A Nile River Cruise on board the Oberoi Philae:
Half asleep on my sun-lounger, cradled by the river Nile lapping gently across the bows of our River Cruiser, I woke with a start as Tarek, our guide called out.
‘Over there – those are the quarries’
It didn’t sound too interesting to me but, just in case, I dragged myself up and pottered across the deck to check out what there was to see. Not just quarries, as we drew closer we saw what appeared to be a small temple, cut into the rock face. We asked what we were looking at.
Oh, that was built for the workers who were quarrying stone here. Sandstone could be more easily transported by water rather than overland.
It turned out we were sailing past the quarries used from as far back as 1550 BC to provide stone for the temples we’d seen in Luxor and along the Right Bank of the Nile. The quarries at Gebel Silsila were established for proximity to the Nile and remain largely intact, easily visible from a Nile cruise ship like the Oberoi Philae.
Just one of those moments on this short trip that allowed us the privilege of a peek into life in Ancient Egypt. The trip was punctuated by the extraordinary not least because we were taken ‘behind the scenes’ a number of times to learn more of things ancient and modern. More of that to come. The purpose of this post is just to provide a quick thank-you to those who hosted the first part of our journey, on the Oberoi Philae.
For those of us who knew little before we arrived in Luxor, our guide Tarek started by explained some of the basics. What is known as the Pharaonic period was only one stage in Ancient Egyptian history, dating back to before 10,000 BC. The two separate kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt were united by the first of Pharaohs – King Menes, who ascended to the throne in 3,200 BC. That marked the start of the dynasties and of written history.
The Pharaonic period is divided into three kingdoms (or eras). The Old Kingdom, from 2980 BC to 2475 BC was a period of flourishing agriculture, industry and trade. It was also the period when the pyramids were constructed. The Middle Kingdom, from 2160BC to 1580BC was a period of infrastructure building. The New Kingdom(1580 BC to 1150 BC), started with the expulsion of invaders under the hands of King Ahmus I. Until that time, Eygpt had largely been a peaceful nation. The New Kingdom was, however, marked by the development of a strong Egyptian army and the subsequent expansion of the Egyptian Empire.
Throughout the entire period, however, the river Nile was a significant demarcation for the Ancient Egyptians. On the right-hand side of the river where the sun rises, temples to celebrate the sun god Ra and his family. Temples for worship as part of life in this world which acted as a focal point for life in the towns or cities where they were constructed. The temples had schools and hospitals, they acted as an economic hub, run by priests who might be craftsmen, doctors, farmers or part of the religious hierarchy.
On the left-hand side of the river where the sun sets, tombs to ensure that the Egyptian people (from Pharaohs to the common man) would reach the afterlife, and mortuary temples where bodies were prepared for burial. During the Old Kingdom period, these tombs took the form of pyramids. But, later dynasties, in an attempt to avoid grave robbers, built their tombs into the hills, some distance from the Nile itself but always on the left bank.
Six days is woefully inadequate to even touch on a civilization that spanned over 3,000 years. But, it’s an excellent initiation – a chance to glance at and marvel at monuments, built without the benefits of today’s technologies, demonstrating both an astonishing understanding of engineering and amazing skills of construction.
The itinerary for the three-day Luxor to Aswan cruise on the Oberoi Philae included trips to Karnak and Luxor temples, to the Valley of the Kings, Deir el-Medina and to the house of Howard Carter. Then, along the Nile to the temples of Edfu and Kom Ombo and finally to the eponymous Philae temple, meticulously rebuilt on a new site when the Aswan Damm was opened and threatened to leave the entire construction underwater.
En-route, we might have been Pharaohs ourselves.
On my first night on board, tired from the long day, I put my ancient and rather grubby boots into what looked like a neat storage space. I had no intention of wearing them again – the daytime temperature was in the high 20s and winter boots simply wouldn’t have been comfortable. So, the next day when my room had been serviced, I was surprised to see my boots moved out of the basket. Again it was late at night and I didn’t check properly, but I do remember thinking they looked rather better than I remember. I popped them back in the basket and went to bed. The next day, the same thing had happened – there were my boots looking rather smarter, but sitting outside the basket. Again, I put them back in the basket. The afternoon of our final day on the Oberoi Philae, I went to pack up some of my belongings, including the boots. As I picked them up the penny finally dropped. The, by now pristine, boots had been cleaned every day because of where I’d put them. I turned over the small cloth with Arabic writing that lined the basket to find the English explanation on the reverse. Shoes to be cleaned should be put in the basket.
Before every trip to shore, we were supplied with insulated bags containing water bottles. After every trip, there were cold towels. There was always fresh fruit in the rooms.
Breakfast was indeed a feast for a King; bakery, cereals, a variety of hot dishes, a traditional Egyptian breakfast, pancakes and waffles. If lunch was for a Prince, then he must have been in line to inherit a large and prosperous kingdom. And, dinner each day was a feast fitting for any Emperor. The food was superb – a mixture of Egyptian, Indian and European dishes to suit all palates.
The Oberoi Philae was refurbished some four years ago. At that time, the interior was remodelled so that the original ship with around 50 cabins providing accommodation for over 100 guests, now comprises 22 cabins and four suites, two of which have a private terrace and hot tub. Every cabin has full height picture windows which open if you want fresh air. Every cabin has a superb bathroom with walk in shower and contemporary fittings. If you wanted privacy, you could stay there all day.
But, there’s a luxurious sundeck with a bar and dining area, a lounge area and a small swimming pool. There a small but perfectly formed gym and a spa offering a range of exclusive treatments. And, there are more members of staff than passengers – whether the cruise is fully booked or not. It is, without a doubt, a five-star experience.
It’s a great dilemma to be faced with. Ultimate luxury on board the Oberoi Philae or fascinating or spectacular ancient edifices and amazing artifacts on shore. At the end of the cruise I was left wanting more time for both – the obvious solution is to return!
This is the first post about my recent trip to Egypt. With many thanks to Vicky and Jerome at Cyplon Holidays for hosting us, to Habib at Egypt Air for arranging flights and travelling with us, to Tarek for giving us such a good insight into the life of the Ancient Egyptians and to Mahmoud and his team on the Oberoi Philae for looking after us all SO well.
We flew to Luxor direct from Heathrow with EgyptAir, The National Airline of Egypt.
EgyptAir runs 14 flights weekly from London Heathrow to Cairo
1 flight weekly from London Heathrow to Luxor *Subject to seasonality
For Reservations: 0844 822 1110
We travelled with Cyplon Holidays
We stayed on the Oberoi Philae