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Cairo - Aswan

The ancient civilization in all it's glory!

sunny 25 °C

How's everyone doing? I took a quick tour down to Aswan this weekend - I still haven't figure out why Aswan is said to be located in "Upper Egypt" when it's actually down south. It was really interesting to visit this time of the year, the weather was pleasant and there weren't too many people.
I took the overnight train from Cairo along with a friend from Canada (it leaves from Ramses station at 10PM), there were no sleepers left so I had to sit throughout the journey. Even though we booked first class tickets ($30 one way) the chairs were really uncomfortable and the chairs didn't even recline. It took 14 long hours to reach Aswan, as soon as we walked out of the train station a few hostel owners walked up to us and tried to get us to room at their hostels which is quite the norm here. We ended up booking a room with 2 beds and a bath for 20 LE per person. Not a bad price I thought considering we were only going to be there for a few hours. We set off to the train station again to try and book our return tickets (back to Cairo) and met a few other foreigners there. We decided to hang out together for the rest of the day since we didn't really have any plans. Meanwhile I booked a sleeper train for my return journey ($60 one way) which was a bit expensive, it's run by a private company apparently but I really don't see how $60 for a one way journey in Egypt is justifiable.
After booking tickets, all of us decided to take a felucca ((Arabic: فلوكة‎) is a traditional wooden sailing boat used in protected waters of the Red Sea...) down the Nile and watch the sunset. This is a tricky thing to do because you have to haggle with the felucca men and decide on a price beforehand, otherwise you can get really ripped off (we decided on 30LE per hour for the whole boat). It was well worth it because riding down the river is a quiet and peaceful experience. I must mention that Aswan is a lot less crowded than Cairo, and this was a welcome change for me. Anyway back to the felucca, three hours in and after the sun had set we paid the driver 100LE (including baksheesh) and got off, a few of us went to the Nubian museum in town and checked it out (50LE entrance fee), it was far better than the disorganized mess that is the Cairo Museum. I actually learned something from here, and I usually never learn anything in museums because I'm always in a hurry to get out...

View of the Sunset from the felucca on the Nile - Aswan.
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Mummy at the Nubian Museum
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We had dinner at a local pizza place after this...interestingly enough in most of these places the menu is always in Arabic. Let me tell you why - this is because when foreigners don't know what they are ordering then you can charge them ridiculous prices for something that would otherwise be ridiculously cheap. I ended up ordering a pizza with ham, mushrooms and olives but there was no ham when it arrived, not bad regardless...the meal cost around 45LE.

The next morning we woke up at 3am to get ready for our 4 hour drive to Abu Simbel, all the hotels gather their tourists (the ones that book the tour ahead of time anyway) and drive out in a police convoy towards Abu Simbel. I'm not quite sure why you need a police convoy for this since it looked quite peaceful to me when we reached, but some people say this is done to prevent tourists/locals in the convoy from escaping into Sudan. Given the state of affairs in Sudan at the moment and the political turmoil with the impending north-south split, I really doubt people running away to Sudan is an issue to worry about. Coming back to the topic at hand, the Abu Simbel temples are breathtakingly beautiful...words cannot do justice to this marvel created by mankind. There are two temples there, let me shamelessly borrow from wikipedia to help do the honours again -

"Abu Simbel temples (أبو سمبل) are two massive rock temples in Nubia, southern Egypt on the western bank of Lake Nasser about 230 km southwest of Aswan (about 300 km by road). The complex is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the "Nubian Monuments,"[1] which run from Abu Simbel downriver to Philae (near Aswan).
The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari, to commemorate his alleged victory at the Battle of Kadesh, and to intimidate his Nubian neighbors. However, the complex was relocated in its entirety in the 1960s, on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir."

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The temples have since been moved from where they once were but this is a great story in itself; when the govt decided that the high dam would be constructed in Aswan, it became evident that the rising waters of the Nile would quickly submerge these treasures of mankind underwater forever. This led to a call for action and several countries joined in a combined effort to save these temples, they dismantled them piece by piece with great precision and rebuilt them at a distance of over 600ft above their initial position. Why would they build a dam near such an amazing archaeological treasure you might ask? Well, it was because of several reasons, they wanted to control the Nile's annual flooding and also provide the region with a constant supply of water for irrigation. More importantly, the dam provides Egypt with over 85% of it's electricity, that is a HUGE bonus for a country of 85 million people!

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It's quite humbling to stand in front of the pharaoh's statues and watch the carefully engraved hieroglyphics and the manned precision with which the rocks were carved. A walk inside the temple reveals a spell bounding journey, one of faith, myth, hard work and untold volumes of talent. Every corner of the temple is decorated and painted, every wall tells a tale...how amazing it must have been to visit these temples when the Pharaohs themselves were around. I have been to the Vatican and seen the Sistine Chapel as well but I think this is a greater feat in my opinion - granted that the Sistine chapel was a one man feat vs the temple but I felt it moved me more deeply. While these are both great feats, what is sad to note is the condition that the temples of Abu Simbel are in, they have borne harsh witness to marauding attempts by invading kings, Christian and Islamic invasions. New kings who invaded the region after Ramses' reign defaced the sculptures to prove that they were better/more powerful - A stark reminder of the evils inept in human nature. Also, in the early 1800's, entry into these temples was not regulated so several British, French, Greek and Portuguese citizens carved their names on these temples in an attempt to show that they were there.

Anyway moving on, we went to the temple of Philae after Abu Simbel, this was quite marvelous as well. The detail was simply stunning, it bore the same brunt of invasion that the temples in Abu Simbel did. Also, lots of pillars and rocks were just thrown around in the temple, these might be worth over several hundred thousand dollars in the open market elsewhere but Egypt has so many of these that they don't really care about them anymore.

Finally after a quick visit to the Aswan Dam we came back to the train station, grabbed a quick meal (meat koshery but the meat was missing...haha) and I got on my train. It was far more comfortable than the train on the way here, they served a dinner consisting of chicken, rice, yoghurt and dessert and breakfast in the morning. It took about 14 hours to get here but it was not too bad since I managed to catch some sleep on the way back. A quick wash and off to work it was, goodbye Egypt of the yore...it was time to return to the real world. I can tell you this, I'm going back to Aswan again, I now realize why so many people throng to visit Egypt every year...the ancient civilization has cast it's spell on me as well :)

That's it for now. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed reading...
Take care, this is Sandeep...signing out!

Posted by 2011 08:21 Archived in Egypt Tagged simbel aswan abu philae

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