The Wed Sea; Your Travel Fly to Egypt to See the Tombs of the Pharaohs, Relax on the Beach. or Marry off Your Son

Article excerpt

Byline: By NICK BUCKLEY

"FOR one thousand camels your son can marry my daughter," declared our Egyptian Mr Fix-It. Strange considering our boy Dylan was just eight months old and the bride-to-be a little over 15 months.

And we had known Dylan's potential father-in-law for only about 10 minutes.

But, hey, you make friends fast in Egypt. On this occasion our self-appointed guide (a moonlighting hotel worker) had decided to sort out our evening arrangements in Cairo.

He happened to be waiting on the main road as we walked out of our hotel and insisted on ferrying us back and forth from a restaurant he personally recommended before taking in an essential visit to his family's store.

Now, if that sounds like a traditional tale of rip-off-and-run in a North African market, this one was done with the utmost charm, patience and style.

Ever since we had touched down in Luxor 10 days earlier, we had been gob smacked almost as much by the hospitality and charm of the locals as the utter majesty of Egypt's history.

It all began at our hotel, the Sofitel Karnak, perched on the east bank of the Nile. The welcome was warm and spontaneous. And it didn't let up throughout our stay... whether it was the kids' club nannies Heidi and Maya grappling each other for the chance to take Dylan off our hands, the restaurant staff discreetly vying for our custom or the pool staff checking on our welfare.

The view from the pool area was something to behold. Through the high rising palms, the shadow of the Valley of the Kings emerged from the clearing morning mist and dust.

More than 4,500 years of history right on your doorstep. We chose to explore in the mornings and bathe in the afternoons, with all our tours organised by local reps Viking Travel.

First we needed a history lesson. Our Egyptology education started by night at the Karnak Temple, a vast open-air museum that is described as the largest ancient religious site in the world. There are 134 columns, four giant chambers, a giant obelisk and sphinxes galore.

For dramatic effect, our 90-minute "sound and light" tour (a guide through the history of pharaohs dating back to the time of the ancient city of Thebes) boomed out from loudspeakers with the voices of Shakespearian actors backed by an epic Hollywood-style soundtrack.

You expected Charlton Heston to arrive by chariot any minute. But our tour gave us a great overview of Egypt's splendid past. And so the next day we were ready for the majesty of the Valley of the Kings. We set off at dawn to avoid the stifling heat.

There was a real Indiana Jones mood - cue music, bull-whip and fedora - as we walked through the foothills on a snaking dirt-track. Here, 63 individual royal tombs or burial chambers dating back to 1550 BC are built into the rock.

The gold treasures and finery have all gone - largely removed by thieves soon after burial all those years ago - but paintings and hieroglyphics still adorn the walls and ceilings of many tombs. In the last resting place of Rameses IV we were able to view the giant red sarcophagus which had been enclosed in four larger shrines.

Not even the monotonous tone of our guide - who stated matter-offactly that he had been carrying out these tours for 45 years (yes, we can believe it) - could dull our senses as we marvelled at the feats of science and engineering carried out to honour the royal dead.

And as we entered Tomb TV62 - the Tardis that is Tutankhamun's burial ground - we could only envy archaeologist Howard Carter for that moment in 1922 when he first ventured inside and found the treasure trove that had somehow survived centuries of grave-robbing. It can be seen at the Egypt Museum in Cairo.

After a lazy afternoon by the pool, we headed out again to take in the Nile as it should be done - by traditional felluca sail boat, offering a tranquil, intimate experience. …