The day started very early and we rolled out of our beds at 4:30 am to take a luxurious hot air balloon ride over Luxor. Only 5 of us wanted to spend the extra $ to do this trip so we were our own. A guy from the balloon company picked us and we walked to a boat which took us across the Nile to luxor's west bank. We were hoping to be in the balloon to see the sunrise but unfortunately the ride was a bit delayed because the winds were too strong. Fortunately an hour later we were clears to go and we were soaring high above the city. On one side of us there was the desert and the desert mountains where the valley of he kings was. You could see a lot of the temples from the air. On the other side was the city, the Nile and many agricultural fields. As we flew over the city you could see people waking up on hr roofs of buildings- they must sleep there because of the heat. On other (more dirty rooftops) you could see animals such as chickens running around. We were really lucky to get a chance to fly over the Nile as well. We landed (after a 40minute ride) in a random sugarcane field (a spot where there wasn't much growing yet ) as all the workers were tending to the field. Apparently the locals get compensated by the balloon company when this happens. In any case , the local children were prepared to greet us by begging for money ( yes I see your goat but why should I tip you for it). It's seems sad but these kids are by no means starving. They've just been taught to ask for baksheeh (tip) from the tourists for anything they do. This balloon trip was well worth the money because hr views from above were gorgeous and we had never been on an air balloon before.
After this, we had to once again cross back over the Nile to meet the rest of our group on the west bank. It was time for our much anticipated donkey ride. We got on them in a small town. The guy basically just put us on the donkey and didn't say anything about how to control them at all (which is a new experience for a city girl like me). Our donkeys started one by one running away without any further instruction and eventually as we started riding down a main vehicle road they taught us how to avoid traffic. We definitely didn't expect to be riding with on coming cars and there were times that it was really scary! One of the girls in group led the way through traffic as her donkey had to be first. Another girl got kicked by one donkey and then her own collapsed on her! We rode through the city and then out into the countryside as we approached the valley of the kings. Unfortunately we only had one camera at this point as I had left my camera on the bus we took from the ballloon landing site and I was very fortunate to get it back from them later!!!! It was really interesting riding the donkeys because they were much lower than the camels and not as easy to control (in my opinion). They also didn't feel as stable. Anyways the ride took about 30minutes then we were back on the bus to go explore the valley of the kings.
The valley of the kings is a range of mountains in which many of the ancient kings built their tombs. These was the second generation of tombs that the Egyptian kings used; the first were the pyramids. Due to their prominence, tomb robbers knew exactly where to look to find a kings most worldly possessions. At some point the kings decided that it was better to have the tomb hidden in a mountainside. In fact, there was no map ever drawn of where each king was buried. The next king would choose a spot in this valley and his workers would start digging. Occasionally they ran into the tombs of other kings, but they just built around them. It's pretty fascinating to know that many ancient kings were buried in these mountains, and many secrets have yet to be found. The spot was chosen because one of the mountains looks like a sacred pyramid. The mountains themselves made you feel the power of these mighty kings!
We arrived in the valley by bus. Unfortunately we were not able to bring our cameras in because the flash photography deteriorates the vulnerable images. They once let people bring cameras into the complex but not use them inside, but they found that the guards were allowing tourists to take pictures for baksheesh, so they banned them completely. It was a majorly hot day with the temperature soaring above 45 degrees (between 45 and 48). We has to constantly hydrate; this is the hottest I've ever been in my life but it didn't bother me nearly as much as it bothered mike. I was doing okay, until we went into those underground tombs... You can imagine how hot they were with poor air circulation and many many bodies.
In this valley to date they have discovered 62 tombs including a mummification chamber (they think) that was discovered in 2008. They continue to search manually for new tombs (no fancy equipment can really detect tombs that have been robbed of their treasures- yes it still happened).
With our entry to the valley, entrance to 3 tombs were included. Not all of them are open to the public ( some are under restoration) and the kings treasures and mummies were all removed from the tombs (the treasures by tomb robbers and the mummies by the museum)(tutankamens grave however still had all the treasures when it was found). This makes me think- how long after you pass away is it ok for someone to steal your treasures and exhume your body and put it on display in a museum (the Egyptian museum in Cairo). The purpose of burying the artifacts with the king is so the king can use them in his afterlife (something like this), but then we take it from them! Anyways, we went into the tombs of Ramses the first, Ramses the third, Ramses the ninth and explored. The most impressive thing about these tombs in my opinion is that the drawings in the tombs are preserved in full colour whereas in the temples they are exposed to sun and other elements and there is only a trace if at all of colour. Some of the tombs were unfinished (because the king died before it was finished) and you could tell because he stone was just cut roughly. The king would have their workers keep expanding their tombs until their death. This is why kings that rule longer or live older have much larger tombs. Kings usually begin building their tombs as soon as they come to power. King Tutankhamen was only 18 or 19 when he died so his tomb is very small. You had to pay more to see king Tutankhamens (king tut) tomb, which still houses his mummy, so we didn't go (we saw mummies in the Egyptian museum).
Next we went to the temple of Hatshepsut. Queen Hatshepsut was the only female pharoh of Egypt. She came to the throne as her husband, Tuthmosis 3 died before she could bear him a son. She took over the throne, usurping the son of one of his minor wives. He later got his revenge by removing all traces of her reign. This temple (like many of the other temples we've seen) is over 3500 years old. This temple lies just behind the mountains in he valley of kings. She had intended to build a tomb for herself in the valley of kings and link it by a passageway to her temple, but she died before seeing that through. We had time to explore the temple, but I tell you it was so hot that day that he entire group was really lacking the energy to take in all the splendor of his temple. It felt like being an egg frying on the stove.
Finally despite the heat we stopped quickly at two statues called the Colossi of Memnon. They once stood in front of the mortuary temple of Amenhotep 3, which long ago collapsed. Mike actually saw these guys standing from our hot air balloon ride.
The rest of the afternoon we had off to relax and explore the bazaars.
That's your history lesson for today.. We managed to pack in a lot of history in such a short time. I guess that's what you expect when traveling to these sites in Egypt; thousands and thousands of years of history all jam packed into one small area along the Nile.
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