Abu Simbel temple Aswan Egypt

At the Gate to Africa

EGYPT – Aswan, Abu Simbel Temple // The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

When Bond came to visit Upper Egypt, he only made a quick stop at the remote MI6 headquarter built up inside the Ramesses Temple of Abu Simbel. To sad, the agent was on world rescue duty: because the African infused part of Egypt is full of hidden gems.

Why Bond was here
James Bond (Roger Moore) investigates the loss of a submarine in Egypt. Soviet Agent Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) is there too, as the Russians also lost a submarine to a yet unknown villain. Both work together in an on/off relation on their way from capital Cairo down the Nile towards Abu Simbel close to the Sudanese border. There, the ancient temple of Ramesses II has been turned into a MI6 KGB joint headquarter and Bond and Amasova are finally brought together as a team by their chiefs.

Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel. Safe from the outside…

How you gonna get here
Going to remote Abu Simbel means going to (lesser) remote Aswan first. The southern Egyptian city is reachable via plane or train from the north – or if you like to mo(o)re bondesque, sail some days with a Felucca from Luxor downwards. Once in Aswan, there are two options to head for Abu Simbel: a safe one and a Bond one.
The safe way is to go by convoy. All major local hotels in Aswan offer daily private tours, that join forces around 4 in the morning. The trip will take up to three hours and costs between 80 and more than 150 US-dollar – depending on the hotel you use for booking. The convoy is accompanied by army cars to keep the tourists safe from Islamist attacks from the Libyan desert. But for real, a crowd full of Western travelers driving along a desert road is somewhat a silver plate for terrorists, if – and that’s a big if – there would be any. The Egyptian army likes to uphold the threat for domestic policy reasons…
Abu Simbel

…but with KGB in the inside.

Thus said, there is also the option to ride with the locals. Police forbids to go with individual mini busses – the safety! – but allows you to enter a public commuter, that does the tour Aswan-Abu Simbel once a day.
The bus costs 30 Egyptian pound each direction and starts at 8 in the morning at the main bus station north of Aswan. Just ask a taxi driver or local micro bus to bring you to “maugaf” or “muhataf autobus”. Be there early, around 7.30 am to get your ticket, as the bus sometimes can be crowded. You’ll find bus and ticket office on the back right side of the terminal hall. The only catch to this cheap and urban solution: The bus takes some four hours to Abu Simbel and thus arrives around noon at the city. He then is scheduled to leave again at 1 pm, tough it usually takes up to another half hour till he really heads off. That means, visitors have just one hour to get from the city center to the Ramesses temple (roughly 15 minutes by foot), visit the ancient gem and come back in time.

Good to know
A more unbent approach to Abu Simbel would be to stay one night, the decent ecolodge Eskaleh is the best choice. Though Abu Simbel is – besides the temple – nothing more then a desert hicktown, relaxing with a shisha at night can be great. Staying overnight also gives the opportunity to visit the temple of Ramesses II early morning, when the rays of the rising sun are flying over Nasser Lake to gently touch the faces of the Ramesses statues and color them in soft orange.
Four statues of the famous pharaoh are guarding the entry to the temple. Inside, strong and well preserved reliefs of his battle at Kadesh and eight statues of god Osiris are waiting. The ceiling of the Hypostyle Hall is covered with painted harpies. Unfortunately Eon productions built their own interior back at Pinewood – but it didn’t match the beauty of the Ramesses temple.

Don’t miss
Whoever heads out to Upper Egypt will probably do more than just visit Abu Simbel. Actually, Aswan is the real gem in the region – and a perfect hub to explore the Nubian lifestyle of south Egypt. We went there twice – and found a home at Bet el Kerem Guesthouse. The small hotel is managed by an Egyptian-Dutch couple, the rooms are simple, but the food served on the laid-back sunset terrace is great.
The hotel is situated on the western shore of Aswan (“Gharb Aswan”), as the city is slightly divided by the Nile.

While most action takes place on the east side, the west has nothing more than a gathering of small Nubian villages. But to us, those are the real jewels of Aswan, with baby-blue painted house mirroring the sky above the desert and beautiful small mosques, built up and adorned by the village people (in comparison the city mosques are state-funded and thus … erm … functional). Wandering those villages make up a better impression of Nubian lifestyle then visiting the travel book recommended island of Elephantine.
Nevertheless, Aswan has more to offer. The solemn Grandhotel Old Cataract is the right place for a shisha and a martini at sunset, while the island of Philae offers visitors a beautiful temple site dedicated to the goddess of beauty, Isis. To reach Philae, one has to cross on a felucca boat from Aswan’s southern area Shellal. A trip, including the return, should not cost more then 60 pound and another 20 as tip for the captain.
Still time for another temple? Check out the site dedicated to crocodile-headed god Sobek at Kom Ombo. The small city is roughly one hour north of Aswan, but microbuses take off regularly at the Aswan “maugaf”. Riding with the locals this time is no problem to the police, the fare is just three pounds. Once in Kom Ombo, little tok-toks, three-wheeled motorcycles, head for the temple. The ticket for the site includes a surprisingly modern museum displaying some thousand years old crocodile mummies. Yes, crocodile mummies. James Bond definitely should have stayed a little longer in Nubian Egypt…

Coming from Cairo to Upper Egypt is a real timeout, not only concerning the traffic. The fresh air invites for a trip to the desert by camel and the surprisingly clean Nile water woos for a refreshing bath. Don’t forget the sunscreen and a book to enjoy some lazy time on a felucca.

© 2015 HuntingBond (1,4), © 1977 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation (2,3)