Nile Cruise

in Indian Ocean, MediterraneanComments Off on Nile Cruise

We abandoned Quo Vadis to the care of Abu Tig Marina and took an 8 day trip along the Nile…

It was a private tour we arranged through a travel company, but hadn’t realised just how personalised it would become. It worked out very well with just the 2 of us, a guide and when we needed, our own Mercedes van and driver!

We were driven first from the marina to Luxor.

The road down the coast to Safaga and through the hills was through dry, brown desert, but at Qena in the valley of the Nile, the irrigation zone, suddenly it was lush and green, canals with sugar cane, alfalfa, dates and other crops to either side.



At Luxor we found the Nile and the Sonesta St George Hotel right over the water

and were pleasantly astonished!

It was so much more beautiful than we had ever anticipated…  love at first sight with Luxor…

We had time to ourselves to explore the city, on foot

and by ‘careche’

-of which there was no shortage of ready offers for the taking…

nor of rides for ‘very special prices’ on the many ‘felucca’ lining the river banks!

But to our amazement, there were almost as many river cruise-boats as felucca, (boats? well technically so, but compared with what we are used to, more resembling apartment blocks afloat!),

rafted up along the quay, sometimes 5 deep…

Which of those was going to be ours?  We looked hard, but never did find the ‘Miss Egypt’, not until we boarded her the  day after…

Along the corniche are grand old buildings dating back to when tourism here would have been an adventure

and before the days when the apartment block river boats were needed!
But despite it being a city now given over to tourism, it is still a centre for agricultural people,

and they are in the souq where they meet to sell and socialise

and for us it is also the place to catch local colour…

Our first temple visit was Karnak, a short drive from the centre of town

and unbelievably hot in the early afternoon sun.
Soon into the first lecture from the guide I ascertained that Egyptology was not going to become my ‘late in life calling’, as albeit an interesting subject, there too many difficult and confusing names!
Karnak is a large temple of many parts, built and modified over a long period of time by different Pharoahs, but especially during the Middle Kingdom and later, that is, from about 1500BC onwards.

From the avenue of Ram’s headed sphinxes

past Rameses II with one of his 60 daughters beneath his knees

into the hypostyle hall, which once would have been roofed for all of its almost 5000 square metres, -it’s massive, on temple standards!


The columns and capitals are finely carved, with in places, still traces of original paintwork.

Outside there’s Queen Hatshepur’s 3500 year old granite obelisk and a sacred lake, still with water as it was always, piped in from the nearby Nile.

Karnak Temple was linked to the Luxor temple, the other major temple on this side of the river and in the middle of the town, by a 3 kilometre avenue of Sphinxes

currently being uncovered with a long, slow archeological ‘dig’.

The avenue leads directly to the entrance pylon of Luxor Temple, with another obelisk. It is one of an original pair, the other having been given to the French and is the one now on the Place de Concorde in Paris.

Behind are a couple of seated Pharoah Colossi.
This temple was built by Amenthop III around 3,000 years ago,later expanded by Rameses II and is generally well preserved as it was covered in sand for a long time.

So nearly buried was it that in the 12th century AD., the Mosque of Abu ‘l-Haggag was built at current ground level, 13 metres higher and almost on top of it. It still hangs there, in use today and although easy to dismiss as a mere modern violation, at 900 years old too, in itself, it is far, far older than anything we are accustomed to!

Within the Luxor temple, many of the fine features of the carvings have been well preserved because of the long interment beneath sand

away from the effects of weathering -and dessecration by Christians!  
As it is with tourists, the Luxor area is jammed full of ruined temples and tombs, there’d  probably be one for each of us, if they were all open to the public…
The majority are on the West Bank across the river from the city, the whole area, on both east and west banks, is the ancient city of Thebes. 

In the small time we were on the West Bank we only a small taste of all that was on offer.

The necropolis as it is called, covers a large area of the hills, they’re dotted with tombs of lesser noblemen, high above reach of the Nile flood waters.

The major drawcards however, are the nearby Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, especially the tomb of Tutankhamen, but such is the pressure of numbers now that a visit to either Valley is a highly mechanised affair using buses, a small train, banning photography and with limited admission for the public to just a few of the tombs at any one time.
Outwardly, in the Valley of the Kings, there is little to see, just gated entrances to holes in the dusty ground, but they open into passages and chambers, stripped of any of the funerary furniture or contents that might have once been in them, but still with highly decorative and in places, very well preserved murals.

There are only the murals to look at.

With the numbers of people passing through, the length and depth of some of the passages and the effort required for some folk to walk the distance, the air inside is made somewhat thick…if not a little haletotic!!!

Maybe to see just 3 tombs of 3 different Pharoahs (Rameses I,III and IX) was a good enough sample, we were sufficiently, suitably  impressed and got the picture, -we bought the photos from one of the many card sellers…

We didn’t get to the Valley of the Queens, but stopped between the 2 Royal Valleys, at the less restricted Temple of Queen Hatsheput.

She always wanted to be a proper Pharoah, even to the extent of wearing a false beard, so in order to keep equal -or better, -she had her temple built bigger and grander and as close as she could to the boys… just over the hill from the Valley of the Kings in  prime position.

It’s halfway up the hill, with a panoramic outlook, which before there were trees along the river, would have enabled her to see directly up the line of Ram-headed Sphinxes and into the confines of the Karnak Temple (binoculars would have been a plus!)

Unfortunately its open situation hasn’t protected the temple from the ravages of weather, -and more particularly, her jealous successor Tuthmosis III who had it vandalised.
Despite that, some excellent and almost-new looking reliefs remain

of the Goddess Hathor, earth mother, as here, often portrayed with bovine features. Her image appears on capitals atop the columns of many temples and has other temples dedicated solely to her.

Several statues, all the same, of her, Hatsheput, show her in a male body and wearing her false beard,

but for us, taking the prize for favourite, as an infant suckling from a cow, -Hathor again?

No guided tour to the West Bank is allowed to be complete without a visit to an alabaster shop. Undoubtedly there is some form of baksheesh paid so the guides have a personal interest in taking people there.

There is no shortage of shops to choose from. Around the village of New Gurna and adjacent to the necropolis there are hundreds, all same-same.
This industry in the area dates back to pharoanic times, even then they were producing fine handcrafted alabaster-ware here for kings and queens. That being so, perhaps they do have a right to demand tourists’ attention?
There’s no denying that their alabaster product is excellent and it’s available, if you drive a hard bargain, for a good price, but their sales tactics ARE dubious…

Ballooning is also big business in Luxor, the cool calm mornings ideal conditions for it, and there’s plenty to see from up there!
Several companies operate, they all leave at the same time and the same place on the West Bank, which adds to the interest of the trip,

and having on a couple of mornings over breakfast watched them hovering on the other side of the river;  and being  a couple of ballooning virgins, what better place or time?


 It was an eerie, almost surreal experience, 12 people in a wicker basket, levitating almost silently, that is, apart from clicking cameras and the occasional roar of the LPG dragon’s flame keeping the hot air hot;  drifting over the fields, houses, donkeys and people below, looking into their early morning… They were so unaware of us that it almost seemed we were prying!

Everyone talked in whispers

and hung on more tightly as the balloon went higher…by my altimeter we climbed to 300m off the ground…

so were able to see into the Valley of the Queens,

then descending for a bird’s eye views into the mortuary temples of the Rameses below

and the Coptic Christian monastery

where…is that another ressurrection?? 

We drifted slowly on the light breeze for an hour or so, then away from the irrigated landscape and fields near the Nile, to go over the desert

in a prearranged landing plan to avoid crushing crops (and damages claims from upset farmers!).

The hot air was released and we came with just a very gentle bump in the sand.

It had been a good ride!

We were taken to the Miss Egypt for the trip to Aswan, she was in a raft many deep off the quay. It was neccessary to walk through the lobby of several other ships to get to her, as she was on the outside, meaning that we were lucky and had a room with a balcony and view over the river, -for about an hour anyway…then they all shuffled around like cards while we had our first lunch! 

But by the way, the food prepared aboard was wonderful…endless, buffet and altogether too much!

We were very impressed with the accommodation, it was both luxurious and clean.

The upper deck, complete with its pool (refrigerated!) and vast area of lounge chairs, despite the fact that the ship was full, was never crowded.

The favoured spot over the next few days was under the awning, reading and watching the riverbank slipping by.

Interestingly and surprisingly, in view of the large numbers on the river, the ships tend to leave Luxor together, in large groups, so there’s always some competition to get prime docks and first place in the queue for the Esna locks.
The Miss Egypt, as although one of the more luxurious, was built for comfort, not for speed! She left earlier than most and was always being overtaken as we went against current upstream… 

As there was good following breeze, it would have been an advantage to be able to use sails like this new generation of Nile boats apparently do, -although we never saw one under sail.
Apparently designed for the more discerning, well heeled and people still with time, they’re smaller, even more luxurious and offer a more personalised river service. We didn’t know about them until we saw them, but maybe next time???
The people aboard our ship were all European, mostly Italian, we suspect we were the only native English speakers? 
So our mealtimes were undisturbed by people wanting to chat, our nights were likewise quiet and it was early to bed. That suited us fine, -but no ship-board romance!

The scenery as we travelled was always interesting, many banana plantations, crops of sugar cane and date palms, with villages in between and people at the riverside, swimming, washing, fishing…watching us…

and occasional memorial temples on hill-tops or ridge-lines, celebrating someone’s life,-or is it death?


At Esna there is a bottleneck as it is neccessary to go through a lock to pass a barrage built in around 1900 for irrigation control.

We didn’t have to wait too long, but the Esna hawkers made the best use of the opportunity, rowing out in dinghies, tying themselves to the ships

and obvously well practiced, throw articles of clothing etc. aboard, even to the top deck, for our perusal, then even more expertly, retrieving them when they are thrown back, unsold, -or sometimes the money sent in payment…

Despite their expertise, there is inevitably a small casualty rate of plastic bags in water,  so even at their ‘bargain’ prices, there must be still some fat in the system!

We passed through the lock with only a minor delay as the skipper, caught in strong cross wind, jack-knifed the ship across the lock…it took a few minutes and some paint damage to free. 


At Edfu the ships all raft alongside the dock and are met by a fleet of horse and careche as means for all tourists to get the 2 km to the temple of Horus,

-although walking would be easy and perfectly enjoyable, this is ‘what you do’ in Edfu!

Edfu is a cult temple dedicated to the ‘falcon god’ Horus,


and relatively recent having been constructed in 2-300 BC, the Ptolemeic Period, after the arrival of the Greeks.
Despite that, it is classically pharoanic in layout and decoration and it is also well preserved, having been buried under sand. Its traditional sandstone wall carvings remain largely intact, apart from where the hands and feet have been later defaced by Christians…

Even the stone roof of the hypostyle hall remains in place with original paintwork on the capitals

but our attention of course was to the lightly battered bas relief image of Horus’ Nile cruise boat…

Of interest at Edfu, as in many of the old temples along the river is a ‘Nilometer’. This is nothing very technical, just  a narrow waterway let into the temple basement from the Nile and it gives an indication of the river flow at any time, hence enabling the authorities within to set the taxes for the surrounding farmers. Too much or too little water means poor crops and so fewer taxes, when it is just right, the farmers must pay!

A short way on from Edfu the River enters the sandstone belt where along the river bank are the massive ancient quarries, from where the stone for the ancient Pharoah’s building projects in Thebes was taken.

It was then loaded onto barges for transporting downstream, making use of floodwaters during the season to carry them further over normally dry land.
Not only was sandstone quarried here, but small temples were built to appease the river gods and ensure continued access to the site.


Kom Ombo is the next ‘temple stop’, situated on a beautiful site in a curve of the river bank and where the ships can moor immediately beneath.

It is another Ptolemeic cult Temple

but dedicated in this case to 2 figures, Horus the falcon god and also Sobek, the crocodile god.

It is essentially a double temple with 2 of everything for them, -entrance, hallway and sanctuary, -one for each god.
There is a recess for a pool in the court, thought to have probably been for a resident crocodile and when first explored,a side chapel was found to contain hundreds of mummified crocs…

The temple they say also had a hospital function and one of the carved panels shows an array of surgical instruments, remarkably similar to those we still use in orthopaedics, -not to suggest orthopaedics is a crude form of surgery!!!

Another panel is of a calendar, with the year divided into seasons, ‘weeks’ and days of the year.

Much of the stonework remains in quite remarkable condition, fine detail well preserved and even paintwork spared from damage by weather and later Christians.
The temple occupies a prime site, just over the corniche from the river and the Nile Cruise boats gathered there,

but although the walk is only short, it is a case of running the gauntlet between the rows of souvenir sellers…they never give up!


The next morning we awoke with the ship docked at Aswan, another beautiful town on the river, just below the first cataracts and the old Aswan Dam, with the High Dam a little further up.

It’s a short boat ride to the Temple of Philae on an island in the reservoir of the old, low dam.

This dam was built by the British in the early 1900s, then raised in height several times before being superceded the High Dam in the 1960s.

As part of the process of building the High Dam and flooding Lake Nasser the Nubian communities living upstream had to be relocated to Aswan, their country was being flooded. Housing was built for them around the shores of the lower lake and on Elephantine Island in the middle of the river.

As part of this process, in the 1970s, at a time when there was foreign money from UNESCO being poured in for such projects, the Philae temple was also moved.
Since the building of the old dam, it had been flooded and there was little visible, apart from about 6 months each year when it was partially exposed. It was possible to explore it by small boat only. A decision was made to relocate it, a small island nearby levelled, a coffer dam built around the submerged temple, which was dismantled, then moved, stone by stone to the new site a few hundred metres away.

A waterline is still visible about half way up the entrance pylons to the temple even now.

The temple is dedicated to the goddess Isis, the Mother of all Gods and was built during the Greek Ptolemaic era and even developed further during the time of the Romans who adopted a belief in her. 

There are panels of carvings in her temple related to her powers of mothering and the origin of Egypt.
As the temple was later modified and used as a church, the Christians defaced many of the major figures 

and there is Coptic grafitti with cross from the early Christian era;

also later signatures, left by Napoleon’s men in the early years of French exploration.

The High Dam at Aswan is a massive piece of Russian engineering, towering hundreds of metres above the Nile and creating Lake Nasser, the world’s largest artificial lake on the worlds longest and one of its greatest rivers.


We took a return flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel a few hundred kilomtres up Lake Nasser, near the Sudan border.

It is possible to do a day trip by bus, leaving in the early hours but it makes for a long day; it is also possible to take a cruise boat,

they run from above the High Dam to Abu Simbel and take several days.
Taking the flight we thought was the best way, although it only gave us a few hours in Abu Simbel, it was probably enough and our timing at around midday was after the morning rush from the buses. Seeing it was easy, the place was near deserted.

The moving of this temple complex to make way for flooding Lake Aswan is another remarkable engineering feat.
The 2 temples were never built, rather they were carved, cave-like, out of a hillside at the bottom of the valley, adjacent to the river.
When came the time to move them, the whole facades of 21m high Pharoahs, internal passages and chambers were cut meticulously into blocks, extracted from the hill, numbered and taken to the new site which had been prepared above the water level. There they were reassembled and when complete a new hill was built over the top!
Apart from fine lines visible where the blocks were cut, there is little to show for the process. It was a great piece of engineering and Abu Simbel has to be still the most impressive of all the temples in Egypt.

It is actually 2 temples. The larger is of Rameses II and as its frontage has the 4 colossi of him seated. This is the image always associated with the name Abu Simbel.

The narrow entrance portal

leads into a long hallway,

lined by more statues of him and which is orientated so that on 2 days a year, when the sun rises, it shines along the length of the passsage into a small sanctuary containing statues of 4 of the gods, seated, but so precisely, that it never illuminates the god of the darkness. This alignment has been recreated with the relocation.

Within the chamber are many murals of battle scenes, many well preserved and quite life-like, even using multiple imaging in the attempt to recreate motion!

There are side chambers off the main hallway with battle scenes throughout,inside and out, depicting the King’s many military campaigns through North Africa.

Prominently displayed too, adjacent to the entrance portal are his cartouches, heiroglyphs depicting his own name and his coronation name, -they are his personal signatures.

The smaller temple is for his favoured wife, Queen Nefertari, the statues along the frontage are of them both with their children.
It is another one of the many temples dedicated to the Goddess Hathor, it contains images linked with Nefertari and her husband and as homage to Hathor, naturally, the cow gets a mention!

Sadly, we hadn’t allowed sufficient time in Aswan, we couldn’t do the town justice as we were booked on the overnight train to Cairo.

We did however that afternoon get to join almost every other tourist in Aswan in hiring a young Nubian with a felucca for a sail on the river. It was a great day for sailing with a nice breeze and although we got to see some of the sights of the city, Kitchener and Elephantine Islands from a distance, we weren’t able to explore them as we would have liked.
Another day in town would have been ideal and we considered it, but unfortunately,our plans could not be changed.

The overnight sleeper train to Cairo was fine.
The carriages were old, but reasonably clean; the food was like 24 hour old airline meals; it was slow and given it was a railway, had an unbelievably rough ride!

However depite almost being tossed out of bed on many occasions, we slept well, we got off at Giza only a little late and definitely feeling fresher than if we had spent the same time on a 747!


We had treated ourselves to staying in Mena House, an old hotel with a history of being the place where VIPs and important meetings were held so seemed appropriate.
It was every bit as good as we thought it should be, truly one of the grand hotels, and what a location in Giza, -it was the closest building to the Great Pyramid!

Naturally we took a look at the pyramids first…

with hazy Cairo in the distance…

and practised the camel riding skills

but avoided the ever-present souvenir sellers.

We saw the Sphinx, sadly rather weathered. He was only ever made of local stone and hasn’t stood up well to the sandstorms…

and as you all do, listened to the story of how the stone for pyramid building was brought down from Aswan and the pyramids built.  Having been on the river and understood the seasonal flooding we could see how with a few barges, rollers, time and a lot of manpower it might be possible.

We admired the craftwork of the stone-masons who had built the causeway temples and the engineering of building the pyramids with the enormous sand-stone blocks with such geometrical accuracy, 4,500 years ago. There was also the closely fitted limestone cap which once covered them all making them smooth, white, reflective and now largely gone; but there were no real surprises.

It was all impressive, but there wasn’t the ‘wow’…  however, we were most excited by the solar boat museum.

This contains the wooden boat found interred adjacent to the Great Pyramid of Cheops, buried there after his death and probably intended to help him on his voyage through the after-life.

It was built of cedar from Lebanon, dismantled and buried in kitset form and amazingly after 4,500 years able to be reassembled completely to a condition not far off sea-worthy

and in a process not too dissimilar from the building of Quo Vadis in 1995!

but with some critical differences. Although we have some traditional copper rivet fastenings, we have advanced beyond the rope lashings…

It is quite a beautiful ship and similar to those depicted in wall carvings through the temples.
Often models of boats like this were included in the funerary furniture for the afterlife, but this one for Cheops was different as it is full sized. Also from markings found on the timbers it had at some stage before been fully assembled and maybe sailed, possibly it was even a part of the funeral cortege?

At Saqqarah is the ‘step’ pyramid of Zoser, thought to be the oldest of them all, a fore-runner of the pyramid building technique.
It is in an area of many tombs (mastaba) of noblemen up to 5,000 years old and it probably developed from the single tiered flat cap over one such tomb, which was then laid over a series of caps, each successively smaller in size and the concept of a pyramid was born. 

On the same site is a temple complex, several smaller, rougher pyramids, many mastaba, some of which are open to the public,

and in the distance, the Red Pyramid and the ‘Bent’ Pyramid, known as such because of the change in angle half way up. These were built later in the pyramid building era, and there is a succession of these lesser known pyramids for about 70 kilometres up the Nile bank from Giza.
At that time, the Pharoahs resided at Memphis, a town in that area, Cairo didn’t exist.

Cairo is a big city, messy and chaotic.
For the most part, the sprawling suburbs, it comprises small un-named, unfinished streets between similarly unfinished and boxlike red-brick apartments arranged at random,  unpainted and indistinguishable from one another.
There is rubbish everywhere.

The traffic is busy and aggressive, if not gridlocked, there are tuk tuks, camels and donkeys mixing it with cars, trucks and buses, -amid the  din of shouting, car-horns and loud exhausts…

Navigation, even on foot is a night-mare and road crossing challenging, walking for pleasure is not easy and quite unrewarding!

-but there’s a little piece of whimsy in having an aging fleet of VW kombi-vans as mini-buses!

The inner city is far more attractive and on the Nile, with some stretch of the imagination, the Seine in Paris could come to mind?

With good reason it is known as the city of minarets for its many mosques,

The Citadel has prime position overlooking the minarets of the hazy town below.

It was built during the time of the Mameluks, begun by ‘Saladin’ in about 1100 AD,but modified and extended over the years.

Mohammed Ali as ruler in the early 1800s modified it and built his own grand mosque within it, along the lines of Istanbul.

It is now relegated to being a tourist attraction rather than a functioning mosque so we are allowed in to appreciate the beautiful interior…

In our limited time, we got to see little of the big city of Cairo, but we did brouse the souq in Khan al-Khalili,

saw some fascinating stuff and fortunately at a relatively early hour, before the crowds were there and the sellers into high-pressure selling!

I was happy to avoid that, but could have spent longer exploring the interesting alleys nearby

and taking thick, sweet coffee

in the numerous coffee shops thereabouts…

The inner city for all its problems of traffic and overcrowding, has a lot of personality and on a quiet weekend morning, can be a pleasant place to be.

The Egyptian Museum is a ‘must-see’

for all its size, uninspired layout and the daunting queues lining up at the entrance.

Sadly, but probably a neccessary decision on the part of the management, as is done in other heavily touristed places,  photography of any form is now strictly banned in order to keep the people moving.
However, despite the crowds, with a good guide who knew his museum, we were able to cover a lot of it, the bits we needed to, including the fabulous treasures of Tutankhamen, without being obstructed by people or being too wearied by the experience!

It was the best place to visit last on our Nile trip. The many tombs and temples we had seen up-river had all been empty shells, -here was where the contents had been removed to.
Seeing these treasures now and knowing where they had come from, brought the whole experience to a satisfying conclusion, but we couldn’t help but wonder when we saw that the quality of the jewellery, furniture, clothes, porcelain and other items the craftsmen had made to be interred with their kings, were just as good as they are making here today, is that 5,000 years of progress? 

Comments are closed.