08 August 2009

Abu Simbel

To get to Abu Simbel we hired a car and driver for the day. What was billed as a limousine turned out to be a Mitsubishi saloon with an interior that was lined in two-tone synthetic fur. It was like traveling through the desert on the inside of the Dulux dog. The most important thing though was that we had glorious air-con to combat the 40 degree C desert heat from outside. It was also the first car I've been in that had velvet curtains.

At 11am we headed out to the edge of town in our furry limousine and met up with the rest of our armed convoy. It turned out to be the smallest convoy that it is possible to have . . . us and one other vehicle. Being as there were only two vehicles they just stuck a machine gun wielding police man in each car before we headed off out into the desert. I'm not sure how much use the guy would have been if the worst would have happened but it's not every day that you get your own heavily armed bodyguard.

The 3 hour drive through the desert was kept interesting by some rather bizarre mirages that kept appearing; vast shimmering lakes and what looked like huge floating boulders on the horizon.

The Great Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel was carved out of the side of a mountain on the bank of the Nile between 1274 and 1244 BC. It's a really spectacular sight, the 4 statues that stand outside the temple are each more than 20 meters high.

Inside are a series of halls and chambers that are exquisitely carved with hieroglyphs and scenes featuring Ramses and the Battle of Kadesh. You're not allowed to take pictures inside the temple but I did manage to sneak this one when the attendant's back was turned.

Alongside is the Temple of Hathor which is also cut into the side of a mountain and features six, ten meter high statues of Ramses and his wife Nefertari.

No sneaky pictures from inside this time though.

When the Aswan High Dam was built and the Nile Valley flooded $40 million was spent to save the site. The whole side of the mountain was cut into thousands of blocks, each weighing 20 to 30 tonnes, and moved (they really should have gone the whole hog and moved it all the way to Aswan). Much of the delicate cutting work on the front face and inside the temple had to be done entirely by hand to avoid causing too much damage to the monument. The temple was then rebuilt inside an artificial mountain 65m higher up the bank.

On the way back to Aswan our convoy was reduced to what can best be described as a mono-voy when the other vehicle stayed in Abu Simbel for the night. We were again fully entertained on our way back, this time by some very low quality belly dancing that was being played on the in car DVD system. Our armed escort certainly seemed to be paying more attention to it than he was to looking out for terrorists.

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