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Pole to Pole

Day 60: Aswan

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThere is a wide wooden balcony outside my room at the Old Cataract Hotel, and from it one of the most extraordinarily rich views one could wish for. It's a mixture of the mundane and the dramatic. Directly below me are the terraces and gardens of the hotel, lined with chairs, tables and sunshades. Below them, at the waterside, are the feluccas, their tall masts and angled sail-booms rising above the clusters of palm trees. Elephantine Island rises up in mid-stream; the smooth granite rocks at its water's edge resemble elephants bathing, and above them is a collection of ruined buildings dating from as far back as the 3rd Dynasty - 4000 years ago - when Elephantine Island was the centre of the worship of the god Khnum, who, among other things, created mankind. Beyond the island is the desert. Low, bare, dusty hills, in the middle of which, solitary and exposed, stands the domed mausoleum of Aga Khan III, spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims, who died in 1957. The story goes that he suffered from severe rheumatism, and was told that a cure would be to rest his feet in desert sand. He came to Aswan, stuck his feet in the sand, was duly cured and gave orders that he be buried here.

I spend some of the day relaxing in a felucca, sailed at a leisurely pace by Captain Peckry, a twenty-one--year-old Nubian. Clasping a cigarette between his lips, he moves the heavy single-sailed boat with some skill, but seems quite bored by the whole thing, only coming to life as we are heading back to shore. Out of the blue he asks if I would like to go to a Nubian wedding tonight.

'Will there be anything to drink?' I inquire, knowing the Moslem views on these matters.

'Beer, whisky . . . hash,' replies Peckry, cheerfully. I feel rather pathetic for saying I might go and knowing full well I won't, though he has a felucca to recover in tomorrow, and we have a long, long way to go.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 60
  • Country/sea: Egypt
  • Place: Aswan
  • Book page no: 130

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