Sailing Down the Nile in a Felucca
Travel like Cleopatra
By Sandra Scott
Falling asleep beneath a blanket of stars listening to
the distant sound of Nubian drums, awakening to the timeless call of the
muezzin summoning the faithful to prayer, sailing under deep blue skies past
villages frozen in time, and visiting the magnificent temples of ancient
Egypt are just some of the experiences that make sailing down the Nile in a
felucca a one-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Most tourists take a felucca, the
traditional boat of the Nile, for a one hour evening sail, never realizing
the unique experience so close at hand. For those endowed with a spirit of
adventure and a sense of history, a 6-day sail from Aswan to Luxor is a trip
through an open-air museum. There is no better way to become acquainted
with the mysteries of Egypt and to explore the wonders of the Nile than by
sailing the ancient river in a 30-foot, lateen sail felucca.
Egypt is the Nile. From ancient times to the building
of the Aswan Dam, the unpredictable Nile shaped the country and its people.
The yearly flooding led to the development of mathematical, astronomical,
and engineering knowledge way in advance of other civilizations. Planning
for the years when the harvest was poor led to the development of government
and a system of laws. That Egypt has survived for 6000 years is due to the
bounty of the Nile. Life along the Nile has changed little over the
Felucca trips start in Aswan and stop at the most
important sites of antiquity along the river before reaching Luxor. While
in Aswan, waiting for final arrangements to be made, there are several
interesting side trips including tours of the Aswan Dam and the Temple of
The new Aswan Dam, completed in 1970, created
300-mile-long Lake Nasser. One of the earth’s largest structures, the
rock-fill dam, has a volume about seventeen times that of the Great Pyramid
The Temple of Philae, on an island
between the old and the new dams, is the most interesting of Aswan’s
antiquities. The creation of Lake Nasser would have completely covered the
temple complex permanently had it not been for a cooperative world-wide
effort that dismantled, crated and moved of the Great Temple of Isis to new
location where it was reassembled. The oldest part of the Temple dates back
to the 4th century.
Between Aswan and Luxor, there three important
archeological sites and even though there are no fixed stops on a felucca
sail, effort is made to stop at the most important - Kom Ombo, Edfu, and
Kom Ombo, situated on a hill overlooking the Nile, was
a strategic location on the desert route to Nubia and Ethiopia. The temple
is dedicated to Harwar, the hawk-headed god, and Sobek, represented in the
form of a crocodile. To avoid offending either god, a twin temple was
constructed, the left half dedicated to Harwar and the right half to Sobek.
Although only the cases of the columns and the back walls remain, the
temple’s majestic proportion and grace are impressive. The fine reliefs
throughout the temple are worth careful attention. At the side of the
temple is a small sanctuary containing mummified crocodiles.
Waiting by the embankment at Edfu are horse-drawn
carriages ready to transport visitors on the short ride through town to the
magnificent Temple to Horus (Apollo to the Greeks). The falcon-headed god
guards the temple, the largest after Karnak. The foundation was laid in 237
BC under the reign of Ptolemy III, but the temple was not completed until
two centuries later. The temple, considered one if the finest examples of
Ptolemaic art in Egypt, is practically intact and is unique in that the roof
is still in place.
The Temple of Khnum, in Esna, is one of the best
preserved and restored because, for centuries, it was concealed under 25
feet of sand.
The leisurely and informal nature of the trip means
that everyone takes a different trip. Some trips include a night as a guest
in a Nubian village, others stop at villages to replenish supplies, buy
fresh baked bread, and to visit the colorful bazaars. The scenes along the
Nile are timeless. A man in a long flowing galaibya leads a donkey laden
with sheaves of grain down the dusty road. A young boy flicking a switch
herds a flock of sheep. A woman fills an urn with water from the Nile,
places it on her head, and walks back to her home. A man leads an ox
around the waterwheel bringing water up from the Nile to irrigate the
fields of corn. Every day brings a new montage of sights and sounds.
To the people the Nile is everything. They drink it,
wash in it, cook with it, fish in it, water their animals, and use it for
irrigation and transportation. Life along the river seems to have changed
very little through the years.
The trip is controlled somewhat by the
elements. If there is no wind, or if the afternoon wind is too strong, then
time is spent along the shore or on one of the sandy islands in the middle
of the river. Often, to make up for lost time, sailing continues well after
sunset. Falling asleep in the cool night air under the blue-black sky,
counting shooting stars, hearing only the gently flap of the sail makes
sailing at night magical.
All too soon the adventure ends, but what a place to
end. Luxor, on the site of ancient Thebes, was the center of Egyptian power
from 2,100 to 750 BC, and is a city unlike any other in the world. Its
awesome tombs, temples, and statues are a witness of man’s ageless
The Temple of Karnak, two miles north of Luxor, houses
the Hypostyle Hall. It is the largest of any temple in the world, covering
50,000 square feet, and containing 134 huge columns, and Queen Hatshepsut’s
97-feet obelisk. The South Gate, which is in almost perfect condition, was
the ceremonial gateway through which the festivals passed from Karnak, along
the Avenue of the Sphinxes, to the Temple at Luxor, several miles a way.
Across the Nile from Luxor, on the West Bank, the
Valley of the Kings was the burial ground for the great pharaohs of the
Empire. Sixty-four tombs, including The Tomb of Seti I with its
breathtaking drawings and reliefs, have been found; but, only a few are open
to the public. Nearby is the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut and the Colossi of
A felucca sail down the Nile, which is reasonable in
cost, can be scheduled for 3 or 6 days, and is usually part of a trip to
Egypt that includes a stopping Cairo and visiting the pyramids of Giza.
Meals are basic but adequate.
Breakfast is usually hard-boiled eggs, fresh Egyptian flat bread, apricot
jam, and tea. A light lunch of fresh fruit, bread and tea is usually
sufficient. Dinner often consists of rice, okra, fish, tomatoes, bread, and
tea. Meals are cooked by the captain on a one-burner stove.
Cranberry-colored kakade is a refreshing local drink made from the flowers
of the sorrel plant.
Conditions on the feluccas are primitive, but the
inconvenience caused by the austere accommodations and the lack of
facilities are offset by sailing past biblical-like scenes during the day
and under star-filled skies at night.
A felucca sail provides an intimate glimpse into the
power, grandeur, and timelessness of Egypt. The culture, people and
lifestyles make Egypt one of the most fascinating countries in the world. It
was true in 450 BC when Herodotus wrote, “There is not a country that
possesses so many wonders,” and it is still true today.
For more information: Egypt Tourist Office, (877) 77
Images by Sandra Scott