GO THE EXTRA NILE; Cruise Back in Time through 3,000 Years of Egyptian History

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Byline: Derek Gallop

IT'S hard to imagine that life along the River Nile has changed a lot in the last 3,000 years.

Farmers still work the land right up to the water's edge, goats and cattle graze along the banks and women chat as they do their washing.

Fishermen cast their nets from precarious-looking shallow boats known as feluccas while youngsters play on rough patches of ground, pausing only to wave and shout as boats sail by.

How wonderful to find such simple yet enduring lifestyles flourishing among other, more commercialised wonders of ancient Egypt.

A Nile cruise? It may be a date with relaxation, but it's an education too.

We went on the aptly-named Discovery tour with Thomas Cook Signature.

Any concern that our first experience of Ancient Egypt might be the cruise ship was soon laid to rest.

The MS Royal Rhapsody was a floating hotel full of very modern comforts.

Our air-conditioned suite had twin beds, en suite shower and loo, panoramic tinted windows, a phone, fridge and even a TV. (Come to Egypt, and sit back and watch the telly? I don't really think so...)

Upstairs there was a spacious and comfortable restaurant, a piano bar and lounge, and a good value gift shop.

The full-board meals were generous if unspectacular, and the service was flawless. The crew work very hard to ensure you are very, very comforable.

A favourite location was the sun deck, complete with plunge pool, whirlpool and bar.

There really was nothing to compare with watching the world go by, cold beer in hand, from a comfy deck lounger turned to face the shore, with an occasional dip in the pool to cool down.

If your idea of a cruise is strictly that - relaxing as you sail up and down a river - then it doesn't get much better than this.

I went at the end of January and the temperature was a balmy 23C( 75F) which was perfect for both chilling out and sightseeing.

But be warned, it can reach a sizzling 45C (114F) in the middle of summer, so choose your dates and what you decide to pack in the way of clothes very carefully.

For most people, the reason for going on a Nile adventure is to take a giant step back in time - and you can choose how big and expensive that step is.

Our tour of upper Egypt took in the cities of Edfu and Aswan with highlights such as the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak.

Approached from the Nile through an amazing avenue of sphinxes, its Hypostle Hall of 134 vast columns is simply awesome. There is also a spectacular sound-and-light show if you go at night.

Other outstanding sights are the Necropolis of Thebes, the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, and Temple of Queen Hapshetsut.

The ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun, and considered that it "came to life" (rose) in the east and "died" (set) in the west. So the burial sites for the dead pharaohs and their queens were all situated on the west bank of the Nile.

Standing at the entrance to Tutankhamun's tomb you can imagine the excitement of Carter's expedition 80 years ago when the door was opened for the first time. All the other burial chambers had been pillaged by tomb raiders 2,000 years before. …