V early start this morning! So early that we stole the pillows from our hotel room to bring with us on the bus!! We had to leave at 3.30am so that we could join the convoy leaving Cairo for Abu Simbel at 4am. All tourist buses travelling to Abu Simbel must join one of the daily convoys. It is not allowed for tourist buses to travel by themselves for the three and a bit hours out to Abu Simbel. Apparently the reason for the convoy is so that if one of the buses breaks down within the desert there will be help on hand… I’m a bit suss on this being the main reason for the convoy.. I’m sure it is important to have someone watching out just in case you should break down but I’m certain it’s more likely that the convoy is required to try and reduce the terrorist risk.
The convoy is led by a police car and another police car brings up the rear. All buses are logged and are checked as we passed through the numerous check points along the route. All in all an interesting experience!! To be honest I did not participate in any of the experience on our trip out to Abu Simbel.. I spent the few hours staring at the back of my eye lids, sleeping! We arrived at Abu Simbel not long after day break, therefore giving us most of the morning at the temples.
Abu Simbel consists of two temples built by Ramses II that are on the banks of the great Aswan dam. In fact, both temples were moved stone by stone from their original place on the banks of the Nile to their current location up above the banks of the dam during the building of the Aswan High Dam! Trust me, you can’t tell that the temples have been moved and first glimpse of the temples just inspires such a sense of awe that the archaeologists and engineers were even able to move the temples!!!! The main temple was built for Ramses II and the smaller temple was built for one of his wives (and apparently the most beautiful and beloved) Nefertari (not the famous Nefertiti but an earlier queen named Nefertari!).
My first glimpse of the temples just made me gasp.. I had seen both temples many times on Discovery or in Nat Geo but to actually see them up close is pretty amazing! The great statues of Ramses II dominate the exterior to his temple.. They must be at least 10 stories high and god only knows how many tonnes they must weigh.. Nefertari’s is no different.. six statues depicting her beauty (as well as the might of Ramses II).. both temples are made of huge sandstone blocks that reflect the sun light back towards the heavens… Blue sky and yellow sandstone blocks…. Very beautiful contrasts!!! The carvings on the outside of the temple walls are no different… Huge carvings of gods and of course of Ramses II… (He really thought he was all that… well he probably was back in the day!!!)
The interior of the Ramses temple is just as impressive as the exterior.. Directly inside the portal are huge god statues that line the walkway thru the temple. The walls are covered in depictions of Ramses in battle defeating his enemies and him receiving the praise from some of the gods. Off the main walkway are smaller rooms that are also all adorned with different scenes and gods. At the apex to the temple is four statues set into a niche. These statues represent Osiris (god of the underworld), Ramses II, Amun-Ra and one other god that I can’t recall (clearly I was more intent on taking pickies rather than listening to our guide explain what we would be seeing inside the temple….). On the two equinoxes of the year three of the four gods are lit up by sunlight.. Osiris is the unlucky god who misses out on the sun’s rays (because he is the god of the underworld). All in all the symmetry and beauty of the main temple is just incredible…
Nefertari’s temple is no different! On entry you are greeted with scenes of offerings to the gods and small rooms leading off the main temple that would have been used by the priests etc to offer ‘stuff’ to the gods. Overwhelmingly though this temple is also dedicated to the might of Ramses II….. The entry way even depicts him alongside his bride!!
After spending a good couple of hours at the temples we had to head back to the bus to join the convoy returning back to Aswan. In order to get back to the bus we had to run the usual tourist gauntlet…. I lucked out on this trip thru the gauntlet…. I got sucked in by a guy selling cheap crappy papyrus who plagued me with scenes of his children starving if he didn’t sell anything!! It is a real problem here at the moment… Normally, Abu Simbel would see thousands of tourists a day.. normally, two convoys run each day (1 first thing in the morning and 1 after lunch)… The number of tourists have dropped so much that only one convoy runs a day and even then at half the numbers of what it would normally run at! So yes, again I got sucked in but to be honest I don’t need the money as badly as this man probably needs the money so……
The trip back to Aswan was fairly uneventful.. I spent more than half of the trip sitting on the bus step taking photos out of the window at the beauty of the Sahara desert…. Gosh the deserts here in the Mid East are breathtaking…. As far as you can see is bright yellowy, orangey sand broken up by rocks… Deep blue sky as the background that is occasionally broken up with jet streams from aeroplanes… an occasional power line to remind you that we are in the modern age…. All in all though, unbelievably beautiful!!!
On arrival back to Aswan most of us headed out for a bite to eat at another restaurant on the banks of the Nile. I had a Tawouk Shish.. (chicken…always a safe and good option) with a Florida cocktail (mixture of strawberry and mango juice). Sheila (one of the other ladies on the trip) ordered a pigeon.. Pigeon is a speciality in this part of Egypt and she is quite adventurous so gave it a go.. According to her.. it tastes like chicken although majorly lacking in meat… just skin and bones… probably not that surprising!!!
Most of us girls decided to go for a wander up the banks of the Nile in search of an ice cream.. We found a guy selling real ice cream in waffle cones and tucked in to a tasty choc speciality!! We then had just over an hour and a bit to kill before we had to meet up with the rest of the group for a trip out to Philae Temple to see the Sound and Light display. Philae temple is a Ptolemaic temple built to venerate the Goddess Isis. It was also a temple that would have been swamped by the waters from the Aswan dam, so it and its surrounding temples were all moved to higher ground and are now found on an island behind the dam wall.
The trip out to the temple was interesting….. we boarded a boat (flat bottomed with a roof) with this old clapped out outboard motor… took us a number of pulls to get underway and once we did we discovered that we were running out to the temple without any running lights…… considering the amount of traffic to and fro to the temple this seemed a little risky… but when in Egypt……….
The temple was already lit, and we arrived just in the nick of time to see the start of the show. I actually thought that the show was us sit in front of the temple and we hear a story about the gods who the temple was built for…. Not so….. The show is actually a tour through the temple with sounds and lights… Really beautiful! The story of the temple is about Isis and her struggles after her husband Osiris was killed by his evil brother Seti…. TO be perfectly frank, I wasn’t really paying too much attention to the story I was mesmerised by the beauty of the temple lit via floodlights and looking for the best angles to get photos from. If you want the details of the story you will need to google the temple and the sound and light story.. I’m not going to recount it here!!
The highlight of the tour of the temple was the actual interior of the main part of the Isis temple. The frescos on the wall are all cut in relief so the shadows that are cast actually heighten the frescos.. Actually, in one part of the temple the walls are half carved in relief and half in intaglio so when the lights move it looks like the actual characters in the frescos are moving!
Finally, after over an hour of amazing visual effects we headed back to Aswan and to a really needed bed… I was so tired watching the show that if I had of remained much longer I may have actually fallen asleep! On to the Felucca tomorrow!!!!