Statues of Ramses II

Paula and David Prindle at Abu Simbel with the statues of Ramses II behind them.

Time is relative, especially in Egypt. The Great Pyramid was built over 4,500 years ago; you have only waited anxiously for the continuation of my story about Egypt for eight months. That is not bad, unless you had to listen to elevator music the whole time.

Egypt is exceptional. We were told that one-third of all the ancient treasures of the world are in Egypt, and we believe it. Outside of Cairo, the main areas to visit are Luxor (Ancient Thebes) and Aswan. We visited both on a seven-day Nile River cruise.

Aswan has a huge dam that was built in the 1960s to help to control the flooding of the Nile River. This High Dam was needed to save Egypt’s present and move it successfully into the future, but would they have to sacrifice Egypt’s past in the process?

Building a dam would create a lake that would swallow many villages and a very important Egyptian temple built by the great Ramses II, Abu Simbel. They couldn’t drown one of the world’s marvels, so what to do? No problem; they just moved it!

It took four years for a multinational effort led by UNESCO to dismantle this huge 3,000-year-old temple complex built into a hill of rock and rebuild it 213 feet higher and 656 feet back from the new artificial lake. The work called for extreme precision. Ramses himself would not have noticed anything different; there was only a tolerance of plus or minus two-tenths inch.

It is hard to believe that anything could leave a bigger impression than the pyramids, but Abu Simbel manages to do just that. The four 64 foot seated statues of Ramses are almost too much to take in — and that is only the first temple at the site. We photographed and dawdled, and ended up alone with the object of our admiration.

While others were enjoying refreshments and bargaining for incredible values at the gift shops, we were ogling the two temples with no people in our way. For a little baksheesh (Egyptian word for tip, the first word we learned), we were allowed to take a few quick photos and videos of the interiors, as long as we stood outside the entrance.

David even got a shot of me holding the temple caretaker’s gold ankh. The ankh is the hieroglyphic symbol for life; it looks like a cross with a loop on the top.

Luxor is ground zero for Egyptian antiquities. It is home to the large and impressive Temple of Luxor and the Temple of Karnak, at 250 acres, the largest temple complex in the world. It has been estimated that three structures the size of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral could fit inside the main temple alone. These temples are on the east side of the Nile. On the west side of the Nile, where the sun sets or “dies,” are mortuary temples and the Valley of the Kings.

After so many pyramids were broken into and robbed, later pharaohs chose to be buried hidden in the hills west of Luxor. Our scariest moment in Egypt (not counting our hair-raising taxi ride in Cairo) took place in the Valley of the Kings.

Entry to the Valley of the Kings comes with three free tomb visits; King Tut’s tomb is extra. Our time was limited, so we did not wait in the long line to visit Tut’s tomb. I had just finished a book about the female pharaoh, Hatshepsut, but she is not buried in the Valley of the Kings (as far as anyone knows for sure), so we chose to visit the tomb of Tuthmosis III, her stepson. Our guide had not recommended this tomb because it is more physically challenging than many others.

The entrance is high up the steep cliff side, accessed by a tall metal staircase, and the pharaoh had placed his burial chamber deep within the rock — so deep that fans are needed to circulate the musty air. We maneuvered our way through the narrow, winding, low-ceilinged entry corridor and down multiple staircases. We were at the furthest point in this fascinating tomb when the power failure occurred. The lights went out and the fans stopped. The darkness and silence were complete.

I clutched David’s arm and felt a stir of asthma, not to mention claustrophobia. It took me almost a minute to remember the tiny flashlight our program director had recommended. When I dug it out of my purse and turned it on, the first thing I heard was a breathy “Danke.”

This was followed by “Thank you” in several other languages as Pied Piper Paula Prindle slowly led a small parade up three staircases and through the narrow opening to the bright Egyptian sun. As we exited, the turbaned ticket taker rushed by us with his solution for the power failure: a cigarette lighter.

(to be continued)

Paula Prindle wrote and submitted this travel column to be published in The Circleville Herald. David Prindle is the photographer.

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