Monday, November 22, 2010

Travel: A history of Nile cruises

Al Ahram Weekly (Jenny Jobbins)

Poets from Shakespeare to Shelley have sung the praises of the river that made Egypt. Many people think of it as their dream trip, the holiday of a lifetime. Jenny Jobbins looks at the story of the Nile Cruise and its enduring popularity

It is a bright, sunny day. You are lounging on the sun deck of your dahabiya (houseboat), lazily sipping iced mint lemonade from a tall glass. The intense blue of the sky overhead is mirrored in the surface of the water around you. There is a ripple of a breeze. You glide past groves of date palms and fields of lush green wheat; behind the palms loom tall sand-coloured rocks marking the edge of the desert plateau. In the foreground, grazing cattle are surrounded by egrets, standing stiffly like elderly, round-shouldered retainers waiting in attendance.

The scenery is timeless, and indeed has barely changed over millennia. Only you have changed. Once you might have been sailing in a royal barge, like Queen Hatshepsut, who sailed with her stepson and co-ruler Pharaoh Tuthmosis III to inspect their building work; or Cleopatra, who took her lover Julius Caesar to visit the splendid edifices of her realm. Or you could have been a 19th Century adventurer -- a Giovanni Belzoni or Mungo Park or Richard Burton, perhaps trying to make your way into Africa. You might have been one of the leisured classes for whom a trip on the Nile in a rented dahabiya was de rigueur as part of the Grand Tour. You could have sailed on one of these very same boats in the 1930s, among the haughty or louche characters of an Agatha Christie novel.

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