03 March 2013

The west bank of Aswan

After updating our blog this morning, in the afternoon we met up with Abrihem and Ahmed to head over to the west bank and look at the Nobles tombs here.  Hopefully it will be a bit cooler than during the middle of the day.  These are classed as provincial, and supposedly not that interesting.  However there was one tomb worth seeing (as usual, this was the tomb that is closed!) and it would be good to compare them to the ones in Luxor.

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Walking down to the ferry landing, we discuss the differences in Luxor, Aswan and Australia.  Agreeing that Aswan has a nicer laid back feel than Luxor does, but is much more expensive.  At the ferry, we bought the tickets for 5LE.  Not bad considering it is 4 people, and we accept that we will never pay normal prices in this country.  On the other side we walk over to the ticket office.  Quite easy to miss, but we have learnt from our mistake in Luxor and know we need the tickets before we walk all the way up the hill to the tombs.

A small climb in the desert sun

A small climb in the desert sun

From here there are steep sand covered steps that have not been swept since they were put in.  It is interesting how they have done these, as the steps are walled in to try and keep the sand out.  The walls are higher than we are, and on the outside the sand has formed dunes all the way up the sides to spill into the trench.  At the top we are greeted by a small ruin, having a look around we find that there are Christian frescos on the underside of the exposed areas.  Reminiscent of Capidocia in Turkey.  These are surprisingly well preserved considering how open to the elements they are.

Most tombs are plain, but for the colours of the rock

Most tombs are plain, but for the colours of the rock

This almost level section of the ridge is filled with a catacomb of holes and shrines.  Badly eroded stella dot the walls, and openings come out at all angles, beside, under and over other openings.  Peering into a few, they open into moderately sized chambers.  Occasionally with pillars, or passageways leading down.  As the whole rock is riddled with these, it is unsurprising that occasionally the original architects accidentally broke through the walls and small cavities in the rock are connecting the entire system together.  Looking into one chamber, you can see through an opening and see light that is coming through the entrance of a tomb 5 or 10 meters away.  We had forgotten to take the torch, but using the pathetic little blue light provided by the now charged phone, we could go into these tight narrow tunnels to see what was in them.  Mostly sand and garbage.  There was a colony of micro-bats that have moved in and now calling this subterranean labyrinth their home.  Hearing them squeaking away, and occasionally startling them.  So far there has been very few engravings, but they are still interesting.  Going down one steep tunnel, I came out in a small chamber with the remains of a sarcophagus scattered around.  There are the occasional human bones still floating around in the backs of these tombs as well.  In one section there is a gate, and through the gate you can see the buckets that people are using to store all the bones they uncover, with a nice skull sitting on top.  Ahmed freaked out a little over this and the bats, but calmed down when we started making zombie jokes.

One of the “Caretakers” found us then and took us to the interesting tombs.  These are the tombs that still have their decorations, if the ones we had been looking at had any to start with.  The way they have been carved out of the rock, I doubt if there was ever  much in them in the fist place.

No plaster.  Just painted onto the rock

No plaster. Just painted onto the rock

The first tomb was for Harkhuf.  He was a governor during the 6th Dynasty.  He was supposedly a well renowned trader with expeditions into the deep south.  On one of his trips he brought back a pygmy.  The then Pharaoh, all of five years old, was so impressed by this that he sent a letter saying to look after the Pygmy as the Pharaoh wanted to see it dance.  As this was such an important moment in his life, Harkhuf had the letter in its entirety carved onto the outside wall of his tomb, and we all spent a bit of time trying to find the seven references to the pygmy in the text.  Not sure if we found them or not but it was fun.  Again, considering it is outside, it is in very good condition.

Our exploration of the other supposedly uninteresting tombs was interrupted here, as there was another two tourists, and now we were supposed to follow the guide quickly so he could unlock and lock each tomb before and after us.  He did not want to do it twice,  yet we still managed to dawdle a little bit.

Crude when compared to other tombs

Crude when compared to other tombs

On arriving at the second tomb, we were let in.  The others had a quick look, and were away within five minutes.  However we wanted to explore each little bit.  There was some carvings inside, and as noticed before the rock is a bit similar to Petra with coloured sediments showing through in distinct lines.  This tomb had no plaster, and was fairly rough, with the inscriptions carved directly into the rock itself.  A bit crude compared to other sites (But hey, that’s why Philea is famous and these are not!) but with its own charm.  Again the outside is a marvel.  The carvings here are a lot more detailed than the few surviving ones inside.  There were dogs, cattle, servants and women playing games.  One of the dogs was clearly a greyhound, and the other was a long body stubby legged bitch.  The servant clearly carrying his masters shoes and on the other side his weapons.  With Sarenput Ist proudly looking out on both sides.

From this tomb,we had to walk back past the steps and on to the other side of the ridge.  There has been a lot of work done here excavating the tombs, but further on, you can see the massive sand slide of millennia that still covers many more tombs with tons of sand.

But fantastic details sometimes

But fantastic details sometimes

The next tomb was Sarenput II.  This had a large entrance hall with 6 pillars, with a small tunnel leading back to the shrine.  Inside the tunnel there were a couple of statues of Mummies, and we assume these are representations of him or his family, as apparently burial was a family affair here.  They were in good condition as well, but one or two of the faces had been destroyed.  This tomb is a lot more detailed, with much of the colour remaining and we assume he had a bit more money, as the rough hewn rock was finely plastered over before painting.

Still in good condition for parts

Still in good condition for parts

Moving on to the last tomb we could visit (this for some reason counted for two, as it was the tomb of Mekhu and his son Sabni).  The many pillars here were strange.  That is probably the best way to describe them.  They were tapered, and sections had been carved out.  It is one where you will have to go through the photos to see, as it is hard to describe.  Further along the tomb they are square, and we have no idea if this marks the area of the second  tomb, or if they were going to be the same style and are just unfinished.  In sections here there are very intricate decorations, but not covering the entire walls or roof.

Some of the work here is much finer than in Luxor’s nobles tombs,

Father after birds with a boomerang.  Son fishing with a spear?

Father after birds with a boomerang. Son fishing with a spear?

but overall we would agree that the workmanship is cruder and many look unfinished.  However this may just be that the plaster has turned to powder and blown away over the ages.  There is a brilliant coloured fresco of either Mekhu or his son Sabni fishing and hunting in the papyrus swamps though.

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A Tomb with a view

A Tomb with a view

As we had now seen the tombs that they would open up for us, we decided to head up to the top of the hill.  There is an old building (OK, not as old as these tombs, but still..) there.  It is called the tomb of Pubbet Al-Hawa for an old sheik, and still an important place.  The hike up was not too bad, but very sandy and steep in places.  Well, it is the start of the desert.  Making it to the top, there was a couple there.  Giving them some space, we walked over a ridge or two to look out into the desert proper.

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The view is amazing.  If you ignore the massive power lines stretching from horizon to horizon you can see the barren rock studded sand desert.

Scorpions gallore, but we couldn't find any

Scorpions gallore, but we couldn’t find any

Off to the right was a blue and yellow village behind a large green patch and a bend in the Nile.  Asking if this was a separate town, we found out that it is still part of Aswan, but created for the Nubians when the High Aswan dam was created.  Only Nubians are allowed to live there, and I think you would be hard pressed to find a Nubian living on the east bank.  Not only is there segregation between male and female on the boats, but also between Arabic and Nubian in the towns.  However there are a lot of these towns scattered around now.  Although they do grow some crops and things, most of their income is made by their boats.  Every family has at least one.

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Back on the other side, we sat and waited for the sun to sink, looking out east over Aswan city.  The place is huge and stretches back from the banks of the Nile to massive new developments of large apartment blocks on the hill to the small brown buildings of the old city, and the waterfront developments.  Asking about the brown grey section of town, we heard an old story that before the war with Israel the city was colourful, but with the threat of bombings, they made everything blend in to the landscape to be harder to see.  The colours are definitely natural, and does look good

The views are amazing, especially with the sunset colours.
Not wanting to walk down in complete darkness, we headed back down the hill to catch the ferry home.  It had been a really good day.

West Bank at night.  Just stunning

West Bank at night. Just stunning

At the ferry, we tried to pay our 5Le to find out this was not enough.  Now they wanted 10LE each!  I lost my temper at this, as it is outright legal? robbery.  Kicking up a stink didn’t work but Ahmed and Abrehim managed to get them down to 10Le for all of us.  On the ferry we found out that on the way over they had been forced to pay an extra 10LE after we had paid.  My issue is that though people think this is wrong, they are not willing to step in and say so.  This applies to people that have seen taxi drivers rip us blind, or street merchants charge us 6Le for a 75piasta falafel.  They are quick to tell us afterward that the person is not a good person with how they have acted, but not willing to say anything about it at the time.

It was a very good day though, and we have enjoyed hanging out with a couple of good Egyptian guys. I just hope they liked it as well.


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