Nile cruise: A memorable journey into ancient Egypt
Cairo - The long Nile cruise from Cairo to the southernmost province of Aswan has been a dream journey for tourists and Egyptians since it was started in the 1980s. Not surprisingly, it continues to be so.
The classic 15-day cruise gives tourists a chance to see and learn about Egypt’s fascinating and unique ancient civilisation.
“It is actually a cruise into the depths of Egyptian life and history,” said Adel Abdel-Razek, a member of Egypt’s Tourist Chamber, a gathering of the country’s tour operators and hotel owners. “Tourists have the opportunity to delve deep into Egypt’s ancient history as they visit different sites in the course of the journey.”
The Nile has been Egypt’s lifeline since ancient times and there is no better way to trace the passage of Egypt’s history than to follow the course of the river. Each day gives another opportunity to explore new sights or simply enjoy a different view.
Few countries can compete with Egypt’s amazing ancient tombs, temples and other monuments, which can be explored in the course of Nile cruise tours that were recently upgraded, becoming even more attractive for visitors and residents, at highly competitive prices.
Before departing from Cairo on the 675-kilometre journey to Aswan, travellers are taken on guided visits of the Pyramids of Giza and King Djoser’s step pyramid in Saqqara, a few kilometres away.
A tour of Cairo’s landmarks is incorporated in the package and includes visits to the national museum, Islamic Cairo and its citadel, a medieval Islamic fortification constructed by Saladin around the ancient city to protect it from the Crusaders, the old churches in Coptic Cairo and the Fatimid bazaar.
Stops on the river voyage include some of Egypt’s finest ancient sites, such as the temples of Karnak and Luxor, Edfu, Esna, Kom Ombo, Philae and Abu Simbel, usually as an optional excursion, plus the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Hatshepsut’s Temple and Aswan High Dam.
As they sail south from Cairo into rural Egypt, travellers can enjoy picturesque scenery along the banks of the Nile and relax on the ship’s upper deck.
At a first stop in Beni Hasan, in the central province of Beni Suef, a visit to unfinished tombs shows the transition from Mastaba-type tombs of the Old Kingdom and the deeply cut tombs that can be found in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings.
Vivid wall paintings depict scenes from daily life including winemaking, fishing, hunting and wrestling.
Stops further south at Abu Korkas give tourists the chance to visit Tuna el-Gebel and the Tomb of Petosiris, a fusion of Greek and Egyptian styles. They can also admire the ruins of Hermopolis, where ancient Egyptians said creation began.
The visit to the fabled city of Tell el-Amarna usually starts early in the morning. The ancient city was once known as Akhenaton. Its modern name comes from the nearby village of el-Till and the name of a local Bedouin tribe.
A short drive to Abydos allows tourists into the home of the legend of Osiris, god of the underworld. Ancient Egyptians said it was at Abydos that Osiris was resurrected after he was killed by his brother Seth. He was then given powers to become the lord of the afterlife.
Saeed Osman, an Egyptian living in the Netherlands, describes the cruise from Cairo to Aswan as a once-in-a–lifetime experience.
“Nothing in my life matched this journey, in fact,” Osman said. “The cruise was about the best in my life, giving me and other tourists the chance to navigate into the depths of Egyptian history.”
In recent years, long Nile cruise tours have been hard hit because of the decline in the number of tourists and volatile security conditions in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising.
According to Abdel Rahman Anwar, the former head of the Chamber of Floating Hotels, out of 288 cruise ships that operated between Cairo and Aswan, only 50 continue operations. “Ship owners are crippled with bank debts and workers’ salaries, while bookings are on the decline,” Anwar said. “This business is down and the government does nothing to help the owners.”
He said, a few years back, the trip from Cairo to Aswan cost no less than $200, “but prices have since gone down to less than $50″.
Declining revenues are leaving ship owners incapable of offering quality services. Some ships have limited their activity to the academic midterm vacation in January.
But for Osman, like many tourists, the experience of boarding a ship from Cairo to the southern part of Egypt was a memorable experience. The sites, the food and warm welcome of Egyptians in the places he visited are forever engraved in his mind.
“I do not undergo such an experience every day. I still remember every minute of the 15 days I spent on the Nile on the way to Aswan,” he said.