National Geographic Photo of the Day

Thursday, May 12, 2011

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 7

We had to wake up pretty early today (leaving at 4am mind you) for the trip to Abu Simbel. We had a big minivan waiting to take us to the assembly point (on one of the main roads out of Aswan) where there was a police/military escort waiting along with several other minivans and buses carrying groups from other hotels. Pretty big crowd considering it was off-season. However, we had spent a good deal extra to get the minivan all to ourselves, with 2 drivers taking turns, and with breakfast packaged :) . The police noted the names of each and every driver and then began sending off the vehicles in groups with each convoy having an armed escort as well as an army man or two in each of the buses.

The security was quite tight because the road to Abu Simbel was supposed to have been dangerous once upon a time. We took off after a series of checks at a steady 120-130kph. There was a small section of bad road and then it was really smooth all the way. The road to Abu Simbel goes straight through the desolate dessert and in the darkness all you can see ahead of you is a series of red lights from the other vehicles in the convoy (spaced out pretty well) in the distance – a beautiful sight in itself, what with the plain desert on either side. To add to this wonderful scenery, the sunrise occurred by the time we reached Abu Simbel around 7.15am. Can’t say I wasn’t scared a bit on the drive though, with one driver sleeping and the other one (the one doing the driving :P ) drifting a bit too. Our guide had been dozing in the back seat all the while. 

He did wake up on arrival though and took us to the ruins of the temples of Abu Simbel. In our 2 hours there, we visited the temples (carved out of the mountainside) of Rameses the 2nd and his supposedly beautiful queen Nefertari. The temples rest on the banks of the largest artificial lake – Lake Nasser – which is also one of the water bodies frequented by the massive Nile crocodile. The temples weren’t always here though. A long time ago, the temples were 65 meters below the present location. Then, when the Aswan dam was built, Lake Nasser was formed, and a rapid effort was organized to save these monuments by relocating them piece by piece to where they are now. Quite an achievement considering how massive these temples are with their numerous inscriptions and paintings and statues. A peculiar solar phenomenon occurs here – 61 days before and 61 days after the Winter Solstice, the Sun’s rays reach the inner sanctum and illuminate the idols there, except the God of the Underworld – Ptah. Poor bugger got left in the dark hehe.

We were ready to leave by 9.30am, when the sun was coming out and it was becoming scorching hot outside, but had to wait until the entire convoy was ready to leave. The drive of 280km back to Aswan (once again with the beautiful desert on either side) took under 3 hours. Back at the resort for lunch, we heard the terrible news of the plane crash in Mangalore.

A scale model showing where the temples lie now and where they would have been (under water) if they hadn't been moved .

Spending the rest of the day watching the beautiful view on the Nile, I noticed my lips had started cracking pretty bad with the dry heat. The view however was good enough to make me forget it all. The Dark Knight was on TV, and after that we took a walk along the riverside at about 7pm. The horse taxis here in Aswan sport a Blue Angels (the American F/A-18 Aerial Display Team) theme of Blue and Yellow. They also took the liberty of frequently calling out “India, India”, “Amitabh Bachchan” and “Good Price” – evidence enough that they knew of the Indian tendency to watch a lot of movies and bargain during every purchase.

Stopped by at the local riverside McDonalds and had a heavy dinner, topped it off with a McFlurry (goddamn why can’t I find these at any McDonalds in India), with a cat sitting on a nearby chair (yes, within the restaurant itself). Coming back to the resort, we were confronted with an assorted set of fruits (completely complimentary) in each of the rooms– an obvious conciliatory measure for yesterday’s horrendous Vindaloo at the attached restaurant. Found a frog running amok in my room (damn, I’d have loved it if it was my parents’ room he was in) and I had a tough time chasing him out before watching Blade Trinity and then Bayern playing against Inter before hitting the sack for an early day tomorrow.


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