Aswan High Dam / Philae Temple / Nubian Village
This morning we depart for an excursion by motorcoach to the Aswan High Dam. First we drive across the original Aswan Dam, completed in 1902 to tame the devastating annual floods of the Nile River. Six miles further upriver stands Egypt's modern example of construction on a monumental scale-the High Dam. It contains 18 times the amount of material used in the Great Pyramid of Cheops and created Lake Nasser, the world's largest artificial lake.
The World Bank and the United States declined to support this project leading to the Suez Canal crisis, in which France, the UK and Israel invaded the canal region. After the UN stepped in to resolve the crisis, the Soviet Union came in to help with funds and construction know-how. There is a huge stone monument at one end of the dam honoring Soviet-Egyptian friendship and cooperation.
Driving to the dam we see a high degree of security and camouflaged airplane hangers commensurate with the dam's critical strategic importance. A successful strike on this dam would absolutely destroy Egypt.
The project began in 1960 and was completed in 1971, and has brought the region many benefits as well as considerable difficulties. One of the immediate concerns was the wealth of monuments and temples along the Nile that would be submerged by the rising waters. Fourteen were saved through the united efforts of UNESCO and many nations, and moved to safe locations. Three are visible to us as we stand on the High Dam-the Temples of Kalabsha, Beit al-Wali and Kertassi.
Another Temple that was moved in its entirety is the beautiful Temple of Philae dedicated to the worship of Isis. It lured pilgrims for thousands of years, and during the 19th Century was one of Egypt's legendary tourist attractions. After the original dam was built in 1902 it was swamped for six months of the year in the high waters of the dam's reservoir, and travelers took rowboats to glide among the partly submerged columns and peer down through the translucent green to the wondrous sanctuaries of the mighty gods below.
We board a boat to visit the Temple in its new location, Agilika Island, which was landscaped to resemble the sacred isle of Isis. The edifice was disassembled and removed stone by stone, then reassembled in positions as close as possible to their original layout. The oldest portions of the Temple date back to 400 years BC, but most structures were built by the Ptolemies and the Romans up to 300 years AD. Early Christians defaced the pagan reliefs, and their churches and inscriptions were, in turn, vandalized by the early Muslims. We spend a wonderful hour or so wandering through this impressive complex.
Returning to the ship for lunch, we make a quick stop at a shop specializing in essential oils and fragrances. They also make hand-blown pyrex perfume atomizers and other decorative arts. I recall purchasing some wonderful fragrances from this shop years ago, and still have some sitting around that are as potent as ever.
We also stop at a granite quarry which was the birthplace of many of the colossal obelisks that were erected at various places throughout Egypt and that have since found their way (though generosity or through misappropriation) to other cities around the world. We see an abandoned obelisk that would have been one of the largest ever erected had it not cracked in the process.
This afternoon the wind has kicked up quite a bit, and for safety reasons we are unable to sail around Kitchener's Island by felucca sailboat this afternoon. Instead, for a supplemental charge, we extend our cruise by regular motorboat to a Nubian Village near the original Aswan Dam. A Nubian is aboard our boat selling trinkets and jewelry items as we ply the waters toward his village.
We pass the Old Cataract Hotel, the historic building from which Peter Ustinov, Bette Davis and Angela Lansbury started their Nile cruise in the movie: "Death on the Nile" based on Agatha Christie's murder mystery. A client and I determine to return there for drinks later in the day. We cruise past scenes of people scrambling on foot up enormous sand dunes as well as a group of camels being readied to take tourists into the desert.
At the Nubian Village we first visit a local schoolhouse, where our guide gives us a brief introduction to the characters and sounds of the Arabic alphabet. Most of us find the experience completely mind-boggling. Next we climb to the roof for a panoramic view over the area, including the original Aswan Dam. We walk through a street lined with shops selling everything from fabrics to spices. We notice how incredibly friendly the people are, and how low-key their sales techniques are compared to some of the other marketplaces we've visited in Egypt.
One large shop has several small crocodiles we can hold. The shopkeeper puts one on my head on a woven plate. We see examples of Nubian village life, and are served tea before cruising back to our ship. Along the way we pass the Tomb of Ali Khan, the playboy prince who married movie actress Rita Hayworth. He was killed in an automobile accident in France in 1960. She died in 1987, and is now buried here as well.
As soon as we return to the ship, I go with a client to the Old Cataract Hotel to enjoy the view from the terrace and sip a very expensive drink. Because the place is such a tourist magnet, they now set a high price to enter the place in order to minimize the traffic. We enjoy a restful hour in this beautiful and peaceful place.
After dinner quite a few of the guys decide to head back to the marketplace of Aswan. It is our last night aboard, so I opt to stay back and finish up tipping chores and repacking, and to get a good night's sleep.