We spent a night in Aswan when we used it as a stepping off point to visit the monumental temple at Abu Simbel. We found it to be a charming little town with friendly welcoming people and colorful bazaars. This was during our visit to Egypt in 2010 – about which I wrote then.
The Colorful Markets
After the hectic madness of Cairo, and the overwhelming tourist crush in Luxor, Aswan was a refreshing change. Everything happened at a gentler slower pace, and there was always time to linger over a shai and a sheesha on the banks of the Nile. We spent our time wandering the bazaars – we couldn’t figure out some of the stuff they were selling, but the traders were friendly, and always chatted for a while.
When they discovered we were from India, they told us how much they loved Bollywood movies and music, and asked if we had watched this movie or that. Sadly, given my dismal Bollywood cred, I was forced to (rather shamefacedly!) concede that they had watched more movies than me.
We wandered into a clothes shop, and the shopkeeper put a fez on my head and draped a djellaba around me to show me how I would look dressed as some of the natives. I was really tickled by the fact that the guy himself was dressed in t-shirt and jeans, and was dressing me up local-style! Nevertheless, we got to see how I would look if I adopted the local dress code!
A Visit to a Local House
Our driver, Ahmed, took us to meet his sister who lived in Aswan, and we experienced the local hospitality at her home. The house was cosy and colorful – blue walls adorned with handmade masks and handicrafts. Handmade wooden furniture painted in different colors added to the atmosphere. We had a cup of shai and chatted about what they did – unfortunately we spoke no Arabic, and they spoke no English, and our driver was the translator. It was quite a nice visit though, and we were touched that they would open their houses to perfect strangers.
A Felucca Ride
The Nile is a commanding presence in Aswan, as it is with any city along its banks, and a felucca ride on the Nile was de rigueur at Aswan. However, it is frightfully daunting to deal with all the felucca drivers who not only try to peddle incredibly short rides at enormously inflated prices, but also keep asking you for bucksheesh even if they have not provided you with any service.
We steered clear of all of them, and spotted a felucca man who was sitting on his own minding his own business. We went up to him and engaged his services for a while, and the ride on the Nile was breathtakingly beautiful. The deep blue of the water, the sounds of the wind driving the felucca, the constant breeze – all conspired to together make the experience a delightful one.
We sailed for a while, seeing the sights from the felucca – the most notable of them being the Old Cataract Hotel, known to us as the place where Agatha Christie stayed, and set Death on the Nile in.
The Cats of Aswan
Aswan, as everywhere else in Egypt, had an active and well-fed feline population, many of whom we crossed paths with and said hello to. They were in the shops, they were in the houses, they were in the streets, they were on the roofs and they even hunted along the river banks. They seemed mostly contented and happy, and some of them even deigned to be petted. Clearly, this was the highlight of Aswan for Vidya, and I didn’t mind clicking a few pictures of them.
Aswan was a relaxing and friendly stop in an otherwise whirlwind trip up and down the Nile for us, and we will always have fond memories of the place.