Aswan, The Gateway to the Upper Nile
Memories of Aswan, the New Aswan Dam, and the Mausoleum of the Late Aga KhanVia Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
Aswan had many unexpected treats. Our first stop on the west side of the Nile came that evening. We followed our guide out onto the dock and walked along to where small sail boats were awaiting our arrival. These boats known as feluccas are about 10 metres long with large white sails. They held our whole group. The boatman was a native, with skin the colour of rich chocolate, dressed in a moss green caftan, with a large white turban on his head. His son, a young, slim boy of about twelve years, helped get our felucca underway. The boat glided smoothly out into the river. As any devotee of sailing knows, there is nothing more peaceful than sailing through calm water, enjoying the beauty and serenity of nature. We drifted slowly around the scenic islands. Elephantine and Kitchener Islands sit in the middle of this wide portion of the Nile. The white sails of other feluccas provided an ever changing vista for my admiring gaze.
Crossing to the west bank of the river, we docked at the base of a hill. High up atop the hill, we saw the Mausoleum of the Late Aga Khan, Grandfather of the Aga Khan, present Imam of the Ismailia Muslim sect. Disembarking, we found ourselves in a tent market, with camels and their drivers here to catch the tourist trade. Several of the camel drivers were having a loud argument. The pedlars here were quite aggressive. One kept throwing a caftan over my shoulder, trying to sell it to me. I kept putting it back on his shoulder, saying “I don’t want it!” Each time he brought his price down. I finally managed to convince him that I really did not want his caftan as I carried on my way. Our guides have been very helpful in dissuading persistent pedlars. For the most part I have enjoyed bargaining for the items that have attracted my eye.
Looking up the steep hill, I debated whether to climb to the Mausoleum or not. Fudging, I decided that I would just go along with the others and walk up the path until I got tired. We climbed up many steps and an incredibly steep hill. We eventually reached the domed, block building. Leaving our shoes on the steps, we entered the building. Inside, we found a long red carpet, at the end of which sat an intricately carved, white marble sarcophagus. A wide slab of the same carved white marble formed the floor to ceiling backdrop, on the wall behind. Overhead the surface of the high dome was a hemisphere of carved, white marble. This sarcophagus contained the last remains of the Aga Khan III, who was the spiritual head of the Ismailia sect of the British Indian Mohammedans. Highly revered by his followers during his lifetime, they gave this corpulent man his weight in gold on the fiftieth anniversary and diamonds on the sixtieth anniversary of his rule. His grandson, Aga Khan IV became the present day leader of the sect on the death of his grandfather.
The sun sets early here in Egypt, so even as we walked down from the mausoleum, I looked up to see the dome silhouetted by the fiery red sky, the aura of the setting sun. Part way down the hill, we passed the home of the late Aga Khan’s widow, who was once a French beauty queen. Our guide mentioned that the Begum Khan still returned here every year in January, a month that has very good weather.
Upon return to the felucca, we sailed on to the botanical gardens on Kitchener Island. Hardly were we out of the boat again, before we were approached by a succession of hawkers, trying to sell a variety of necklaces, some very persistently. I have often thought back and wished I had found the time to buy one or two.
A walk through the beautiful gardens, reading the name plaques giving the Latin names of the many varied flora and fauna that we admired, completed our tour for the evening. We sailed back home with darkness rapidly closing in.
We awoke at seven o’clock, the following morning. Oh, how much better I felt for another good sleep. After a buffet breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, rolls, juice and coffee, we were ready for our morning tour. Our ship had remained at dock in Aswan, overnight.
This morning, we were taken by bus. First, we drove over the Old Dam, which we crossed yesterday coming and going between the airport and the boat. Continuing on for several miles, we came to the site of the New Aswan Dam, which was built in the sixties, jointly by the Egyptians and Russians. One of the deals made with the USSR in exchange for their assistance in building the dam, was that Soviet tourists could come here for cost free vacations, only paying their own air fare. I don’t now if that deal is still in place.
A large five pronged monument was built to commemorate the building of the Dam, with pictures of Nasser and Krushev, etched on the wall. It is beautiful here at the sight of the Dam, but it only takes a brief stop to see the sights of interest.
Leaving the Dam, our next stop was at the Granite Quarry, to see the Unfinished Obelisk. Here, we could observe the way the ancient Egyptians cut the huge stones, They placed wooden wedges into crevices in the rock, then added water, causing the wood to swell, which in turn caused the stone to crack. A large obelisk was being cut for Queen Hatshepsut, in this quarry, by the ancient craftsmen. However, it was abandoned when it cracked before it was taken out.
Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
Last Updated January 8, 2021 by Matthew George – Webmaster