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Around the World in 80 Destinations Dreamer, traveller, writer. Occasional raconteur. Not always in that order.

Abu Simbel experience

EGYPT | Tuesday, 19 May 2015 | Views [415] | Scholarship Entry

The sun rises over the Western Desert as the train gently chugs out of Luxor on its 220 km journey south to Aswan. As I settle in for the 3 hour journey a minaret suddenly bursts into life, and the melodious words of the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer broadcasts out to the suburbs.
For most of its course the railway line hugs the eastern bank of the Nile, meandering through the lush, fertile river's edge, where ageing fellaheen in dirty white jellabiya tend their crops and tired looking cattle seek shelter under the lea of palm fronds.
There are times when the greenery gives way to mile upon mile of endless desert but there is a picturesque beauty here too, a beauty of intoxicating magic and adventure that can almost be touched. I watch it all trickle slowly past from the relative comfort of my air conditioned carriage and follow the tracks that appear and the suddenly vanish into the desert.
Aswan is almost unique in its combination of extraordinary natural and man-made beauty. From my window I watch as the Aga Khan's mausoleum heaves into view on a hill high above the town. Your eye is naturally drawn down to where the desert seems to fold in around the river and then on to Elephantine island, so named after the rocks to its south, which, with one eye closed, almost look like a herd of elephants drawing water from the Nile. And then there are the man-made features, the British built Low Dam, the magnificent colonial Old Cataract Hotel and,of course,the impressive High Dam and Lake Nasser, the largest man-made lake in the world.
I swap my train for the less comfortable surroundings of 12 seater minibus and, in a convoy of a dozen other coaches of various sizes, we leave Aswan for the magnificent temple complex of Abu Simbel located at Egypt's southern border with the Sudan, a journey of several hours.
It is not a comfortable ride. Each bus and coach vies with the other to be in front and at times my spine threatens to completely leave my body. But the trip has a special treat in store for those that dare endure it. To my right the desert pushes out as far as the horizon. Huge granite teeth protrude from the desert floor and shimmer in the haze. And then they are gone, replaced by archipelago of tropical islands in a perfectly still azure blue sea. My first mirage leaves me in spellbound.
And then Abu Simbel rises out of the desert and the colossal statues of Ramses the Great look down upon its visitors, and we stare back in a collective awe.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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