The Nile Valley between Aswan and Luxor is home to some of the world’s most stunning monuments, but in this region it is the Nile that is the luminary and the central vein. For 228 km, the ancient river languidly meanders along past the stripes of crops with ibis paddling in their watery furrows, farmers wearing every colour of galabiya, ancient sandstone quarries, donkeys turning wooden waterwheels and sheep among the sugar cane. The area is best explored by boat – from the deck of a cruiser or more intimately in a felucca, with the Nile so close you can feel it mumbling and sighing, still as glass in the morning and raging like a rough sea by midday. Placed at strategic and commercial centres near the river, the striking Graeco-Roman monuments of Edfu and Kom Ombo are among the most colourful and complete pharaonic structures in the country.
The further south one ventures, the more apparent the melding of Africa and Arabia. Aswan, the provincial capital, is populated largely by Nubians, a taller and darker-skinned people with a unique language and tradition. Although the city itself has become as commercial as Luxor, endless time can be lost wandering around nearby islands, walking amid Nubian villages and reclining on feluccas watching birds soar overhead. Close by, the island temple of Philae is a spiritual place, especially after dark – if you see just one sound and light show on your travels, let it be this one. After the Pyramids and the Sphinx, Abu Simbel, adorned with four enormous colossi of Ramsis II, is the defining image of Egypt. Just 40 km north of the Sudanese border, the temple was erected as testimony to the Pharaoh’s might for anyone who dared approach from the south. Three millennia later, the monument’s sheer size still inspires awe. A night spent in laid-back Abu Simbel on the brim of Lake Nasser gives the opportunity to enjoy a peaceful dawn at the temple, a memorable experience as profound as the monument itself.
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