Egypt was a big part of my great-grandfather’s life. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon came here from late December to early April 1906-1922 – and now I visit Egypt again, albeit in the summer heat.
So, thank goodness for Viking Osiris’ excellent air conditioning.
It was an honor to have been named godfather of the viking Osiris – tradition is usually for a woman to give a name to a ship (my wife Fiona is godmother to two viking ships) so it’s a happy coincidence because this is it centenary year of the discovery of Tutankhamun by my great-grandfather and archaeologist Howard Carter.
Lord Carnarvon sails down the Nile on the Viking Osiris (above), a boat of which he recently became godfather. Viking Osiris’ Pyramids and Pharaohs Cruise along the Nile includes both the Pyramids of Giza and Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings
Lord Carnarvon (left) in front of Tutankhamun’s tomb during his final trip to Egypt on a river cruise. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun by his great-grandfather, archaeologist Howard Carter (right).
Fiona and I are on board Viking Osiris’ Pyramids and Pharaohs cruise along the Nile, which includes both the Pyramids of Giza and Tutankhamun’s Tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
The pandemic has meant none of us have been able to travel so it is such a joy to be able to sail the Nile through the heart of the country. It is particularly poignant to be back in the Valley of the Kings because the find of the 5th Earl has led to such insight and interest in ancient Egypt.
Access to Tutankhamen’s tomb has been improved. It makes a big difference and I am very impressed with the work done by the Egyptian authorities.
Visitors no longer have to climb down the stone steps to enter the burial chamber. The new Great Egyptian Museum overlooking the Pyramids is a continuation of work to celebrate the centenary of the discovery in November 1922.
It is scheduled to open this November, but until then Tutankhamun’s golden mask, jewelry and sarcophagi will remain housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It’s a pleasure to go there with Viking on an evening tour without the crowds.
Viking guests spend two nights in Cairo, giving us plenty of time to experience life in this vibrant capital of 20 million people. I never tire of seeing the Pyramids, the last wonder of the ancient world, made of 55 million tons of limestone.
Access to Tutankhamun’s tomb in Luxor (above) has been improved, says Lord Carnarvon, adding: “It makes a huge difference and I am very impressed with the work of the Egyptian authorities.”
Tutankhamun’s golden mask, jewelry and sarcophagi are still kept in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Pictured above is the outer golden shrine of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber on display in the museum
Luxor is our next stop and there we board the ship. Here the river is like a movie set – calm, clean and wide, fringed with green islets and palm trees, with water taxis being the only other vessels on the river.
The ship has its own private berth so there is no double berth where passengers wake up to find another ship blocking their view of the Nile. That too makes a big difference.
Additionally, before boarding, Fiona and I have a special dinner at the Winter Palace in Luxor, where my great-grandfather used to host and host parties. The hotel has not lost its touch.
As with all Viking cruises we are offered a choice of complimentary tours and take a water taxi from the East to the West Bank to visit the Valley of the Kings.
I’ve been here many times and I can’t imagine what it was like for my great grandfather to ride a donkey to the dig site.
No wonder he finally bought a Ford car in 1922.
Lord and Lady Carnarvon on their Nile cruise – away from home
The Carnarvons enjoy a special dinner at the Winter Palace in Luxor during their journey, where Lord Carnarvon’s great-grandfather used to host and host parties. He commented: “The hotel has not lost its touch”
It’s been at least ten years since I last ballooned over the Valley of the Kings – the first time it was a bit of a bumpy landing as we landed in an unfortunate farmer’s field.
This time the flight is beautifully orchestrated.
My alarm goes off at 3am and the sun is rising. Shortly after, I’m a passenger in one of more than a dozen colorful balloons floating above the golden sand cliffs and green fields, with a bird’s-eye view of past and current archaeological digs.
During their voyage, Lord and Lady Carnarvon take a “beautifully orchestrated” balloon flight over the Valley of the Kings
I return to the cool ship, where light pours in through the glass-roofed three-story atrium and huge windows in all public areas. I admire the simple Scandi design and the walls are covered with photographs from our archive.
Fiona found 160 black and white photos taken by the 5th Earl and they capture daily life in Egypt in the early 20th century, from sunrise over the Nile, traditional feluccas with huge sails, street scenes and family groups at the tombs .
What an extraordinary country this is. I also revisited my favorite sites, from the 140-acre Karnak Temple with 134 gravity-defying columns and the massive Luxor Temple with the 1.7-mile Avenue of Sphinxes.
On the 62-acre site of Karnak Temple, Lord Carnarvon says you’ll be struck by 134 “gravity-defying” pillars.
The entrance to Luxor Temple with its 2.7 km long avenue of sphinxes. “What a special country Egypt is,” says Lord Carnarvon
Touching: The Memnon Colossi at Luxor, where the Carnarvons boarded their ship
However, it is the smaller Dendera Temple in Qena that brings me pure joy. It’s unexpectedly stunning.
It’s the first time I’ve seen this temple and the experience is so positive. Good for Viking to organize trips to lesser known ancient sites.
Dendera Temple, dedicated to Hathor, the goddess of joy and music, is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt. It is unusual on two levels and the only temple with a figure of Queen Cleopatra carved into the walls.
Dendera Temple (above) – “one of the best preserved in Egypt” – brings Lord Carnarvon “pure delight”
For centuries the interior was covered in black soot from fires, but in the last five years its ornate columns and ceiling have been unveiled to reveal decorations of vultures, winged discs, astrological signs and the union between Hathor and Horus.
I just can’t believe the wonderful, original colors and details. I am also fascinated to see the Birthplace where once a year statues were carried out of darkness into the sunlight to be rejuvenated. The ancient Egyptians believed that the sun’s rays gave life. I also love how conservationists left some black soot stains to show what the temple looked like before their work began.
We are constantly learning on this Nile cruise and I hope that Fiona and I have brought a certain amount of knowledge and anecdotes to the passengers on ‘my ship’ as well.
12-day Pharaohs & Pyramids cruises depart January-May and August-December 2023-24, from £4,550 p.p. P. Includes flight, hotel accommodation, all meals on board including wine, beer and soft drinks at lunch and dinner. Excursions, WiFi, tips, evening entertainment and enriching conversations are also included. Book by December 31st for a saving of £750 per person and a free drinks package (vikingrivercruises.co.uk0800 319 6660).
On October 8th and 9th, Highcleres celebrates the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun, with tours of the castle and tours of the cellars to follow the path that led to Tutankhamun’s tomb. £45 per person (highclerecastleshop.co.uk).