Bliss on the Nile, the River of Smiles

Article excerpt

Byline: MAX DAVIDSON

UNTIL the belly-dancer appeared, the whole holiday had gone like a dream. She certainly looked the part, with a costume that left little to the imagination.

But years of gyrating her stomach for tourists had taken their toll, and the dancer appeared as though she might fall asleep mid-wiggle.

'Call that entertainment?' whispered Khan, a businessman from Rotherham.

'She would be booed off the stage in Yorkshire.' Perhaps so. But what was one bored belly-dancer between friends? It would have taken an army of them to remove the gloss of an amazing week - one of those near-perfect holidays in which sun and culture, fine food and good companions blended into an irresistible cocktail.

For an all-inclusive package priced at just [pound]399, it was sensational value.

I raved about it for weeks after, like Captain Cook coming back from Australia and boring the neighbours with stories about kangaroos.

Why did it take me all these years to discover Egypt? Why did I waste my youth traipsing around the Acropolis and the Colosseum and the other 'glories' of the ancient world? Compared with what I saw on the banks of the Nile - many centuries older, immeasurably grander-they are like Portakabins beside a cathedral.

I never got to the Pyramids. I never saw the great Sphinx at Giza. I was on the Upper Nile, cruising between Luxor and Aswan. But what I did see, from tombs to temples, from statues to obelisks, blew my mind.

The sheer scale of the buildings was astounding. It was as though each pharaoh had set out to trump his predecessor, building monuments that would boggle the mind thousands of years later.

THE TEMPLES of Karnak, a few miles from Luxor, were like an archaeological theme park designed by giants. Vast ram-headed sphinxes, enormous statues, soaring obelisks then, just as your head was starting to spin, the Great Hypostyle Hall.

In cold statistical terms, the hall consists of 134 stone pillars, some 20ft in circumference and 60ft high. But no figures can convey the sensation of standing in that vast forest of granite, peering up at the sky. It was dizzying, awe-inspiring, humbling.

The Valley of the Kings, on the far side of the Nile, was no less haunting.

The pharaohs built great monuments during their lives, but none compares to the mausoleums they prepared for their deaths.

Their underground tombs, deco-

rated with a splendour appropriate for kings about to be reborn into a new life, were not just sublime in themselves, but made one feel ashamed of a culture where loved ones are hastily disposed of at the local crematorium.

The excursions to ancient sites were so enthralling that I could have visited Egypt in the back of a stuffy coach and still come away happy.

Doing it in style, on a cruise ship, was riches piled upon riches.

The Viking I was one of the smaller ships, with fewer than 30 cabins. …