Drifting Down the Nile

Article excerpt

FLOATING in the Nile dawn the sight below was truly awe-inspiring. Imposing itself on the harsh desert landscape was the breathtaking temple of Queen Hatshepsut.

Looking down from 1,500ft, the basket of the hot air balloon swaying gently in the breeze, the temple looked like an architect's model.

The massive construction, created more than 3,500 years ago, was yet another example of the unsurpassed splendour of ancient Egypt.

And, as the balloon drifted onward over the Valley of the Kings, the resting place of so many great Pharoes, the green ribbon of the Nile could be seen meandering through the burning sands on its epic journey towards Cairo and the Great Pyramids - hundreds of miles to the north.

Suddenly, Howard Carter's house was below - a forlorn, isolated building that served as the archaeologist's home while he searched for the treasure chest that was Tutankhamun's tomb.

The whole experience was more than a little surreal, but then the whole of the previous week had been enveloped in a timeless sense of magic.

The scenes which greet the traveller in Egypt take the breath away. The sheer scale of the buildings and their age - some date back over 5,000 years - can be overwhelming.

Unfortunately, Egypt has had its share of troubles in recent years - not least, the massacre of 58 tourists at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut near Luxor in November 1997.

The extremist-led campaign of violence against the Egyptian government has meant the authorities have taken steps to increase security. But a ceasefire declared last March has held so far and the Foreign Office is not advising travellers to stay away.

Mystical lure

In fact, the mystical lure of Egypt is hard to resist and the steady stream of tourists flowing back to the Nile is quickly swelling to a torrent.

Security is tight at all the major sites yet is also cleverly concealed and does not impinge on the atmosphere of the temples.

Obviously it is the mammoth structures of the Pharos which bring the tourists. Even the ancient Greeks made sightseeing visits to the Nile in the fifth century BC to gaze in wonder at structures which were already 2,000 years old.

The Upper Nile, from Luxor down to Aswan, close to the border with the Sudan, is littered with such monuments.

It may not have the Great Pyramids but this area was the power base of ancient Egypt and offers far more.

Many of the monuments are centred around Luxor including the incredible Temple of Karnak.

The night-time laser light and sound show at the temple is fascinating and a spectacular excursion although the production is a touch overlong.

Across the Nile from the city is the Valley of the Kings, including, of course, the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Exploring the tombs can be arduous, however, and may not be ideal for the less mobile.

But the attractions of Luxor are best saved to the end of a visit to this region.

The first thing to do is take a trip down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan aboard one of the floating hotels.

After the cruise round off your holiday with a few nights at one of Luxor's excellent hotels.

The floating hotels offer the perfect place to relax. Recline on one of the loungers around the boat's swimming pool and watch the dunes and palm trees slip slowly by.

There's a new site to explore each day and among the must-see excursions - usually within walking distance of your boat's moorings - are the temples of Edfu and Kom Ombo.

After arriving in Aswan take afternoon tea on the terrace of the Old Cataract Hotel. The atmosphere as the sun sinks below the mausoleum of the Agha Khan on the opposite bank of the Nile is one of colonial splendour.

This was where Agatha Christie stayed and wrote much of the novel Death on the Nile. Other famous guests have included Winston Churchill. …