The Egypt Nile Cruise Experience
One of the best ways to get a well-rounded introduction to Egypt and its endless historical marvels; from ancient ruins to colossal temples and monuments, is to embark on a scenic Nile cruise, stopping along the way to admire stunning heritage sites upclose. That is exactly what I did a few years ago when I first travelled to this wondrous, mythical land and the experience was truly amazing. Not only did it open my eyes to the impressive creations of a legendary civilisation, it also left me yearning for more and gave me a thirst for further discovery in this and other parts of Egypt.
My Egypt Nile Cruise consisted of seven nights of sailing along the Nile river, from Luxor to Aswan and back to Luxor. Along the way we viewed the famous Karnak and Luxor temples but also toured the ancient cities of Thebes, Esna, Edfu, Philae and Kom Ombo.
Karnak and Luxor Temples
The two biggest jewels in the Nile’s eastern bank, the temples of Karnak and Luxor are indeed an amazing sight to behold. These stunning complexes provide so many great photo-ops I was overwhelmed as to where I should first point my camera at.
The first main picture above captures the sky-scraping obelisks of the Karnak Temple, giving you a good perspective of the area. But my favourite photograph is actually the smaller one to the left, showing an upclose view of the Columns of the Hypostyle Hall. These massive sandstone columns were the biggest I've seen, and I loved the details of the tops, which looked like leaves or flower petals. They represent the primeval papyrus swamp and the intricate hieroglyph carvings are simply stunning. Finally, the picture on the right gives an overall view of Court of Ramses II Luxor Temple in all of its grandeur, capturing how small humans look next to these towering marvels. It does make you wonder… how did they do it so many thousands of years ago?
The Avenue of Sphinxes
A long and visually stunning promenade that stretches for nearly three kilometres and links the temples of Karnak and Luxor, the imposing Avenue of Sphinxes is indeed a very photogenic pathway flanked by hundreds of sphinxes on both sides. A regal walkway fit for a queen, this ambitious construction was indeed started by Queen Hatshepsut and later expanded by Pharaoh Nectanebo. One peculiar fact is that some of the sphinxes found along this ample esplanade have rams’ heads instead of human heads. However, as you can see, the stretch I photographed is a human-headed one. You can picture this avenue as the very same place where Cleopatra once made a triumphant entrance with Marc Anthony.
We also crossed over to the West Bank for a stop at the Thebes Necropolis, the Valley of the Kings, El Deir El Bahari of Hatshepsut and the Colossi of Memnon, but sadly I forgot to take my camera with me for this part of the trip and I regret it to this very day, though perhaps this is another great excuse for me to return.
Comfy stay at M.S. Sherry Boat
At first sight the M.S. Sherry Boat, one of a number of vessels that cruise up and down the Nile, may seem to stand a bit short of the five-star luxury it claims to offer. The interior decor of the boat was perhaps a little dated but overall it was very comfortable, clean and tidy, with decent accommodation in generously-sized cabins. What it lacked in luxury, it made up for in the service the staff provided. They could not have been more helpful or pleasant. Nothing was too much trouble, they were always smiling and this spread to all the passengers on board.
Also, any fears that we might succumb to ‘Egyptian tummy’ were completely unfounded. The food was always freshly prepared and ingredients were of the highest quality. As long as you stick to only drinking bottled mineral water you are in no danger of tummy bugs at all.
The deck and the views
It seemed that the political upheavals of the past had deterred many Europeans from going to Egypt, so locals and tourism authorities were eager to show tourists that the destination was safe and the welcoming atmosphere was palpable everywhere we went. Despite the fact that the boat had capacity for up to 126 passengers, there were never more than 20 guests around during my week-long stay at the M.S. Sherry, which made it feel as though I was aboard a private yacht - that was the real luxury!
The deck looked slightly dated in terms of decor but again, everything was kept very clean and everyone enjoyed the panoramic views of villages and towns in the distance. Many of the sights we admired from the boat were just metres from the dock, as the main picture on top shows here, taken as we approached Kom Ombo with a view of its temple… which leads us to the next section.
Kom Ombo (near Aswan)
Part of the Aswan Governorate, Kom Ombo is an agricultural town in Egypt most famous for its grand ancient temple. In times of the ancient Egyptian civilisation, the city was called Nubt (translating as City of Gold) and later became a Greek settlement.
The Temple of Kom Ombo is an unusual double temple, paying tribute to two gods mainly - Sobek and Horus. There are entrances, halls, courts and sanctuaries duplicated for each god and the dual design is perfectly symmetrical along its main axis. This temple may be smaller in size when compared to other temples but remains one of the most beautiful nevertheless. Its impressive papyrus-shaped columns are quite well-preserved and I really liked the detailed hieroglyphs engraved on them. There is also a Crocodile Museum which displays some of the 300 crocodile mummies once found in the vicinity.
Sailing to Philae Temple
After reaching Aswan we embarked on a memorable sailing journey by felucca, from which we enjoyed some great views of the river and landscape beyond before moving on to Philae, a rocky island in the Aswan Low Dam, found downstream of Lake Nasser. The most remarkable thing about the Philae Temple is not the temple itself, which is indeed beautiful, but the fact that it lay buried under the rising waters of Lake Nasser for years until a UNESCO project moved it to higher ground, from which you can admire it today as did I.
Also known as the Philae Temple of Isis (shown in the main picture above), this grand structure was built to honour the goddess Isis and is one of the most extraordinary examples of the cult built around her legend, including Horus and Osiris. Together with Trajan’s Kiosk (shown on upper right picture above) only priests were allowed to enter the temple, and according to Egyptian mythology, no birds flew overhead and no fish approached the island’s shores. One can feel privileged to be walking around it, not least of all because it had almost entirely disappeared underwater before its timely rescue.
Traditional Bazaar market
Of course, no trip to Egypt would be complete without sampling some of its lively souks and bustling bazaars. After the initial shock of having vendors approach you from every stand and coming up at you to persuade you to buy their wares and crafts at every step, I grew accustomed to the hassle and relaxed a little. Mostly thanks to the fragrant smell of all the various herbs and spices which were so enticing and intoxicating.
I wanted to bring home with me some handmade items as mementos of such a special holiday but I wasn't really up to engaging in traditional haggling. However, that didn't stop me from admiring the stunning crafts on show, like the scarab beetle (shown in the last photograph on the bottom right). It is one of Egypt’s most famous symbols, portraying the heavenly cycle of rebirth based on an incarnation of Egyptian god Khepri, with Ra often depicted as a scarab beetle or a scarab beetle-headed man. Another famous iconic symbol I like is the Eye of Horus but I will have to come back for that one.