On the Beautiful Blue … Nile? Temples, Gods…and Balloons

Listening to the New Year concert from Vienna, and in particular to the lilting Strauss waltz, On the Beautiful Blue Danube, I was struck by a subversive thought: the Danube isn’t BLUE.
Danube at Budapest and text: on the Beautiful Blue Danube?

(The image above isn’t Vienna either, it’s Budapest. But that greeny/brown river is the Danube.)

And I was reminded of a trip on a river that is actually blue and which has inspired many stories over the centuries. This was my subconscious providing the inspiration. Again.

On the Beautiful BLUE … Nile?

The Nile, unlike the Danube, is mostly BLUE, as I discovered on my visit some years ago, before the troubles of more recent times made the river a less attractive destination for tourists.

The Nile near Luxor

The Nile near Luxor

Never mind the boring old pyramids. There’s a great deal to see from a vessel cruising On the Beautiful Blue NILE…

Visitors need to choose a travelling mode to suit their wallets.

ss misr nile paddle steamerinterior, ss misr paddle steamerAt the top end, there’s the hundred-year-old opulence of King Farouk’s paddle steamer, SS Misr, with more crew than guests and a price tag to match. Shades of Poirot and Death on the Nile?

Or a sail-assisted steamer — less opulent but easier on the finances?

There are modern vessels too but they’re much less attractive than this one.


Or maybe a traditional felucca, driven solely by the wind? The silence can be wonderful.

In case you’re wondering, that domed building on the top of the hill at Aswan is the Aga Khan’s mausoleum, dating from the late 1950s.

Choose one of the Gods of the Nile

Edfu temple, statue of Horus the falcon-headed god

Horus statue, Edfu temple, River Nile

There are many, many ancient Egyptian deities to admire.
I became very fond of Horus, the falcon-headed god, son of Osiris and Isis.

Horus was the god of the sky and the protector of kings.

Edfu temple, statue of Horus, the falcon-headed god

Horus, wearing the double crown

But you don’t want to get on the wrong side of Egyptian deities.

This is Horus again, wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. Wise to be careful? He’s looking a bit cross.

He might…

Temples of the Nile

Edfu temple, Nile, great pylonThere are also many temples to see from a Nile ship.
You could visit Edfu, the temple of Horus; part of its great pylon is in the image on the left;

or what little remains of the temple of Esna (not shown) dedicated to the ram-headed god, Khnum, who guarded the source of the Nile and created the first man from clay;

Kom Ombo temple, Nile



or Kom Ombo, shown right, made up of two temples, one dedicated to the crocodile-headed Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world, the other dedicated to Horus (again!)

Maybe I was wise to chose Horus to venerate above the others? He does seem to be everywhere.

Further up the Nile, at Aswan, is the island of Philae, sacred to the goddess Isis, bride of Osiris and mother of Horus. (In fact, Philae had to be dismantled and rebuilt in a new position in the 1970s to save it from erosion as a result of the Aswan High Dam.) Philae contains not only Egyptian but also Greek and Roman temples, easily seen from the Nile.

Philae island on Nile at Aswan

Philae: Pavilion of Trajan on left and Temple of Isis on right

Pharoahs come in different shapes and sizes

Statue of Rameses II at Karnak temple on the Nileram-headed sphinx at Karnak temple on the NileVisitors to the Nile can’t miss the Pharoah Rameses II, also called Rameses the Great.

He lived to the ripe old age of 90 so he had decades to erect zillions of statues of himself. Karnak and Luxor are full of effigies of him, like the giant example on the left. On the right is a ram-headed sphinx.

But the greatest effigies of Rameses are probably at Abu Simbel on the Upper Nile south of Aswan. The temple there was hewn from solid rock and features 4 gigantic figures of Rameses, each 60 feet high. Alongside his leg, you can see little female figures, at least some of which represent Nefertari, his favourite wife.

Exterior of Great Temple at Abu Simbel on the Nile

To be fair, Nefertari did also have a temple dedicated to her at Abu Simbel though temples to wives were previously unheard of. That’s her, in the middle of the image below, shown as Hathor, the consort of Horus (again!) and the goddess of women, love, beauty, pleasure and music. But, although it’s Nefertari’s temple…

Exterior Small Temple at Abu Simbel on the Nile

…Rameses is there again, right next to the entrance. And there’s another statue of him on the other side of the doorway (not shown).

Abu Simbel was moved to its present site as part of the international rescue operation in the 1960s when it was threatened by the rising waters of Lake Nasser at the Aswan High Dam. It was an engineering marvel but, for the tourist, it feels as though the temple complex has always been where it now stands.

The Nile from a different angle?

sunrise over the Nile with balloons Hot air balloons above the Nile at dawn

You don’t have to be on the Nile to admire these wonders. You can soar above it, IF you dare. Ballooning, especially at sunrise, is so popular that it leads to congestion, though.

Nile's fertile land meets barren desertFrom the air, you are struck by the stark line where the fertile land watered by the Nile turns to barren desert.

Hatshepsut's temple on the Nile from the airYou can see the temples cut into the rock, too.

That distant outline (arrowed) is the massive temple of the great female Pharoah, Hatshepsut.

Hatshepsut obelisk at Karnak on the Nile



Yes, there were female Pharoahs, though some of their successors tried to blank them out of history.

Hatshepsut has a wonderfully preserved obelisk at Karnak. It’s so well-preserved because her successor built a wall around it to conceal her name for all eternity.

Guess what? Didn’t work 😉

Hatshepsut's temple

The crowds of tourists give an idea of the scale of Hatshepsut’s magnificent temple.

Coming down in your balloon can be a bit hairy. You want to be in one piece to explore the temples on foot. So…

Best not to hit those enormous statues?

Colossi of Memnon on the Nile

The Colossi of Memnon, 60ft high statues of Amenhotep III

Busy, Bustling or Relaxing?

The Nile can be a bustling place, teeming with tourists and boats, though sadly with rather fewer tourists these days. But equally, the Nile can be…

Nile temple by night

serene, calm and relaxing

sunset, fisherman at Aswan on Nile


Joanna Maitland, author


10 thoughts on “On the Beautiful Blue … Nile? Temples, Gods…and Balloons

    1. Joanna Post author

      Yes, the scale is magnificent and, although there are (or were) lots of tourists, it didn’t feel crowded to me. We didn’t visit Cairo or the pyramids but actually, having “done” the Nile, I don’t have a yen for the pyramids. One thing you would have loved, Liz, though you might have been shocked as well: the French graffiti dating from 1798-99 (the top says “R. F. An 7” though it’s not too clear)
      French graffiti 1798-99 on Nile Temple
      Later visitors, including Brits, left graffiti too, I’m sorry to say, but I didn’t see any later than 1841.

  1. Liz

    The last time I was in Egypt it was on a war footing with the Museum of Cairo sandbagged and the windows taped like WW11 and we had the place to ourselves. Ditto the pyramids and the Sphinx. The Tutankhamen treasures were all there and the mummy room was still open. I came over faint – I thought it would be mummy cases, not the actual mummies. We didn’t go down the Nile sadly, but I did see the temple in the Museum in New York that the Eyptian govt gave to the US in thanks for the work they did to save Abu Simbel. It’s the one in the film Maid in Manhattan.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I don’t imagine there are all that many visitors at the moment either, Liz, which is a great shame. Our Egyptian guide on the Nile was probably the best I’ve had anywhere and I wonder, now, whether he still has a job and an income. Abu Simbel is the most amazing place but tourists couldn’t visit without an armed guard, even 10 years ago.

  2. lesley2cats

    We used to fly regularly to Cairo and Khartoum when I was with BA when Adam was a lad, and the female air crew were very popular in Khartoum, so we used to get taken on short Nile trips – can’t remember now if we went up the White Nile or down the Blue! But I loved it. In Cairo we stayed at the Hilton and over the years I did all the tourist things, Sphinx, Pyramids, Tut museum (even bought a replica wall plaque). Those two were my favourite destinations, along with Nairobi. I’m so glad I did it when I did. This piece makes me want to go back, Joanna, but it would all be so changed…

    1. Joanna Post author

      Seems that a lot of romantic novelists have “done” the Nile. You’re the third today, Lesley. Glad my piece has brought back good memories for you.

  3. Elizabeth Hawksley

    I remember having dinner overlooking the banks of the Nile and noting that it really was eau de Nil – i.e. a sort of olive colour. And everything that ought to appear did so on cue: two pied kingfishers swooped about; the sun sank with amazing speed (shades of Kipling),behind a small island with a palm tree; and a dhow tacked its way across the river.

    I remember thinking: what about a crocodile? And perhaps a couple if ibis? It was magic.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Apologies for the late reply, Elizabeth. Glad you have such magical memories. Must say that all the bits of the Nile that I saw were blue not eau de Nil. And yes, there were all sorts of birds. I watched ospreys fishing at Aswan and kept reminding myself that, in a few months, they’d probably be nesting in British drizzle.

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