Visiting Magnificent Abu Simbel
18.12.2007 - 18.12.2007 23 °C
With the gift of more time, we’d have stuck with tradition and travelled south from Luxor to Aswan via boat. I have nothing but fantastic memories of the trip I took twelve years ago on a traditional Egyptian sailboat called a felucca, but – next time – we’d splash out on one of the elegant cruise ships that make the trip in about four days. Today, however, we caught another inexpensive Egypt Air flight down to Aswan, and even managed to squeeze in a detour to magnificent Abu Simbel on the way.
Abu Simbel on approach. The monument is such a tourist draw that it earned its own air strip. The alternative is a four to five hour drive from Aswan.
Abu Simbel is a massive temple that was built during Ramses II’s reign over 3300 years ago. Ramses intended the monument to intimidate neighbouring countries with its four statues each towering to twenty metres. Of interest, the monument was moved in 1960 after an international appeal to save a number of Egyptian treasures that would otherwise have been lost to Lake Nasser with the opening of the Aswan High Dam. It cost more than US$40 million to chop Abu Simbel up into hundreds of pieces and then re-erect it about 65 metres higher and 200 metres back, a debt that is allegedly still being repaid.
Ramses II up close. You can see how the faces were cut off during the relocation.
Our flight to Abu Simbel was full of tour groups who we proceeded to race to the monument. Since there’s only one reason to fly to Abu Simbel, Egypt Air puts on a complimentary bus for the five minute drive which saved us the agonizing negotiation with a cab driver. On arrival, a helpful young man showed us a short cut that ensured we’d arrive at the ticket office ahead of the tour groups (he even declined ‘baksheesh’ for his services!), and with the first tickets of the session in hand we soon found ourselves through security and facing the back of the artificial hill created to house the monuments.
Lloyd spontaneously erupted into a brisk jog, which looked quite amusing as he was wheeling our overnight case (we have proper luggage again now!) through sand and stone in his haste. I understood immediately that he wanted to get there before the gaggle of groups and quickly caught up with him, leaving Roger some distance behind us and no doubt wondering what on earth we were doing exerting so much energy in the heat of the day.
The effort was worth it! We practically had Abu Simbel to ourselves for a precious few minutes.
Though I had seen Abu Simbel previously in 1995, it’s the kind of place that remains shockingly impressive even on second viewing.
On the right: Lloyd looking as if he’s planning on moving into Little Abu Simbel which is next door to the main attraction, and was also moved in 1960.
But new to me was the opportunity to experience the rooms behind the statues which were closed on my previous visit. While getting to Abu Simbel involved some additional expense and - even more precious - time, it was easily worth it. We'd recommend missing Abu Simbel at your peril!