As a fairly well travelled fairy I have treaded some well trodden paths and contributed to the deepening of an already beaten track. As I have mentioned previously tourist cliches are not that for nothing but the phenomena of mass tourism has been put in a whole new perspective for me and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty. Simone and I had just spent a few days off the beaten track in the desert, where we fell in love with the dramatic landscapes, the starry nights and the silence (it can be so quiet!). The oasis of Kharga was the last stop on our desert trip from where we wanted to go straight to Luxor, which seemed like a three hour drive or so. But hélas, Egyptians don’t do public transport bewteen Kharga and Luxor and in order for us not to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a private taxi we decided to take a bus to Asyut which is almost half way down the Nile to Cairo. The further up you travel along the Nile the more nervous the authorities get about tourists and their safety. As we were the only foreigners on the bus we stuck out like two sore thumbs and after alighting in Asyut we were spotted straight away by an person in uniform, who told us that there were no buses to Luxor -which seemed absolute b*llocks to me- and that we had to take the train. He escorted us to the train station which is a hop and a skip away. We had to wait a good two hours for the train and sat in the cafeteria, where we were being discretely but closely watched by the individual in uniform. When I went to the toilet, which is further along the platform he came to check if I hadn’t been kidnapped by some random insurgents.
It was a six hour train ride to Luxor and we arrived just before sunset. We stayed in a very pleasant hotel on the far more relaxed West Bank (compared to the city’s East Bank), which had a funky roof terrace with Nile views and a very cute garden. We were only planning to stay in Luxor for a night and a day to tread on some overly beaten paths. You know, you can behave like the too-cool-for-school independent traveller, who despises doing what the herds are doing, but being an original is well hard work, especially when it comes to travelling. And as a woman of culture and a resident of Egypt I do feel obliged to see its treasures. So we got up at the crack of dawn to beat the heat when visiting the Tombs of the Nobles, the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Kings. We were off to a pretty good start. At the Tombs of the Nobles there were only two other small groups of French-speaking tourists. We had one tomb completely to ourselves, took some pictures with the guard’s permission, despite the sign telling us not to and we seemed to have upset him somewhat when we didn’t give him the amount of baksheesh (tip) he expected or would have liked. It went down hill when we arrived at the Valley of the Queens. Firstly it doesn’t do it’s name justice as there is only one tomb of a queen which was closed, the other tombs belong to princes and secondly, because the site seemed a lot more crowded than the Tombs of the Nobles. But we hadn’t seen anything yet. We were approaching the site of sites, the Valley of the Kings. It has a enormous car park packed mainly with big tour buses. Your ticket gives you admission to three tombs of your choice of the around 60 that are present in the Valley. You have to pay (quite a lot) extra for some tombs including Tutankhamun’s . You know, some tombs are quite impressive and I can imagine an archaeologist’s excitement when digging in the dry Theban hills she discovers a token from such an ancient civilization. But the masses of people, the queueing for many of the tombs and the indifference that seemed to surround many visitors make the site lose all its magic. It becomes a fairground attraction. All those sheep, who ‘are doing Egypt’ follow their tour leader from site to site. They don’t have to make choices which sites to visit when; it has all been chosen for them. There is no need to do some background reading. The tour leader will have a nice story of some sort, which they are not obliged to follow and since they are on a busy schedule they can’t tell one temple from the other or this tomb from the next. And then there are the natives who will make any attempt to make you part from your hard earned tourist pound. Thebes might be this big open air museum demonstrating what the ancient Egyptians where capable of. Impressive, yeah, but to me Luxor is mainly about herd mentality and a lot of hassle and as I said: Pretty it sure ain’t.