The magic of Abu Simbel

Our Travel Writing Competition is now closed to submissions, but here’s an excellent post from Kate Sleeth about the unexpected magic of Abu Simbel. Good luck Kate!

Abu Simbel, courtesy of Kate Sleeth

Three am, eyes barely open, boarding a bus in Aswan to travel to Abu Simbel. Apparently the temple is worth seeing, even if it involves a ridiculously early morning bus ride. I’m sceptical but my travelling partner Ash was adamant that we were going. I sleep on his shoulder or sprawled across both our seats clutching my well travelled teddy bear. We pass desert, nothing, sand and checkpoints. We drift in and out of slumber and watch the sunrise across a barren landscape.
Finally we arrive and tumble out of the bus eager to see the temple that interrupted our sleep so rudely. The car park is full of buses and we join the long line of travellers in a slow tired walk to the site. Mid-sentence we stop, mid-sentence we stare. Ash is just as struck as I am and when he looks back at me I know we are seeing something special together. The early morning light bounces of the four statues of Pharaoh Ramses II. They are literally carved into the rock face and are twenty metres high… that’s thirteen times me!
Our tour guide tries to give us some information but it is clear nobody is listening. We’re all lost in our own travelling world, trying to put into words what we are seeing. We’re trying to imagine how they made it during the 13th century BC, how the hell it only took twenty years to complete. We’re itching to get inside and to discover it for ourselves. The facade has wet our appetites and we wait impatiently to be let loose inside.

What we do find out is that the whole structure was relocated in 1968 when the Aswan High Dam was formed. This is mind blowing. I had no idea. Without looking closely, there is no indication that this has ever happened. I could have sworn that the temple was exactly where it was when it was built. That it belonged in the cliff face just as I could see it.
Finally we are released and we escape eagerly into the temple. We marvel… every inch of the temple is covered. Every pillar, roof space, parts of the wall were used, covered in Egyptian heliographic and pictures depicting offerings to the gods. We hungrily point out the God’s we recognise and search for glimpses of colour among the carvings.
I’m struck by the graffiti in the temple. How did people get so high to inscribe their names in these humongous stone statues? How could they marvel at something so wondrous and then maim it with their name? They obviously realised how magnificent the structure was if they made the time to visit it in such a lonely location, yet they were determined to become a part of its history. That’s not the kind of traveller I am.

Amazed, tired and mind boggled we return to our bus and join the police escorted convoy back to Aswan. Not one of us minded the long return journey.

Kate Sleeth

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