'Wonderful Things'... Cairo & Nile Cruise

| March 8, 2019

Client Nigel Purse visits the pyramids of Giza and journeys from Luxor to Aswan aboard the Oberoi Zahra.

To most people, Egypt is renowned for its enormous pyramids. Arriving into Cairo, Giza was our first destination. There we marvelled at the iconic sight of the last surviving Wonder of the Ancient World. We even scrambled inside Cheops’ Great Pyramid to climb the narrow, vertiginous and claustrophobic tunnel to his burial chamber, deep in its heart and guarded by the now crumbling sentinel of the Sphinx.  

In the museum, we viewed his patiently reconstructed solar boat, the Khufu ship. Originally buried in a pit at the foot of the pyramid complex, it was equipped for his voyage to the next world, the Kingdom of Osiris. In Giza, we encountered the first of the ubiquitous souvenir vendors whose in-your-face cry of ‘very cheap price’ would reverberate throughout our holiday. After a visit to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali in Cairo, the vendors were at their most insistent in the Khan el-Khalili bazaar. Despite this, we sat, sipping sweet milky Egyptian coffee and discussing Egyptology with our guide.

In Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, we viewed Tutankhamun’s stunning treasures and the 4,500-year-old statues and artefacts that gave faces to the names of the kings of the Old Kingdom. We then flew to Luxor and boarded our boat, the Oberoi Zahra. ‘The best boat on the Nile,’ our guide in Cairo had opined, and he was not wrong.

For a blissful week we lived like royalty, dined like gourmands and luxuriated in its unsurpassed charm, elegance and facilities of the library, spa and pool as the Nile slipped gently by. Lush fertile strips of vegetation lined both banks and the sandy backdrop of endless desert beyond spoke of the land of the Exodus. The waterside bulrushes and palms swayed in the breeze as egrets and hoopoe birds fluttered in attendance, while farmers worked the land, marshalled their livestock and fished the river.

Luxor to Aswan cruise along the River Nile

Blessed with another superlative guide, we toured the very best of ancient Egyptian heritage as one miraculous remnant of a refined antiquity gave way to another. The vast Karnak temple, with its forest of columns, was followed by the intricately adorned stone roof and hieroglyphs of Dendera. We were mesmerised by the tomb of Seti I and those of Rameseses III, IV and VI in the Valley of the Kings.

Even their magnificent descriptions of the afterlife, the contemplation that dominated the world of the pharaohs – bright cartouches and imprecations to the ancient Egyptian belief system of the New Kingdom – were upstaged by the vivid colours and lifelike images in the Tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens. There was the profound intimacy and relative simplicity of Tutankhamun’s small but immensely significant tomb, one of archaeology’s greatest discoveries. Conversely, the tombs of the nobles and the workers yielded fascinating descriptions of everyday life on the banks of Egypt’s life-giving artery, whose seasons so regulated their existence.

Nestled into the rock face at Luxor, Queen Hatshepsut’s vast, modern-looking temple was surpassed by the Ptolemaic temple of Horus at Edfu with its falcon statues. There was then the rescued temple of Philae with its atmospheric son et lumière show, the delightfully fine carvings of the advanced medical practices of the era, and the crocodile temple at Kom Ombo stands strikingly atop a hill on a bend on the Nile.

I reached the last pages of my holiday reading, Death on the Nile, appropriately enough as we sailed into Aswan, where Agatha Christie had stayed when she wrote Poirot’s Egyptian whodunit. After a languid afternoon felucca boat ride to Kitchener’s Garden, the evening was filled with Nubian folk music and dancing.

We took a morning flight to the Great Temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel. This proved to be an intriguing insight into his monumental ego and pharaoh propaganda; the muscular depiction of his alleged success in the ancient Battle of Kadesh. It seemed a harsh contrast to his wonderfully preserved mummy, still with hair and teeth, that we had seen a week earlier in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum.

More graceful were the interior carved reliefs of the sister temple of Hathor and Nefertari. We reminded ourselves of the remarkable feat of ingenuity and engineering in 1968. It had seen the two temples lifted, removed and restored, stone by stone, up above Lake Nasser when it was created by the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

When Howard Carter first glimpsed through a crack in the wall to see the glittering riches of Tutankhamun’s tomb, his patron, Lord Carnarvon, asked him what he could see. Carter replied, ‘I see wonderful things.’ We too were fortunate to see the same – in Cairo and on the Nile.

Explore Cox & Kings' range of Egypt tours here. To organise a tailor-made holiday to Egypt, please speak to one of our Middle East experts.

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