Journal: Monday 11 December 1995
The next day arrived with another calm clear morning and I woke early to find the boat had docked in Aswan. With the dawn came the Call to Prayer. This evocative incantation, ‘God is great’, broadcast from mosques throughout the towns and villages of Egypt, urges all faithful Muslims to turn east towards the holy city of Mecca and bow down in prayer to Allah. The dawn prayer echoed from minaret to minaret like a ghostly wail rising from the sleeping town, beginning a rhythm that would be sustained by four more prayers, sonorous and sing-song, at intervals throughout the day. Then came the dawn chorus, as if the birds too had been woken by the muezzin’s call, feeling the urge to compete with him, before the noisy traffic on the Corniche began to encroach on the sounds of daybreak. My own reflections as I lay listening to these pleasing sounds brought me to appreciate how time in Egypt seems to have an elastic quality, each day beginning and ending in the same way. I could hardly believe that I had been in the country for less than three days, so much had I already seen and experienced.
The large town on the east bank of the Nile was already bustling at eight o’clock as our coach negotiated the busy road along the Corniche on its way to the Aswan Dam. Aswan in ancient times was the doorway to Africa and an important trade route between the Mediterranean coast and Nubia, the ‘Land of Gold’. The town was also once considered to be where Egyptian civilisation ended, to be replaced by long stretches of inhospitable desert and a different Nile which leaped and eddied over the rocks of the First Cataract, the southern limit of navigation. This dangerous stretch of water now lies between the Old and New Aswan Dams. We first drove through a maze of streets towards the Old Dam, which was built in 1902, before going on to the High Dam further south. This massive feat of engineering, two miles long and situated at the head of Lake Nasser, was seemingly a compulsory visit for all tourists. The Egyptian government is very proud of it. The High Dam was built with Russian aid between 1960 and 1972 and was the biggest dam in the world. A modern monument whose shape is supposed to represent a lotus flower, has been erected at the entrance to commemorate those involved in its construction. All the men of our group busied themselves marvelling over the massive barrages and machinery of the dam, while I stared out over Lake Nasser on the other side, towards the Nubian Temple of Kalabsha in the distance.
I was more interested in Philae Temple, the next stop on our itinerary, a monument I had read about and was looking forward to seeing.