Monday, March 28, 2011

A Giant Road Trip to Ramses' Giant Ego Trip

Abu Simbel is certainly one of the most impressive sights we visited in Egypt.  Built by Ramses II, the ruins are located 280 km from Aswan, and were moved by UNESCO scientists over the course of four years in order to save it when the Egyptians dammed the Nile and created Lake Nasser.  Basically, it's located in the middle of nowhere.

Hey there Ramses II.
Because of security concerns, the only ways to get to Abu Simbel are by plane, by convoy or by securing one of the four seats allocated to foreign tourists on daily local bus.  Because we didn't have time to figure out the whole local bus thing, we hired a van with Ed and Ellen and signed ourselves up for the 11 am convoy (our other option was the 4 am convey - ha).  It seems to me that if you were intent on killing some tourists it would be pretty convenient to know that a lot of them are going to pass you by at specific times every day, four times a day.  But we hadn't heard of any problems since they started the convey so I suppose it works.

The convey slowwwwly assembled in a large parking lot near a fallen obelisk and behind the Nubian Museum in Aswan.  Tourists milled about and soldiers inspected the cars, vans and buses while sipping tea and Turkish coffee.  To our surprise, a machine-gun-armed solider hopped in the front seat with the driver and we set off on the 3 1/2 hour drive to Abu Simbel.  (He proceeded to nap for the next three hours.)  The monotony of the desert was broken only by the horrible British-narrated DVD about Abu Simbel that the driver played for us at maximum volume.

The road was endless and straight as an arrow

We only had about an hour and a half to explore Abu Simbel, but it turned out to be plenty of time.  The complex consists of two temples, the first and largest of which is the Great Temple (dedicated to Ramses II and to the gods Amun, Ra and Ptah).  The four statues guarding the entrance are imposing, and were sculptured directly from the rock face in which they were originally located.  The inside of the temple is equally impressive.  Unfortunately, no photography is allowed, except for the photos the guards allow you to take (for baksheesh, naturally) holding a giant key shaped like an ankh (signifying the key of life).  Inside is a hypostole hall, and each of the columns is another intricately detailed statue.  At the back of the temple is a room featuring another set of sculptures of Amun, Ra, Ptah and Ramses II.  We weren't there to see it, but apparently on certain dates surrounding the Winter Solstice, the sunlight enters the back room in such a way that the statues of Amun, Ra and Ramses II are illuminated, leaving Ptah (the god of the underworld) in darkness. 

The entrance to the Great Temple at Abu Simbel

The Small Temple is dedicated to Ramses II's wife Nefertari and to the goddess Hathor.  The pillars in the hypostole hall are decorated with pictures of the gods and goddesses and Nefertari, and topped with the distinctive face of Hathor who is represented as a divine cow.  (What is this, India?).

Outside the Small Temple.
Before long, it was time to get back in the bus for the 3 1/2 hour ride back to Aswan.  We declined the driver's offer to play an Egyptian comedy DVD and just relaxed, read and admired the desert scenery.

Was it worth it?  At the time, we were feeling pretty ruined-out, and driving seven hours round-trip to stare at some more ruins for and hour and a half seemed excessive.  In retrospect, though, I'm glad we went.  The temples really were impressive.  But if money is not an issue, definitely fly.

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