“You are going to Aswan, then you must get me some peanuts and karkade. Aswan souq is the best place for them”, said my sister-in-law when I told her that I was visiting Egypt. Needless to say, for family peace and for curiosity, I did visit the Aswan souq and absolutely loved it. The pace is slow there in the afternoons, the cavernous shop awnings gives ample shade, and the busy market sellers go into a soothing lull. Instead of hustling, they relax in front of their shops, play local dominoes called taola and smoke shishas. Although you might not get much food to eat there, you will find plenty to shop, photograph, and explore.
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The exotic past of Aswan souq
In olden days, Aswan was the gateway to Africa; the rich, lush Nubia and the ancient market used to bustle with elephant tusks, animal pelts, gold, and spices. Although no fresh elephant tusks is for sale at Aswan souq these days, it is still a lively, colourful marketplace filled with Nubian music, tourists by the day, and local Egyptians by the night. The locals call it a Sharia el Souk and though, it is similar to the tourist bazaars found all over Egypt, the traders do not follow you like they do in Luxor, the beggars pester a bit less, and as a traveler, you might have the rare pleasure to enjoy being left alone there. The best way to find the Aswan souq is follow your nose and the market is full of intense spices. From the Nile Corniche, head a couple of blocks east and you will find the gateway of the Aswan market. Traders sell cotton scarves, perfume, spice and roughly carved copies of Pharaonic statues along with Nubian talismans for good luck, hand-woven Nubian baskets and skullcaps, Sudanese swords, African masks, and enormous stuffed crocodiles and desert foxes.
Aswan souq photo walk
The famous peanuts (fuul sudani) are sold in piles there, Nubian women offer henna designs, and dried hibiscus flowers also known as the karkade spill out of reed baskets. Bargaining is expected and local shopping etiquette demand that you do not show initial interest. It is better to take permission before photographing and the best way to enjoy the Aswan souq pace is to stop at a cafe for local chai or ahwa mazboot (Turkish coffee), have a water pipe and watch the foot traffic flow.
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