Sunday 18 January 2009 – Luxor, Egypt
Back to the West Bank. I seem to have picked up a minor head cold, so was sucking on Strepsils and blowing my nose on toilet paper most of the day. We visited a limestone carving shop, which contained some very fine work; not interested in nick-nacks myself, but CT bought a small piece depicting a scene from a favourite tomb.
The Valley of the Queens is another, slightly smaller dry depression up into the hills not far from the Valley of the Kings. Apparently previously less well visited by tourists, there was a steady stream today. Its major attraction is the tomb of Nefertari, which has been fully restored and is apparently beautiful’; unfortunately it is only open to wealthy visitors who can afford the LE20,000 entrance fee. We visited the other open tombs, those of two of Rameses II’s sons Khaemwaset and Amunherkhepshef, and Queen Titi.
We then climbed a small track across country (much to the disappointment of the hawkers who were expecting us to traipse back through their souk at the entrance to QV) and paused at a sanctuary carved in conglomerate rock by the tomb builders. We continued over the next valley to the village occupied by the workers who built the royal tombs in the area. Deir el-Medina had extensive remains of mud brick houses as well as two tombs. These held some of the most well-preserved and striking wall paintings of any tombs we’ve seen.
Egypt is a country that assaults all the senses, perhaps most particularly that of smell. The stench of dust and donkey shit is pervasive, mixed with the occasional waft of spices that are widely on sale but only rarely make it into the cooking; cumin, saffron, pepper and cinnamon mix with rarer scents like frankincense and myrrh. Entering most tombs brings with it a strong smell of old socks (or perhaps it is the unwashed guardians who flap about uselessly then expect decent tips), along with a sharp drop in available oxygen and a rise in temperature. Occasionally one finds a box fan or two arrayed within larger tombs. At others, guardians offered tatty and filthy bits of cardboard for use as fans (in return, of course, for baksheesh). It all works to keep the duration of visits down to a minimum; the fascination with the beauty of the artwork and tomb engineering are soon outweighed by the heat, smell and lack of air. It is another of the very particular charms of this fragrant nation.
For lunch we returned to the Maratonga Restaurant (note the spelling – it is not named for the town in Vanuatu) for another somewhat excessive meal of bread and babaganoush, tomato salad, vegetable stew, rice, fried eggplant (excellent) and the ubiquitous chicken, and finished with their excellent Turkish (read Egyptian) coffee. Then it was just a matter of crossing the road to the major site of Medinat Habu, incorporating the imposing Syrian Gates, various chapels and the Mortuary Temple of Rameses III.
We had a free evening, given that we’d had a late and substantial lunch. CT and I dined at Snacktime 2 then adjourned next door to Maccas for dessert and emailing.