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Introducing Esna

'One after another the great temples next come into view: Kom Ombo dominating a bend in the river, Edfu still intact on the western bank… There is a monumental stillness in the warm air, an intimation of past existence endlessly preserved…' Alan Moorhead, The Blue Nile (HarperCollins, 1962)

Where northern Upper Egypt is dominated by fast-growing cities and political problems, the country south of Luxor is both harder and calmer. The Nile is increasingly hemmed in by the desert, its banks lined with well-preserved Graeco-Roman temples at Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo, its lush fields punctuated by palm-backed villages – it’s the perfect place to glide through on a Nile sailing boat. Al-Kab provides the perfect contrast to the grandeur of the temples, for this once-great city has almost completely disappeared. Beyond Edfu the ribbon of cultivation on the Nile’s east bank gives way to the Eastern (Arabian) Desert, while at Gebel Silsila, 145km south of Luxor, the river passes through a gorge, once thought to mark a cataract.

Aswan may be the regional capital and administrative centre, but this ancient ivory-trading post has a laid-back atmosphere that sets it apart from other tourist centres in Egypt. With the Nubia Museum, ancient remains, a vibrant souq, beautiful gardens and a unique Nubian-influenced local culture, it is a fascinating and relaxing place to spend time.

South of Aswan, the land is dominated by the High Dam and its offspring, Lake Nasser, the world’s largest artificial lake. Remarkable monuments that would have been lost to the lake’s waters now stand grouped on its shores and can be visited by boat. Most southerly and spectacular of all is the Great Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, one of ancient Egypt’s most awesome structures and a highlight of any visit to Egypt.