The Nile Cruise Written by Andrew Muigai
Egypt is where history first emerged. It is here that we have first pictographic record of events and persons. hieroglyphics, system of writing used by ancient Egyptians can be traced back to about 3200 BC. At about 3180 BC nations of Upper and Lower Egypt were brought under rule of a single king titled Pharaoh. The first Pharaoh is thought to have been Menes, who set his capital at Memphis, 22 km south of Giza in today's Cairo. The Pharaohs established systems that brought forth highly successful Egyptian civilization.
The history of Ancient Egypt lasted for about 3,000 years. Ancient Egypt declined, was overrun and thereafter ruled by foreign powers. The Greeks and Romans who ruled after decline were aware of great similarity between their own gods and those of Egyptians. They not only tolerated Egyptian religion, but also expanded existing temples and dedicated new ones to existing cults. Some of new overlords, Alexander Great for example, styled themselves as divine priest-kings in imitation of Pharaohs.
Emperor Theodosius, who reigned after Christianity became state religion in Rome, extinguished last remnants of living culture. The Egyptians worshipped hundreds of gods - a great offense against monotheistic religions; whose first article of faith is that there is only one God. Theodosius decreed in AD 391that all pagan temples in Roman Empire be closed. The Arabs, who brought Islam to Egypt in 640 AD, also had no time for deities such as Anubis jackal, Horus falcon god or even Amon king of gods.
Ancient Egypt was dead for one thousand five hundred years, until French came across Rosetta Stone in nineteenth century invasion of Egypt by Napoleon. This priceless discovery was inscribed in both Greek and Egyptian, and it was key that allowed deciphering of Hieroglyphics by Jean-Francois Champollion in 1822. The voluminous literature produced by Ancient Egyptians was now accessible to curious scholars. This rekindled great interest in Ancient Egypt in West that remains undiminished to this day.
Religion is common theme running through attractions of ancient Egypt. The diversity of gods found worthy of worship is astounding. There were over 2,000 of them of either sex and they supposedly manifested themselves to earthlings as animals. There were overlaps and same gods could be known with different names in various parts of country. There was hardly any part of life experience that was not assigned a deity- digestion, mummification, sexuality, feasting, childbirth, writing - you name it. Some gods came and went out of fashion, but those connected with basic aspects of life were enduring. Such deities had cults and temples dedicated to them.
The afterlife was taken very seriously, and a lot of monuments relate to preparation for that glorious time. Mortuary and burial preparation was so elaborate as to ensure a painless and enjoyable afterlife. The custom of mummification, for example, was seen as necessary for soul needed a physical body to occupy in other world. There was however great inequality in preparation for eternal life. The Pharaohs and other royals, nobles and key officials were mummified and accompanied by grave goods and great treasure. The common folk who could not afford full treatment had to do with statuettes of mummies.
The main draw to Egypt is legacy of Pharaohs and Greeks and Romans who ruled after them. Basically this legacy is associated with temples, tombs and burial places. People in Egypt from earliest times to present have always lived along River Nile and this is where you find richest harvest of ancient monuments. As many travelers will testify, best way to experience classical Egypt is by taking a Nile cruise. The cruise is a very pleasant and relaxing way to get close to attractions of antiquity, most of which are not far off from banks of river. You also get a glimpse of rural Egypt where many eke out a living just as their forbearers did thousands of years ago.
The typical Nile cruiser is really a floating hotel. Amenities on board will include lounges, restaurants, bars, swimming pool, discotheque and shops. The rooms are rather smaller than those of a land based hotels but will have air conditioning, TV and enough room for twin beds, private shower, nightstand and dresser. The quality of cruisers varies and they are graded with stars just like hotels. Top end cruisers have spacious suites and amenities almost equal to those of ocean cruisers. Generally, quality and romance of Nile cruisers surpasses other riverboats anywhere else in world.
Nile cruises normally take three, four or seven nights. You will be able to see most important and interesting monuments on shorter and more popular cruises that ply between Luxor and Aswan. The longer sail takes you up to Dendera. The boats sail both downstream and upstream and on shorter cruises, you can embark at either Aswan or Luxor. The more adventurous travelers or those on a tight budget avoid luxury cruisers in favour of fellucas- traditional Nile sailboats. Though amenities onboard fellucas are very basic, those who can survive them, visit all attractions along Nile at a fraction of cost of cruisers.
At Aswan, Nile is deep, calm and is at its most glorious. It is a good place to embark on your Nile cruise. Aswan was for long Egypt's southern frontier city and its gateway to Africa. This was region known as Upper Egypt, being upstream of Nile. After Aswan, Nile passes through a section of hard rock, resulting in rapids or cataracts. Thus by nature did Aswan attain its strategic position and it has served as a garrison town for those who have ruled Egypt over centuries. And for this reason, there are monuments here associated with Pharaohs, Greeks, Romans, Christian Copts and Islam.
At Aswan, make sure to visit Philae Temple. Ptolemy II started temple when Greeks ruled, and Romans completed it. It was dedicated to goddess Isis, an important figure in Egyptian mythology that was worshipped across Roman Empire. Even after Emperor Theodosius ordered all pagan temples to cease operations, Isis was still being glorified at Philae, until about AD 550 when Emperor Justinian finally shut down temple. The early Christians converted temple's hypostyle hall into a chapel. For good measure, they defaced some of pagan reliefs adorning its walls.
The temple forms an excellent backdrop for nightly sound-and-light show. The temple was nearly lost after Aswan High Dam was commissioned in 1960's. It took UNESCO and Egyptian government ten years to move it, one stone at a time, to higher ground on Agilka Island. Most people also visit Elephantine Island, which has temples and a museum. The Island has been inhabited since about 3000 BC and was an important trading and cultural centre.
Aswan is home of Nubians, a dark skinned people, related to people of north of Sudan. You can see some Nubian villages at Elephantine Island. The Nubian museum celebrates Nubian culture right from prehistoric times. Aswan was once an important centre for Christian Copts. You can see ruins of once majestic Monastery of St Simeon, which was destroyed by conqueror Saladin (Salah ad-Din) in 1173 AD.
The Big Cats of East AfricaWritten by Andrew Muigai
The most charismatic of all animals that roam savannas of East Africa are big cats. Safari enthusiasts exercise great patience and go to great lengths to ensure a sighting. To behold beauty and splendour of big cats in wild is a prospect that warms heart of every nature lover. Among a number of ancient civilizations - Romans, Sumerians, and Egyptians- big cats were held in fascination and in higher esteem than any other wild animals. Some were indeed taken as gods, and many are kings who have set images of big cats on their royal emblems.
The big cats have in past been more widely dispersed in world than they are today. In our time, redoubts of big cats are in Africa and small pockets of Asia. The cat family is known by scientists as felidae and refers to an assortment of animals grouped as small and big cats. The small cats are less well known and appreciated. In East Africa small cats include wild cats, sand and serval cats. The small cats are very widespread in almost all habitats in East Africa. But they keep their heads down and elicit little conflict with man- ultimate enemy of all wild animals.
The big cats you find outside Africa include tiger, jaguar, leopard, cougar and Iberian lynx. The big cats are most committed carnivores in entire animal kingdom. They are mostly nocturnal and rather secretive in nature. In common with primates, they read a lot from facial expression and love to play. The big cats capture and kill their prey. To witness a lion on a hunt is truly fascinating- if for a moment you take your mind from fate of prey. For all fame of big cats of East Africa, there are just three of them: lion, leopard and cheetah.
The lion, so called king of jungle, is largest carnivore in East Africa. The adult lion stretches between 1.4m to 2.2 m - excluding tail. The male can attain a weight of up to 225kg, while hefty female reaches 168kg. The lion is noted for its exceptional strength and has been known to bring down much larger buffalo, which has about 4 times its weight. For this reason, kings have understandably sought to be associated lions. But they hesitate to be associated with its reputation for sloth- for lion shamelessly spends up to 20 hours daily resting.
Lions are social animals and of big cats, they are only ones to live and hunt in family groups. The group or pride usually consists of a number of related females and few unrelated males. Young females usually join their mother pride, but young males venture into outside world to seek female company. Females in a pride practice communal cub rearing and hunting.
Lions are highly territorial. Males enforce territorial integrity, by means of their characteristic fierce roars, scent marking and periodic border patrols.
Lions of same pride develop strong social bonds and practice head rubbing and social grooming. Females give birth after a gestation period of 3.5 months. After only 6 weeks, cubs are induced into a lifelong habit of meat eating. Cubs play in imitation of adults and this helps in development of such useful skills as stalking prey. Though born to kings, cubs need protection from hyenas and leopard. And also from non-pride male lions- for reason that females will not mate until cubs are about 18 months old. The cubs therefore stand in way of a mating encounter.
Fighting off males bent on infanticide appears to be one of reasons why females live in prides. The moniker "king of jungle" is misleading, for buffalo and hyenas sometimes kill lions. Elephants too have no fear of king - they will charge at lions to encourage them to move on. But man remains biggest threat to lions and he has hunted lion to extinction in most of world. The lion population in Africa is today estimated at only 23,000 and survival status is listed as vulnerable in international conventions. In most parks and game reserves of East Africa, however, lion is impressively visible. Particularly in grassy plains and dry forests where large plains herbivores they prey on thrive. You will easily see king in Ngorongoro and Serengeti in Tanzania and Amboseli, Nairobi, Lake Nakuru, and Maasai Mara in Kenya. In some other locations- such as Lake Manyara in Tanzania, Tsavo, in Kenya and Queen Elizabeth in Uganda, patience and skill is called for.
Early last century, lions received extremely bad press when they disrupted building of East African railway in Tsavo area of Kenya by feeding on workforce. The movie "The Man-eaters of Tsavo" has captured this macabre drama. It is in this atmosphere that Theodore Roosevelt, American president who was a pioneer safari enthusiasts said of lions: "except when resting and in breeding season, whole career of a lion may be best summed up in single word: rapine".
Lions when deprived of their usual prey occasionally attack domestic animals and even human beings. Lions that are infirm- such as old and sick can easily attack humans and you are advised to exercise caution and take your photos from safety of a car. So if you are out camping, watch out! All said incidences of lions attacking humans are extremely rare. The image of lion has recently been rehabilitated in minds of many by popular children cartoon drama "Lion King", whose hero is Simba- Swahili for lion.
The future of lion in savannas of East Africa is not assured. The main challenge is conflict with man, his ancient enemy. People living in areas bordering parks, sometimes inflict ultimate punishment to lions when they are caught preying on livestock. In Serengeti plains of Tanzania, king has recently experienced attacks by a viral disease know as FIV -Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. FIV, just like HIV in humans, results in lowered immunity making animals vulnerable to other diseases. Unlike HIV, however, primary means of transmission of FIV is bite wounds and not sexual intimacy.
Of big cats of East Africa, most elegant is leopard. The leopard is most naturally adapted of cats. It can survive in almost in any habitat offering sufficient food and cover. That is why, of big cats, leopards thrive in most diverse range of habitats; and of land mammals they enjoy widest distribution in tropics. In East Africa, they have been found in most unlikely of places- from deserts, to mountaintops and even in cities. That not withstanding, scientists were surprised, when in 1990 three leopards were found living in a Kampala city train station. The full grown adult stretches between 1 to 1.5 m and can reach a weight of 60 kg. Man (and especially woman) has always been jealous of leopards beautiful coat. Those of East Africa have round spots unlike square spots of southern African species. Leopards are solitary animals and you hardly ever find them in groups. The sexes associate only long enough to mate! Females are ready to breed at about 2 years of age, when they produce up to 3 cubs after a gestation periood of about 90 days. The leopard therefore faces less danger than either lion or cheetah. Notwithstanding that they are very widely distributed in East Africa, you are unlikely to see them in large numbers. In addition, this most secretive of cats is nocturnal. The traveler who is determined to see them must be very calm and patient, for only most persevering are rewarded. Even scientists have such trouble spotting them, with consequence that they are not as well studied as other cats.