Aswan and Abu Simbel

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March 13th 2007
Published: March 13th 2007
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Day 39 (Sun 4th Mar):
My bus arrived at Aswan, the most southerly city in Egypt, at the very reasonable time of 8.30 and I found a hotel (50EGP=3.5Euros) with a Chinese student surgeon, who I'd met on the bus, who introduced himself as 'Jeff', but who's name was actually 'Je-', like saying 'Jeff' but being cut off halfway through the 'e'. I said that it must be very hard for anyone to get his attention as it was almost impossible to shout 'Je-', but he said that everyone in China was called by their surname anyway. We scouted round for the best deal on a tour to Abel Simbel the next day, and then due to tiredness (previous night on bus) slept through the hot afternoon. In the evening we went out for a meal and I had my first taste of pigeon, it being much like chicken except that there is nowhere near as much of it. If you form a triangle between your thumbs and index-fingers, you will be representing the approximate size of a cooked egyptian pigeon.

Day 40(Mon 5th Mar):
This day began with the earliest start so far: 3am! Jeff and I were headed for Abu Simbel which is an Ancient Egyptian temple south of Aswan on the shore of Lake Nasser, close to the border with Sudan. The is only one road, and only one way to get there. You have to take an organised tour, and all the tours run simultaneously as the coaches drive in convoy under police escort. I don't think that this makes tourism more secure because if a terrorist wanted to blow up some tourists, what could be better than a whole convoy of coaches? They couldn't miss could they?! Security is an issue all over Egypt as you pass through numerous checkpoints on almost any journey; there must be millions of Egyptians employed at these places.
After about three hours of driving along what was a very straight desert road we arrived at the site of Abu Simbel where there are two tombs cut from the rock. One is that of Ramses II, the most famous king in Ancient Egyptian history, which consists of four large sculptures of himself in a seated position, two either side of the entrance to the tomb. The other is that of his wife which has the figures of six people standing, three either side of the entrance. The tombs' interiors were richly decorated with illustrations of people and gods, as well as heiroglyphs, all in excellently preserved condition; something I would become used to over the coming days and weeks, though it would never fail to amaze me. Ramses II ruled well over 3000 years ago, but on top of the incredible age of these monuments is the fact that in 1969 they were moved from their original position. This was done in order to make way for the waters of Lake Nasser which was created as a result of the new 'High Dam' built downstream near Aswan. The monuments were carefully cut into blocks and then reassembled further up the hillside. It was an extraordinary amount of work and, it would seem, quite risky, but the new dam was really essential to provide adequate water for the whole of Egypt.
Another three hours of driving through featureless desert followed until we got to the famous High Dam (just mentioned). We then took a short boat ride to an island where we saw Philae Temple, the first in a style which I was to see repeated in other temples further down the Nile. The main entrance was between two 'pylons', these being tall structures, each with a wide rectangular base and tapering in two dimensions to a smaller, but equally proportioned, rectangle at the top. The pylons were decorated with images dominated by those of the profile of the king holding his enemies by the hair in one hand, and wielding a weapon in the other. Passing through the entrance we found ourselves in a roofless enclosure, where several pillars remained, before approaching a second pair of pylons flanking the entrance to the tomb.
So this was the day that I first saw any monuments of Ancient Egypt, and I was not disappointed!


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