Earlier Posts

Desert Sessions Volume III: Death On The Nile

A four-night cruise down the Nile on a paddle-steamer to check out temples and tombs is what Agatha Christie would’ve wanted

Our journey had first begun in Jordan, traveling about and visiting various sites around Amman, Petra, and The Dead Sea. From there we moved on to Egypt and, as I wrote in my last entry, we stayed in Cairo, taking in the Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Egyptian Museum, as well as a multitude of other locations of historical significance in Saqqara and Memphis before flying to Luxor to spend a night in the not-so-great Hilton, but the trip was only going to rapidly improve the following morning so be forewarned — There are a lot of photos and videos coming up!

Monday, November 27, 2022
On this final stage of our trip we would be embarking on a four-night cruise on the SS Sudan, the paddle-steamer from the 1978 film Death on the Nile, based on the Agatha Christie mystery novel of the same name. Here’s what lay ahead, again from our itinerary prepared for us by Original Travel:

27/11/2022 Cruise from Luxor to Aswan aboard the Steam Ship Sudan – 5 days / 4 nights

We truly believe that the only way to ‘do’ the Nile is aboard the legendary Steam Ship Sudan. Climb aboard the charming and iconic ship for an unforgettable 5-day cruise along the Nile, travelling from Luxor to Aswan. The ship was built at the turn of the 20th century and today is the last steamer navigating the river. Standing out from other vessels thanks to its limited capacity, this ship is bursting with ‘old-world charm’. It is home to only 23 cabins, including Six suites – each bearing the name of a character linked to the history of either the boat or Egypt including Mariette Pasha, Farouk and most famously Agatha Christie. This cruise consists of a 5 day tour with a local guide, transfers and entrance fees to the sites as well as 4 nights in a double cabin, full-board catering from lunch on day 1, to breakfast on day 5 mineral water, tips for the crew and guides.

So as you would’ve seen, we weren’t going to be boat-bound for five straight days, we would also be disembarking to visit more tombs, crypts, and other archeological sites, many even more impressive than what we had already seen.


We gladly checked out of the Hilton and got in our ride to the ship at around 10am, a move Tom would love to have over again after he accidentally sat on the car’s seatbelt buckles (right) and bruised his tailbone, the pain haunting him for the remainder of our adventure. We were driven through some of the older parts of Luxor, winding our way down to the Nile where we would be boarding the SS Sudan (referred to here as the PS Sudan):

PS Sudan is a passenger-carrying side-wheel paddle steamer on the River Nile in Egypt. Along with PS Arabia, she was one of the largest river steamers in Thomas Cook’s Nile fleet. Some scenes of the ITV television film of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile were filmed aboard Sudan.

The steamer spent the latter years of the 20th century laid up and in deteriorating condition but new French owners bought her in 2000 and returned her to service in 2001.

In 2004, she was again used for an adaptation of Death on the Nile.

Anna and myself had prepared for this cruise by watching Death on the Nile (the original, not the apparently terrible 2022 remake) so we had a decent idea of what the interior of the ship would look like if they were keeping it true to its original form. As for our accommodation, we would be staying in Suite No.25 – Odilo, and Suite No.20 – Oum Kalsoum, and this is what we could expect from our rooms:

The cosy Steam Ship Sudan offers eighteen cabins and six suites laid out on three levels. Each one of them is named after Egypt’s or the ship’s history. For instance, on the upper deck, the Agatha Christie and Lady Duff Gordon suites at the prow [sic] of the vessel enjoy spectacular views of the river. The Aïda and Queen Victoria suites sit comfortably in the generous curves of the stern. Wood panelling in warm tones, gilded or brass beds, period furniture, brass faucets, pale parquet floors, ancient dial telephones, Egyptian fabrics and crafts hunted in the bazaars of Cairo by our Decorator: the original atmosphere of the boat together with its Belle Epoque charm are reflected in every detail.

Accessible by the promenade decks, they are approximately 17m 2 in area and are equipped with a large bed or twin beds. Each one of them has two windows.

Four iconic suites are situated in the prow [sic] and the stern of the upper deck. Another suite, the Oum Kalsoum suite, is situated on the main deck. Last but not least, the Odilo suite, inaugurated in January 2022, can be found on the sun-deck. They are approximately 25m 2 in area and their big picture windows offer panoramic views of the Nile and its banks.

Tom immediately found a rival when another passenger felt a need to push in front of him to get on the ship and it would irritate Tom every time he saw him for the duration of the cruise. Once aboard we would realise that some people really get into Agatha Christie’s novels, especially her Hercule Poirot ones, even encountering several passengers that had also taken the train journey from Murder on the Orient Express. Over the course of this cruise we would bump into men with Poirot moustaches, white men in traditional Egyptian robes doing watercolours, and both male and female tourists drunkenly making ridiculous claims about their roles in the history of Egypt and these were all guests, not staff, but more on all of that later. We had a look around the ship, were handed welcome drinks in a library area, and were then escorted to our suites. Those suites sounded pretty fancy and they were, however, as we assumed, the bed was very small and had a foot on it, but besides that we were happy with where we’d be spending the coming days, this was truly a beautiful ship.
It was almost impossible to get the full ship in a photo, but we were ready to set sail!:

Once we were settled in we were off, but we wouldn’t be onboard for very long, because this was the plan for the day:


27 November

Private transfer. Boarding and installation in your cabin before lunch. In the afternoon, discovery of the east shore of Luxor with the visit of the Karnak complex, one of the largest sacred ensembles in the world; It is home to the temple of the sovereign god of Karnak, Amon, whose construction ranges from the means empire to the Ptolemaic times. Evening tour of the Temple of Luxor, the most elegant of the pharaonic buildings built under Amenophis Ill, and enlarged by another great builder, Ramses I. Optional, show “sound and light of Karnak temple”. Dinner and night aboard Luxor.

We were only cruising for probably less than an hour, because it was almost 3:00pm when we made our first stop, where we’d be spending a few hours exploring Karnak:

The Karnak Temple Complex, commonly known as Karnak, comprises a vast mix of decayed temples, pylons, chapels, and other buildings near Luxor, Egypt. Construction at the complex began during the reign of Senusret I (reigned 1971–1926 BCE) in the Middle Kingdom (around 2000–1700 BCE) and continued into the Ptolemaic Kingdom (305–30 BCE), although most of the extant buildings date from the New Kingdom. The area around Karnak was the ancient Egyptian Ipet-isut (“The Most Selected of Places”) and the main place of worship of the 18th Dynastic Theban Triad, with the god Amun as its head. It is part of the monumental city of Thebes, and in 1979 it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List along with the rest of the city. The Karnak complex gives its name to the nearby, and partly surrounded, modern village of El-Karnak, 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) north of Luxor.

We spent about three hours being guided around the complex and in that time two things became abundantly clear; over the coming days we would have:

  1. A guide that paled in comparison to our previous guides thus far, and
  2. A really annoying American couple constantly nearby

Our Californian companions on a day when they decided to tone down the boobs and tie-dye

It wasn’t that the guide was bad or anything, but our previous guides were friendly, funny, and had a personality, they seemed like the kind of people you would hang out with in your own time. The guide that would be taking us through the sites when we stopped off while cruising the Nile knew his stuff, but he was just a bit dull and had no sense of humour at all. As for the couple that would continually be by our side, they were from California and in their 60s, him almost constantly wearing tie-dyed shirts and matching Crocs and her with enormous breast implants and hair extensions and they both just felt the need to make comments on almost everything. A good example was when the guide was telling us how during the process of mummification the organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, and spleen were kept preserved in a jar alongside the body, however, the brain was discarded as it was deemed unnecessary. “Sounds like a lot of politicians” the American man, Richard, chimed in, followed by a collective groan by almost everyone else present. The woman, Judy, also felt the need to point out to everyone that one of the carvings of a king we were looking at was circumcised.

Anyway, our tour began with a scale model of the entire complex, a place that consists of three main temple enclosures, but only two are open to the public; the Precinct of Amun-Re is the largest area in the complex and it contains several enormous statues and obelisks, as well as the The Great Hypostyle Hall, a 5,000 m2 (54,000 sq. ft) space that contains 134 stone columns that once supported a now fallen roof. The other is the Precinct of Mut which contains six temples including the Mut Temple, surrounded on three sides by Isheru, a sacred lake. The Precinct of Montu is the one that is currently inaccessible and there once was the Temple of Amenhotep IV, however, that was immediately demolished after the death of its builder.
We would find that not many of the features in Karnak were unique, but it was the sheer amount of them that was impressive so here is what we did see, both in the daylight, and more details becoming visible in the shadows of night. I’ll begin each image gallery after the entrance with a photo of a sign for a bit of extra information about the area:

Besides some of the company and our not so interesting guide, if today had been a sign of what we could expect over the coming days, this cruise down the Nile would be worth every penny. Egypt gets dark particularly early so we were done with the Karnak Temple Complex by about 6:30pm and when we got back on the SS Sudan we got a little dressed up for dinner and drinks, Tom’s cocktails being exactly to his liking, and then kicked back on the ship’s deck and took in the sights for a while until we could no longer keep our eyes open.
One last look back at our first night on the cruise:

Tuesday, November 28, 2022
Anna and myself aren’t morning people, but we were up bright and early that day for several reasons, mainly being that we slept early with the boat rocking us both to sleep, but I had the problem of struggling to stay comfortable on that tiny bed, plus the sun was shining through the curtains and reflecting straight off one of the brass bedposts directly into my eye. It was fortunate for us, because we had an early start so we had breakfast while hot air balloons floated in the light of dawn, anticipating what was planned for our second day on the Nile:


28 November

The morning is devoted to the discovery of the Theban Necropolis, land of mysteries and domain of the Osiris God under the new empire: The Valley of the Kings’ Pharaohs, whose beautifully decorated graves tell us the trip of the deceased across the afterlife; The tomb of Ramses VI; The Valley of the Queens, secret necropolis of royal wives; The Tomb of Nefertari, the best known wives of Ramses VI (according to the affluence, this visit is not guaranteed); The valley of the nobles, necropolis of civil servants, high dignitaries and courts in general, which was not the result of royalty and visit of the grave of ramose; The Valley of Artisans, created to house the sculptors, painters and stone tailors who worked on the necropolises. Then, we join the boat for lunch. Recovery of navigation towards Esna, then Edfu. Dinner and overnight on board

A beautiful sight to wake up to

That sounds like a packed morning, but unfortunately Leonie wasn’t feeling too spectacular when she got up and Tom’s coccyx was still a little tender due to the seatbelt mishap the previous day so they wouldn’t be joining us on this leg. To make landfall we had to board another smaller, Middle-Eastern- themed boat, ‘Queen of the Nile’, and make our way to the shore, passing another similar boat unfortunately named ‘Titanic’ along the way to our next stop, the Theban Necropolis. We knew about most of what we were going to see before this trip, sites such as Petra, The Pyramids of Giza, and The Sphinx, but nothing could adequately prepare us for what we would see in the Valley of the Kings:

The Valley of the Kings, also known as the Valley of the Gates of the Kings, is a valley in Egypt where, for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, rock-cut tombs were excavated for the pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom (the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Dynasties of Ancient Egypt).

The valley stands on the west bank of the Nile opposite Thebes (modern Luxor), within the heart of the Theban Necropolis. The wadi consists of two valleys: the East Valley (where the majority of the royal tombs are situated) and the West Valley (Valley of the Monkeys).

With the 2005 discovery of a new chamber and the 2008 discovery of two further tomb entrances, the valley is known to contain 63 tombs and chambers (ranging in size from KV54, a simple pit, to KV5, a complex tomb with over 120 chambers). It was the principal burial place of the major royal figures of the Egyptian New Kingdom, as well as a number of privileged nobles. The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues as to the beliefs and funerary practices of the period. Almost all of the tombs seem to have been opened and robbed in antiquity, but they still give an idea of the opulence and power of the pharaohs.

We spent about five hours navigating the different tombs, climbing up and down their steep, minuscule stairways with our other cruise companions and one thing they don’t mention in the above information is that, although the scenes painted within the tombs have been cleaned and restored, they have never been repainted, making them even more incredible for paintings that are around 3,500 years old!
This tomb complex is huge so I will do my best to break up the more impressive images and videos into the order of the tombs, again beginning with a descriptive sign from the start of our tour showing where we were spending our morning, followed by other signs for the photo gallery from each site when there was one available:

Now, that may seem like a lot of images and videos and we were back in the van again, but that didn’t mean we were done exploring tombs, not by a long shot! If you look at that map of the Valley of the Kings, you would see that there are some tombs that are a little out of the way. Well, it turned out we were traveling to another area that doesn’t even show up on that map! These were the tombs of Rekhmire (sometimes spelled Rekhmira) and Sennefer, the latter proving quite difficult for me to enter as you will see in the video, but incredibly beautiful once I eventually made it in.
Let’s continue:

We were about to move on again, this time an area that had some even more fascinating tombs, if that was even possible, the village of Deir el-Medina:

Deir el-Medina is an ancient Egyptian workmen’s village which was home to the artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings during the 18th to 20th Dynasties of the New Kingdom of Egypt (ca. 1550–1080 BCE). The settlement’s ancient name was Setmaat (“Place of Truth”), and the workmen who lived there were called “Servants in the Place of Truth”. During the Christian era, the temple of Hathor was converted into a church from which the Egyptian Arabic name Deir el-Medina (“Monastery of the City”) is derived.

At the time when the world’s press was concentrating on Howard Carter’s discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, a team led by Bernard Bruyère began to excavate the site. This work has resulted in one of the most thoroughly documented accounts of community life in the ancient world that spans almost four hundred years. There is no comparable site in which the organisation, social interactions, working and living conditions of a community can be studied in such detail.

The site is located on the west bank of the Nile, across the river from modern-day Luxor. The village is laid out in a small natural amphitheatre, within easy walking distance of the Valley of the Kings to the north, funerary temples to the east and south-east, with the Valley of the Queens to the west. The village may have been built apart from the wider population in order to preserve secrecy in view of sensitive nature of the work carried out in the tombs.

What we had seen so far this particular day was incredible, but theses tombs were on another level, the detail is unbelievable! Let’s begin from the outside this time:


From Deir el-Medina we were now to move on to visit more tombs in the nearby Valley of the Queens:

The Valley of the Queens is where the wives of pharaohs were buried in ancient times. It was known then as Ta-Set-Neferu, meaning “the place of beauty”. It was most famous for being the burial site of many wives of Pharaohs. Pharaohs themselves were buried in the Valley of the Kings.

Using the limits described by Christian Leblanc, the Valley of the Queens consists of the main wadi, which contains most of the tombs, along with the Valley of Prince Ahmose, the Valley of the Rope, the Valley of the Three Pits, and the Valley of the Dolmen. The main wadi contains 91 tombs and the subsidiary valleys add another 19 tombs. The burials in the subsidiary valleys all date to the 18th Dynasty.

The reason for choosing the Valley of the Queens as a burial site is not known. The close proximity to the workers’ village of Deir el-Medina and the Valley of the Kings may have been a factor. Another consideration could have been the existence of a sacred grotto dedicated to Hathor at the entrance of the Valley. This grotto may have been associated with rejuvenation of the dead.

Despite the Valley of the Queens being where the wives of pharaohs were buried, the first tomb we would find ourselves winding through would be that of a Prince:

Just a warning; the following gallery has a photo of a skeletal human foetus

That was it for tombs and almost the end of our day out, the last little bit of exploring we would be doing was around the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III:

The Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III, also known as Kom el-Hettân, was built by the main architect Amenhotep, son of Hapu, for Pharaoh Amenhotep III during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom. The mortuary temple is located on the Western bank of the Nile river, across from the eastern bank city of Luxor. During its time, the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III was the largest funerary complex in Thebes that was built. Only parts of the mortuary temple’s layout remain, as well as the Colossi of Memnon, which are two large stone statues placed at the entrance measuring 18 meters (59 feet) high. Because the mortuary temple was built relatively close to the river, the annual flooding caused the site to decay at a more rapid rate. New research indicates that a large majority of the destruction on the mortuary temple can be attributed to the effects of an earthquake. It was long speculated that the earthquake occurred around 27 BC; however, investigations into the mortuary temple and surrounding colossi have debunked this time frame and instead have demonstrated it occurred around 1200 BC. Additional earthquakes after the one in 1200 BC have not been ruled out.