The tomb is eerily silent.
It’s the kind of silence that deafens and makes you take a humble look at your surroundings.
Above my head, intricately carved heiroglyphs – still as bright as the day they were painted more than 3,000 years ago – depict King Ramses VI’s ascension to heaven.
Beside me, a large granite tomb lies split open. Its precious contents were stolen long ago, like most of the Pharaohs’ tombs, here in the Valley of the Kings.
Emerging from the cool stillness of the chamber, my eyes adjust to the brightness of the sun. I expect to be bombarded by gaggles of tourists – after all, this is one of the top sights in Egypt – but I’m standing alone. In fact, there are only a handful of visitors today and we have this ancient place all to ourselves.
Egypt has been on my must-see list since I was a little girl and a cruise down its famous Nile is on most people’s bucket list.
Unfortunately, the idea of long queues and a river teeming with hundreds of boats has always put me off. But since the Arab Spring in 2010, tourism in Egypt has taken a massive hit and with the country’s future still uncertain, many tourists are too worried to return.
But if you want to experience the sights without the crowds, now is the time to visit.
I’ve signed myself up to a four-night Nile cruise with Bales Worldwide, taking in some of the ancient wonders from Luxor to Aswan.
The Valley of the Kings, just a few miles from Luxor, was the final resting place for powers such as Ramses the Great and Tutankhamen. Sixty two known tombs belonging to Pharaohs from the 16th century BC can be found here.
Stepping into Tutankhamen’s tomb, I’m struck by how much smaller it is than some of the others. For such a famous name, I was expecting something bigger. However, my Egyptologist guide Amr explains that the tomb was probably taken from another Pharaoh when the king died unexpectedly at just 19.
A short drive but a world away from this hive of tombs is the Mortuary temple of Hatshepsut, Egypt’s only female Pharaoh.
Backed by limestone cliffs, this extraordinary monument looks almost modern. With clean lines cut out of the rock, it resembles something from the 1920s. It’s hard to believe this was created over 3,000 years ago.
Taking in the majestic view, I can’t help but notice the guards armed with automatic rifles. Reading the reports on the news, it’s no wonder people are cautious about travelling to Egypt.
But Britain’s home office has lifted restrictions on the southern parts of the country and the guards feel like more of a reassuring presence than a foreboding one.
Tourism is a vital industry in Egypt and its people are keen to protect it.
After a day of sightseeing, staff aboard the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV are awaiting us with smiles and fresh lime juice. This beautiful and stylish boat is one of the best on the river, and its 40 art deco inspired cabins boast floor-to-ceiling windows showing off the splendour of the Nile.
Before the revolution, 300 ships crowded these waterways but now, only 13 are currently in operation – and even these are not nearly at full capacity. Our boat has just 28 passengers on board, so we’re well looked after by the 52 on-board staff.
The boat begins to shudder – we’re now officially cruising along the Nile. We drift past fishermen in small boats casting their nets into the blue waters as egrets wade along the shoreline. On the banks, men in traditional dress escort hay-laden donkeys through sand dunes.
It seems like a world that has changed little in the last thousand years. Children wave their hellos to us as we glide past; we’re the only visible boat on the water.
As the sun begins to set, throwing a sepia glow over the river, the Muslim call to prayer rings out from the minarets that are dotted along the banks. The beautiful, almost sombre sound echoes across the water, drawing the day to a close.
IF YOU GO
南宁夜网.balesworldwide广西桑拿, offers a four-night cruise on the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV, including international and internal flights, transfers, accommodation, meals and sightseeing.
*The writer travelled as a guest of Bales Worldwide