Your Hand in My Hand

Life, Death and Ressurection
Friday 25
th February 2022


We woke up early this morning around 6:30am but it was after a surprisingly good and deep sleep. Our bodies must have needed it.

We were so tired yesterday that we even pulled out of an early morning excursion today. We weren't the only ones. Only Teresa & Anthony and Kari & Mo had the energy to get up at 4am to catch the sun rise over the Valley of the Kings from a hot air balloon. An unforgettable experience I'm sure but I'm glad we opted for two more hours in bed today.

Refreshed and awake we sat on the balcony marvelling at the wonderful view of the Luxor temple and the Nile. We reflected on the week and how quick it had gone. It certainly had been a whirlwind of a tour. Today was our last with the group as we were to go our separate ways tomorrow.

Breakfast this morning turned out to be our least favourite. The ful medames wasn't the prettiest, although thankfully it tasted a little better than the pond slime it looked like. Other than that I didn't have much choice. I found some fried potatoes and eventually after asking the omelette chef if they had hard boiled eggs I had some hard boiled eggs.

With hindsight I should have asked for an omelette. The chef looked quite dejected stood there at the omelette station in his chef's whites and chef's hat, being ignored.

At 8am we rendezvous'd in the foyer ready for our day out. The four hot air ballooners returned buzzing with excitement and tales of how they landed in a field of crops and how the local children swarmed around them.

We all got in our minibus, crossing the Nile to the West bank. and travelled North through a few villages which had sprung up alongside a canal that ran parallel to the river before turning away from the water towards the barren hills.

On the way we passed the Colossus of Menmon. We didn't stop.

"We'll be coming back later" explained Hany and then deflected our attention to burial chambers high on the hillside. These weren't the Kings of Egypt, they were for lesser mortals, although still of high ranking in society. They were collectively known as the Tombs of the Nobles.

Hany told us how many families who lived in this area, known as Gurna, have been forcibly relocated not only because they had built without permission but also because the whole area is basically one big archaelogical site. This was the location for many mortuary temples of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom who had made Thebes their capital.

From the road we caught a glimpse of the mortuary temple of Merneptah and the mortuary temple of Rameses II or the the Ramesseum as it's known.

There was one mortuary temple above them all I wanted to see but unfortunately we didn't have time to visit today, and that was the incredible temple of Queen Hatshepsut. At least it's another reason to return one day. 

As the road continued Hany then pointed out a house set in the middle of an oasis-like garden. "That was the house of Howard Carter" he said. As we all knew, Howard Carter was famous for discovering the tomb and treasures of Tutankhamun.

He was funded by the 5th Earl of Caernarvon (there was no connection to the Welsh town other than the title. We should know as we both work in Caernarfon) The Lord cut himself shaving, catching a mosquito bite with the blade. He later died in Cairo from an infection giving rise to the "Curse of Tutankhamun".

Apparently there is a meticulous replica of Tutankhamun's tomb installed at the house.

At the entrance to the Valley of the Kings we parked up and walked into a large visitors centre where Hany collected our tickets. Whilst we waited I was fascintated by this three dimensional scale model of the site, made from a clear plastic, showing all the subteranean tombs and their layouts.

It was interesting to see how varied they were. Some tombs were dug quite shallow whilst others descended deep into the earth. Some were quite simple and others were large and complex. 

We left the visitors centre on a large battery powered shuttle bus, large enough to seat all of us. It transported us the kilometer or so up the hill to the gates, where our tickets were checked again and we entered the Valley of the Kings, or Wadi Biban el-Muluk as its known.

There are 63 discovered tombs here. My first impression was how small the whole site was. I expected large distances between tombs.  Not all were in this cul-de-sac, some were spread out further afield but the greatest concentration were clustered in this small corner of the valley.

Guides weren't allowed to operate inside the tombs to avoid large groups from blocking the walkways. So Hany took us to the entance of the first tomb, imparted some information about it, then sent us inside to explore for ourselves.


The first tomb, identified as KV6, numbered in order of discovery in the modern era.  It was that of Rameses IX, the ninth of eleven pharaohs who adopted the royal title. The name Rameses means 'begotten of Ra (the sun god)' .

His throne name was Neferkare Setepenre and he ruled Egypt during the 12th century BC. A grandson of Rameses III. There was only 26 years between their rule. The five kings in between were rival sons and grandsons of Rameses III. All were short lived.

Incontrast Rameses IX enjoyed a decent 18 years as ruler bringing some stability to the dynasty.

We stepped down a ramp into a crowded corridor. The walls and ceiling were covered in colourful hieroglyphs and images. A glass panel had been put in place to protect the walls from any further deteriation.

Visitor numbers to Egypt are still less than pre-revolution years but there are still plenty visiting the Valley of the Kings. With only three tombs open to the public on a given day, (plus two premium tombs at an extra cost), the tombs can get busy. 

The amount of people in there didn't matter. If anything, it slowed us down enough to study the art on the walls. They were incredible. And the colour, the pigment was still strong. To think they were over three thousand years old was mind blowing!

The image of the gods transported in a boat with a pair of snakes to the front left me speechless. And it was just one of many images. There were hundreds more.

We especially like the hieroglyph of "walking like an Egyptian". It was only a small detail within a long message. I'm not too sure what it represented. 

At the end of the passage we began to descend further, through an undecorated pillared hallway. A wooden ramp had been installed to make it safer for people to walk down to the burial chamber.

At the end there was a small room, known as a sepulchre, where the sarcophagus of Rameses IX would have been. The walls once again covered in scenes from the passage rites to the afterlife, the ceiling was a celestial scene featuring the sky goddes Nut. 

Back outside in the brilliant sunshine we rejoined Hany and waited for everyone to emerge from the tomb temporarily blinded by the dazzling white sand.

Next he took us to the entrance of tomb KV11, that of Ramses III. It was discovered in 1768 by the Scottish traveller James Bruce.

Rameses III or to use his throne name Usermaatre Meryamun is often referred to as the last great pharaoh as he reigned for 31 years. 

It was interesting to learn that he was only the second pharaoh of the 20th dynastry of the New Kingdom. His father Setnakhte siezed power from the declining 19th dynasty struggling with the loss of the greatest of all pharaohs, Rameses II.

So there was no direct descendancy between Rameses II and Rameses III.

The paintings on the walls from funerary texts such as the Book of Gates and the Litany of Re. were spectacular,  all carved in a sunken bas-relief and painted in such vibrant colours. There was plenty of wall to cover. The tomb stretched over 188 metres in length along three adjoining corridors.

The images here were larger and more impressive than the first tomb we visited.


The artistry was breathtaking. We felt incredibly privilieged to stand inches away from these masterpieces created over three thousand years ago. I kept on repeating myself. Three thousand years ago!

The colours seemed as bright as the day they were painted.

The pigments were made from ground minerals, like gypsum for white, carbon for black, ochre for red and yellow, malachite for green, azurite for blue, just to mention a few examples. Some brighter reds and yellows would have been prepared using various Arsenic Sulphites. 

We reached a large pillared hall, which was richly decorated. Once again we walked down a ramp to wards the burial chamber.

The burial chamber was kept in the dark. I'm not too sure why. I guess it was an empty and unrestored chamber. The red quratz sarcophagus that was once inside now resides in the Louvre, Paris.

This dark endng was quite appropriate as it's believed that Rameses III was murdered, his throat cut by his assassins in a conspiracy against him led by Tyie, one of his wives, to have her son ascend to the throne. This was the begining of an unstable period for the dynasty.  

The third and final tomb open to the public today was KV16, that of Rameses I. This was over a hundred years older than the previous tomb, stepping back into 1290 BC. It was discovered by Giovanni Belzoni in 1817. (The Great Giovanni certainly got around!)

Rameses I was the founder of the 19th dynasty but his reign only lasted a few years.

This tomb was very deep as we made our way down the ramped walkway deeper and deeper into the earth. The walls were mostly undecorated until we reached the burial chamber.

It was a small room dominated by a large granite sarcophagus in the centre. Pillars, not original, supported the ceiling. We followed the flow of people, around the chamber, mesmerised by the artwork on all four walls .

The colours were so vivid and bright. The background was a blue grey which somehow added to the room's aura. I stopped to study one image in particular. It showed a seated Osiris, the green faced god of the underworld, sat back to back with a god called Khepri, with a massive scarab beatle on its face, who represented the rising sun, the renewal of life.

Another image that greatly held my attention was the pharaoh and his queen (or goddess) holding hands. It reminded me of this poem I read once, from an Egypt tourism advert. It was a section out of a much larger text. It went something like "We wander together to every beautiful place .... your hand in my hand, my soul inspired, my heart in bliss, because we go together." It's now become our mantra.

The images here were different to those we had seen before in that they were painted directly onto the plaster, not carved bas-reliefs, which some say indicates they were in a hurry to finish.   

Be that as it may, it did not detract from their exquisitie beauty.

That was it for the regular three tomb ticket holders.  From what I understand they regularly rotate which tombs are open to the public, but out of the 63 tombs only a dozen or so are opened.

We returned to the surface to meet up with Hany who handed us the tickets to the premium tombs. Not everyone from the goup had decided to pay the extra.

Hany suggested we visited KV62, Tutankhamun's tomb first, and then KV9, the tomb of both Rameses V and Rameses VI. "Save the best until last" he said. This surprised me as I thought the tomb of Tutankhamun was the ultimate. Nevertheless we took his advice.

The sign wrote his name as Tut-Ankh-Amun highlighting the composition of the name from three seperate sources, rather than Tutan-Khamun as we would more familiarly pronounce. He was originally named Tutankhaten but after the death of his father Pharaoh Akhenaten, who had promoted the sun god Aten as the main or even only god, his name was changed to Tutankhamun, dropping the Aten. He reversed his father's cult back to the old beliefs, also returning the capital to Thebes.

He became Pharaoh at the age of nine so he would have been guided by his mother and other influencial family members and viziers.

We stepped down into the first room which was a non-descript reception room, not much more than a corridor with an information board the only thing of interest in there. We then followed the corridor, turning right where we entered the antechamber.

To the left was the mummy of Tutankhamun kept inside a climate controlled glass case. It felt quite eerie staring at him, preserved forever. He was only 5ft 6in tall and believed to have a deformity, like a club foot perhaps, requiring him to use a walking stick for support. He died at the young age of  17.     

On the other side of the antechamber we overlooked the burial chamber, about a metre below. In the centre was a plain stone sarcophagus, its lid cracked. Further cracks could be seen on the ceiling where there was some water damage. During periods of heavy rain the room has been known to flood.

The decorations on the walls were amazing.

The room actually glowed because of the gold background. It gave it such a luxurious look. Fit for a king!

One side had a troop of baboons, a dozen of them. Identical and placed inside a box with a unique set of hieroglyoohs. Above them was the god Khepri, in the form of a scarab, carried on the boat that journeyed to the netherworld , symbolising the renewal of life. And finally five small figures all facing the same way. All excerts from the Book of Amduat funerary texts.

On the wall directly in front of us were seven figures, begining from the left with the pharaoh embracing Osiris, then, providing support behind him was his "Ka", a representation of his soul.

Next we had another element of Tutankhamun in a different guise greeting the goddess Nut.

Then finally we saw the mummifed pharaoh about to undergo the "opening of the mouth" ceremony at the hands of a leopard skin draped man, understood to be Ay who later became pharaoh himself, succeeding Tutankhamun.

There were two other rooms, the treasury off the burial chamber and another room off the antechamber, both inaccesible. It was ironic how KV62 was one of the smallest tombs in the Valley of the Kings, yet was the one that the greatest tresures were found.    

We were surprised how quiet it was inside. I thought it would have been the most popular but it was the least. We must have timed our visit just right. For a brief moment we were even on our down in the antechamber.

It felt really special having all the time we needed to admire the burial chamber, with no pressure to move on.  

Next we visited our final tomb, KV9, the tomb of Rameses VI (and V).  It's understood that the tomb was originally constructed for No.5,  the grandson of Rameses III and he was buried here for a while. But during the reign of Rameses VI (son of III and uncle of V) the tomb was reappropriated or usurped as they say, redecorated with any reference to the earlier pharaoh replaced with the new. 

At the begining Hany's "saving the best until last" claim seemed an exageration. The walls were in poor conditon, the plaster had deterorated and the images faded but the further we walked the better it got.

After the first long corridor we reached a pillared hall. Whilst the colours had faded it was still a spectacular sight. What enhanced the experience was how quiet it was inside. There was hardly anyone else there.   

After another long corridor we entered the antechamber, another pillared hall from which we could see ahead of us the broken sarcophagus of Rameses VI. This wasn't the decorated stone box of the outer sarcophagus but the inner sarcophagus carved in the image of the mummified pharaoh. I got goosebumps when I saw it for the first time.

We then reached the burial chamber where looked up at the vaulted ceiling and were left speechless at the stunning fresco. It was like the Sistine Chapel of ancient Egypt. Absolutely spectacular. 

The image was in two halves, with the godess Nut wrapped like a long snake around The Book of the Night and The Book of the Day.  Either stars or red sun dials ran along the length of the elongated body helping to identify which was which.

The walls of this cavernous burial chamber were decorated with exerpts from the Book of the Earth.  All of Life, Death and Resurrection were represented.

Then in the centre of the chamber, on the back wall, there was a small recess, flanked by unfinished pillars.  This is where the damaged sarcophagus of Rameses VI was left. It had shattered into 370 pieces and was reassembled like a 3D jigsaw puzzle with many pieces still missing.

It's believed that the damaged was done only a few centuries after the burial. It was certainly found in that broken state by Giovanni Belzoni who acquired (took) the fragment of the face. It was quite a large piece which is still in the hands of the British Museum. A black resin replica was presented to the team who finished restorng the sarcophagus in 2003.  Of course one day the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities hope to reunite all the known original pieces.

As this was to be our last tomb we spent quite sometime studying the decorations on the pillars and walls. Once again there was no pressure on us to move on as the volume of visitors inside was surprisingly minimal. Paying the extra charge had certainly reduced the numbers. 

We slowly made our way back up to the surface and rejoined Hany and the group who were sat in the cafe. I think we were the last to return. 

Breathing through our face masks in the dry air of the tombs had left us very thirsty. We ordered diet cokes and gulped them straight down.

"You were right" we told Hany "that was leaving the best until last". He smiled knowingly but also in childlike pride as if we had just patted him on his head and told him he was a good boy. He certainly took great pleasure in our joy. 

 We walked down from the cafe to the entrance gate where we hopped onto the battery powered cart to the visitor's centre and then to our minibus.

We didn't travel far before stopping at the alabaster stores clustered together on the roadside at a town called El Qurna. Alabaster has been quarried and carved here since the days of the Pharaohs.

Before entering the shop of Hassany, we were given a little performance of their work, and how you can tell the difference between hand carved and machine carved pieces.

Inside we browsed the thousands of vases, bowls, jugs and cups on the shelves. Most of them were either white or brown. Only a few items had been coloured or decorated, We had no desire to buy anything but felt we should get something at least, and set off loking for the smallest cheapest piece.

Julie spotted a vase the size of an espresso cup, just large enough to pop in a tealight candle. It was white and quite delicate. We imagined the light would illuminate the whole cup nicely. At around £17 it wasn't too expensive.

In a seperate small room in the back they had their special "family" products which they described as heirlooms, hand carved pieces of exceptional quality that their fathers and grandfathers had made. Some were over 70 years old and would only be sold at the right price. 

Michelle was in there, being given the tour.

She turned to us as said "Look at this" picking up off the shelf a beautifully carved box, placing it in the plam of her hand, and waving it towards us. We gasped, not with appreciation but fear. During this week we had noticed she was prone to clumsiness. She was constantly dropping something.

It was one of those minature jars for the liver, like the one we saw at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. "They even have lids" she added and reached to lift one of the heads off to show us.  

"Ooh, be careful" Julie and I said in unison. "That's expensive" I added. The guy showing her around nodded and said "$2000".  The look on Michelle's face was a picture, her jaw dropped, eyes opened wide, and she took a sharp breath as she very carefully returned the pharaoh's head lid and handed the box back to safety.  

Then all a fluster turned on her heels, her back pack swing inches away from thousnds of dollars worth of alabaster, and returned to the cheaper machine made stuff.

Once everyone had bought something we returned to our minibus.

A short distance away were the colossi of Memnon. This time we stopped to have a closer look at the two colossal statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III. They would have stood at the entrance to his mortuary temple, some say it was the largest ever built, but sadly not much of it remained today.  

The colossi were an impressive 18 metres  tall but were in poor condition. The damaged is believed to have occured after two major earthquakes, one around 1200 BC and the other 27 BC. The one to the left was carved from a single piece of stone. His face and torso were missing. The pharaoh was seated, his hands on his knees, and a small figure representing his wife stood next to his right leg.

The one on the right had been reconstructed from the waste up by the Romans in 199AD.  I'm not sure if it had been further damaged after that or was it left unfinished? But it wasn't the best of restorations!

Apparently the name Memnon goes back to the Grecian times when they believed it was a temple to the King of Ethiopia who came to the defence of the city of Troy but was ultimately defeated by Achillies.  

Other than the defaced statues there wasn't much else to see, so we didn't spend long here. 


Back in the minibus we travelled into the small town of El-Gezira (or was it Al-Bairat) for lunch.

Children were playing in the street. One little boy, no older than four, had this large plastic bottle over his head, the bottom cut out and was wearing it like a spaceman's helmet.  The others were hitting him like a piniata. It was so funny!

The minibus came to a stop at the side of the road and we continued on foot down a warren of back alleys until we reached the home of our host for lunch.

Hany opened a gate and we walked inside a large courtyard. We were greeted by Mohammed who welcomed us all warmly to his humble home, ushering us into the dining room where a large table had been laid for all of us. 

Mohammed once ran a horse drawn carriage business in Luxor which Intrepid Travel hired regularly.  When they updated their policies and stopped using horses they offered Mohammed and his family an alternative source of income, by providing homemade meals to tourists.

His extended family were busy in the kitchen whilst he brought the food to the table. There was plenty to eat, and it just kept on coming.

We began with a soup with crusty bread. Then we had a super fresh green salad, tahini dips, flat breads, boiled rice, potato and veg tagine, a bean stew and a cauliflower stew, all non-meat dishes. There was also a large plater of chicken for the carnivors, (which I think was almost everyone except Doris and I) 

All the dishes were absolutely delicious, the equal of any professional kitchen. The stews were served in rustic clay pots which made them look even more appetising. There was also plenty to go around. In fact, despite my personal best efforts, there was a lot of food left over.

Before we left his wife made an appearance which gave us all an opportunity to thank her personally for the fabulous food. I had thoroughly enjoyed every morcel.

We left Mohammed's home and followed Hany through the narrow streets back to the main road and onto the minibus. By 2:30pm we were back at our hotel. 

The rest of the afternoon was down in the itinerary as an afternoon "at your leisure" but of course we couldn't just lounge about doing nothing, there were still things to see.

From our balcony we had admired Luxor temple from afar so we decided to have a closer look but by the time we reached the entrance we changed our mind. There was a little bit of a queue which put us off. With hindsight we should have just done it whilst we were here, but we will definitely return to Luxor one day as there's so much more left for us to see.

Some of the lesser known places like Medinet Habu, (the mortuary temple of Ramese III), the Ramesseum, (Rameses II mortuary temple), the Valley of the Queens, including the incredible temple of Hateshput, they all deserve a visit.

Julie had read about a cafe above a bookshop with great views of the Luxor temple, so we decided to go in search of it. We found the bookshop but just couldn't find the entrance to the cafe upstairs. "It's probably closed" said Julie, so we gave up and just browsed the store instead.  

There were some really interesting books in here, but we didn't buy anything for oursleves. Instead some gifts for the grandkids was on the list. We  saw some stickers that Ada would love so we picked them up and went to pay. "three hundred" the woman behind the desk said.

"How much?" I thought I miss heard her, but no, she had entered 300 onto her large calculator.

I had this feeling she was deliberately trying to overcharge us ten times the actual price. I wasn't in the mood to question it or challenge it. "Sorry, that's too expensive" I said leaving the stickers on the counter and walking out.

Not before stopping for a moment to watch TV footage of Russian military rolling into the Ukraine. How terribly sad and frightening to see. What is this world coming too?

Anyway, moving on, we needed some supplies for the train ride tonight and walked up towards the station.

We then saw something very upsetting. A horse drawn carriage carrying tourists came around the corner when the horse stumbled and then collapsed. It was awful to see.

The horse couldn't get back up. It didn't have the strength to lift itself, the cart and the three tourist who were still sat there laughing. People came to help and try to lift it up but its legs buckled again.

They couldn't release the horse from the cart. It seemed to have been fastened too tightly. The horse had now given up and was just lying there motionless. Julie and I were increasingly getting concerned. We were close to tears.

 A guy from a restaurant came out with a large knife and cut the horse free from its straps. We all waited but it still did not move. We couldn't leave without knowing it was alright. Several minutes passed before the horse sat up, and then eventually stood up.

It didn't look well and thankfully they didn't hook it back up to the cart.     

We moved on, continuing up Al Mahata street past a very intimidating security forces billboard, it's purpose baffled us, and onwards to the train station.

There was a cafe on the square in front of the station. It was a popular place with the locals so we decided to take a seat and have a drink. I ordered a coffee and Julie asked for a diet pepsi.

When it came to pay the waiter said "160"

"Wow!" I gasped out loud. "that's expensive." The waiter let slip a wry smile.

At least the coffee was really good and it was in a good spot to watch people coming and going but a price to match Piazza San Marco in Venice was not justified.

We stocked up on snacks from the small supermarket and some wine and beer from Drinkies then headed back to the hotel.

We met Michelle in the foyer and we all went up to the rooftop for a drink. We had a laugh about this afternoon in the alabaster store and how clumsy she was. She then opened up about how she was involved in a car accident when she was young. She was driving at night when she lost control of the car and careered off the road, leaving her with life threatening injuries. She still stuggles with those injuries now,

She left for an appointment with Moses to collect the cartouches she had bought last night.

Ordinarily we would have checked-out of our room but Hany had arranged for three of the rooms to be available until 6pm to hold our luggage. Fortunately ours was one of the rooms so we retired to our balcony to watch the sun slowly set over the Nile. It really was a beautiful sight.

I asked Hany if the restaurant we ate in last night did take-out. They did so I then asked him if he could order us a spinach fateer and a mushroom fateer. Perfect for the train.

I popped out to pick them up and was back in time before our 7pm rendevouz with the Hany and the whole group in the foyer.

Hany thanked us all for being such a good group to travel with and we returned the complment with a collection which came to an impressive £385 from us all. He truly had been the perfect guide, there for you when you needed him, whilst not being in your face all the time. A fountain of knowledge without labouring the point. Such a kind and gentle man, who we considered him a friend.

We arrived at the train station with plenty of time spare to catch the 8:30pm train to Cairo. After leaving our luggage on the platform we accompanied Michelle to the small supermarket outside via the ATM where two station staff members were loitering suspiciously close. It looked like one was filming with his phone. Feisty Michelle told them to back off in no uncertain terms.

Back on the platform we didn't have long to wait for the train, even if it was a few minutes late arriving from Aswan.

We looked at the 'Sleeping Car' sign on the side of the carriage and laughed at its irony. That should say "no sleep" joked Julie. At least this time we knew what to expect.

The train looked the same but the rooms were a little different than Sunday's. It seemed more modern with moulded plastic fixtures. It was certainly narrower but it had space above the door to store your luggage which was very useful. The flapping table wasn't there, instead we had a plastic plank each to insert into the wall to create a bar to eat from.

As soon as the train rolled out of Luxor we immediately settled down for supper, placing our boards into the slots and tucking into our fateers. The spinach version was absolutely delicious, the mushroom one less so.

We thought about going in search of the club car to see if that was also a modern moulded version but in the end we couldn't be bothered. By around 9pm we got into bed, I took the top with Julie on the bottom. 

The motion of the train was much better than the last one. There wasn't any of that irritating stop-starting malarky. I drifted off to the gentle rattling of the tracks. Fast asleep in no time. Ready to be reborn in Cairo.

Julie was less fortunate. She spent it in purgatory, tossing and turning through most of the night.

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