Journal: 21 April 2002
Today was our group excursion around Aswan, in which we would see all of Aswan’s tourist attractions in five hours (!!?). I shudder to think that this is the usual amount time allotted to most people who visit the town as part of a cruise. But that’s just the way it has to be and at least it gives a flavour of the place, albeit a rushed one. We were on the coach and on our way to the High Dam by 8.00am.
We drove onto the eastern end of the long dam past the Egyptian-Russian friendship monument, a modern concrete architectural sculpture called the ‘Lotus Tower’ that didn’t seem to bear any resemblance to a lotus to me. Our coach stopped in the middle of the dam and we were given the statistical facts and figures by a specialist guide. The Egyptians are very proud of this gigantic feat of engineering, the construction material used on the dam is said to equal that of 17 Great Pyramids. Aswan High Dam is a huge wall of rocks which captures the world’s longest river, the Nile, in the one of the world’s largest reservoirs, Lake Nasser. The first dam, in an endeavour to curb the annual Nile flood that had enabled agricultural fertilization for thousands of years, was built just to the north of here in 1889 and was subsequently raised several times as it could not cope with the volume of water coming down through Sudan from the Ethiopian highlands. In 1970 a new High Dam, called Saad el-Aali in Arabic, was completed after ten years work mostly with Russian funding and engineering expertise. The benefits to Egypt in controlling the annual floods are said to have raised agricultural productivity by providing constant and much-needed water for irrigation as well as preventing damage to the flood plain, but the downside of this is in the ever-increasing use of chemical fertilizers by the farmers, which in turn causes a great deal of pollution. Meanwhile, down in the Nile Delta the land is slowly sinking because of erosion due to the decrease in river sediments. Although the construction of the High Dam has provided Egypt with a regulated 85% of its water, the ownership of the water itself is currently disputed by the countries it passes through before reaching the Egyptian border. Other benefits to Egypt include the provision of about a half of Egypt’s power supply from the dam’s hydro-electric station and it has also improved navigation along the river by keeping the water flow consistent. The 550km length of Lake Nasser holds 169 billion cubic metres of water and it was promise of this vast build-up of water that was responsible for the relocation of more than 90,000 Nubians, both Egyptian and Sudanese who had lived along the Nubian shores. It was not only the people who suffered, but the ancient monuments too had to be surveyed then relocated or removed before the land was flooded. The most famous of these was the Temple of Rameses II at Abu Simbel, which was taken down stone by stone and rebuilt on dryer land in what has to be the world’s most impressive archaeological rescue operation. Under the auspices of UNESCO, twenty-four major Nubian monuments were salvaged and re-erected, with some of the lesser temples given as gifts to countries around the world who contributed to the scheme. One relocated temple, Kalabsha could be seen from the other side of the dam and with a long lens I managed to grab a few pictures. The Temple and other monuments on the site is due to be open to visitors soon we are promised.
Another of the temples to be affected by the construction of the dam was our next port of call, the Philae Temple of Isis, now reconstructed on nearby Agilika Island. As I have already been to Philae several times before and time today was so short, I quickly detached myself from the group to take photographs and after their tour, Hala came and pointed out a couple of reliefs I hadn’t seen before. In a building next to the Nilometer is a relief depicting the source of the Nile and also an interesting scene about harvest and inundation. I rushed around the temple and the outer structures looking at things I wanted to see again but all to soon it was time to leave. The journey by boat to Philae is one of the nicest parts of a visit here and on the way back the boat took us around the island past the towering Trajan’s Kiosk – always a lovely view.
The visit to the obligatory papyrus factory on the way back was at least a change from the perfume palaces I had previously seen in Aswan. We were back on the Commodore and I thought it would soon be time for lunch, but we were ushered straight out again with Hala for an hour’s trip around the islands in a motor boat. About 20 of us crowded into the large boat and we were speeded around the river to a musical accompaniment of drums and Nubian songs from the little crew, including that well-known old favourite, ‘O Aleyli…’. While this was good fun, I took a moment to gaze longingly at the lovely vista of the sand-covered Nobles tombs on the West Bank wishing there was time to visit them today. Then the motor-boat trip was over and we were all back on the cruise ship having lunch while the captain manoeuvred us out into the river to begin our return journey north back towards Luxor.
The afternoon was restful and uneventful as we all lounged on the upper deck once more enjoying the slowly passing scenery presented on either bank of the river. Just as the sun was setting I got excited because I saw Gebel Silsela with its carved and quarried rock terraces high on the West Bank and rushed for my camera – but we had passed before I could get a picture. Another place I’d love to visit one day.
The evening’s entertainment came in the form of a treasure hunt. We were divided up into named teams of six – ours was the ‘Eyes of Horus’. As I have taken part in a couple of these treasure hunts before, and therefore knew what to expect, there was a bit of a scramble between the passengers we knew, who wanted to be in my team. The items the teams had to find, enact or improvise in a given amount of time were as follows:
Three tickets for temples
An Egyptian flag
Ladies sexy underwear (modelled)
A man dressed as a woman
A woman dressed as a man
5 Arabic words (spoken)
An umbrella (not a sun-shade)
A real live belly dancer
A T-shirt from a previous holiday destination
A chocolate bar
A scene from ‘Titanic’
A song written and performed about this cruise
We divided up the list between team members, each allocated certain tasks. You would not believe how difficult it is to find some of these items on a cruise ship. The ‘judges’ were made up of the captain and the three Egyptian tour leaders and after they’d managed to stop laughing they just had to award the first prize to the team who’d provided the best entertainment. But the ‘Eyes of Horus’ came second and we’d all had a hilarious time. The evening flew by and at Midnight we were passing once more through the lock at Esna.