Last October, I wrote a post on this blog called “The Ha Long Cruise- How it ruined my life.”
I quote myself from that post
“I realised that I will ask myself the following question whenever I visit the Pyramids or Petra or the Table mountain or anywhere nice.
Sure, this is beautiful but is it as beautiful as Ha Long Bay?”
(Check out the full post here)
Looking back at it a year later, I regret saying that. That was pretty dumb. You can’t compare Pyramids and Ha Long Bay, just like you can’t compare apples and oranges.
And I remember the exact moment when I realised it was dumb. It was a beautiful starry night, and I was on the sun deck of my cruise ship. I didn’t know the exact time, but it must have been pretty late because no one else was around. It seemed I was the only one awake on the ship. We were sailing on the Nile, just like the Egyptian Pharoahs did hundreds of years ago.
It was dark, but I could make out the silhouettes of palm trees on the banks of the river. Apart from the sound of the water below, there was complete silence. I must have been up there for hours.
At some point during those hours, I thought about Ha Long Bay and the October post. I asked myself the question I had written about in that post.
Was the Nile more beautiful than Ha Long Bay?
And I realised how stupid that sounded because they are both beautiful in their own unique way.
So, I have learnt my lesson and will try not to make such statements as I write about the Nile today.
The most beautiful river in the world.
Standing on the sundeck that night, enveloped in the wonderful silence, it seemed weird that this was the same river I had seen in Cairo just a few days before. It was just as beautiful but the surroundings were totally different. High rise buildings. Traffic. People. Noise.
It was my second day in Egypt and I had hired a taxi to the Pyramids of Giza.
About half an hour into the taxi ride we drove up on a bridge and Ahmed, the driver asked, “You see this water?”
I looked closely. It had the same velvety blue water I had seen in various movies and documentaries over the years. It was the Nile!
The bridge was busy with speeding trucks and cars, and Ahmed just would not stop. I was practically begging from the backseat.
“Please. Just 2 minutes.”
He would shake his head. “Very danger.”
Finally, I managed to convince him to stop and as soon as he parked on the side of the busy road, I rushed out to the sidewalk and leaned on the barrier of the bridge to gaze out at the river I had been dreaming about for all these years. I blocked out all the noise emanating out of the busy road, and tried to appreciate how I lucky I was to be standing in Cairo looking at the Nile.
Ahmed, that bugger just won’t stop honking. “We go now!”
(Why must taxi drivers always be such assholes! I wonder if they teach that in the taxi driver training school
“Today we are going to learn how to be an asshole of the highest degree. It’s a very important lesson, so you guys better take notes.”
Ahmed would be the principal of that school.)
Few days later as I was strolling around Tahrir Square in the evening, I met a travel agent named Aladin who gave me a super deal on the Nile Cruise. His office was on the third floor of a building overlooking the square that was lit up under the lights and buzzing with people visiting the nearby evening markets.
I was to board the ship from Luxor two days later and head towards Aswan with stops in the temples of Edfu and Kom Ombo. The ship was to sail for two days and then dock for another three in the beautiful port of Aswan before heading back to Luxor. The ship would be my home for these five days.
I said yes instantly and Aladin threw in a big hug for free.
The ship was great. It had a swimming pool, two bars, a big dining hall, gift shops, a beautiful sun deck and a very comfortable room. The best part, however, was my own private balcony. I would see the most beautiful sunrises while still in my bed and then drift back to sleep.
I remember being called for lunch on my first day on the ship but I didn’t want to leave my room because we were passing through a desert at the time. The blue water, then miles of golden sands and the blue sky. It was an incredible view. I asked the bell boy, who had come to call me for lunch, to bring me a plate of food, knowing it was against the rules of the ship. A ten pound tip and I found myself gorging on delicious seafood, and soft cakes, with my feet dangling outside the balcony, with the view of the desert and the river.
Water and beer were super expensive but they didn’t charge for the sunsets, so I didn’t really mind.
Early next morning the ship stopped at the small city of Edfu. Temple of Horus was beautiful, but that wasn’t surprising because most things in Egypt usually are. The temple is situated at the site of the great battle where Egyptian God Horus fought the murderer of his father, his uncle Set. It is considered to be one of the most well preserved ancient temples in all of Egypt.
What I remember the most about Edfu are the horse carts. It seemed full of them. I hired a cart to take me to the temple. The seats at the back were comfortable but sitting with the driver as he pulled the strings of the stallion was awesome. And I will choose awesome over comfortable any day.
On our way back, we stopped at a local market and I stuffed by bag with a few bottles of water and chocolate bars. I think they call this Jugaad in Delhi. Not sure, but it definitely solved the expensive water problem.
That evening, we visited the temple of Kom Ombo which is the only temple in the country that is dedicated to two gods, falcon headed god Haroeris and crocodile headed god Sabek. There is also a crocodile museum displaying, among other things, mummified crocodiles.
Surprisingly though the best part about the cruise was something that they don’t even advertise about in their designer pamphlets. There is something incredibly peaceful and relaxing about watching the sunsets from the deck. The sky turning orange, birds flying back to their nests, adhan (call to prayer) from the nearby mosque purifying the air, village kids dressed in their traditional long shirts (gallibaya) on the banks of the river trying to outrun our ship, and the sun slowly hiding behind the palm trees.
Sunset was followed by a clear night sky full of twinkling stars and a gleaming moon. I would sit on the deck chairs trying to find constellations. Every now and then, fiery orange glow would come from beyond the trees and I would be left wondering if it was a small settlement or a forest fire.
On my last night, looking up at the night sky, with thousands of twinkling stars and the lights of Aswan in the distance, I couldn’t help but think about the time when I read about the Nile in my school text book. Nile is the longest river in the world, and hence was an important thing to remember for my class test.
What the text book had failed to mention however was how beautiful it was. It didn’t say anything about its deep blue waters or the ancient temples that stood around it. It didn’t tell us about the cattle that grazed the fields on the banks of the river, or the desert that stood beyond its waters. It didn’t mention the dazzling sunrises nor did it say anything about its fascinating sunsets.
I wondered how a river that was described with such dull words in the text book can be so mesmerising in real life. I wondered if the people who wrote that book actually visited the Nile.
No. They didn’t.
Because if they did, the text book have been a lot more interesting and history and geography would have been my favourite subjects.
But then, I realised I was being too harsh on the authors because we still do not have words in our dictionary that can do justice to the beauty of Nile.
You cannot capture this majestic river in words.
No one can.