There is nothing more relaxing than sailing on a river and watching the waves rise and dip! A visit to Egypt will bestow this pleasure immensely. Not only will you be sailing on the blue waters of the Nile, but you will also have the freedom to explore monuments surrounding it. Yes, a packaged tour to Egypt includes sight-seeing on land along with a four to five day cruise on the Nile.
The capital splendour
Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is a modern city of fibre-glass buildings and flyovers even as it retains its old-world charm. Mosques and minarets dominate the landscape, especially in old Cairo. The Mohamed Ali mosque inside the Citadel is a landmark. Its impressive silver and blue domes and walls covered with alabaster and gold decorations, is an architectural marvel.
The Sultan Hassan mosque with its marble walls and high minarets is another must-visit structure in Cairo. Opposite it is located the popular Khan-e-Khalili market buzzing with a variety of shops and qahwas [traditional coffee houses]. The market offers everything from intoxicating spices and exotic curios to cool cotton fabrics and exquisite stone jewellery. Use your bargaining skills well to get the best deal.
Cairo Museum, in the heart of the city, is the best in the country with an impressive collection of over 16,000 exhibits. Designed by French architect Marcel Dourgnon, the two-storey museum has 100 exhibition rooms. The first floor with the statues of Tutankhamun and his enchanting gold coffins attracts hundreds of visitors everyday.
Visiting the wonders
Egypt and the Pyramids are almost synonymous. Giza, a part of greater Cairo, is 20 km from the capital city and is separated from it by the Nile. The pyramids and the imposing Sphinx in the Giza square are awe-inspiring. Spread in an area of 2,000 sq m, these man-made marvels stand as a testimony to time.
The light-and-sound show in the evenings beautifully unravels the history of the pyramids and Sphinx through a riveting audio-visual presentation. To know more about the structure of the pyramids, visit the Pharaonic Village at Giza. From here, you can also take a cruise to view Cairo from the Nile. Watching the city come alive at night as you sail on the soothing waters is an uplifting experience.
Enjoying the blue waters
To enjoy the beauty of the Nile at leisure, you have to board the cruises from Aswan or Luxor. Cairo to Aswan is an overnight journey by train. Aptly named as the ‘sleeping train,’ it reaches Aswan after an early morning breakfast. As you drive from the station to the shipping yard, past ‘tongas’ [horse carriages] and taxis, you will observe rows of cruise liners on the shore.
Aswan is a small sunny city in the south of Egypt. Greener and with wider roads than Cairo, it stands on the east bank of the Nile where the river is deeper and smoother. As you board your liner, you will notice a prominent hill known as the ‘Necropolis of the Nobles’ providing a beautiful backdrop to the river.
Most liners are brightly lit and artistically decorated. Carpeted floors lead to well-contained cabins from where you can get a good view. It is a great feeling to be sailing on the Nile, the longest river in the world that stretches north for approximately 6,500 km from East Africa to the Mediterranean.
For a clearer view, you can walk up to the deck. It is enjoyable to watch many sail boats passing even as you sip a hot cup of tea. To get the thrill of touching the waters, take a ride on the traditional felucca or row boat. On this comfortable wooden boat, your eyes can feast on amber desert hills, Aga Khan’s mausoleum, an elephantine island covered with palm groves and migratory birds perched on artistic stone formations of the Cataract of Aswan.
A felucca ride will also take you to the island of Philae known for its ancient temple. Rebuilt on the bank of the Nile after the old temple was submerged in floods, this imposing stone building with massive pylons is dedicated to goddess Isis. Standing majestically on the river bank surrounded by granite rocks, it is an ideal scene for photographs.
A visit to the Aswan High Dam is an important part of a tourist’s itinerary. Not far from the city, this famous dam was an engineering marvel when it was built in the 1960s. It contains 18 times the material used in the Great Pyramids. It is 3,600 m long, 980 m thick at the base and 110 m tall. Most importantly, it provides electricity and irrigation to the whole of Egypt.
On your way back, you can visit one of the many perfume factories. Aswan is well-known for aromatherapy. Different kinds of flowers of therapeutic value are collected, crushed and diluted in these factories to prepare essences. These essences stored in attractive phials are sold to visitors ailing from illnesses such as blood pressure, arthritis, allergic cold and general fatigue.
The cruise from Aswan to Luxor is a scenic journey through Saharan hills, fertile fields and date palm groves. The Kon Ombo temple is the first stopover in this trip. Climbing two flights of stairs to visit the artistic temple with pillared halls and bass relief on its columns is worth the effort. The liner next halts near Edfu temple. This temple, as in Philae, has imposing pylons and pillared courtyards leading to the sanctum sanctorum. Dedicated to god Horus, the two well-sculpted granite statues of the deity, in the form of falcons, at the entrance are praiseworthy.
The liner stops at Esna for the night. Once it starts the journey from Esna to Luxor, the best position is on the deck to view the entry and exit of ships as they pass the sluice gates. It is fascinating to watch the water level going down before your ship crosses the gates.
Luxor, once known as Thebes, is an ancient city with heritage monuments. It includes the village of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings on the other side of the Nile. In the centre of the city, overlooking the market is the Luxor temple. This temple, nestling the remains of a Roman brick town and built by three kings, is a multi-structured temple with huge statues, obelisks, columns and minarets of a mosque.
Luxor temple is connected to the temple of Karnak by rows of sphinxes with heads of rams. Karnak temple, 3 km from Luxor temple, is one of the oldest in Egypt and is the world’s largest temple. The massive temple mesmerises you with its sheer artistic beauty, gigantic proportions and scenic surroundings. The amazing feature of the temple is its spacious hypo-style hall containing 134 columns that are 7 m high!
The temple of Queen Hatshepsut with its ventilated complex crowned with fan-shaped rocks at Deir-el-Bahri and the colossal statues of Mammon are sites you could visit on the way to the Valley of the Kings. The valley, in the midst of sandy hills, houses tombs of many kings including Tutankhamun. It is exciting to explore the valley and reach the narrow passage leading to the tombs.
A visit to Egypt and its monuments is like travelling back in time to a bygone era of kings overpowered by gods and celestial beliefs. It transports you to a dreamland of sweet date palms and cool waters of the Nile. Could you ask for anything more to soothe your tired nerves and recharge your energies?
Egypt fact file
|To Reach:||Air India and Egypt Air flights operate from Mumbai to Cairo. From Cairo you can reach other cities by road, rail or air.|
|Best time:||November to March|