Abu Simbel: A Pharoah’s warning post for Nubia

Most tourists do only a day visit to this town, starting out from Aswan in a 3am convoy for a 3 hr road trip, spending 2-3 hrs in town and returning by noon.  Personally I think this is the worst way to experience these amazing temple as you will be fighting the crowds for the 2 hours you are there to take a half-decent selfie.  It warrants a night stay in the town for two reasons: 1) the light show at the temple is by far the best I saw in all of Egypt, and 2) this temple faces directly east, giving you a reason to revisit it the next morning.  Since it opens at 5AM, we got to spend 3 hours all by ourselves before the tour buses arrived.

The fact that most tourists choose to return to Aswan also gives Abu-Simbel a ghost-town feeling.  We stayed at Hotel Nefertari, which is walking distance from the temple.  A sprawling property that has been frequented by likes of the King and Queen of Sweden in the past, it now lies derelict.  Its almost a living museum frozen in time.  All the signs, including the “Welcome 2010” point to the fact that since the revolution of 2011, nothing much has happened here. The three of us were the only guests the night we stayed there.  Imagine having the entire hotel staff just serving you; or being asked this quesion at lunch:

“Sir, what would you like for dinner.  It will help us shop for the ingredients”

The staff were so excited to have us that they let us check in at 8am the day of our arrival, which was greeted with a hurried frenzy amongst the hotel staff (that probably had not seen any guest in 6 years).  A welcome drink was summoned (perhaps from the same bottle that was served to the Swedish Royalty), and the lobby toiled was unlocked (perhaps in response to the knowledge of that fact). In fact I’m not even certain the staff was living humans or some spirits. I’m waiting for someone to tell me one of these days that the hotel was long shut down after some devastating tragedy and is now just a haunted villa.

The pool is nice and looks straight out to Lake Nasseer and Sudan in the south.  It was nice enough that J decided to park himself permanently next to the pool (the real reason was that he was too freaked out by this whole experience to enter his room).  He decided he would sleep by the pool, were it not for the two stray dogs that showed up in the middle of the night.

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Our Hotel pool looking straight into Lake Nasser and Sudan.

History Lesson

Ramesses II pretty much overshadows everything we see about ancient Egypt today. Born around 1300BC, he lived and ruled Egypt to a ripe old age of 96, something very remarkable for that era.  With all that time, and the bounty of the Nile, he had at his disposal more resources and time to build and carve his name (literally in the form of cartouches) for posterity than any other pharaoh.

Amongst his most famous constructs in the Temple of Ramesses, beloved of Amun at Abu Simbel.  The location of the temple is at the border of Nubia (modern day Sudan) on the banks of the Nile.  Its purpose was more political than religious – to warn the Nubians entering from Nubia of his power.  To that effect, he placed four massive statutes of himself right outisde the temple. These would have created awe in any traveler passing that area.

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Four massive statues of Ramses (note the size as I’m dwarfed next to them)

The inside of the temple is also lined with statues.  At the far end of the corridor are three statues, one of himself, one of Amun and one of Set (the evil God). The corridor was aligned so that two days in a year, his birthday and the day of his coronation, the sun would shine directly at his statue and the statue of Amun.

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The interior of the temple of Ramesses

Next to his temple is also a temple of his favorite wife, Nefertari.  Being Nubian, he levereaged her heritage to advertise to the Nubians that they were entering the land ruled by their queen.  However, his ego (as with most pharoahs) demanded that even her temple have his statutes placed right by hers.

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The temple of Nefertari, wife of Ramesses II