Sunday, 27 January 2013


Feluccas bob gently on the Nile
Sunday 23 December: The first-class sleeper train from Cairo (93rd mode of transport) is slow but remarkably comfortable, squeaky-clean with crisp white sheets. Alcohol is no longer served (shame I really was looking forward to a cold beer in the lounge car). At US$80 for the overnight trip, including dinner and breakfast, it's a fair deal and by mid-morning I'm strolling down Aswan's riverside Corniche towards my hotel.
Located on a pretty section of the river, Aswan is Egypt's southernmost town and a good base for exploring Upper Egypt's monuments, tombs and temples. I have a large en-suite room with a twin-aspect balcony in the El Salam Hotel on the Corniche. There are great views from the rooftop restaurant where a simple breakfast of boiled egg, soft cheese wedges, bread, jam and tea or coffee, is served daily. At first glance the hotel itself looks a little grubby but actually it's perfectly clean and tidy, just a little bit old and tired. At E£88 (about £8.80) a night it's difficult to find fault.
Sunday 25: It's Christmas evening and I intended dining out in the Old Cataract Hotel, where Agatha Christi wrote Death on the Nile, but as business is slack their only open restaurant is the reasonably priced French style 'The Terrace'. Unfortunately it's an outdoor terrace which is slightly chilly after dusk. So I only stay long enough to see a glorious sunset from the Old Cataract's bar before heading to a good old Arab restaurant, El Masry, in town. The food here is good Egyptian fare - charcoal grilled chicken and lamb, various soups, rice and salads but no alcohol is served. Aswan is quiet at night so I head back to the El Salam where there's a few cans of beer that I bought in Cairo (just in case!). Relaxing I open my laptop and a beer, and then do what most people do at this time of the year - drink too much and watch an old movie - a 1978 whodunit - Death on the Nile.
Wednesday 26: Taking the local ferry across to Elephantine Island I visit the ancient ruins of Abu but there's little to see and I end up spending most of my time sitting in one of the riverside restaurants trying to spot bird life and watching the feluccas (sailing boats) gliding across the Nile until sunset. I had hoped to remain in Aswan for the whole of the festive season but I'm going to head north to slightly livelier Luxor for the New Year, I'll be back.
Sunday 20 January 2013: I'm back in Aswan to visit a must see, Abu Simbel temple on the banks of Lake Nasser, a four-hour drive south. But today I'm just hopping over to the west bank to check out Aswan's Tombs of the Nobles. Refreshingly, non-flash photography is allowed and I tackle the tombs in chronological order.
Tomb of Mekhu & Sabni (# 25 & 26)
A double tomb for a father and his son from the time of 6th Dynasty, Old Kingdom, pharaoh Pepi II, about 4,300 years ago. Prince Mekhu was killed in battle in Nubia and the colourful reliefs show Sabni, his son, avenging the older man's death.
Tomb of Sarenput I (# 36)
 A large tomb from the reign of 12th Dynasty, Middle Kingdom, pharaoh Sesostris I, around 3,950 years before present. The vault is undecorated inside but reliefs cut on the outer wall, behind the outer pillared courtyard, depict Sarenput with his dog and wife, on the opposite wall a queue of flower-bearing concubines approach the seated governor. Heaven indeed.
Tomb of Sarenput II (# 31)
The grandson of Sarenput I, he governed Upper Egypt during the reign of 12th Dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat II, about 3,900 years ago, and his tomb is the most striking of the group. The access corridor, lined with six statues of Sarenput in side niches, leads to a four square-pillared burial chamber with a deep recess painted on each side with scenes from Sarenput's family life.
Outside, views from the tomb path back down to the Nile and beyond are a pleasant fresh-air diversion between the stuffy tombs.
Nubia Museum

Tuesday 22: Again, with non-flash photography allowed, the Nubia Museum is a real highlight of my visit to Aswan. I just love the early non-pottery stone bowls (how did they do it?) and small copper chisels used to carve rock as hard as granite, yes this was all the ancient builders had. Sightly later statues too - marching Nubian warriors, goddess Isis suckling a baby Hathor, god of wisdom Thoth in the guise of a baboon, a super head of 25th Dynasty black Nubian pharaoh Taharka, a near complete statue of the great builder Ramses II and an almost perfect black stone-carved image of Hathor, goddess of love. In the side-hall there are several mummys saved from the lands now beneath Lake Nasser. A mummified goat and the exquisite guilded-golden face of a nameless princess stand out among them.
Wednesday 23: A short stroll behind the Nubia Museum is an ancient quarry where a huge pink-granite obelisk remains in place. Flawed and discarded in antiquity you can still see how it was excavated. They slowly pounded away at the hard rock with slightly harder black cobblestones to produce deep channels on either side. This must have taken an age - but how the hell did they plan to move such a massive column without snapping it?
Slideshow of Aswan.

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