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Lord Carnarvon sails the Nile, 100 years after his great-grandfather discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb

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Egypt was a big part of my great-grandfather’s life. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon came here from late December to early April from 1906 to 1922 – and now I am visiting Egypt again, albeit in the heat of summer.

So, thank goodness for Viking Osiris’ excellent air conditioning.

It was an honor to become godfather to Viking Osiris – the tradition is that a woman names a ship (my wife Fiona is the godmother of two Viking ships) so it is a fluke as this marks the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun is by my great-grandfather and the archaeologist Howard Carter.

Lord Carnarvon sails down the Nile on the Viking Osiris (above), a boat he recently became godfather to. Viking Osiris’ Pyramids and Pharaohs cruise along the Nile includes both the Pyramids of Giza and Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings

Lord Carnarvon outside Tutankhamun's tomb on his last trip to Egypt on a river cruise

This year marks the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun by Lord Carnarvon's great-grandfather, the archaeologist Howard Carter.

Lord Carnarvon (left) outside Tutankhamun’s tomb on his last trip to Egypt on a river cruise. This year marks the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun by his great-grandfather, the archaeologist Howard Carter (right)

Fiona and I are aboard Viking Osiris’ Pyramids and Pharaohs cruise along the Nile, which includes both the Pyramids of Giza and Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

None of us have been able to travel due to the pandemic, so it’s such a joy to cruise on the Nile through the heart of the country. It is particularly poignant to be back in the Valley of the Kings, as the finding of the 5th Earl has sparked such an insight and interest in ancient Egypt.

Improvements have been made to access Tutankhamun’s tomb. It makes a big difference and I am very impressed with the work of the Egyptian authorities.

Visitors no longer have to clamber down the stone stairs to enter the burial chamber. Overlooking the pyramids, the new Grand Egyptian Museum is a continuation of work to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its discovery in November 1922.

It is due to open in November, but until then Tutankhamun’s gold mask, jewelry and sarcophagi will remain housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It’s a pleasure to do an evening tour there with Viking, without the crowds.

Viking guests spend two nights in Cairo, so we have plenty of time to witness life in this heaving capital of 20 million people. I never tire of seeing the pyramids, the last wonder of the ancient world, made of 55 million tons of limestone.

Improvements have been made to access Tutankhamun's tomb in Luxor (above), says Lord Carnarvon, adding: 'It makes a big difference and I am very impressed with the work of the Egyptian authorities'

Improvements have been made to access Tutankhamun’s tomb in Luxor (above), says Lord Carnarvon, adding: ‘It makes a big difference and I am very impressed with the work of the Egyptian authorities’

Tutankhamun's gold mask, jewels and sarcophagi are preserved in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  Pictured above is the outer golden shrine of Tutankhamun's burial chamber, on display at the museum

Tutankhamun’s gold mask, jewels and sarcophagi are preserved in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Pictured above is the outer golden shrine of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, on display at the museum

Luxor is our next stop and there we board. Here the river is like a movie set – calm, clean and wide, lined with green islets and palm trees, and water taxis are the only other ships on the river.

The ship has its own berth, so there is no double berth where passengers wake up and find another ship blocking their view of the Nile. That also makes a huge difference.

Before boarding, Fiona and I also have a special dinner at the Winter Palace in Luxor, where my great-grandfather used to throw parties and parties. The hotel has not lost its touch.

As with all Viking cruises, we are offered a selection of free tours and we take a water taxi from the East to the West Bank to visit the Valley of the Kings.

I’ve been here many times and as we ride the four miles into the valley in an air-conditioned bus, I can’t imagine what it was like for my great-grandfather to ride a donkey to the dig site.

No wonder he finally bought a Ford car in 1922.

Lord and Lady Carnarvon on their Nile Cruise - outside their home away from home

Lord and Lady Carnarvon on their Nile Cruise – outside their home away from home

During their journey, the Carnarvons enjoy a special dinner at the Winter Palace in Luxor, where Lord Carnarvon's great-grandfather used to throw parties and feasts.  He commented: 'The hotel has not lost its touch'

During their journey, the Carnarvons enjoy a special dinner at the Winter Palace in Luxor, where Lord Carnarvon’s great-grandfather used to throw parties and feasts. He commented: ‘The hotel has not lost its touch’

It’s been at least ten years since my last hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings – it was a bit of a bumpy landing the first time as we landed on an unlucky farm field.

This time the flight is beautifully orchestrated.

My alarm goes off at 3 am and the sun comes up. Shortly after, I’m a passenger in one of more than a dozen colorful balloons that soar over the golden sand cliffs and green farmland, giving a bird’s-eye view of past and present archaeological digs.

During their journey, Lord and Lady Carnarvon take a 'beautifully orchestrated' hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings

During their journey, Lord and Lady Carnarvon take a ‘beautifully orchestrated’ hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings

I return to the cool nave where the light streams in through the glass-roofed three-deck atrium and the large windows in all public areas. I admire the austere Scandi design and the walls dotted with photos from our archive.

Fiona found 160 black-and-white photographs taken by the 5th Earl and they document daily life in Egypt in the early 20th century, from the sun rising over the Nile, traditional feluccas with giant sails, street scenes and family groups at the tombs.

What a special country this is. I also revisited my favorite spots, from the 62-acre Karnak Temple with 134 gravity-defying pillars and the gigantic Luxor Temple with 2.7 km Avenue of Sphinxes.

On the 62-acre Karnak Temple site, Lord Carnarvon says you’ll be greeted by 134 pillars that ‘defy gravity’

The entrance to the Temple of Luxor, with its '2.7km Avenue of Sphinxes'.  'What a special country Egypt is,' says Lord Carnarvon

The entrance to the Temple of Luxor, with its ‘2.7km Avenue of Sphinxes’. ‘What a special country Egypt is,’ says Lord Carnarvon

Gripping: The Colossi of Memnon at Luxor, where the Carnarvons boarded their ship

Gripping: The Colossi of Memnon at Luxor, where the Carnarvons boarded their ship

However, it is the smaller, Dendera Temple, in Qena, that brings me pure delight. It is unexpectedly breathtaking.

It’s the first time I’ve seen this temple and the experience is so positive. Good for Viking for organizing trips to lesser known places from ancient times.

Dedicated to Hathor, the goddess of joy and music, Dendera Temple is one of the best-preserved temples in Egypt. It is unusual on two levels and the only temple to have a figure of Queen Cleopatra carved on the walls.

Dendera Temple (above) - 'one of the best preserved in Egypt' - gives Lord Carnarvon 'pure delight'

Dendera Temple (above) – ‘one of the best preserved in Egypt’ – gives Lord Carnarvon ‘pure delight’

For centuries the interior was covered in black soot from fires, but in the past five years the ornate columns and ceiling have been revealed to show decorations of vultures, winged disks, astrological signs and the union between Hathor and Horus.

I just can’t believe the beautiful, original colors and detailing. I am also fascinated to see the birth house where once a year statues were carried out of the darkness and rejuvenated in the sunlight. The ancient Egyptians believed that the rays of the sun were life-giving. I also like the way conservationists left some black soot stains to show what the temple looked like before their work began.

We are learning all the time on this Nile cruise and I hope that Fiona and I have also brought a certain amount of knowledge and anecdotes to passengers on ‘my ship’.

TRAVEL FACTS

Twelve day Pharaohs and Pyramids cruises depart January to May and August to December 2023-24, from £4,550 pp including flights, hotel accommodation, all meals on board including wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner. Excursions, wifi, tips, evening entertainment and enrichment talks are also included. Book before 31 December for a savings and free drinks package of £750 pp (vikingrivercruises.co.uk0800 319 6660).

Highclere’s celebrations to mark the centenary of Tutankhamun’s discovery will be held on October 8 and 9, with tours of the castle and travel through the cellars to follow the path that led to Tutankhamun’s tomb. £45pp (highclerecastleshop.co.uk).

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