Egypt is, indeed, the gift of the Nile. The serene Nile flows through most of its major cities, lending them a unique charm. Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is also blessed with the Nile. It is a modern city retaining its old world Arab charm.
Cairo, Old and New
Mosques and minarets dominate the landscape of old Cairo while plush buildings and ancient monuments like the Citadel stand together in modern Cairo. The Cairo museum, with its stunning section on Tutankhamun, unfolds the interesting history of Egypt.
The Pyramids of Giza:
Giza is 20 km. from the capital city and is separated from it by the Nile. The great pyramids and the imposing sphinx are Giza’s wonders. Laid out on an area of two thousand square meters, these man made marvels are a testimony to time. The light and sound show in the evenings, interestingly unravel the history of the pyramids and Sphinx through a riveting audio-visual presentation.
Sailing on the Nile
Cairo to Aswan is an overnight journey by train. Aptly named as the ‘sleeping train,’ the train reaches Aswan the next morning. Aswan is a small sunny city in the south of Egypt. From here sail on the Nile, the longest river in the world stretching north for approximately 4000 miles from East Africa to the Mediterranean.
Felluca ride to Philae
Take a ride on the traditional ‘felucca’ or row boat to reach the island of Philae known for its ancient temple. Rebuilt on the bank of the Nile, this imposing stone temple with massive pylons is dedicated to goddess Isis. You can drive down from here to the Aswan High Dam.
Kon Ombo and Edfu
Aswan to Luxor on a Cruise liner is a scenic journey passing through Saharan hills, fertile fields and date palms swaying in the groves. The temples of Kon Ombo and Edfu, nestling on the banks of the Nile, are stopovers on this journey. The Kon Ombo temple stands majestic with pillared halls and bass relief on its columns.
The Edfu temple, on the other hand has imposing pylons and pillared courtyards leading to the sanctum sanctorum. The two well-sculpted granite statues of the god, Horus, in the form of falcon at its entrance are architectural masterpieces.
Passing through the Sluice Gates
The journey from Esna to Luxor is exciting. You can view the entry and exit of the ships as they pass the sluice gates. It is fascinating to watch the water level going down before your ship crosses the gates. Finally you reach Luxor, once known as Thebes. It is an ancient city of heritage monuments.
Luxor and KarnakTemples
The renowned Luxor temple is in the centre of the city. This temple is a multi-structured temple with huge statues, obelisks, columns and minarets of a mosque. It is connected to the temple of Karnak by rows of sphinxes with the heads of ram.
3km from Luxor temple, Karnak temple is one of the oldest in Egypt and world’s largest temple. The truly amazing feature of the temple is its spacious hypo-style hall containing 134 columns rising to a height of 23 feet.
Valley of the Kings
Other ancient monuments worth visiting here are the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the colossal statues of Mammon and the Valley of the Kings housing the tomb of the renowned King, Tutankhamun. It is exciting to explore the valley and reach the narrow passage leading to the tombs.
Egypt is a treasure house of monuments in stone. Visiting its cities along the Nile is to travel back in time to the era of heroic Kings, their mythical gods and exploits. For memento, take back home alabaster statues of gods, Kings and their mummies and also paintings in papyrus.
Nile River Highlights on the West Bank of Luxor
The legend goes that those who touch the Nile River will always come back. Classic Nile cruises start at Luxor, sail to Aswan and back, and usually take about seven nights. Those with stronger stomachs may opt for the eleven night cruise to Denderah, or add another cruise at Lake Nasser. However, seven nights on the Nile give the traveller plenty of opportunity to visit ancient historical sites, enjoy a felluca ride, participate in an Egyptian costume party on the boat and watch some belly-dancing! A classic Nile cruise will allow visitors to explore the East Bank of the Nile, as well as the West Bank highlights here.
Valley of the Kings, the Queens & Workers
The West Bank of Luxor is usually the first or last stop on a Nile River cruise. As ancient Egyptians believed that as the sun sets in the West it is a symbol of life’s end, therefore tombs and mausoleums are built in the West, whereas life-giving temples are in the East. These West Bank valleys stretch over a great distance, full of royal tombs aptly known as Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and the lesser known Valley of Workers. The Ramses VI and Tutankhamen tombs are popular and require an entrance fee. Interesting tombs to visit are the Ramses IV and Ramses IX. The Valley of Workers is even more unusual, as narrow steps lead into brightly painted tombs protected with glass.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Another highlight of the Valley of the Kings, are the hot-air balloon rides that rise over the landscape, not to be missed as they only cost a meagre LE700. Preconceptions that a hot-air balloon ride is scary get thrown out the window when guests realise how quietly and gracefully it lifts off. Tourists are gathered early in the morning at 5.30am near the cornfields, where hot air balloons are blown up by tons of gas. These hot air balloon baskets are so large they can take about 16 people! The captain of the balloon explains the brace position for landing and then a group of Egyptians help the balloon to lift off.
Queen Hatshepsut Temple & Colossi of Memnon
The next stop after the Valley is usually Queen Hatshepsut Temple. As the only woman recognised as Pharaoh by the Egyptians (Cleopatra was not so lucky), Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple looks commanding from the East Bank and has three floors. The next floor from the ground up has small shrines on each side, dedicated to Hathor, the goddess of motherhood, symbolised by a cow. The steps are not as many as they look and easily climbed but once upstairs there is not much shelter so sunscreen is essential. The Colossi of Memnon, the two massive statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, is more of a photo stop than a visit.
City Trip by Horse & Carriage (Hantoor)
To take Luxor all in, a horse and carriage ride, or what is known as a ‘hantoor’ in Egypt, is really good value for money. It is an hour’s trip often sold as part of a Nile excursion package costing LE200 and includes other activities in Aswan. Prices should be negotiated beforehand and it is customary to tip the driver at the end. In Luxor, tourists on hantoors should be prepared for children running up to their carriage and asking for food or baksheesh (tips) so it is useful to have lots of LE1 to hand. The horse and carriage will take passengers down the roads of Luxor, through the busy local marketplace and by the cornfields. Passengers can sit next to the driver as well and lead the horse! Afterwards the driver will offer to take photos of the passengers in their horse and carriage, which is a good time to tip the driver, and maybe even the horse!