Aswan

Aswan

Now I come to Monday the 19th of February when I was up early and, after breakfast, left Luxor at eight o'clock by train for the city of Aswan or Assouan as it is sometimes called.

The journey down was not particularly interesting as the country we went through was very wild and barren with sand everywhere and only small villages dotted here and there on the route.

It was about half past twelve when we arrived there and from the train we got into waiting taxis which took us to the Grand Hotel.

This hotel certainly lived up to its name, and now I will try to give you an idea of the luxury we enjoyed for the two days we spent there.

On getting out of the taxi our packs were taken from us by Sudanese servants, as we walked over the step our shoes were dusted with feather dusters, then our coats and hats were taken from us and the revolving doors pushed round so that we could walk through them.

Having booked in we were allotted our rooms and I was fortunate in having a room to myself.

This room contained a single four-poster bed with a lace trimming eighteen inches deep around the top, a fine mosquito net being hung inside the four posts.

The bed linen was perfect, and in the evening the mosquito net was let down, and the sheets turned back.

There was a nice thick carpet on the floor, white curtains to the windows, and the furniture consisted of a wardrobe, dressing table, washstand complete with all the usual things such as washbowl, jug, drinking water jug and glass, face flannel, face towel, bath towel etc. By the bed was a small table on which was an electric reading lamp, and there was a bathroom to every three rooms, with hot and cold water at all times.

Not in five years have I known such luxury and can you wonder that I wanted to stop on, especially when the price was only £1 a day for everything, but I have not told you all.

Having washed after the train journey I went down to the dining room for lunch.

The dining room itself was as big as the Memorial Hall, and was entered by a flight of six steps. On coming to these steps you are met by the Head Waiter who is European, and conducted to a table, after which the Sudanese waiters attend you. The dining hall was beautifully decorated, and the lighting included many wall lights. The table linen and cutlery was perfect, in fact everything was, including the food and our lunch was a three course meal. The dining room service was so good that even the bread was put on the tables with a pair of tongs.

Enough of that for now, and now to continue with my narrative of events. We went to the bank of the Nile and boarded sailing boats that took us across the river to Kitchener's Island where we spent about an hour looking around.

Aswan: Kitchener's Garden




Aswan: Kitchener's Garden

Set in mid-stream, it is a beautiful place, set out very much like Kew Gardens, with every kind of plant and tree that you could think of, from all over the world.

From the southern end of the island a very good view is obtained of the First Cataract, which is the meaning of the word Assuoan. Set in the river are numerous small islands and there are rocks everywhere, so that with the water continually rushing over them it looks as if it is boiling all the time.

Another island that we visited was the Elephantine Island with its ruins, and then we went to see the Nilometer which is a stone chart cut into the rock whereby the height of the water in the river can be gauged and a warning sent to villages that are in danger if it rises too high.

Aswan: Elephantine Island




Aswan: Elephantine Island

All this was by sailing boat and we were being followed all the time by two boys in tin boats that they were paddling with pieces of wood. It was only when we landed that we discovered that one of the boys had only one leg. Leaving their tin boats they dashed to the top of a high rock and dived about forty feet into the river, coming up for "buksheesh" afterwards.

Having had dinner we walked along the river bank and back for a short while, then I spent the rest of the evening writing a letter, before an early night, as the day had been a fairly full one.

Although the weather was hot we did not need to wear our KD for there was always a cool breeze blowing and we wore battledress all the time we were there.

Tuesday morning found us up and ready at nine o'clock, when we started off in the taxis, going up river to the big and famous Aswan Dam where we stopped about halfway across to have a good look at it.

View from the Aswan Dam




View from the Aswan Dam

The Aswan Dam




The Aswan Dam

It really is a marvellous sight, with the many thousands of tons of water it is holding up on one side and the roaring torrents on the other side, as the water let through the sluice gates rushes over the rocks of the Cataract.

With the aid of the dam the waters of the Nile can be fully controlled so that there is ample water for the irrigation of Egypt all the year round and thus the people are able to grow three crops a year instead of two, and they have benefited very much from this.

After the war it is hoped to raise the height of the dam and harness the water to provide electricity for the whole of the country, as there is a tremendous amount of power going to waste there now.

Aswan granite quarries




Aswan granite quarries

Another short trip in the taxis and we were at the famous granite quarries where all the granite blocks for the pyramids and many other monuments of Egypt were cut in the very early days. The method they used to cut the huge blocks was to drill a series of holes in a line and drive in wedges of very dry wood, then wet the wood causing it to swell and split the rock.

Aswan quarries: an unfinished pylon






An unfinished pylon in the Aswan quarries

From there we returned to the town and spent an hour or so looking round the bazaars which are very much like all the other bazaars in the East.

Aswan was the southern boundary of the Kingdom of Egypt during the earlier dynasties of Pharaohs, and was the starting place for expeditions into the interior of Sudan, Nubia and beyond. From Aswan, or to be more exact, from the Island of Elephantine, opposite the town, sprung the earliest mighty Pharaohs of Egypt's history. From the First Dynasty, onwards, there have been found many traces signifying that the city was even then of considerable importance to the kingdom. From here, also, hailed the Pharaohs who later constructed the mighty Pyramids of Giza, and many others, in Lower Egypt.

The Temple of Philae




Aswan: the Temple of Philae in the Nile

The Philae temple




The Philae temple

The Philae temple




Part of the temple on Philae Island

Our tour of the bazaars was cut short by the time and we returned to the hotel for lunch, but not before one of the WRENS in the party had purchased four and a half pounds of henna to send home to an aunt whose hair was fast turning grey, but she would have to live to a ripe old age to use up all that amount of henna on it.

It was just after half past two when our train left Aswan for Luxor and to relieve the monotony of the journey a little I tried to jot down the names of the stations as we passed through them.

The list will give you some idea of what the language is like, though you may not be able to associate the names with my description of the villages which were more or less collections of mud huts.

Aswan: Bisharin camp

Aswan: Bisharin camp

After Aswan came Abu El Rish Qibli, Khattara, El Aakab, Gaafra, Daraw, Kowombo, Gebel Silsila, Kagoug, Silwa, El Ramady, Serag, Elridisiya, Taftish Attia, Edfu, El Kelh, Mahamid, Sebaieh, Isna, El Matana, and after that I gave it up.

We were lucky in that the train was not crowded and there were just the three of us in the one compartment all the way to Cairo, a seventeen hour journey.

At Luxor which we reached in the evening we picked up a picnic meal which was waiting on the station for us, and had it in the train as we went on our way north.

After leaving Luxor we arranged with the train guard to lock us in the compartment, after which we put out the light and laid down to sleep in our blankets, Ken on the floor and Scotty and myself, one on each seat.

In this way we were able to get about eight hours of more or less sound sleep, though we were disturbed once or twice in the night by ticket collectors coming round to punch fresh holes in our tickets, and also by men with Flit-guns who came round to spray the carriages, though goodness only knows, there were few enough flies about.

It was early morning as we rolled into Cairo and it was a grand sight to see the pyramids, set in their carpet of desert as we passed by them a short distance away, in the belt of green cultivated land that follows the course of the Nile across the desert.

The time was eight o'clock when we arrived in Cairo and our first task was to find a room at a hostel, but I'll not tell you any more here, as this brings me to the end of my story of the trip to Upper Egypt, and to the end of this chapter, so I'll leave this now, and continue in the next chapter to tell you of the next part of my leave.

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