CITY OF AMUN

Thinking I could get away with being unnoticed at the airport, I was ready to shoot some discrete photos when I saw the line forming to board the plane and my confidence quickly vanished as I became aware of my situation. To my surprise, I was the one standing out in the crowd with my black clothes. The entire plane was being boarded by a group of older grayed haired men and women, all dressed in long white tunics, traveling all together or maybe it just seemed they were. There was not a single woman alone and I quickly started getting short stares, but the men and women acted very polite and quickly shifted their eyes to something else, almost like they they were ashamed at staring but since I was standing out terribly they couldn’t help it.

I boarded the plane, and right by the gate there was a Quran encapsulated behind a glass that could be broken in case of an emergency. It felt a powerful message of how strongly religion was intertwined with politics in the Middle East. Everyone slowly got to their seats and put their luggage away in such an organized manner I was amazed. I was not used to seeing so many people at the same time being so proper when traveling. If anything, I was used to chaos and disorder and strong smells and maybe a little bit of rudeness. This flight was impeccable in every way.

I fell asleep on the plane and when I woke up we had  landed. The seat-belt sign got turned off and nobody stood up. No one moved. The gate opened and a few people in the back stood up. I stayed behind to observe and make sense of what was happening and I could see the people in the front turn around to check everyone from the back had unboarded  and only then they would stand up and unboard. It was amazing! How nice would it be if people behaved like that all the time right?- I thought. I felt like I was living in another world. I was in another world.

I walked out the airplane and purchased the Egyptian Visa that was being sold as if it was a simple stamp at a post office. I had landed in Cairo and had a connecting flight to Luxor, also known as “Ancient Thebes”, a city located by the magnificent Nile in southern Egypt. After passing through Inmigration, I proceeded to the connecting flight aisle and waited by the gate. My flight to Luxor was the same exact experience. I landed and unboarded and a very nice egyptian gentleman was waiting for me. He greeted me and welcomed me to his country and the ride to Luxor was smooth and full of stories about the place I was about to see. I felt very welcome and a sense of comfort overwhelmed me. Getting to a new place for a traveler is the most disheartening and at the same time the most exciting experience. You will understand why as you read my stories.

Luxor, The old Pharaoh’s city was rich in history and temples. The burial place for many pharaohs was here in a place known as “The Valley of the Kings” and the burial of the wives of the Pharaohs, “The Valley of the Queens”, known as “Ta-Set-Neferu” that translates to “The Place of Beauty”, was standing right next to it.

I have always had a strong desire to see Egypt, particularly the Tomb of Tutankhamun. When I was younger, I used to get drowned under my mother’s history books, locked inside of our library and spent hours reading various subjects. One day I came across a book about Tutankhamun and since that day I became fascinated by it. Even though he was a “not important” pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, the events involving his short reign and existence encapsulates one of the most important moments in Egyptian history. The moment when a culture was about to be Monotheist ( the belief in one God)  for the first time in the entire world, but it didn’t. King Tut died prematurely, and with him, all the possibilities of witnessing a change that would have been the first of its kind in the history of religion. I think what draws me in about history is the incredible amount of “so close” moments where change “almost” happened but it didn’t, and to compare the amount of time that had to pass until the actual change ended up happening. Centuries sometimes. To me it is fascinating.

Ancient Thebes or should I say Luxor, was divided into two zones. The modern city part or “East Bank” and the farming side, where the temples were located at : “The West Bank”. I decided to stay in the West Bank of Luxor since I had heard it was mostly a rural zone, mostly undeveloped and away from the “noises” of city life. 

I found a beautiful small hotel called “Cleopatra Hotel”. The rate included typical egyptian breakfast, a private egyptian room and a breathtaking rooftop with a view one could only dream of. The mountains in the horizon were both the Valley of Kings and the Valley of the Queens and the reason why they were chosen to bury the Pharaoh’s under that mountain was said to be because it resembled a natural pyramid. 

The morning came soon enough and I was awakened by the concierge who took me to the beautiful rooftop overlooking the Valley of the Kings. What a breathtaking place. I was impressed with the simplicity of Luxor’s West Bank. The fields of green covered the entire view, up until the Mountains, which were the temples where the Pharaohs were buried. I could see a hot air balloon flying over the skies and a sudden peaceful feeling took over me. A young boy approached me to let me know my breakfast was served. I followed him and sat at the table he had set up for me. On the table, There were two falafels, egg tortilla, a type of arab bread, some kind of cut vegetables on a yogurt sauce, pinto beans and some kind of juice that I had never tasted. Everything was exceptionally delicious. I barely had time to finish it all when Muhammad (The concierge) came upstairs to let me know my tour guide had arrived to pick me up.

I gathered my belongings in a hurry and went downstairs. My tour guide, Asif, was waiting with our driver. He was dressed modestly and carried a messenger bag with him and his Egyptologist Licence was showing in a lanyard. He warmly welcomed me and introduced himself and spoke to the driver in his language and we started going. He said we were heading to the Valley of the Kings first and he instructed me carefully about the tombs. “No photography allowed” – He said. I didn’t have a camera but only my phone and I wanted to take a picture of Tutankhamun! How not to take a picture of him. As we walked into the Valley of the kings Asif started to point in a direction and walked until we got to what was some sort of map of the Mausoleum. We were going to visit a few tombs before King Tut. I saw  the tombs Tausert/Setnakht, which were curiously 2 in one tomb. Asif mentioned the tomb was built for Tausert who was the wife of Seti II and who would have naturally be meant to be buried in the Valley of the Queens but after Seti II died, Siptah who was the only male child of Seti II assumed the throne when he was around 11. He was under the care of his stepmother Tausert and Chancellor Bay. A few years later, Chancellor Bay was executed by orders of the Pharaoh, Siptah. The reasons are unknown but speculated to be treason. Sadly, a year later Siptah died a victim of the “Tenth Plague”, an event that is even mentioned in the Bible.

After these deaths, Tausert ( a woman) became the sole ruler of Egypt and such a rare episode has only happened very few times in the 4000 years the Egyptian Empire lasted. That is how Tausert ended up having a Tomb built for her in the Valley of the Kings.

Tausert was the last Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. After her death, Setnakht assumed the throne but his reign lasted only 3 years. It is speculated he fought for the throne in Tausert’s last year of reign, at the end winning it after her death. It is unknown how he was vinculated to the Pharaoh lineage but because of his successor’s name Rameses III maybe he was somewhat related to the lineage of the Pharaohs. Either way, Setnakht was the first Pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty and the tomb originally built for Tausert was modified to become the tomb of Setnakht.

What a complication of life and death Egyptians had going on. So much history in only 2 tombs and so much drama. When I walked inside the tombs, Asif waited for me outside. I was astonished about the fact I was walking into a Pharaoh’s tomb. So much I had dreamed of this moment. The corridors were long and the walls covered in depictions taken from the Book Of The Dead narrating the Pharaoh’s fate for the afterlife. The drawings were sometimes very colorful and bright and the chambers were decorated from floor to ceiling. Just admiring the walls felt like being part of another world. An old world that we only knew a brief story. A story that is dying to be told.

Asif waited for me outside of every one of the tombs we visited and when the time came, we went to the last one: K62 : Tutankhamon. Suddenly the flashback of my 14 year old self reading about him for the first time came to my mind. The feeling of always having wanted to be standing in front of his tomb was priceless and as I walked inside of the tomb, I felt what everyone feels when fulfilling one of their deepest dreams. I felt happiness, glory, accomplishment. The feeling a child feels when their dreams come true. I walked in smiling and time suddenly slowed down, I didn’t hear anything or anyone. I entered a chamber and there he was, on my left side. I walked up to the glass cage and looked at him. I remember noticing details on his mummified body. A mark on a hand that looked like a scar, the dark color of his body, his flesh, his feet, his face, he was so young when he died.

I walked outside of the tomb smiling and Asif was waiting for me. He asked me how it was and I told him that moment probably meant more for my 13 year old self than for my current thirty three year old self. I spent a lot of time reviving the memory of reading this book I had at home while reviving the deep wish I had in my heart for one day going to see those places, the places where I was at today. A beautiful and peaceful sense of accomplishment started overflowing from my heart and a deep conviction started getting born inside of me. The conviction that I could truly achieve whichever thing I really wanted and the sentence that once ended in “One day” suddenly ended in “Today”. That has been one of the greatest awakening moments that I have lived so far.

 

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