Our final Port of call in Egypt was Safaga on the Red Sea, an industrial port about 155 miles from Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, burial grounds for the pharaohs from about 1500 – 1000 BC. There are at least 63 tombs, including Thutmose 1 and Ramesses X and X1.
It is an incredible thought that Luxor was a walled city 26,000 years ago.
The tour took us through the desert. Instead of a flat sand landscape, we saw small mountains of different shades of rock, many resembling small pyramids. The guide told us that these contained semi-precious stones.
After a long ride through the monotonous desert, we entered the lush green, irrigated farmlands of considerable development and a city called Qena. Since we saw many of these, the humble donkey seems to be the primary mode of transport. They were either waiting patiently at the edge of a field or trotting in front of a cart. However, I did see one camel and one dead cow floating in a channel!
At odd intervals, tuk-tuks, some even adorned with curtains, would appear at the entrances to small villages with a mosque and a police station and a few older men sitting around. I was amazed at the number of times the bus had to stop at police stops along the way.
The police were heavily armed and, in some cases, propped up machine guns in adjoining turrets.
It was an incredible feeling crossing the Nile, a beautiful, wide, blue river, and seeing some wooden sailing boats called a felucca. On the way back, several tourist sightseeing cruisers were on the water. But, of course, luxury hotels along the banks cater to tourists while most of the population we saw live in hovels and incomplete homes.
As we entered the Valley, we saw row upon row of open slits in the mountainous rocks. People were actively excavating more burial chambers. After parking the bus, we mounted a ‘train’ that took us to the central point where we could explore three tombs.
It was a sensational feeling to enter the tomb of Rameses 111 and see the hieroglyphics and brightly colored images on the roof and along the walls of the corridor leading to the actual burial area. The ancients buried their kings and nobility with treasures that they held dear. But, of course, tomb raiders had removed the valuables through the centuries.
Still, it was quite a thrill going into the burial chambers of Tutankhamun, excavated by Lord Carnarvon. His estate later became famous as the Downton Abbey home. An interesting aside: there is a museum exhibiting Egyptian treasures at the modern Downton Abbey Estate still in possession of the Carnarvons.
Another tidbit: Lady Carnarvon is the patroness of two Viking ships!
I was enthralled to enter the tomb of Rameses 1X. The guide told us about different symbols in the tombs, e.g., the god Nun represented the chaotic waters from which his son, Re, god of the sun, created order. The yellow skyline shows this process. Images of snakes conveyed symbols of protection, healing, fertility, and immortality, while dogs represented the afterlife.
As we journeyed back, we stopped on the West Bank of the Nile River to admire the Colossi of Memnon, two 18-meter-tall twin statues of Amenhotep 111 built to guard his memorial temple.
Then, it was on to the luxury Steigenberger Nile Palace Hotel on the banks of the river, where we enjoyed lovely views and a sumptuous buffet. Our final stop before going home was at a Papyrus Museum – we were not allowed to take photos. Then, it was a long three-hour journey back to the ship — all in all, a wonderful experience.