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Published: October 16th 2017
Aswan. The biggest man made Lake in the world.
Flew from dusty chaotic Cairo to the calm green waters of Aswan. Here in the 1960s a massive Dam was constructed on the River Nile. It would provide irrigation to huge areas of the Sahara desert to enable farming and habitation, it would provide electricity to all of Egypt by hydro electric power. But in doing these good works it would also inundate the priceless ancient monuments at Abu Simbel and displace thousands of persons whose families had lived in the valleys for millenia. It would destroy Nubian homes and traditional life styles.
A mammoth rescue mission therefore had to be mounted, and led by UNESCO (whose own existence is now threatened) the impossible was done. The entire Abu Simbel pharonic site was cut, block by block, removed from its endangered location and re mounted at a higher location nearby, an exact replica of what the original site looked like. This rescue mission took just four years to complete! The world had saved a treasure of Antiquity. And the Nubian houses were removed and relocated to safe ground so that today Nubian homes and villages are intact elsewhere.
the Aswan High Dam was built by President Nasser with Russian aid. It took 10 years to complete. There was an earlier, much smaller British designed dam called the Aswan Low Dam. The High Dam is 3,600 metres long and at its base is a mammoth 986 metres thick. Today, 60 years on, it continues to open new areas of desert to irrigation and settlement, but with the explosion in population size it now supplies only 11% of the population with electricity! From the air it is a very impressive sight.
On the ground it looks like a very different Egypt. My hotel room at Marhaba Palace is across the road from the water, a stone's throw away. From my balcony I relish the panoramic view of this ol' man River which still sees the masts of feluccas, those ancient sail boats of the Nubians, quietly moving across the waterway. The river banks are lush with trees and vegetation. Behind that in the far distance the horizon is completely brown, the landscape of the desert mountains.
Along its entire length, the Nile River is sandwiched between hard rocky desert on its right bank, the East Bank, and soft
sandy desert on its left bank, the West Bank. My view is toward the rocky desert between the Red Sea and the Nile.
In Aswan the city (450,000 population) the honking of car horns continues to ring out like Cairo but less, and the people wear a mix of Moslem and western clothing. But the feel of the city is different. The river dictates, giving it a fresh watered green air, a sense of prosperity, of being cared for. This place is breezy with new buildings not covered in dust. And it's not hectic. Calm, green and watered are the best words to describe Aswan.
I had lunch at the restaurant, a soft and delicious feta cheese salad with tomato and cucumber, and lentil soup with rolls. Maybe I shouldn't have eaten cheese as I'm under threat from an iffy stomach. That's no fun when you're on the road all the time.
In the afternoon took a slow relaxing sail on a felucca over to Elephantine Island where Nubian villages live and some homes accept visitors to have tea and take a look around. Nubians are Sudanese Egyptian people who have retained their African culture, appearance, customs,
beliefs and way of life over the millenia since early Pharaonic times. We visited one of the families whose original home had been rescued from its original location in the '60s for the Dam to be built. That home was brought to its current location intact. It's a genuine home in a new location.
The walls are plastered over mud bricks, thick to keep the air temperature regulated, with V shaped vent blocks at the top of the walls for air circulation. Rooms are arranged around an open air courtyard, rooms for family to sleep in one area, for guests another area, daily activities like eating in another area. The walls are decorated with paintings of everyday activities.
Met a very chatty and cheerful young man, Ahmad Roagly of Sudanese Egyptian parents. We had an enthusiastic conversation and exchanged what's app numbers.
We were offered mint tea served in a silver tea pot. It was delicious. We strolled the very short unpaved road nearby meeting the inevitable camels and vendors trying to sell wares. They insisted they were genuine handmade Nubian craft. But of course they weren't. Still I bought 2 embroidered cotton shirts from one very
persistent merchant. Paid US25 which was far too much, but it was in the spirit of the visit.
But most of all today oh how I'm suffering from the muscular excesses of yesterday. Wincing with every movement, walking, lying down, stepping up or down a stair. The Pyramids nearly killed me! First the venture into the burial chamber at Gizeh, no one warned me that I would have to walk 150 metres in a bent over crouched position, moving steeply uphill in a cramped, airless, dark tunnel. And for what? You arrive at the end in a chamber devoid of anything. No sarcophagus, no wall paintings....nada! I was completely out of breath at the end of it and needed several minutes to catch my breath and slow down my pounding heart. With all due respects to Cheops aka Khufu, no one should be encouraged to enter this burial chamber. Escaping the tomb innards eventually - squeezing past more hapless tourists heading for the same disappointment - and descending the giant stones outside, I then mis judged the height of a large stone so slipped and crashed into my shin. Owwwwwww. Soldiering on, met Galael my guide and we walked
across to the adjacent Pyramid Of Khafre. Picture taking is compulsory so he suggested I do the cliche touristy jump in the air while he took the action photo. Bad idea. I buss mih tail. I didn't land on my feet but crumpled in the sand, crash landing as my knees gave way.
At which point I was happy to end the day, return to my hotel and recover in the cool of my room with a view. Amen. I knew I would be feeling it next day and I wasn't wrong.
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