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Simbel Wonder

Simbel Wonder

A write-up of my trip from to via Abu Simbel, Egypt

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Lisbon. 7th July 2007. While other worthy contending monuments (including our very own Taj Mahal) waited with bated breath, about their fate in the world-wide voting for nomination of new 7 wonders, one specific monument (or a set of monuments) - the Pyramids of Giza, were turning all the other contenders green with envy. These pyramids had been already given an honorary nomination, even before the voting concluded.

 

No wonder, whenever anyone utters the word 'Egypt', the first and probably the only image that comes to most minds is that of these pyramids.

 

In the face of such larger than life reality, I am going to make a blasphemous statement that may invite severe criticism from Egypt lovers, and those who claim to know their travel (my feelings were the same when a friend who had visited this place before I travelled there, made the same statement to me). And the statement is - "anytime you plan a trip to Egypt, and have a choice to see only one monument there, that monument should be the temple of Abu Simbel (not Pyramids of Giza)". So, there… I made that statement. And you may now want to stop reading this article any further.

 

But, if you are still continuing to read, then do stay with my argument for just a few more reading moments…

 

Abu Simbel was commissioned by Rameses II, who is considered the greatest pharaoh ever. He reigned for a long time - 67 years (from 1279 to 1213 BC). His mummy, today, lies in the mummies room in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

 

It was commissioned to impress the southern neighbours, and to establish Egyptian religion in the region. It is located approx. 290 km south-west of Aswan, near the Sudan border, and can be reached variously by road, boat and air.

 

This mega monument was carved out of a single cliff, and has 2 separate temples - that of Ramesses II primarily dedicated to Amon-Ra, Re-Harakhte, and Ptah, while deifying Rameses II too,  and that of his wife, Nefertari dedicated to Hathor. The 4 statues guarding the temple of Rameses II are 20 metres tall each and the 6 guarding the temple of Nefertari are 10 metres tall each.

 

This mega structure was architecturally and astronomically so advanced for those times, that its sanctum sanctorum (the innermost room), that lies at the end of a long corridor, gets a shaft of light from the rising sun twice a year. This used to happen during the spring and fall equinoxes (22nd February and 22nd October). It mystically illuminated 3 out of the 4 statues in the sanctum sanctorum, and the 4th one doesn't get illuminated because, as the legend has it, that is the statue of the god of darkness (Ptah).

 

Abu Simbel (a key part of the Nubian Monuments) is not just an ancient wonder to my mind, but is also a modern day wonder. While the vision of water or oasis in a desert is romantic, water almost threatened to be the undoing of this magnificent pair of temples.

 

When Nasser (the erstwhile PM of Egypt - remember the triumvirate of Nehru, Nasser, and Tito!), with Russia's help, commissioned the Aswan High Dam (another modern day wonder - 960 metres wide at the base, and  40 metres wide on top), it threatened an inundation of around 60 ancient Nubian temples . Egypt requested UNESCO's help and UNESCO appealed to the member countries at large. Around 50 countries came forward to help, and a full-fledged temple relocation industry got established. Though some of these temples went underwater, most were relocated to safer locations, including far away places like a US museum, and Amsterdam (as a gesture of thanks to the nations that helped salvage this ancient cultural treasure for Egypt).

 

In 1960s, Abu Simbel was dismantled into large stone blocks and transported from its original location to a sandstone cliff 65 metres higher, and about 200 metres back from the river.  Originally, the backdrop of Abu Simbel was the cliff it was carved out of. Problem: The relocated temple would be on top of the cliff, which had no backdrop. Solution: Construct an artificial mountain behind the relocated temple's facade.

 

This entire feat took over 4 years to pull off (from 1964 to 1968), and was almost like a photo-finish in construction industry terms. Just before the Aswan High Dam led to a rise in the water level of Nile in the area, the temple had been re-assembled at the safe height of the cliff (by the way, the Aswan High Dam came about and was ready in 1971). There's an excited thriller that UNESCO has put together on DVD - titled 'Abu Simbel, Philae…Saved'. It is a highly recommended must-watch for any monument and culture/heritage lover.

 

Today, the re-assembly has happened, and the temple stands tall and proud atop a cliff, but one slight miscalculation happened during its re-assembly. As a result, the shaft of light from the rising sun doesn't get in to the sanctum sanctorum on its originally planned dates of 22nd February and October, but does so a day earlier (21st February and October).

 

This entire roller-coaster through the history makes me consider Abu Simbel the 9th wonder of the world, and I am sure, most of you would agree with my belief.

 

Enough of this little delving into history. Now let's see how we can actually make a visit to this exotic place happen. As I mentioned earlier, it is closest to Aswan, in terms of tourist itinerary.

 

The choice is to take one of the early morning convoy of buses that leave for Aswan and deposit you their any time between 5.30 and 8.00am. These buses give you an average two and a half hours at this gorgeous spot, and then ply back to Aswan to bring you back by evening.

 

Or, if you are flying into Aswan from Cairo in the morning to embark an afternoon Nile cruise, then you should ask your tour operator to book you on any of the 2-3 morning flights to Abu Simbel, which return the same afternoon (after the conventional two and a half hours in Abu Simbel) to bring you back in time for the departure of the Nile cruise. The total cost for such a trip (including both way airport transfers at both ends, the entry ticket to the temples and an English speaking guide) is about US$ 150.

 

The most exotic choice is the 3,4 or 7 night cruise on Lake Nasser, which takes you around to not just Abu Simbel, but also to other relocated temples around the area. Depending on the length of the cruise,  as a part of your itinerary, you might also be visiting the Valley of Kings, the Valley of Queens (in Luxor), the temples of Hepshutset, Esna, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Kalabsha, El Sebuoa, Dakka, Amada, El Derr, Qasr Ibrim, and Philae. And each of these sites tell you multiple stories about the greatness of the civilisation that was.

 

Hopefully, by now you are a convert to what I consider the 9th wonder of the world!

Hope you enjoyed reading my travelogue.

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This Travelogue 'Simbel Wonder' was posted by Travelure on Thursday, September 27, 2007.

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3 Comments on 'Simbel Wonder'
A travelogue about a trip to Abu Simbel, Egypt
On 10/26/2007 9:26:30 AM Meena said...

Great deal of information... and nice photos too... .

On 10/1/2007 5:03:10 PM jyot0007 said...

Thank you for sharing this fascinating destination with us. I really enjoyed it and look forward for other such articles from your side..

On 9/28/2007 11:26:42 AM Bob Symn said...

Surely I'm. It is indeed worth the 9th wonder or why get into numbers.. it looks huge, beautiful and puts you in awe of its size and planning and that is what matters to a visitor.. thanks for sharing...

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