Hit the road on schedule, but as we were on the way to join the convoy, discovered that due to overnight sandstorms, the convoy had been cancelled as sand was covering the desert road. There was to be a delayed convoy at 11am - which meant we turned around, headed back to the hotel and had a few more hours shuteye.
.. and, take two
Joined the 11am convoy after a few hours nap, and made our way speeding through the desert. This was the real deal, dunes on both sides, mirages in the distance giving the appearance of vast lakes - caused by radiating heat from the sand.
Abu Simbel temple
The temple at Abu Simbel was the best we saw in Egypt, and made the 3 hour trip through the desert worthwhile. The temple was commissioned by Ramses II who, in his heydey, was one of the most powerful pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Ramses II ruled for 67 years, and during this time attained almost god-like status. This was enabled mostly by his penchant for showing himself in artwork alongside the gods, and in heroic poses - smiting enemies, shooting arrows, riding chariots.
The Abu Simbel temple was built as the Egyptian power extended south into Nubian territories, and Ramses II wanted to build a monument to show his power and convert Nubians to the Egyptian way. The temple itself, like those in Petra in Syria, carved entirely into the rock. It is fronted by 4 giant carved statues of Ramses II, each a towering 20 meters, in seated pose. The inside of the temple is adorned by carvings on every wall, showing some of the best preserved scenes in Egypt. The colour is preserved, and the site itself is well maintained, lighting set neatly to emphasise the depicted scenes.
Inside the inner sanctuary of the temple is a shrine to the 3 Egyptian gods, and of course seated among them is Ramses II. A unique characteristic and feat of the original architects of this temple, is that twice a year, natural sunbeams pierce the temple and light up the faces of three of this figures (leaving only the god of darkness, in darkness). These two dates are the date of Ramses II birthday, and the day of his coronation.
The temple itself was discovered by chance by an Italian, who was taking a boat over Lake Nasr when he stumbled across it the amaing site of this massive temple half covered by the desert sand. However the temple we visited is no longer on the site at which it was discovered..
As the new High Dam was being built on the Nile (destined to provide Egypt with most of its electrical power, and the opportunity of year round irrigation) - the temples of Nubia were endangered by the rising waters. As such, and international appeal was launched and monies raised to save these historic sites. Abu Simbel was moved a few hundred metres to higher ground, by cutting the rock into 20,000 pieces and putting it back together as if it were a giant jigssaw puzzle. This phenomenal feat was achieved after a few years of hard toil, international cooperation and ingenious design. Only one characteristic did not survive the mov - despite best efforts, the alignment which allowed the sunbeams to pierce the inner sanctuary now occurs 24 hours later than the original. This only emphasises the architectural brilliance and understanding of the sun's movements the ancient Egyptians had - we couldn't match it despite all of our planning, technology and machinery of today!
With a lot of time on the road, the day was tiring and we ended it by savouring a nice dinner, and sharing some jokes and stories at a home in a local Nubian village. We also had a walk around to the local school, and it was well past midnight when we jumped aboard our two docked 'feluccas' - wooden sailing boats - which was to be our accommodation for the evening. It was a nice warm evening, and under the stars, it seemed a great idea to simply kick back on the deck and fall asleep without sheets. The giant killer mosquitoes buzzing about put paid to that idea, and soon I was baking inside my sleeping bag - but thankfully away from the blood sucking little critters.