On the sixth day of our journey through Egypt, we reached Ashwan a place where the Nile is wide, languorous and stunningly beautiful flowing gently down from Lake Nassar around dramatic black-granite boulders and palm-studded islands.
In ancient times Ashwan was Egypt’s southernmost frontier, a place of strategic importance to launch military campaigns against Nubia. When the High Dam was constructed on the river Nile, many of the Nubian villages were drowned in the biggest man-made lake created as a result. Many Nubian now live on the islands in the Nile.
We woke up at three-thirty am to make an early start for a three and half hours trip to Abu Simbel Temple, a 3500 years twin temples by Ramses II which were going to drowned in the Lake Nassar as well, but was heroically relocated at a higher ground with the help of UNESCO.
The international campaign to save the remains of Abu Simbel and Nubia between 1964 and 1968 was initiated by UNESCO in cooperation with the Egyptian government at a cost of $ 40 million. Moving the temple by dismantling the parts and statues of the temple and re-installed in its new location at a height of 65 meters above the river level, is one of the greatest works in archaeological engineering.
The twin temples of Abu Simbel temples, a lasting monument to the king Ramses II and his queen Nefertari, were originally carved out of the mountainside in the 13th century BC, to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Kadesh.
It is said that the sunrays on the Holy of Holies in the Temples of Abu Simbel twice every Year 22 February and 22 October. The Sun passes through 200 meters long front corridor of the entrance of Ramses II temple until it reaches the Holy of Holies.
The Holy of Holies is a platform that has the statue of King Ramses the Second sitting next to it the statue of the god Ra Hor his sister and the god Amun and the fourth statue of the god Ptah. Interestingly, the Sun does not perpendicular to the face of the statue of “Ptah” which was considered by the ancient god of darkness. The phenomenon of sun-aging lasts only 20 minutes on that day.
The following map by the Ministry of Antiquities lists 132 archaeological sites in Egypt and most of them are along the Nile. Hardly there is any country in the world that has such a rich inheritance. But the country is suffering from corruption, poverty and tax evasion. All through Cairo and along the Nile we saw building after buildings and thousands of houses which were unfinished so the owners do not have to pay taxes. That not only made the cities look ugly but lead to a lack of funds for the betterment of the country.
We visited another temple, the Temple of Isis on Philae Island which was not so lucky to be saved like the temple of Abu Simbel. It remained under-water for six months each year between 1902 to 1972 after the building of the old Aswan dam before being disassembled, stone by stone and moved to higher ground with the help of UNESCO.
Aswan was the source of Egypt’s finest granite, used to make statues and to embellish temples, pyramids, and obelisks. In the Northern Quarries, just about 1.5 km from the town, is a huge discarded obelisk which would have been the largest of all (42 meters) but was abandoned because of a crack in it.
The unfinished obelisk has given archaeologists valuable insight into how these obelisks were created. The groove on three sides of the already polished and shaped obelisk shows how the exact rock was identified and separated. To separate the base, wood would be inserted and soaked in water for a few days allowing it to expand and separate the obelisk from the rock.
One of the things to do while cruising the Nile is to take a Felucca ride, catch the afternoon breeze, and watch the sunset.
We said goodbye to Aswan and flew to Cairo for our last night in Egypt. The next morning a very early start again. At 4:30 we started an eight-hour journey by bus to Jordan.
One the way, we witness another of Egyptian engineering feat.
One hundred and twelve years after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt constructed an 1164 mt long tunnel under it to connect the Sinai Peninsula to the town of Suez with the help of the Japanese government. The tunnel has two lanes, one in each direction and reaches a maximum depth of 51 mt below ground level.
As soon we crossed the tunnel we were in Sinai, rugged and barren and starkly beautiful where the dry wind blows with such a ferocity that it creates holes in the mountains.
In Pharaonic times Sinai was responsible for providing turquoise, gold, and copper; but most of us know it for its Biblical reference of the Red Sea parting and Israelites passing through it in search of the promised land.
Only after one has traveled through the land (and stepped out of the air-conditioned bus to actually experience the dry heat and wind) one can begin to appreciate what Moses and his people would have gone through while wandering this land for 40 years. This 30-secs video will give you the feel of the place.
What intrigued me were hundreds of developments by the Red Sea coast which looked deserted or maybe abandoned. There was no soul in sight, not even a car as if everyone had disappeared overnight leaving behind half-finished buildings. The Red Sea is a tourist destination for diving and coral watching but it seems like they have all gone for safer and newer resorts.
At 3:00 pm we reached Taba and crossed the border after dragging our luggage through two customs controls and passport checks.
To our horror, we were in Israel rather than in Jordan.
Along the Red Sea coast, there is about nine-kilometers stretch that belongs to Israel. Four hours and two more customs controls and passport checks we were finally in Jordan.