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To travel through the night along the Sahara Desert, is an experience of a lifetime. We, the tourists upon a mission, knew it more than anybody else.

The year was 2007. The Land of the Pharaohs had beckoned us with its alluring, haunting and mesmerizing magic. I, along with my mother, was part of an escorted and guided tour to Egypt. Yes, the same land of the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Egypt is an African country and attracts hordes of tourists all the year round. But far from being an African tale of wilderness, the country’s civilisation is among the ancients of this world.

As soon as I landed at the Cairo airport, I knew that a memorable travel experience lay in store for me. I had just landed in Egypt, ‘Misr’ as it is called by the locals and also by many around the world! The country, despite occupying a chunk of pages in our historical annals, lies vastly unexplored and unexplained. The country is not just the land where the amazing and geometrically marvellous Pyramids and their guardians, the Sphinx, lie. The country has a vast repertoire of hugely unexplored destinations.

The river Nile irrigates the entire land of Egypt and is as sacred as our river Ganges to the Egyptians. The place Abu Simbel is located towards the western banks of the river Nile. There are huge temples there which leave the tourists gaping with awe and wonder. Dedicated to and built by the Pharaoh, King Ramses II reigning in ancient Egypt around 1265 B.C., the temples lie on the boundary of modern-day Sudan. These temples were built in the New Kingdom period of Egyptian history and culture. Lake Nasser, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, the Sudanese name of the same being Lake Nubia, is the reservoir which often got flooded. Hence these temples at Abu Simbel, long since declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site, were relocated to higher ground in order to preserve their architectural heritage and sanctity.

The temples were transported part by part, because the water from the overflowing Nasser Dam would have destroyed them. Just imagine the extent of Herculean effort that the task required! But the Egyptians held their temples in such high esteem, that the work was successfully completed. All the temples at Abu Simbel are dedicated to the Egyptian Gods Amun, Ra – Horakhty and Ptah. Besides these, the Pharaoh Ramses II also made sure that he was likewise deified too. Hence we see that Pharaohs and Gods shared an equal podium so far as the ancient Egyptian kingdoms were concerned.

There is only one entrance to the temples. It is flanked by as many as four colossal statues and they depict the Pharaoh, seated over a throne and holding up the twin crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. Ramses’s wife, Queen Nefertari, has been depicted in countless scrolls or papyruses in and around the region. There are actually two temples at Abu Simbel, both of which are solid rock-cut structures. While one of the temples is dedicated to the Pharaoh and eulogises his supreme reign over his kingdom, the second is dedicated to the beloved wife of the King – Queen Nefertari. The Egyptians held their kings and queens in the same way as they held their gods and goddesses – supreme veneration, respect and complete allegiance.

It was in the year 1964 that UNESCO received a twin request from the Egyptian and Sudanese governments to help rescue the temples at Abu Simbel. The construction of the Aswan Dam, leading to the rise in the waters of the river Nile, would have completely submerged this world heritage site. The entire temple complex was dismantled and later assembled at a higher hill to make way for the dam. This particular project is still considered to be one of the marvellous feats of modern engineering techniques. It is believed that it had been built during the 13th Century B.C. and it took roughly twenty years to construct the temples – both historical and architectural marvels in themselves.

The guide was testing our willing suspension of disbelief. We craned our necks at the huge entrance and the statues. But first things first... We all were part of a cruise over the river Nile. It formed a part of our Egyptian expedition. From the cruise ship, which in itself was a luxurious affair, we were to board a coach in the wee hours of the morning. This coach, along with other such ones, was destined to take us to the site of the ancient Abu Simbel temples.

We had the stirring and stimulating experience of witnessing sun rise over the Sahara Desert. The red glow of the rising sun had mingled with the excitement in our cumulative bloodstreams. When we reached the site, all the lethargy of a sleep-deprived night vanished into the thin Egyptian air. The rows and columns of hieroglyphs, which have been deciphered only in recent years, made us all awed at the extant and vastness of Egyptian culture and civilization. The majesty of the civilization had been such that it had intrigued archaeologists for centuries and gave rise to a vibrant field of study –namely Egyptology.

The temples at Abu Simbel made me marvel at the heights of excellence that the ancient Egyptians had garnered for themselves in the field of craftsmanship. There were no fault lines anywhere. This also bespoke of the high esteem with which the present-day Egyptians held their tradition and religion. The huge entrance, the tall statues of the Pharaoh himself, had made all and everyone of us, very humble. We felt that we were puny creatures before a Goliath. So even though the Pyramids of Giza represented the Ancient Egyptian civilization to people across the length and breadth of the global map, these temples at Abu Simbel were emblems of a past, that modern day Egypt can verily boast and feel proud about.

As the world today grows more and more iconoclastic, there are reasons to support the fact that the Egyptians still believe in their past glory and history. Our trip came to an end. But our hearts and souls were so filled with joy that we all decided to shake a leg together to the Egyptian tune of Habibi, on our way back.

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