Abu Simbel, Luxor, the Nile and The Valley of the Kings
From Cairo we took a night train to Aswan. Interesting experience that I don’t recommend doing on your own. Unless you’re a guy, then you’ll probably be fine.
The train ride I had was very long. I think it was supposed to be around 10-11 hours and it stretched to almost 16. There were some technical issues with another train, a child was sick and screaming for hours, people were eating and celebrating since the sundown. I slept through most of that. It might have been the sun during the day that made me so tired, the matter of the fact is that I was out for about 12h. Couldn’t keep my eyes open.
Building the Aswan dam turned out to be quite controversial endeavour in Egypt’s recent history. Part of the plan was the disassembly and move of Abu Simbel, one of the most remarkable temples in the old Nubian region.
The construction of the damn is an interesting historical read for anyone who is into Cold War politics. It’s all connected to the fall of the monarchy in Egypt, the nationalisation of the Suez Canal and conflicts between different Arab countries. You can find more details on the Wikipedia page on Aswan Dam.
Abu Simbel was just one of many archaeological sites that were endangered by flooding of the valley. Some of monuments and temples were granted to some countries that help with the constructions. And a lot of them were moved. Thanks to the awareness campaign from UNESCO we can still enjoy some of them albeit in different locations.
Part of the Abu Simbel experience for me was the convoy we had to join in early morning hours in order to get there. Apparently, it was for safety. To be honest I didn’t even check if any car in that envoy had any weapons – I didn’t want to know. Those things don’t make me feel particularly safe.
The site itself is amazing and you can read about the history of relocation over there. One of the surprising things is that the name Abu Simbel probably comes from modern history. It was very likely the name of the person – young boy – who led one of the re-discoverers of the temple to the site. The sources are not in agreement which of the two it was: Burckhardt, who saw it or Belzoni, who actually excavated it.
And against my assumption there are actually two temples not just one. The larger complex for gods Ra-Horakty and Ptah, and depicting Ramesses II and smaller for goddess Hathor and Ramesses’ wife Nefertari, where her statue is notably the same size as the pharaoh’s. For more information click here.
In Aswan we were not staying at a hotel but on one of those large cruise boats on the Nile. Because it wasn’t the busiest of seasons we had almost the whole boat to ourselves. And it was fascinating how they parked them on the pier: side by side, one after another, so that in order for you to get to your boat you had to cross all the others. In one of the ports our boat was the only one with tourist so it stood last in a row of six, it would take us almost 10 minutes to get to our rooms.
The amount of ruins we saw during those few days on a cruise was staggering. I won’t even try to pretend I remember exactly which one was which. There was Luxor with Karnak, there was the Valley of the Kings, Philae, Temple of Kom Ombo, Edfu. Each one of them more amazing than the other. I cannot describe to you the feeling you get when you enter the tomb of Tutankhamun. Albeit it is with hundreds of other tourists.
Another thing I did in Luxor was a hot air balloon ride. Never have done it before so was quite excited to watch the sunrise over the Nile valley. Yes, there were altogether probably about 50 balloons. It didn’t matter at all. The amazing silence when you rise up. You float just above people’s homes, the dogs looking up surprised at the view not sure if to bark or not. And so you rise a bit more until you clearly see the line between life and death, the green and the desert, where the irrigation stops. You can then easily understand the importance of the river in this area and how much people still depend on it.
More images from Egypt here.