After a tour of the Philae temple, we are left on our own to explore the town or relax etc, until we hit the Aswan Dam in the evening.
When we left Cairo, we had a one way ride to Luxor – and had hoped to catch a flight back from Aswan to Cairo. So we venture out into the city to look for flights. We take a horse carriage from the docks to the town center and are immediately transported into a Victorian era- far from the maddening pace of our modern day cities, and the internet generation. Though it is almost 45C outside, we are well ensconced under the shade of the carriage and it costs only LE20. We are shocked to see that most of the shops are closed – even the EgyptAir office is closed for the afternoon. Someone lets us know that the office will open back at 6PM, when the weather is more conducive to business – no wonder the markets are then open late into the night . However, a guy walks up to us and says he can help – and takes us to a booking agent in one of the alleys. The booking agent tells us that the only available flights are on the 15th morning – and has 2 seats on the business class. With no trains either, we are stuck in Aswan. EgyptAir is notorious for its flight delays – and if we this flight is delayed for some reason, we may miss our connection back to India. The booking agent asks us when our flight from Cairo departs – 1PM I reply. He quips back that even if the EgyptAir is delayed by a few hours, we will still have ample time to make our connection. We mix some relief with our stress, and decide to take up on his expensive offer. We hitch a taxi ride back to the docks to leave in time for the Aswan Dam.
The Aswan Dam is a huge struc ture – and it actually collectively refers to 2 dams – the high and the low dam. When it was constructed, it displaced over 60,000 Nubian people from the Nubian deserts and submerged numerous archeological sites. It was constructed with massive aid from the Soviet regime, after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal. The dam’s reservoir, aptly named Lake Nasser, is one of the longest manmade lakes stretching more than 550 kms and extends from Egypt into Sudan, where it is called Lake Nubia. Several ancient archaeological sites were dismatled block by block and put together again – including the temple of Abu Simbel. There are no roads connecting Egypt to Sudan, and the only way to travel is by air or through ferries on the lake.
In the evening, we take a tour of the Aswan bazaar – the Bollywood influence is still significant. Amongst the littany of souvenirs clamoring for attention, we were really impressed by 2 young boys who made a living out of sand art. The younger one worked for the Egyptian Army and was home for a few days assisting his elder brother. These folks are adept at stuffing sands of different colors into bottles of various shapes to form miniature landscape arts depicting various desert scenes, camels, sunrise etc. For a few pennies more, they will even write your name on the inside of the bottle that you can preserve for eternity. The sand is topped of with camel milk which helps to form a rock solid art. So impressed was I that I offered a LE50 bakhsheesh to the boy – and he was overjoyed with it. It was then that I realized that local Egyptians are a poor lot of people and LE50 goes a long way. The t-shirt and souvenir vendors who sell their wares at a high markup of LE50 are not only fleecing the tourists, but also form a very small section of the society – I am sure that the profits are divided amongst the few powerful regional lords who we never see or interact with – and the front face at the shops do not get anything at all. Economic disparity has and always will be the bane of human existence.