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Published: February 25th 2017
Valley of the Kings
It was crowded at Ramses the Second’s birthday bash, which was strange as up until then it was Hatshepsut who ruled the roost. Wherever I went it was Hatshepsut this, and Hatshepsut that. Every would-be guide seemed obsessed with Hatshepsut, more or less assigning every statue, relief, and temple to her. If you believed them that is. Which I didn’t. Hatshepsut is Egypt’s most famous female Pharaoh. Forget Cleopatra, it is Hatshepsut that is on peoples mind. And in Luxor Hatshepsut reigns supreme. Hatshepsut sounds like a sneeze to me. Every time I hear the name I involuntarily say, ‘Bless you!’ But Hatshepsut is everywhere, you can’t escape her. You visit the Valley of the Kings, go down the tomb of say, Ramses VI, not readily associated with Hatshepsut at all, and you can count on one of the attendants to point to a figure on the wall and say, ‘Hatshepsut’. You wonder why Ramses VI who reigned 300 years later would have a painting of Hatshepsut on his tomb wall. The answer is, of course, he didn’t. Go to Medinat Habu, Ramses III’s Memorial Temple and another attendant will point to a statue and declare, ‘Hatshepsut’. No matter that the
Sneaky picture inside the tomb of Tuthmosis III
statue is clearly the God Osiris. Karnak? All Hatshepsut… Temple of Luxor? Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut Memorial Temple? Hatshepsut… Oh wait a minute that one really is dedicated to her. Parts of Karnak can also be attributed to her in all fairness, though her step-son who took over the reign and hated his (evil) stepmother, tried to erase all traces of her.
So Luxor is very much Hatshepsut. And attendants trying to earn baksheesh (bribes) by pointing to an image and mentioning her name, or stating the blatantly obvious. Some people say the horse-carriage drivers are the biggest hassle in Luxor, but I found the attendees more irritating. Whenever I found a quiet part of a temple an attendee would appear out of nowhere and start bugging me. Wanting to show me this or that (mostly Hatshepsut), as a friend supposedly, but really for a bit of cash.
‘Come with me my friend.’ They would say, trying to guide me to some obscure closed off part of the temple to show me something ‘very special.’ It invariably was a hieroglyph or a broken statue of… Hatshepsut. Or they will point at an obelisk and say, ‘obelisk!’ Ah, I didn’t know
Sneaky picture inside the tomb of Ramses VI
that, thanks for telling me! While I understand their reasons, they are extremely poorly paid by the government I don’t really appreciate having to constantly fend them off. I often ended up hastening away from a peaceful courtyard simply to get rid of them.
It was, however, a small price to pay for the beauty I encountered and the fact that I was still able to see lots of, even the most famous, temples without crowds. Early mornings were a good time to visit before the tour buses arrived. By ten o’clock most well-known sights were already crawling with Chinese tourists. But by then I had moved on. I stayed a week in Luxor and ended my time with a trip to Dendera which I had missed at the start of my stay in Luxor. Dendera, as Abydos, is too far from Luxor for most people to bother with, and therefore blissfully quiet. And it is impressive. A winning combination.
I had, however, a birthday party to attend in Abu Simbel, so I got the train to Aswan... And a tour to Abu Simbel, because there is nowhere economical to stay in Abu Simbel, and a tour is
Various sneaky pictures from inside the tomb of Ramses VI
unfortunately the cheapest way to see it. The tour started at midnight. We arrived at a crowded parking lot in Abu Simbel at around 4 in the morning, encountering chaotic scenes at the entrance to the famous monuments, as busloads of tourists and Egyptians alike pushed their way through one of three metal detectors, while depositing their bag on the one x-ray machine. Once inside a queue snaked its way around a hill ending at the temple. Why? Because each year on the 22nd
of February and the 22nd
of October at sunrise the inner most sanctity gets illuminated by the sun’s rays. All other days it is dark, but on those two days the sun beams shine brightly on the statues of Ramses II (or was it Hatshepsut?) and the Gods Ra-Horakhty and Amun. The dates coincided with Ramses II’s birthday and coronation day. Unfortunately we were all one day late! You see the temple was moved (an impressive feat in itself) from its original location when Lake Nasser flooded the valley, changing the dates the sun illuminates the innards of the temple by one day. Ramses II’s birthday and coronation day were actually on the 21st
Medinat Habu, memorial temple of Ramses III
respective months. It was dark for poor Ramses II on his actual birthday.
Ramses II might have smiled at all the tourists coming for his special day, or been horrified. I found it rather amusing. I hate overcrowded spectacles at the best of times and this was no exception. But it was entertaining to watch how people literally tried to climb on top of each other for a good photo opportunity. The crush as the queue pushed its way into the inner sanctity was ridiculous. And then? You get to take one photo of the illuminated figures before being pushed away by the guards. Behind you an ever more frantic crowd full of people trying to squeeze ahead waits for the next three people to be allowed their short moment of glory. Happy Birthday Ramses II, hope you enjoyed it!
Tired but not unsatisfied I returned to Aswan for a two day felucca (boat) ride to Kom Ombo. A relaxing counterpoint to the hustle of the birthday party. I was joined by a French lad and two American girls. The two day ride turned into a one and a half day ride, starting late in the afternoon and
First Pylon at Medinat Habu
ending early on the second morning. And Kom Ombo turned into Daraw, which turned into just before Daraw! Let’s just say I wouldn’t recommend our captain. But the company was good.
Daraw has a famous camel market, so I didn’t mind being dropped off there. The camels were fit for a King, pardon, Pharaoh! I should have got one earlier to bring to Ramses II’s birthday party. Kom Ombo on the other hand is known for its mummified crocodiles and its temple, uniquely dedicated to two Gods. One of the two Gods, fittingly, being the Crocodile God Sobek.
My final stop on the temple trail was in Edfu, at the Temple of Horus. It was impressive, but to be honest I think I have seen enough temples for the time being. Thus, so long Hatshepsut and Ramses, I have other parties to attend in Egypt!
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