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Somewhere in the runaway train ride that has been my experience of 2009 so far, sometime between the desert and my trip to Berlin I also took a trip to Abu Simbel. Finally Just for one day. It was so fleeting that it might have never happened, but happen it did. I rode the night train from Cairo to Aswan with my parents, took the convoy ride out and back and then flew back to Cairo the same night. The memories are too solid for it to have been a dream. It’s only that so much has happened since that writing about slid to back burner priorty.

I can’t swear that Abu Simbel was necessarily the best of the sights I’ve seen from ancient Egypt,  but it was certainly the most majestic. Despite being Egypt’s second most touted poster child after the pyramids, those giant statues of Ramses manage to inspire a feeling of awe when viewed for the first time. They really are enormous, and bear such looks of serenity on their faces, that its hard to believe that they represent one of Egypt’s most war-loving pharaohs.

The idea that the Abu Simbel temples and the carvings within were built some 3000 years ago was breathtaking enough in and of itself, but this site has a tie to the present that makes it all the more astounding, because it was very nearly submerged underwater for ever when the High Dam was built and Lake Nasser created. In order to prevent that from happening, our modern-day engineers performed a truly  impressive feat, they moved the entire temple (airlifted it actually) from its original location to a spot 65 meters higher and some 200 meters away from the river bank (data courtesy Wikipedia). The move shifted the days on which the statues in the inner sanctum are directly illuminated by the rising sun (originally calculated to so on the anniversaries of the Pharoah’s birthday and coronation day)  by 2 days – but personally I think that was a small sacrifice to make.

In many ways this visit brings a sense of closure to my journey to this country. Not that I’m moving anywhere anytime soon, as far as I know. But, just as I’ve written in the past that I hadn’t felt until I’d truly “arrived” in Egypt until I’d seen the pyramids (it took me a couple of month to get there), the museum (even longer that one, for reasons I’m unable to fathom) and my first Nile cruise, until I turned the corner at Abu Simbel and saw the faces of Ramses gazing inscrutably, composedly, at the waters of Lake Nasser, I had felt that my trip here had been somewhat incomplete. Despite the rare opportunities to visit Amarna, Beni Hassan, Rashid etc. No longer the case. After Abu Simbel, anything else here can only be be the icing on cake.

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Shukran w’ ma’e sala’ama.

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