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Cruising the Nile river

Cruising the Nile River ( LuxorAswan )

Running the length of the country, the Nile was ancient Egypt’s highway. The pharaohs traversed their realm by the river, it was the route for traders and invaders alike, and in death, the ancients even took boats to the underworld. Only over the last century, with first railroads, then air travel has the river been surpassed as a mode of transportation. And still, for anyone with time, a cruise on the Nile remains by far the best way to experience Egypt.

Travelers have gazed out over the country from the deck of a boat as far back as the fifth century B.C. when the Greek chronicler Herodotus took passage through Egypt. But it was a combination of Napoleon’s expedition (1798-1801) and the firm, stabilizing rule of Muhammad Ali (R.1805-1847) that opened up the Nile to the curious. At this time, the Holy Land and Egypt came to supplant the Grand Tour of Europe as a part of any wealthy young gentleman’s education. Each fall, when the temperatures cooled and the winds got up, intrepid tourists would arrive in Alexandria by liner, from where they would travel down to Cairo, hire a dragoman (guide), select a suitable dahabiya (large private sailboat), scuttle it to get rid of the rats and vermin, gather provisions in the souq, retrieve the boat, and then set off. The pace was languid, taking anything from 6 to 12 weeks to cover the 530 miles (850 km) between Cairo and Aswan. Besides visiting the sights, these early tourists enjoyed such activities en route as picnicking in tombs and digging for antiquities.

From the 1870s sailboats were replaced by steamers, all of which were owned by Thomas Cook, the Henry Ford of sight-seeing, who introduced the world to package tourism. Known as “excursionists,” Cook’s customers were looked down upon by more independent travelers, most notably by Mark Twain, writing in 1870: “In the morning the lost tribes of America came ashore and infested the hotels and took possession of all the donkeys: They went in picturesque procession; tried to break a fragment off the upright [Cleopatra’s] Needle; made noise for five hundred, collided with camels, dervishes, effendis, asses, beggars and everything else; shoved the donkeys off their corns and looked at the charming scenery of the Nile.”

Since Cook made the Nile cruising affordable, it has been the staple of any visit to Egypt. Unfortunately, the threat of terrorist attacks in Middle Egypt has meant that since the early 1990s cruise ships are no longer permitted to sail south of Cairo or north of Luxor. These days, those wishing to journey by the river have to be content with sailing between Luxor and Aswan, a voyage of three or four days. Nights are spent on the boat at the dock, days are filled with excursions, typically including all the sights of Luxor, Esna, Edfu, and Kom Ombo, then Aswan. The temples of Philae and Abu Simbel are usually optional extras.

Levels of luxury are as high as you are prepared to pay for. Top-of-the-range boats come with plush carpets, icy air-conditioning, and swimming pools. At the other end of the scale, there are boats on which conditions leave a lot to be desired. It is very much a case of getting what you pay for. The most reputable boats are managed by international hotel chains, for example, Movenpick or Sheraton. Cairo-based travel agencies such as Cairo Private Tours (Te1+2/01117005089).

Kindly check our travel packages around Egypt

cruising the Nile

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