History comes alive on a cruise down the Nile River.
Egypt surprises everyone. Despite knowing exactly what to expect, vacationers are stunned because no one expects time to stand this still; it’s almost audacious. No one is quite prepared for the towering pillars of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak, the allure of intricate myths surrounding the family of Osiris, or the lingering, languid beauty of lush palm trees reflected in turquoise waters against stark ochre mountains. Little has changed since Ramesses was a boy. Egypt is ageless, which is what makes it a perfect family vacation. Grandparents love the antiquity and will debate the similarities between Ra and Ram, parents will devour the sunsets happy in the knowledge that they never have to lift a finger to figure out logistics. And their teenagers will finally wake up to what the word “awesome” really means when they look at the colossal face of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel.
While the Nile is 6,695 kilometres long from source to mouth, most liners cruise the 200-kilometre stretch between Aswan and Luxor, also known as Upper Egypt. The basic five-day itinerary begins with the High Dam, the only archaeological testament to the 20th century, and the Philae Temple dedicated to the Goddess Isis. After that you anchor at the twin temples of Kom Ombo, glide through the calm waters in a lateen-sailed felucca to visit the botanical gardens. Back in the liner, sail to Edfu to visit the Temple of Horus, and then on to Luxor to explore Karnak, considered the second largest ancient religious site in the world.
The longer 7-8 day itinerary adds on a transfer to the river’s west bank from Luxor via Esna Lock, an intriguing experience in itself. You then head to the ancient city of Thebes to explore the Valley of the Kings and King Tut’s eerie tomb. Sail to Quina to visit the Temple of Dendara and finally head to the rock-hewn temple of Hatshepsut and Dier El Medina. Diehard fans of The Mummy movies can make a quick detour to the Osiris Pillars at Abu Simbel when they’re at Kom Ombo.
While the Nile cruise liners are not the large floating cities of the Caribbean, they are well-equipped, stacked two to three decks high, and cater to all budgets and lifestyles. Most rooms have double or twin beds and boast panoramic views, but the shower cubicles can be tiny. A large family can opt to do the cruise on smaller dahibiyya boats that have a few cabins and bring you closer to the water.
Day 1 Embark at Aswan; visit the High Dam and Philae Temple.
Day 2 Optional visits to Abu Simbel, sound and light show at the Philae temple, and the unfinished obelisk. Stay overnight at Aswan.
Day 3 Visit twin temples of Kom Ombo, sail to Aswan, visit botanical gardens by felucca.
Day 4 Sail to Edfu for the Temple of Horus, overnight in Edfu.
Day 5 Visit Karnak temple and museum in Luxor.
Day 6 Transfer to the west bank to explore Thebes, and stay overnight in Quina.
Day 7 Return to Luxor, visit Luxor Temple.
Day 8 Disembark at Luxor.
★ The transfer to the river’s West Bank via Esna Lock will have you waving at neighbouring ships as you sip champagne with fellow travellers.
★ Cruise lines have different strengths. For example, Oberoi is known to have excellent Egyptologists who bring the history alive, while Abercrombie and Kent ships have gorgeous sundecks.
★ Visit between Nov and Feb when the weather is hot but bearable. There is a lot of walking, so carry a stroller for young children. Some cruises do not permit children below six (or ten).
–Reshma Krishnan Barshikar
Appeared as “Time Stands Still” in the March 2015 issue.