We dropped our collective luggage in a corner of the reception, picked up breakfast boxes from the restaurant and made our way out of the boat. Mohamed led us to a mini-bus which was to take us from Aswan to Abu Simbel, our main destination for the day. From Abu Simbel, we would then see the Aswan High Dam, the Temple of Philae and be back in time for the train back to Cairo.
Everyone in the bus was weary, dreary and conked out. They'd been up for much of the last 36 hours. (Remember, we'd been to Kom Ombo, then lazed around the boat for much of the day sailing to Aswan, visited the Nubian Museum, seen a perfumery, ate Egyptian food, danced like crazy and met some interesting visitors). Of course, I was well-rested. My headache was gone, my throat was better and I only had a lingering cough, but it could have been a lot worse if I had not slept at all.
Presently, we moved out of the cityscape to reach the outskirts of Aswan where the convoy began. There was a small restroom break, as the drive to Abu Simbel would be non-stop. Most of them dozed off to catch some sleep on the road, and the ones who were awake continued their game of 'Tell-me-what-you-think-of-me" from last night. I sat listening as DT, RA, SS and NC belted out what they thought of the rest of us. Now and then S2K would pipe in with a comment, but generally people quietened down and fell asleep.
The vehicle continued its race to Abu in darkness. Aswan to Abu Simbel is about 265 miles. We covered that in about 3 hours. The day broke not far away from Abu. It was magical. I tried to capture it but the vehicle was so fast that I could hardly hold myself steady, let alone the camera. So I sat back and just watched.
The pink dawn broke over the sand and one could see the the horizon brighten slowly, as if someone was turning up the colours in a superbly choreographed sequence of lights. The greys slowly gave way to the blues and the browns. The terrain was mind-blowing. It was nothing like I had imagined. Miles and miles of sand, dunes smoothening out and then merging into another. It was like putting your head into a picture and getting transported into the land!
The sun quickly came up and the daylight became quite harsh by the time we had reached Abu. We parked and walked while Mohamed told us the story of how Egypt had made the decision to build the High Dam and a lake to act as a reservoir, how it would flood the villages of Nubia and the temple of Abu Simbel, and how there was a global call for help and UNESCO helped to garner international support required to cut the rocks and rebuild the temple 200 meters behind and 60 meters above its original location. The Nubian villages were given a choice to resettle in Upper Egypt near Aswan or Luxor or emigrate to Sudan.
Presently we walked around the bend and had a glimpse of the huge statues of Ramesses and Nefertari. As we walked nearer the size of the statue began to overwhelm us. Mohamed told us that on two days of the year, the light of the rising sun goes directly into the sanctum sanctorum to illuminate the face of the Pharaoh. That was not the interesting part. The interesting part was the light came in at such an angle that it did NOT illuminate the God of the Underworld, who was right next to the other Gods.
We had a lot of time to explore the temples of Ramesses and the nearby smaller temple of Nefertari and Hathor. The minibus had been dispatched for refueling, so while some of the gang did some monkey jumps, the rest of us walked around the site and drank Egyptian tea. Found a car with an IAF sticker on it. Awesome.
The drive back was more fun. The sun and the walk had shaken everyone awake, and now on the way back, out of tune Antakshari started out, before it just became a 4 line song fest - DT, S2K, SK, and me being the chief perpetrators of the musical violence on a few others like SP and ST who were making a genuine effort to read.
And then the tyre burst. There was a clap and the vehicle veered to a halt a few meters ahead. The tyre was a sight. The heat had ripped it apart. A car and a minibus passed us. Both returned in reverse gear to help out. They spoke to the driver and then the minibus went on its way. The car stayed while our bus driver, the car driver and Mohamed changed the tyres around. The terrain again tempted us for a round of photographs and again, when the monkey shots happened, SK and I walked a distance talking about things in general.
Back on the road, we were hungry and missing lunch. Since we left the boat, food was one more thing we had to think about. The more foodies of us - RA, SS and SK - interrogated Mohamed for some places where we could get some pigeon meat! Unfortunately, lunch would only be after we finished the High Dam.
Mohamed explained to us how the High Dam was built like a pyramid, and how it produced electricity enough for the whole of Egypt and more, which they sold to neighbouring countries. If you think about it, we spent a very short time (relatively) at the dam, as we also had to cover the temple of Philae. The temple of Philae is on an island on Lake Nasser. We took a motorboat to the temple, but the temple in itself was not very different from the other ones we had seen. I spent the time in the shade, talking to Mohamed and thinking about getting back to the train at 4 PM. It was close to 2:30 by this time.
Saw a bag at the souvenir shop at Philae and got SK to go along with me and haggle. It was a top loading cloth bag with Egyptian motifs dyed on it. Back at the boat, used it to stuff some surplus stuff I had in my backpack and made space for the stuff SP had got me from India. Batch by batch, we all freshened up to rush to the station in time. SK opted to take a bath, as he would be flying back to Germany from Cairo, whilst the rest of us did the Pyramids and the museum. The ones who went ahead promised to buy takeaway lunch for us.
RA, in true organiser spirit, stayed back to be the last to leave the boat. Him, SK and me left for the station with 10 mins for the train to start. Fortunately, it was just across the road. As the three of us were walking, I thought how 8 days before, none of us had met each other, how we'd sat doing pointless bakar at the Selsela, and tomorrow morning SK would fly out. The trip was coming to an end.
Our seats on the train were split. There were two seats in AC-1 and 9 in AC-2. There was a bit of juggling before SK and NC decided to move to AC-1 and have some privacy! Three hours into its run, the train halted at Luxor. We laughed at the fact that we took 2 days to sail from Luxor to Aswan when it was just 3 hours by train. We thought it was a routine stop and did not venture to get off the train. But, hunger got the better of us, and SP and I went to the snack bar to get something to eat. Turns out we were not the only ones hungry. Whatever food we got, lasted us 5 minutes. Tea was served. Jokes. No sign of movement from Luxor. We contemplated sneaking out of the station for some takeaway. Decided against it and went to buy boiled eggs instead. The guy outside our coach quoted too high, so S2K and I walked further down the train and got some at half the price. Hah!
Finally, about an hour and half later, the train moved. It began to get a bit chilly as the night set in. Conversations died down, books were put away and blankets brought out. I remember I and DT were talking about her diving before we put on some music and let the train rock us to sleep.
Tomorrow, we would wake up in Cairo.