It is important to arrive before midday at the dwelling of this Pharaoh, and at eight o’clock sharp, therefore, on a clear February morning, I set out from Luxor, where for many days my dahabiya had slumbered against the bank of the Nile. It is necessary first of all to cross the river, for the Theban kings of the Middle Empire all established their eternal habitations on the opposite bank—far beyond the plains of the river shore, right away in those mountains which bound the horizon as with a wall of adorable rose-colour. Other canoes, which are also crossing, glide by the side of mine on the tranquil water. The passengers seem to belong to that variety of Anglo-Saxons which is equipped by Thomas Cook & Sons (Egypt Ltd.), and like me, no doubt, they are bound for the royal presence.
We land on the sand of the opposite bank, which to-day is almost deserted. Formerly there stretched here a regular suburb of Thebes—that, namely, of the preparers of mummies, with thousands of ovens wherein to heat the natron and the oils, which preserved the bodies from corruption. In this Thebes, where for some fifty centuries, everything that died, whether man or beast, was minutely prepared and swathed in bandages, it will readily be understood what importance this quarter of the embalmers came to assume. And it was to the neighbouring mountains that the products of so many careful wrappings were borne for burial, while the Nile carried away the blood from the bodies and the filth of their entrails. That chain of living rocks that rises before us, coloured each morning with the same rose, as of a tender flower, is literally stuffed with dead bodies.
We have to cross a wide plain before reaching the mountains, and on our way cornfields alternate with stretches of sand already desertlike. Behind us extends the old Nile and the opposite bank which we have lately quitted—the bank of Luxor, whose gigantic Pharaonic colonnades are as it were lengthened below by their own reflection in the mirror of the river. And in this radiant morning, in this pure light, it would be admirable, this eternal temple, with its image reversed in the depth of the blue water, were it not that at its sides, and to twice its height, rises the impudent Winter Palace, that monster hotel built last year for the fastidious tourists. And yet, who knows? The jackanapes who deposited this abomination on the sacred soil of Egypt perhaps imagines that he equals the merit of the artist who is now restoring the sanctuaries of Thebes, or even the glory of the Pharaohs who built them.
As we draw nearer to the chain of Libya, where this king awaits us, we traverse fields still green with growing corn—and sparrows and larks sing around us in the impetuous spring of this land of Thebes.