Mummy returns!

Were the ancient Egyptians obsessed with death? “Egypt is full of tombs,” shrugs a friend. But, as actor Omar Sharif points out in his wonderful baritone in “The Mysteries of Egypt”, a promotional video of the country, “The Egyptians believed in life. Nobody enjoyed life as much as they did…To them, death wasn’t the end, it was the beginning of a journey through eternity.”

The pharaohs , the rulers of Egypt, started preparing for the after life on a grand scale, sometimes even as soon as they ascended the throne. The thought of their strong belief leaves you reflective, especially as you enter the Valley of the Kings.

The Valley, with its sand-covered hills, makes for an interesting landscape. But, there is little in its outer appearance to indicate what it conceals. This is why it was chosen as the ideal secret burial place for the royals of ancient Egypt. Along with them were buried treasures and artefacts in order to ensure they were comfortable in the after life.

The towering pyramids, in which the earlier dynasty of rulers was buried, were raided by tomb robbers even from antiquity. So, the focus of the priests and rulers shifted to this Valley in the ancient capital Thebes (now Luxor), an overnight train journey from Cairo. Not that it prevented the plunder.

The Valley looks exactly as it did in the countless programmes we have watched on television through the years. Past the ticket barrier and down the steps into the tomb of Rameses VII … and suddenly, there is no déjÀ vu. Miraculously, it seems to an Egyptophile, a 4000-year-old civilisation is literally within one’s reach.

The wall paintings come vibrantly alive; they seem almost untouched by the passage of millennia. The beautiful hieroglyphics, the fabulously painted figures of gods and kings and the intricately-carved stone sarcophagi — all light up the interior of the tombs tunnelled into the hillside.

More than 60 royal tombs have been discovered in the Valley of the Kings. It is, of course, not possible to enter more than a few of them in the limited time we have. Details of the pharaohs — name, dynasty, dates of birth and death — have been put up on boards outside each tomb. We enter KV I (King’s Valley), one of the larger tombs, which once housed the remains of Ramses VII. The paintings from the Egyptian Book of the Dead are magnificent. KV 62 — the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamen — is, of course, irresistible. One has heard the account time and again — of how king Tut’s tomb was discovered intact in 1922 by archaeologist Howard Carter whose expedition was financed by Lord Carnarvon.

The tomb yielded riches beyond imagination — golden death mask, sarcophagi (coffins), thrones… All these treasures are now in the Cairo Museum. What remains now in Tut’s small burial chamber is the outer stone sarcophagus and the beautiful paintings, chiefly that of the boy king with his young sister-wife-queen.

The tomb of Ramses III (KV II) is larger and one has to negotiate the steep stairs down the slope. The return climb is quite arduous and we hear the guide approaching us tell his amply proportioned tourist flock to attempt the entry only if it feels fit — “not for those with heart trouble or the arthritis”, he says. And, quite a few opt out hurriedly.

Once out in the open, the desert sun beats down mercilessly. But there is a more persistent attack — hordes of vendors all thrusting statues of sacred cats, moulded busts of pharaohs, queens and ancient gods at us. But, as Chennaites, we are quite adept at dodging them, lessons learned on our innumerable trips to Mamallapuram in fending off touts and guides proving useful.

A short drive away is the Valley of the Artisans as well as the Valley of the Queens where, among other royal wives, the beautiful Nefertari, chief queen of the great Ramses II, is buried. But, we are forced to reserve these for another trip owing to lack of time.

“When shall we come again?” I ask. But receive so many comments on greed and insatiable thirst for all things Egyptian that I decide to bide my time. And, secretly vow to myself that I shall come again.


The pyramidal mountain is the dominant geographical feature of the Valley of the Kings.
It was Thuthmose I (1506 to 1493 BC) of the New Kingdom who first decided to have his tomb in a secret place. His example was followed by other rulers from the 18th to 20th dynasty. Thuthmose’s architect Ineni innovated the model of the shaft tomb.
Many connected with the expedition of Howard Carter happened to die which led to the legend of the curse of Tutankhamen.
The tombs were carefully numbered in 1927 by leading Egyptologist John Gardner Wilkinson.
The mummy of Queen Hatshepsut, the only woman known to have ruled as pharaoh was found in the Valley of the Kings.


This article was from TTHE HINDU dated August 3, 2009

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