First time cruiser, Emily Payne, has boarded the MS River Tosca to travel the Nile in styleAs a cruise virgin, she was sceptical about entering the murky world of towel craft and dressing up for dinner. But here she is loving every minute of it! Read what happens when a first timer dips her toe into the river and gets a real taste of Egypt’s hypnotic history.

Somewhere just past Luxor, as the sun sets on day one of my first cruise, and I head to the top deck and take in the Nile. In the late afternoon heat, cattle graze on the banks among palm trees and paddy fields and mud brick houses appear every so often, reflected in the water. Then a man pulls out a reed mat on river’s edge and starts his prayers, facing Mecca. This is river cruising.

Before now, I had no idea about what to expect on a cruise. I had an inkling there would be some sensible shoes and a healthy amount of khaki. I was in the camp that favoured hitching lifts, taking a clapped out cab, riding on the back of a three-legged donkey, whatever it took to get a real sense of a place. There was a part of me that saw muddling by in a gigantic steamer as cheating.

But I’ll freely admit I was wrong. Life aboard the MS River Toscais adventurous, thrilling and, well, deeply comfortable. How else could you walk through an avenue of 23 metre columns embellished with sexually aroused Theban deities, come within inches of the blackened mummy of Tutenkhamun and gawp at the destroyed statues of the only female Pharoah – Hatshepsut – ruined in a fit of anger by her son-in-law? Being on the Nile is not only the smoothest way to explore ancient Egypt, it’s existence is one of the pillars of its history.

The Temple of Hatshepsut
The Temple of Hatshepsut

Ship Shape

And the ship? I’ve had to restrain myself from being one of the Mad dogs and Englishmen who bask in the midday heat on the sun deck, with its tres chic calico clad sun loungers, bar and swimming pool. There’s a library for those after dinner cognac moments, my bedroom is white and camel, with a bed fit for a whole family, the kind of enormous marble bathroom I dream about and sliding door onto the Nile.

My fellow cruisers are a wonderful mix of Americans and Canadians, which include an 81-year-old power lifter from Detroit.   Ayman, my guide says the Nile is wise in Egypt. And anyone hoping to understand the intricate skeleton of Egypt’s past, with its Greek, Roman, English, French and Arabic bones, would have to be almost as wise.

By day three I have been wowed by hieroglyphics, beautifully ornate and colourful paintings and gargantuan sculptures from four temples: Karnak, Dendara Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, each illustrating the one-upmanship between Kings (the bigger and bolder your temple, the closer you were to the Gods).

Temples in the Sand

At the Temple of Luxor, a wedding ceremony was taking place in a nearby mosque filling the air with potent Egyptian melodies. We arrived just as the pylons were catching the last orange of the sun. This place was built in 1110 AD, but covered in sand, so later while it lay hidden, a mosque was built on top of it. Now you can see where the two join – and as a place of worship, it was forbidden to destroy the mosque, when the temple was discovered beneath it. The same temple opens out into a courtyard which shows a vivid painting of the Last Supper.

When the Romans banned Christianity, no new churches were to built, so the Christians – of which still make up 10 per cent of Egypt – hid their church in the back of this temple.   It’s easy to tell the God of fertility drawn on the inner walls of the Temple. Let’s just say he looks happy. And the part of his anatomy which denotes that has faded away after years of women coming to Luxor to touch it, in the belief it would bring them children. Even as far back as 1473 BC, men and their mother-in-laws failed to get on.

But at the Hatshepsut Temple, which incidently was the scene of a horrific massacre of tourists in 1997, the revenge Thutmosis 111 had on Hatsheput after she kept him captive in order to make herself Pharoah rather than him, can be seen in graphic detail. Defaced paintings and beheaded statues of the only female Pharoah decorate the impressive cliff-carved temple, making his anger immortal.

Cruise ships reopened after the revolution on September 5th, which means despite this being peak season here numbers are depleted. The empty chairs at the dinner table, and the extra attentive service from the crew tell a story of their own, but the outlook seems positive.

Want to read more of Emily’s travels? Click here