History down the Nile

Temples, tombs and Tutankhamun

Hieroglyphics on the tomb of Ramses IX
Hieroglyphics on the tomb of Ramses IX
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The boat travelled overnight. Temples of Aswan were to celebrate life, and temples in Luxor are to prepare the pharaohs for afterlife. The temples in Luxor and pyramids of Giza and other places are mainly tombs of the pharaohs. The temples for the gods were erected on the ground for people to worship, by people while the tombs for pharaohs were built under ground to connect them with afterlife.

Ancient Egyptians believed that pharaohs were the children of sun god Amun Ra, and once they die, they become gods. That is why they built temples, pyramids, and decorated those with gold, jewels and other precious items they used in their lives. Some ancient Egyptians had statues of their servants in their tombs so that if they were made to do manual labour in the afterlife, the servants would do it for them.

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Ma woke us up early to have breakfast and set for the day-long exploration in Luxor. But the guide came unbelievably late and our precious time that we could have enjoyed sleeping, was wasted in waiting. By the time she came we were really bored.

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Anyway, we started the day with the famous ‘Valley of Kings’. When we arrived, we saw a glistening model of the tombs. It has more than 65 tombs but only few are open to the travelers. We were surprised to see so many visitors, but the guide said due to deterioration of the security situation in Egypt, the number of international travelers reduced drastically.

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The travel guide provided us with tickets for three temples: Ramses III, Ramses IV, and Ramses IX. From the main gate, there were buggy trains to reach the tombs. The train moves in and out every 30 minutes. Because of the heat, we decided to wait for the train.

The guides did not enter the tombs, probably to save their money and to reduce the sound inside the tombs, and so we scanned through the information boards. Security guards were strictly checking tickets, especially whether the visitors paid fees for their cameras. We only had phones.

The tombs had similar structure, with very bright and colourful decorative hieroglyphics describing the life of the pharaohs. Unlike the previous temples, these tombs were better preserved, probably because these were built underground. We were told that some of them were escalated. We took lot of pictures.

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A lady helped ma taking a picture of the three of us. She said that she visited the tombs many years ago when her kids were young, and unfortunately, she was not in any of the pictures with them because she was behind the camera. Ma was so grateful to her. The valley was flanked by mountains at the back and an open green town in the front.

How can we leave the Valley of Kings without visiting the tomb of famous Tutankhamun? We bought tickets and realised that tickets for Tutankhamun were expensive and that is why it was not included in the tour package. It is a highly maintained tomb. The number of visitors at a time was strictly maintained and the tomb was covered by layers of curtains to preserve it. Valuables of this tomb were taken to the national museum of Cairo, but the mummy lay in the tomb.

My ma did something funny. In Tutankhamun’s tomb, we were not supposed to take pictures, but my mom requested the guards so insistently, that they agreed. She took few pictures but unfortunately none of them were clear as she hurried and took the snap before focusing.

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Tutankhamun became a crowned king at 9 and so very unfortunately died at 19. Archeologist Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. Howard Carter looked carefully for two years and found a room with a coffin. Inside that coffin there was a smaller coffin which had a gold coffin. Inside it had Tutankhamun’s mummified body, untouched for 3,000 years. It took 17 years for Howard Carter and his team to uncover everything in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Tut was buried with gold items, oils, perfume, and toys he liked during his childhood. Tut’s funeral had paintings to show his journey to the afterlife.

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Scientists studied Tut's body and learned that he broke a bone before he died. They thought he probably got an infection that led to his death. I think the reason taking picture of Tutankhamun was forbidden because it was cursed. After uncovering the buried treasure, one of Howard Carter’s men looked at a golden jackal in the eye and died after a few years. A CT scan showed that Tut’s skull had a bite and that might have also resulted in his death. Howard Cater also died from a mosquito bite at the same place as Tut.

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To date, Tutankhamun’s tomb is the most famous among all pharaohs because it provided the archeologists a wealth of information about ancient Egypt.

Egypt now has eight obelisks, while France took one, Israel one, Italy 13, Poland one, Turkey one, United Kingdom four, and United States one. It seems, whichever country assisted Egypt in renovating the temples, has taken something valuable from the country in return

From Tutankhamun’s tomb, we visited the temple of Hatshepsut, the first female Pharaoh. With her immense power and wealth, the daughter of famous King Thutmose II, Queen Hatshepsut built an extraordinary burial temple in preparation for her afterlife. Because she was female, many including her stepson, had difficulties in accepting her legacy and as a result, most of her statues at the temple today have been defaced and destroyed.

We also learnt about her travels to the Kingdom of Punt (believed to be modern day Somalia) where she engaged in trade. Scenes from her travels depicted palm trees, donkeys, cows, and monkeys. She brought back henna trees and incense as well as other things. She planted the trees she brought back from her travels, around her temple. The stories of her travels, trade and engagement with the King of Punt were drawn all over the temple. I was interested to see the palace of Cleopatra, but it sunk in the Mediterranean Sea after series of earthquakes.

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Karnak Temple

We were already exhausted from the walk in the Valley of Kings but were wowed by the hugeness of Karnak Temple and its obelisks. Obelisks were common at the entrance of the temples which were built by ancient Egyptians in pairs, probably to worship the sun god Amun Ra or in honour of a king’s accomplishment.

The top edges of the obelisks are like pyramids and supposed to shine like gold in the sun. The Obelisks were made from a single piece of stone and I wonder how they had done it and placed it straight that it still stands strong.

The guide told us that now Egypt has eight obelisks, while France took one, Israel one, Italy 13, Poland one, Turkey one, United Kingdom four, and United States one. It seems, whichever country assisted Egypt in renovating the temples or any other way, has taken something valuable from the country in return.

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At Karnak temple, we were amazed by the huge columns as these looked taller than the previous ones we saw. The guide told us that there were flower and herb gardens on top of these columns, but we could not imagine how that was possible. This temple complex has so many sections as all the pharaohs, kings and queens over the period extended the temple by adding structures to it.

The guide asked us whether we were interested to the sound and light show in the evening. At that time, all we wanted was to be in our room as our legs were aching from the day-long walking.

The guide, somewhat disappointed, took us to a stone shop. I had to admit, it was interesting. Inside there were wonderful stone carvings and beautiful bright stones for sale. Aariz bought a crocodile. Then we visited a papyrus shop. The manager of the shop showed us how to make papyrus.

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The shop had so many beautiful paintings. We bought a roll of hieroglyphics which was supposed to glow in the dark, but I did not see it glowing on our wall at home. Nevertheless, I was extremely happy to the see the temples of the pharaohs, who I studied about in my school. It was worth trying to link history to the present.

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The last night on the boat was a memorable one. The chef organised a cake for Aariz to celebrate his birthday. Aariz was so surprised that he could not talk for a few minutes. We celebrated his birthday with Uncle Mohamed and Aunty Lauren, our companions on the boat. The boat also organised Sufi dances and belly dances for the guests after dinner. We were amazed to see how the Sufi dancer shaped a big piece of cloth into a baby while he was spinning himself so fast but did not fall. It was a day well spent. We hope to go to Cairo tomorrow. There, we plan to visit the great pyramids of Giza!

Aaryan Noor Rashid is a 10–year-old intrepid traveller

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