The wake up call from reception came at 3 am. That it was going to be a long day was inevitable. It’s a 350 mile round-trip through barren desert in an armed convoy to get to Abu Simbel (from Aswan, where the boat was moored). Abu Simbel is situated on the southern edge of Egypt, just above the border with Sudan.
By 3.45am we’d changed, had tea and had left with the others from our boat who were also going on this excursion. For many – this will be the highlight of their time in Egypt. The statues – of Pharaoh Ramses II and his beloved wife, Nefertari – were carved directly from the mountain more than 3,200 years ago. Located on the Nile looking eastward across the water toward the rising sun – their serene, timeless faces have stood for millennia and witnessed more than a million sunrises.
The journey itself was smooth enough as the coach is decent and even has a toilet on board. It’s over 3½ hours to drive there through absolutely barren desert. An armed guard travels in every coach and the entire convoy numbers some 40-50 vehicles, ranging from the higher end modern coaches (which we were on) through to minibuses and smaller vehicles. The convoy snakes its way across the desert and it is certainly a long journey – but you get to see the sun rise above the desert and there is a strong feeling of anticipation.
We had a packed breakfast on the coach. A doughy affair consisting primarily of bread rolls and juice, but it did the job. Most people slumbered (we took pillows on board). I spent some of the time reading on my Kindle, the rest of the time I dozed fitfully or looked out of the window – constantly amazed at just how barren and devoid of life the desert is.
The statues stand at the very lowest part of Egypt. Beyond was ‘Nubia’ – the southern neighbour of Egypt – and the statues were created to assert Egypt’s power and religion over its neighbours.
On arrival at the site, it’s a 5-10 minute walk from the car park around the mountain to get to the statues and the temple complexes behind them.
Inside the temple (you can’t take pictures unfortunately) hieroglyphics adorn all of the walls and there are more incredible statues.
One of most awe inspiring things about the statues and their temples, which you wouldn’t necessarily realise, is that they are not in situ as first carved. Instead, they were moved in 1968 in a major $40m UNESCO project to save them from the rising waters of the artificial Lake Nasser – formed as a result of the building of the new Aswan High Dam. They were moved 65 metres higher up the mountain and set further back. Had they not been moved they would have been lost beneath the water. Their relocation is considered one of the greatest feats in archaeological engineering ever undertaken; more can be read about it on Wikipedia.
There are two temple complexes – the ones pictured above and also this one, on a slightly smaller scale:
We had about 2 hours at the site and then got back on the coach for the long journey back to Aswan. On the return journey the mirage is clearly visible. It really does look like a lake or water in the distance – but of course it’s just an illusion.
It was a very long day but absolutely worth it. A collection of the day’s photos, below.
Finally, a Google map. Zoom in and move to the right a bit to see the temple complex. You can also zoom way out and go up to see just how barren the area is and the lone road that reaches the area.