Sail the Nile in Egypt on a Dahabiya boat

Our beautiful Dahabiya boat at sunset

I had always wanted to sail down the Nile and, when I got the chance to do just that on a beautiful hand built Dahabiya boat this spring with Djed Egypt Travel and their Nile Dahabiya Boats, I couldn’t turn the opportunity down. These elegant boats are built by local craftsmen in Esna following the design of the original 19th Century vessels and have luxurious cabins (with air con) featuring antique furniture and en suite bathrooms with colourful tiles. The boats only take between 10 and 12 people and so feel very personal and friendly. It’s lovely to chat with the other passengers on the beautiful open air deck watching the moving picture that is the banks of the Nile glide timelessly by. It is a biblical scene that has not changed for thousands of years. Palm trees, villages, boys on donkeys, water buffalo, and always the glittering, green, life giving river. It really is quite a spectacle.

Buffalo stance

Dahabiya means ‘the golden one’ in Arabic, and we were traveling on the Orient, a beautiful thing. The boats have two lateen sails and when there’s enough wind they are hoisted and quite majestic to see. When there’s not enough wind, progress is not halted as a little tug takes over.
We picked the boat up at Esna and sailed up the Nile (you can go the other way as well) to Aswan where the famous dam is built.

Aye aye Captain!

The crew were delightful and very helpful. Our captain Mr Nubu was said to be the oldest man on the Nile at 78 and still sailing – good for him. Apparently he never stops joking with the crew and they certainly seemed like a happy band.  The chef Mohammed Bashek magically rustled up three delicious meals a day in his tiny kitchen on board. There was even an additional offer of tea and home made cakes at 4pm on deck. So civilised!

4pm is tea time!

Mohamed was also the lead drummer and singer when we had an impromptu party on deck later that evening, with dancing and singing under the stars. A lovely memory. The food is quite delicious all local and all fresh – lots of salad, grains, herbs and fresh baked bread. We had fish (Tilapia) netted from the Nile that morning and a delicious beef stew at one meal..They even do a perfectly acceptable rose wine, which made me even happier!

Deck dining

The Dahabiya can moor in places where the large cruise ships (not so romantic) can’t go, so we got to stop and see lots of interesting local sites along the route.
We called in at the ancient ruins of Al Kap and saw the tombs of the nobles. The decoration on these tombs was much more about the everyday lives of people, than the religious formality of the Valley of the Kings and we learned about their live stock and farming practises. They had parties where they drank wine and sniffed Lotus flowers. They caught ducks in nets and we learnt their numbers system.  They respected women – as many ancient religions did – which was very progressive, but they hadn’t invented the wheel yet and had no horses, so everything was dragged along on sledges.
The next day we rode a caleche (horse drawn carriage) to the impressive temple of Edfu, where for a while we were the only people there until a Chinese tour group turned up.

All you can eat buffet Egyptian style

We walked through local villages followed by gangs of curious local children, and visited the quarry where huge blocks of sandstone were hewn to be sent up the Nile (or down) to construct the great temples of Egypt. These giant blocks were cut from the rock bed with only primitive tools and drills in an incredible feat of precision and strength. Tombs set into the rock overlooking the river were nearby.

A tomb with a view

The Nile used to be full of very large aggressive crocodiles. Indeed the ancient Egyptians revered the power of this fearsome reptile, and created Sobek the crocodile God in their honour. At the temple of Kon Ombo (City of Gold)  there is a a fine display of mummified crocodiles, as one specimen was chosen to be a God from time to time and preserved upon its demise. Today, the dam has contained these predators in one area, and so it was safe for us to swim in the river as long as we kept out of the strong currents.Swimming in the cold, clear refreshing waters of the Nile is something I will always remember.

Sobek – he snapped easily

One of my favourite excursions was to the camel market at Daraw. We went on a Tuesday when the market sells, in addition to camels, sheep, goats, cows, bulls, and poultry. Where else can you observe the donkey barber giving his animal a bit of a crazy hair cut to show off its best features?

Curious camels

It’s a dusty noisy experience but full of life and commerce, as markets always are. The animals have to put up with quite a lot of rough treatment at this market so it’s not for the squeamish, but it’s another fascinating sight which will not have changed for many, many years.

A boy and his donkey

I was entirely charmed by my trip with Nile Dahabiya boats and would not rule out another visit at some point (maybe going down the Nile instead) I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy it. I slept on the boat better than I’ve slept in a long time, and enjoyed the exquisite timelessness and peace of the stunning scenery gliding by. In addition, I now have a passable knowledge of hieroglyphics, a great respect for the ancient Egyptians who lived there three thousand years ago, and a renewed affection for the people who live there today.
Contact Djed Egypt Travel for more information about the Dahabiya boats or other tailor made Egypt itineraries.

It may be an ancient temple to you, but to me it’s home!