Volume II, Number 6 June 1st, 2001
The Lost Feeling, Or was it a Mummy?
By Arnvid Aakre
Arnvid Aakre was born in Norway, today senior managing editor for the Canadian based online publishing community Suite101.com and a travel professional foronline travel to Egypt. As an artist (painter), he came to Egypt the first time as Head of a contemporary art project under patronage of UNESCO in Paris. The art project had artists from different professions as photography, film, fine art (textile, painting, sculpture and graphics) and architecture. All were working together creatively, based on their individual artistic impressions of the now so famous historical person - Hatshepsut. "The Lost Feeling - or was it a Mummy?" is Arnvid's first article to Tour Egypt's Magazine, and the story date back to when he first came to Egypt in 1989 together with part of his "Norwegian Hatshepsut Project".
Allow me to ask you a question: "What was the first feeling you had first time you came to Egypt?" (- or for those who have not been here yet - "What do you think your first feeling would be?").
Working in travel, I have heard many telling their first wonderful impressions or "deja vu's". Me, I just did not have any. At least no feeling that I was able to pinpoint or verbalize.
The second feeling I remember very well though. This was a feeling of a grand disappointment of not finding my "entry-vision" to Egypt.
Okay you say, but what happened this first time?
Let me first give you a personal background picture to my "point of entry"?
I landed in Cairo with an artist and film team together with the main cultural reporter for Norwegian "Channel One" television. This came after five years with steep uphill work to get a contemporary art project based on Ancient Egyptian history - both sponsored and established. Add more than ten years with personal study of the ancient culture that I now was about to meet.
We should go to Upper Egypt, in audience, to "meet" the Pharaoh Hatshepsut - but first we had some days in Cairo. Here was a film team in the middle of movie production, and the television so wanted a feature story on the film production before we would fly to Luxor.
At the hotel, we met the film team in a bar, outside the windows were three grand pyramids bathing in light. My friend, the television reporter, soon said he had to go to his room and look at the news. He came back half an hour later, happily smiling telling us all they had a beautiful language in this country - and the female news reporters where just glorious.
He had already grabbed hold of the new country through his professional counterparts while I was looking at the whiskey glass. Maybe my first Egypt feeling was there, floating around together with melting ice cubes?
Two days later, a flight took us to Upper Egypt, south to ancient Waset - today's Luxor. The camera crew choose the terrace of the famous Old Winter Palace. So with the sun of Atum setting in the west - throwing its ancient magic light over Luxor - the interview setting was done. I asked the reporter to please not ask me "what I was feeling"; I still had no idea...
What was it I had expected?
Was it suddenly to feel sure that I had been a famous ancient Egyptian person in another life and so joining that exclusive rebirth club? Hardly, since the day one of the Egyptian guides confessed to me; "never met so many Nefertiti's, Hatshepsut's, Ramseses and TutMoseses as during my last years as guide - tons of each of them".
Next day, I was to enter the second tomb built for Hatshepsut. The tomb has been catalogued as "KV20" in the valley of Kings, and not open to the public. With permission and an inspector in tow, we walked to the east mountain wall of the valley - on the other side lay her terrace temple. Fact is that it's the most unique and extraordinary tomb in the valley (an early tomb, as her father was the first king buried in the Valley of the Kings / "KV38").
Hatshepsut's tomb is the longest and deepest tomb in Egypt, 214 meters long and when the height difference between the lowest chambers and the entrance is realized at about 100 meters - then one can understand that the way down is steep.
With a video camera and lamp in my hands, it was not easy to walk downwards. Not only because it was steep, but due to all the flood debris that covered the corridor. We had to walk slowly not to fall, and many times it was just a moment before one of us went tumbling down. Step by careful step we descended into KV20.
In the end we were outside the last chamber - I turned the flash light into the chamber and instantly a loud noise suddenly filled the tomb.
In the flashlights beam, we could see a swarm of flapping bats coming toward us.
The only sound apart from loud flapping and bat-screaming, was a cry from the inspector who was with me. In a second he had turned and ran the fastest he could upwards toward the entrance and a sunny, bat free world.
Most of the bats where soon gone, so was the inspector.
Surrounded the by the thick fog of ancient dust the escape artist had left behind, I went into the last chamber. I knew it was not decorated, as the workers here had suddenly met a part of the mountain that was not the good limestone - but grey-like shale that made this part impossible to decorate. On the other side I knew Howard Carter found two beautiful sarcophagi of yellow quartzite here in 1904 (yellow quartzite being the hardest material any ancient people ever worked in).
The main sarcophagi had first bore the names of Hatshepsut, then these had been changed and replaced with the name of her father who most likely had been moved from his tomb and buried in this sarcophagi. The second sarcophagi was a replacement for Hatshepsut. Later her father was again moved, most likely during the reign of ThothMoses III.
Both sarcophagi's are today in the Egyptian Museum. ThothMoses I's mummy was found in a royal cache - Hatshepsut's mummy was never found.
A leading British Egyptologist - John Romer - had indicated that there may have been a third tomb built for Hatshepsut away from the Valley of the Kings. But until the Howard Carter of the new millennium arrives, we will not know. What we know is that there remains a female mummy missing from the valley of the Kings.
Normally it takes 20 minutes to climb from the bottom of KV20 until the entrance - this time, the tomb was filled with dust and the walk up towards the light took much longer time.
Good time for thinking!
Then, suddenly, the lost feeling from the first meeting of Egypt was there.
It appeared as a long lost mummy in a dark tomb. Can I explain to you what it was? Honestly I don't know, but try to visualize me as I'm climbing up the longest tomb in Egypt and listen to my simple thinking:
If I walk into ice water, would I feel it?
Yes of course, I'm not made of stone - in fact I would feel a difference if I tried to swim in very hot water as well! But if I went into water that had the exact same temperature as my body - I would hardly feel a difference (apart from becoming wet that is).
I guess it was something like that happening when I first came to Egypt; I had met my equal mental or cultural temperature. Problem was that I did not understand this, as I was too busy running around searching for a difference!
Since then, I have stayed in Egypt, more than ten years now. All thanks to some bats, tons of dust and darkness - along with a regal lost mummy and her tomb.