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March 1, 2003
Egypt is everything I thought it would be – and much more. On 2nd December 2002, my cousin Julie and I left rainy, cold Manchester and stepped from the plane at Luxor into a temperature well into the 80s. Luxor, on the east bank of the Nile, has an elegant promenade, where graceful boats called feluccas wait to take you for a sail.
On the west bank you can see water buffalo, camels, sacred ibis and other birds. We were relieved to hear that all Nile crocodiles have been transferred to Lake Nasser, beyond the Aswan Dam.
A Flash Tours boat, “Le Scribe”, was ready to take us on
a week’s cruise south. Having settled into our comfortable, air-conditioned cabin,
we spent the afternoon on the deck, chatting to our fellow travellers. Apart from electricity
pylons and satellite dishes to remind us that we were in the 21st century, we could easily
imagine Moses’ basket hidden in a clump of papyrus. The sunsets are glorious!
The Aswan Dam controls the flow of the Nile, keeping its depth to about 12 feet and making sure that the right amount of rich silt is deposited on its banks for the cultivation of dates, bananas, citrus fruits, sugarcane, maize, cotton and vegetables of all kinds. This ribbon of fertile land is so narrow that you can stand with one foot in a field and one on the desert.
We crossed the Nile by felucca to see Queen Hatshepsut’s temple and the Valley of the Kings, and also flew over them in a hot air balloon.
Then “Le Scribe” set sail for Esna. Here is a magnificent
temple of the god Horus, who is represented with a falcon’s head. We visited the
The huge temple of Rameses the Great (below) was also saved from being
drowned in Lake Nasser, and painstakingly reconstructed at Abu Simbel.
We went to a Nubian village, the bravest of our party travelling on camels. The Nubians share the Egyptians’ hospitable nature, but they still retain their own ancient language and decorate their mud-brick houses with bright colours (below, left). The botanical gardens on Kitchener Island (below, right) are well worth a visit.
On returning to Luxor, we flew to Cairo and were mesmerised by the desert that forms much of the country. As the sunlight moved across it, it changed from pink to various shades of amber, with shadows a dense black.
Cairo is bustling and noisy, not for the faint-hearted. Drivers constantly hoot their horns and steer as if they are in a Formula One race! We were glad to enter the opulent calm of the Meridien-Pyramids hotel, on the Giza Plateau.
The Sphinx and the three Great Pyramids (so-called because there are
at least 70 smaller types throughout Egypt) are breathtaking. We saw them by day and went
back again one evening for a Sound and Light Show.
Having toured Cairo by minibus and seen King Tutankhamen’s treasures, we returned to Luxor for the last four days of our holiday, spent at another luxurious hotel, the Sonesta St George.
A two-mile long avenue of carved rams links the temple at Luxor (below) to the much larger complex at Karnak. Stone for the colossal pillars, obelisks and statues was shipped on barges from quarries at Aswan, hundreds of miles away. It’s hard to believe that the Ancient Egyptians constructed such marvels with simple Bronze Age tools.
On our penultimate day we sailed north to Dendera and explored the temple of Hathor, goddess of happiness. On the rear wall is a life-size carving of the legendary Queen Cleopatra VII, with her son by Julius Caesar.
Egypt’s scenery is timeless, the people charming, and you can find bargains in jewellery, alabaster, leather, cotton, and essences supplied to the world’s great perfumeries. As a precaution against terrorism, police and soldiers are everywhere, yet they do their job without being intrusive. Most of the population have a poor standard of living, but we felt secure among them and heard of no instances of crime – more than can be said about the West!
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