was still quite sharp. I could feel the smoothed surface fit into my hand as it must have done thousands of years ago when some ancient worker used the tool. It was a fascinating walk.

Ali had arranged a meal for us all at the Cafeteria Mohammed, a tiny local restaurant near Medinet Habu. We walked through a little garden, washed our hands under a tap and into a room which seemed more like someone’s house than a restaurant. We seemed to be the only people eating here tonight. Ali ordered dish after dish of amazing Egyptian food – far more than six of us could do justice to and he insisted we try a little of every dish. It is always a bit of a problem explaining that I am a vegetarian in Egypt, as so many dishes are based on meat or chicken, but there are always just as many vegetable and rice dishes to sample and a huge pile of baladi (local) flat bread. It was all delicious. Ali wouldn’t let us pay for anything as he said we were his guests and he probably spent more than he’d earned from our taxi rides. We would have to think of another way to make it up to him!

West Bank Finale

Once more it was almost time to say goodbye to Luxor. Our flight was leaving late in the evening so we wanted to make the most of our last day. Robin and I had become rather attached to the West Bank of Luxor, not only for its monuments but for its peaceful tranquillity and friendly atmosphere. There was never any hassle here or people constantly trying to sell us things. We had arranged with our taxi driver, Ali, to pick us up from the ferry at 6.30am and to go to see more nobles tombs. We had been lucky on this trip to be able to buy student tickets for the monuments, giving us a 50% reduction.

Princesses in Kheruef's tombWe drove to Asasif, an area close to Deir el-Bahri, and went first to the tomb of Kheruef, who was ‘Steward of the Great Royal Wife, Tiye’, the wife of Amenhotep III. The tomb complex was very large, as befited a man in his exalted position, but was unfinished at the time of his death and he was never buried in the tomb. We entered Kheruef’s tomb down a staircase and passage which led to a large open court and several other later tombs. The guard took us first to another tomb in the courtyard and opened a metal door so that we could have a look inside. Unfortunately the hundred or so bats who lived there had different ideas and flew out of the door at us as soon as it was opened. I don’t mind bats in ones or twos but a whole cloud of them coming straight at my head was just too much and I declined the offer to go further down the steep dark staircase. Besides, the reek of bat dung was unbearable! We crossed the courtyard to Kheruef’s tomb. Most of the inner rooms of the structure were closed off, but the portico was well worth a visit. The wall reliefs were fascinating, referring to the reigns of Amenhotep III as well as Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) and were so beautifully carved, though now devoid of paint. On the left of the portico were scenes of female singers, dancers and musicians. Four pairs of girls were depicted carrying jars and vessels which, according to the text, were made from gold and electrum. The inscription also implied that these were daughters of foreign leaders, who may have been brought up in the Egyptian royal court. This was one of the most beautiful reliefs in the tomb. The princesses were wearing long elegant gowns with broad collars, short, elaborately carved wigs with sidelocks and a curious square-shaped head-dress. In another scene we saw Kheruef standing before Amenhotep III, who was seated in an elaborate kiosk, with Hathor as ‘Mistress of Dendera’ (holding a protective arm around the king) and Queen Tiye behind him. On the right hand side of the portico the reliefs depicted celebrations of Amenhotep’s jubilee festival, with men boxing and stick-fighting and various preparations for the rituals, including the boats which brought produce from different areas of Egypt. Nearly every new tomb I see, becomes my favourite – until the next one. Kheruef’s tomb however has remained among my favourite places to visit. It is not as elaborate or as colourful as some, but it’s exquisitely carved reliefs, in my opinion, are only equalled in the tomb of Ramose, and they were probably done by the same craftsman.

Our next visit was to the tomb of Pabasa, who was ‘Chief Steward of the God’s Wife Nitocris’. It was a very different style of structure and of a later date, with a long straight staircase leading down into an extensive suite of rooms. These were also very well decorated and the paintings were rare and quite famous for scenes of beekeeping and viticulture. In Pabasa’s tomb there were also rare cartouches of some of the ‘God’s Wives of Amun’ who acted as female proxy rulers in Thebes during the Saite Period.

Motor boat across the NIleTime was moving on, so we went for lunch in the cafeteria at Medinet Habu, so that we could sit and gaze at the temple for a little while before we had to say our goodbyes to the West Bank. We kept meeting some of the new friends we had made on this trip and had to explain that we had no time left to accept their invitations as we were leaving today. The drive back to the ferry was a sad one for me, knowing we must leave Egypt again. We said goodbye to Ali with lots of handshaking and hugging and promises that we would get in touch when we next came to Luxor. This all took so long that the ferry left without us and we decided to take a motorboat across the river so save waiting. This was an expensive!! LE5 but the trip was another new experience and a very speedy way to cross the river.

Later in the afternoon we did a little shopping in the bazaar and before we knew it, my four friends and I were on a coach on our way to the airport. This was the time I had come to dread most about being in Egypt – the leaving. We hardly dared look at each other as we knew we all had tears in our eyes. Waiting at the airport was awful, the plane was delayed an hour which seemed now to be a normal occurrence and we didn’t fly out until 10.00pm.

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