Egypt – Colours of the Nile

Egypt now moderates and controls the numbers of people and access to their rich heritage of historic sites – a much more civilised but still highly rewarding experience.

You might not always appreciate that you’ve been limited in time or access to some of the richest historical resources on the planet but it engenders a much more dignified experience than the coach loads of ‘box-tickers’ of the past.

Inevitably, if you’ve limited time, you’ll go along the River Nile from north to south – that being from Lower Egypt to Upper Egypt of ancient times.

The last time we were in Egypt, an unfortunate attack on German tourists in their tour bus had decimated Egyptian tourism overnight – which meant that we were practically the only visitors that year and had a virtually private tour of the most wonderful locations on the planet.

This time, we were spared any unrest (if you don’t count the proximity of the Gaza conflict) and numbers were greater than before.

That’s not to say that numbers weren’t down because of the conflict, as immediate tourism had been affected by 40% cancellations, with forward bookings down by 80%.

Egypt is nigh-on totally dependent upon tourism for its income and its disheartening to see the constant fluctuation brought about by middle-eastern tensions. Moreover, it does affect the experience that any visitor receives from the local tradesmen/guides/shopkeepers as the amount of persistent pestering is in direct proportion to their desperation to make a living.

When all is said and done however, there can be few other places on earth that can be so rewarding in terms of historical spectacle, making intrusions on your personal space just a necessary evil. Illustrious writers throughout history have given us  countless volumes on the history of this land and its treasures, so we’ll make do with our own photographic interpretation of what we were able to see within our ten days along the Nile. Perhaps it will inspire you to explore for yourself, as its a destination that keeps on giving.

You can travel by train and hop-on, hop-off at your own pace from Alexandria or Cairo but we’ve chosen to mix things up a bit by joining a Nile cruise boat from Luxor to Aswan and back, then to catch a flight to Cairo in order to spend as much time as possible in Giza and Sakkara – locations of the most famous pyramids and some of the lesser know necropolis and pyramid sites; together with Memphis the ancient capital.

Joining our cruise boat, we’re immediately struck by just how many of them there are moored alongside the quay. Hundreds of people populate the many craft and billowing diesel smoke from their engines creates a haze of pollution that surely must be on someone’s agenda to address.


That said, the boat is clean and comfortable, with cabins that are more than adequate for the trip. There’s a certain pleasure in watching rural life slip by along the fertile river’s edge, much in the same way that it must have done for millenia, with little indication of change in the intervening years.

Farmers and herders still tend to their land and livestock on the narrow fringes of green that border endless wastes of sand on either side. Palm trees provide rudimentary shelter to families as they make their way home to the low sun-bleached dwellings set alongside the flat floodplains – no longer at the mercy of the Nile, since the dams at Aswan moderated the flow of seasonal water.

The easy pace of our cruise boat is only really interrupted by mealtimes, sundowners or visits ashore.


Egyptian life is certainly a photographer’s dream, not only in terms of the wonderful sites but also its colourful people.

Our first stop on shore is at the Temple of Horus at Edfu.

Dedicated to the god Horus of Behedet, Lord of Edfu, the Temple of Horus is famous due to its completeness and state of preservation.

It is the best example of a Ptolemaic temple building in Egypt.

As it currently stands, it was started by Ptolemy III in 237 BCE, being finished in 57 BCE.

In total, it took 180 years to complete the building and decoration of the Temple.

As with many of the sites we’ll visit it’s difficult to impart a sense of scale; in this case with its twin pylons on either side of the main entrance.

It’s not until people are in juxtaposition with it that a true appreciation of size can be felt.



Our next stop is a short distance south, near modern Kawm Umbū (Hill of Umbū), where lies ancient Kom Ombo.

Known for its unique double temple of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, it is dedicated to both Sebek, the crocodile god, and to Horus, the falcon-headed god.

Kom Ombo probably owed its foundation to its strategic location, commanding both the Nile River and routes from Nubia to the Nile River valley.


Overnight on the boat finds us in Aswan during early morning and shortly afterwards on a small tourist boat to the Temple of Philae. This temple was relocated, as it was partially submerged when the Aswan Low Dam was built. Rebuilding it stone by stone must have been good insight into the tasks ahead when Abu Simbel was relocated following the construction of the later Aswan High Dam.

This island temple was built by the last dynasty of ancient Egypt, the Ptolemaic and dedicated to Isis, goddess of healing, birth, and magic, her husband Osiris, and their son Horus. The Temple of Philae is one of the last places where ancient Egyptian religion survived after Christianity became prevalent in 550AD.


A brief visit to Aswan High Dam is unremarkable photographically albeit it is one of the world’s largest earthen, or embankment dams, creating Lake Nasser behind it as well as protecting the Nile hinterland from seasonal flooding.



Of considerably more interest to us is a leisurely small boat journey up through the cataracts (shallow, rock strewn waters that hinder navigation in Upper Egypt). As we meander further south the scenery becomes more ‘biblical’ in the sense that it appears timeless.


We go ashore at a Nubian village and although its now geared to the arrival of tourists is nevertheless notable for its architecture, wall decoration and local people; descendents of the original Nubian ethnic people believed to be part of the ‘cradle of civilisation’ in the central Nile Valley.


As we head back north towards Aswan and the river once again widens, Feluccas ply to and fro across the river, again a timeless scene if you can filter out evidence of modern architecture in the background.

We now head further north towards Luxor and The Valley of The Kings but not before passing through the barrage and great locks of Esna.

Although primarily a place known today for its aid to river navigation, it nevertheless once held significance for its own ancient temples.

Like most journeys along the Nile, we’re simply skimming stones, gathering only the most fleeting of impressions of what this ancient kingdom holds – much of it still secret beneath many tons of desert sand.

On a whim we elect to fly along the west bank of the Nile by hot-air balloon.

A pre-dawn start yields many photo opportunites of colourful envelopes being filled with sheets of flame against a lightening sky. This is only eclipsed by the majestic sight of thirty or more balloons rising gracefully into the sky as the sun rises. Add to this the magnificent views of sweeping desert, life-giving Nile and numerous ancient edifices as we glide serenely towards the Valley of The Kings.


What was a whim becomes the highlight of our time along the Nile, not only for the novelty of effortless wind-borne flight but for the unique perspective it affords of this fascinating land.

The Valley of The Kings, when we subsequently visit it by more pedestrain means, initially presents little but sandstone bluffs with trails between them. As our guide indicates the tombs we should visit (as they are opened in rotation to avoid degradation), it blossoms into some of the most awe inspriing spectacles that one could imagine. Whilst the knowledge of subterranean tombs is now commonplace, nothing can really prepare you for the extent, vibrancy of colour, detail and resolution of the decoration within the tombs. The fact that many of these illustrations have remained intact and untarnished for nearly five-thousand years is simply incredible.


Visits to the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the Great Royal Wife of Pharaoh Thutmose and later to the Temples of Karnak and Luxor are each in their own way impressive for their construction and scale but, not being an Egyptologist, start to pale for me other than as objects and opportunities for photography.


A short flight to Cairo finds us at the Hayat hotel (no resemblance whatsoever to the International chain) but with an unparalleled panoramic view of the Pyramids of Giza from its rooftop bar and restaurant.

What it lacks in mod cons it makes up for in spades with the constantly changing view from dawn to dusk.

It almost seems unecessary to hike around the pyramids themselves after such an itnroduction but the views from the northern side are immensely rewarding as they are free of much of the visual clutter of civilisation in the foreground of a rapidly encroaching Cairo.


Cairo Museum is a must for anyone even remotely interested in the treasures of the tombs – especially those of King Tutankhamun, whose death mask is one of the most beautiful artefacts I’ve ever laid eyes on.


A day out to visit the Necropolis of Sakkara and its adjacent pyramids is well worthwhile and its evident here just how much of Egyptian archaeology is yet to be discovered.



A visit to Memphis, however, site of the ancient Egyptian Capital, leaves much to be desired both in its presentation and content.

I had always wanted to return to Egypt, simply to re-take many of the photos in a digital format that I’d previously taken on film many years before. Egypt and its history has always fascinated me, albeit I’m no expert as you’ve probably realised.

Nevertheless it warrants as many visits as you are able to consider, as there’s always another discovery, view or treasure to be seen that gives an insight into this ancient civilisation that still has experts mystified to this day.

You don’t have to be Howard Carter to be bitten by Egypt’s promise.

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