Thursday, April 15, 2004

Oasis Hotel and Tout

As predicted, once we stepped down of the train, there were a lot of touts surrounding us to get us to their hotel. One of them even knew where we stayed in Aswan, obviously the Marwa Hotel some what got information exchange with the guy. This guy was actually from Grand Hotel, which Marwa Hotel introduced to us too. And we're actually intended to stay there too! But this guy was really spoilt my mood.

Anyway, we still headed to Grand Hotel. On the way, Oasis Hotel owner saw us and offered us EGP 10 per room per night. At Grand Hotel, I saw that guy again. I couldn't stopped wondering what would happened if he didn't act aggressively at the train station just now. We would have followed him! I was just too scare to fall into another scam again, so I tried to avoid as many touts as possible.

But we still didn't manage to stay at Grand Hotel at the end. Just about we wanted to step into Grand Hotel, the light went off. Wei Heng said it looked no good. So we headed back to Oasis Hotel which we saw still got electricity. Anyway, few minutes later, the electricity was backed, but we were not going back to Grand Hotel anymore.

As usual, Oasis Hotel owner also pushed us to take out West Bank tour with him. 3 of us just said that we're too tired and lied him that we're going to stay around Luxor the next day. Only then we had a good rest.

Aswan Train Station

As it was already a bit late, we decided to go straight to Luxor, skipping Edfu which we initially intended to visit. With this decision, we could traveled together with the China guy we met at Marwa Hotel together to Luxor too. The train fare to Luxor costs EGP 17 after discount with ISIC card. It was cheap, and the train departed punctually.

Building of Aswan Train Station

What you pay is what you get!

We paid EGP 50 each for the trip to Abu Simbel, Aswan High Dam, Philae Island and and Unfinished Obelisk. It was considered cheap, but with few downsides.

1. No air-cond. This was the worst, as the weather there during the time was hot, really hot, with hot air.
2. No tour guide. We were dropped at the place and left to walk around.
3. Slow. The vehicle was far inferior than the big buses that other tourists took. Ended up we arrived much later, and had to squeezed with other tourists.
4. Skipped itinerary. The van driver encouraged us to skip the unfinished obelisk, by saying it was unattractive. Ended up most of the tourists decided not to visit it, so we had to joined the crowd.
5. Normal lunch. Still ok as we were very hungry. :)
6. All not inclusive. You will be surprised that everything is not included, other than the bring you there. Everything else, pay yourself.

It seemed like it's the case if you book the tour from those budget hotels. Not sure of the price for those 'higher-end' tour package though.

Inclusive of this lunch?

Our tour package inclusive of a lunch. We quite looking forward to it as it's already quite late when we reached back Marwa Hotel. So that was the lunch, cooked by a staff there himself. Quite surprisingly, it was delicious, may be we're just too hungry.

Boat to Philae Island

The boat that took us to Philae (Agilkia) Island. The boat sailor dropped us on the island and waited for us, along with lots of other boats. Luckily he still can recognized us when wanted to back from Philae Island.

Once reached the jetty, the boat sailor requested for more money, although before departing we had agreed on to the price we paid. We were shocked, but we just walked away, as the price was actually told by the our tour guide too. (Actually was just a van driver, as he never guided us)

Philae Island and Isis Temple Complex

Philae Island was actually have submerged below water of the reservoir created by the old Aswan Dam. Between 1972 and 1980, the massive temple was disassembled and removed stone by stone from island of Philae and reconstructed 20 m higher at nearby Agilkia Island. It's dedicated to god Isis.

To get to Philae Island, we shared a boat with those who travelled with us in the van. We had to pay the boat ourself, as it was, again, not included with the tour package. So, to enjoy the stunning aura and romantic surrounding the Philae Island and Isis Temple, we had to pay EGP 4 for the boat and EGP 10 (EGP 20 without ISIC) for the admission. Anyway, I couldn't really enjoyed it as the heat made me quite suffering.

The first pylon facing the outer temple court. It's 18 m high towers with reliefs of Ptolemy XII (Cleopatra's father) smiting enemies.

Kiosk of Trajan, or Pharaoh's Bed. Originally main entrance to the Temple, inside Roman Emperor Trajan is depicted making offerings to Isis, Orisis and Horus.

Wall carvings in Temple of Isis

Aswan High Dam

High Dam or El Saad al Aali in Arabic was an engineering miracle when it was built in 1960s. It's not to be confused with old Aswan Dam, which is much smaller and 6 km downstream. To visit High Dam, we need to pay EGP 5 each as admission was not included in tour package.

A view from the vantage point in the middle of High Dam towards the "Lotus Flower" tower which honouring Soviet-Egyptian friendship and cooperation. The vantage point in on the dam itself, so you won't be able to have a full view of the dam itself.

Nile after the Aswan High Dam. As we were on top of High Dam, there were the best scenery other than Lake Nasser behind the dam. To the right you will find a lot of power generators.

How to beat the crowd at Abu Simbel

Well, you won't be able if you join the tour that comes from Aswan in the early morning. However, after Temple of Hathor, there is a path that leads to the back of the temples and then to the entrance. It can considers to be off the beaten path. Not many tourists walk here, and you can see how the hill specifically built to mimic the actual location of the temples.

Souvenir in Abu Simbel

There were simply too many of merchants, young and adult, tried to sell souvenir to us, from the moments we arrived until we left the Abu Simbel temple compound. The most common hold by those sellers is post cards, selling at EGP 20 for a stack of 10 pieces. It was not too expensive, nor not too cheap. But we still bought 3 stacks of it altogether. The only problem was just too many of them.

There were some souvenir shop around too, just outside of the temple compound, you won't be able to miss it. Besides, there was an ice cream seller after Temple of Hathor. As usual, giving the hot weather, he had quite a decent business.

Lake Nasser

Calm water in Lake Nasser, which created by Aswan High Dam viewed from Temples of Abu Simbel. It's also world largest artificial lake. The building of High Dam at Aswan caused rising water that threatened to flood a lot of great monuments, included Temples of Abu Simbel. Thus, UNESCO launched massive rescue operation to save the monuments. The greatest achievement must be the preservation of temples of Abu Simbel, where it's cut into more than 2000 pieces each weighed 10 to 40 tonnes, and relocated to higher ground 210 m away and 65 m higher than original ground. When you're here, you will know why it's a great achievement.

Temples of Abu Simbel

Great Temple of Ramses II and Temple of Hathor are just besides each other. The hill that contains them is man-made.

There were simply too may tourists arrived together at roughly the same time. But you have no way to beat it unless you come by flight or stay overnight in Abu Simbel.

Tip: Admission to Abu Simbel is EGP 39 (half price for student)

Temple of Hathor

Temple of Hathor is dedicated to Queen Nefertari, wife of Ramses II. Rock cut facade contains 6 massive standing statues, of which 4 represent Ramses and 2 represent Nefertari. What unusual here is statue of Nefertari is same height with statue of Ramses. Other smaller figures are of Ramessid princes and pricesses.

Giant statues of Ramses and Nefertari. Notice that legs which are in walking style. Most likely the temple was built when the King and Queen where still alive.

Inside the hall of the Temple of Hathor, 6 pillars are crowned with Hathor capitals and its walls are adorned with beautiful reliefs which depict Nefertari before Hathor and Mut, Nefertari honouring Ramses, and Ramses being valiant and victorious.

Rliefs on the wall

Another beautiful reliefs

Unbelievable Abu Simbel Miracle

The innermost chamber is scared sanctuary with small altar and 4 statues. The temple is aligned in such a way that on 22 February and 22 October every year, the first rays of the rising sun reach across the Nile, penetrate the temple and move along the hypostyle hall, through the vestibule and into the sanctuary, and illuminate the statue of Ra-Harakhty, Ramses II and Amun, except Ptah. Before relocation due to Aswan Dam rising water level, the phenomenon happened on 21st instead of 22nd.

It's simply incredible to apprehend how ancient Egyptian people can have such a great knowledge in science, which doesn't seem to exists in current generation of Egyptian.

Great Temple of Ramses II

Great Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, which only was rediscovered in 1813, was carved out of the mountain on the west bank of the Nile between 1274 and 1244 BC, and was dedicated to the gods Ra-Harakhty, Amun and Ptah and Ramses II pharaoh himself. But mostly, with its four colossal statues of Ramses II addressing the river, it was designed as a show of strength, an awesome quarteted sentinel watching over any boats sailing into Ramses II's lands from the south.

Famous colossal statues of Ramses II sit majestically, with accompany of larger than life size statues of pharaoh's mother Queen Tuya, his wife Nefertari and some of their children at this massive rock-cut facade. Above the entrance is figure of the falcon-headed sun god Ra-Harakhty.

Large hall inside the Great Temple of Ramses II, supported by eight columns, each fronted by a 10-m high statue of Ramses. The roof is decorated with vultures, which are protective figures symbolizing the goddess Nekhbet.

Reliefs on the wall of the temple, this photo taken by Sing Wei.

Other wall reliefs at other hall.

Hot Hot Hot!

It was a very hot day in Abu Simbel. To made the matter worse, the microbus, or more accurately, the van that took us for the trip was without air-conditioning! So just imagine, when the air the blew onto your face was actually hot! So it's a good idea to pay more to more reputable tour agent to get an air-cond bus if travelling in summer.

A very stupid idea

Only buses and microbuses arranged by hotels or tour operators can travel to Abu Simbel in police convoy. So every buses have to arrive at the checkpoint early, by 5 am! Those buses that arrive earlier have to wait and queue up along the road for departure in police convoy. It's total useless in my opinion. Firstly, I hardly saw any police, other than when passed through the checkpoint to Abu Simbel, and once at checkpoint along the road, and at Abu Simbel itself. Secondly, obviously some bus drivers drove faster, some slower. So it ended up all buses were scattering around the road, and at some point I believed that bus in front of our van was at least 3 km away! What convoy was that? Anyway, that's the requirement, if you like to visit Abu Simbel as a day trip from Aswan.

We actually booked our trip previous day with Marwa Hotel for EGP 50 each. We shopped around but seemed like all hotels also quite firmed with EGP 50. So we just booked with Marwa Hotel as good gesture, as I think the hotel was good. That proved to be good decision too. As we're leaving to Luxor today, so we checked out at 4 am, before departed to Abu Simbel, and they allowed us to keep our bags in a room, free of charge. Beside, when we returned, they allowed us to bath for free too. Good service!

Tip: There will be sunrise on the east on the way to Abu Simbel. If you want to view, sit on the left side of the bus. And make sure you stay awake.