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Pole to Pole

Day 62: Aswan to Wadi Halfa

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleAt 4.15 the barriers have gone up at the dockside and it appears everyone is aboard. The passengers, mainly Sudanis who have come to Aswan to buy things not available in their own country, sit cocooned by their possessions, waiting patiently. Despite the overcrowding there is no feeling of pressure. People talk and joke with each other, and children play up and down the ladders. On the top deck prayer mats are being laid out and small groups (always of men) are gathering around the mullahs, as pupils before their teacher.

With an ear-splitting blast of the horn the Sinai pulls away from the jetty at a quarter to five, past one of the old ferries, of which only the bows can be seen, rising out of the water at an angle of forty-five degrees.

We are on the waters of a lake that is younger than I am. Beneath the waves are the granite cliffs of the Nile Valley from which so many of the great monuments of Ancient Egypt were carved. Many of these monuments of the past, luckier than the Nubian villages of the present, were saved from the floodwater by a massive international aid programme to dismantle and re-site them. The Temple of Kalabsha, built around the time of Christ, is now perched on a headland close to the Eastern Harbour, after being moved thirty-seven miles in 13,000 pieces. As we sail slowly away to the south the sight of its pylon and the columns of its Hypostyle Hall are a last reminder of the extraordinary and enigmatic power of Ancient Egypt.

At seven o'clock the captain, Mahmoud il Sudani from Alexandria, turns muezzin and broadcasts prayers from the bridge. Almost 200 people gather on the deck, bowing, in ranks six deep, towards the low ragged mountains in the east, beyond which lie empty desert, the Red Sea, and the holy shrine of Mecca, 500 miles away.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 62
  • Country/sea: Egypt
  • Place: Aswan
  • Book page no: 134

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