By Maggie A. Balbaa
In the very south of Aswan, right along the border with Sudan, lies a land of secrets; a land that bears the charm of the past with a slight modern touch. A land whose people are a constant reminder of legend of the past, stories of our ancestors, their traditions, their modest lives and their welcoming hearts. A land that will enchant you and intrigue you at the same time. This is El Nuba (Nubia).
Nubia consists of many islands in the Nile. Nubian families inhabit these islands. However most of these families had to leave their home islands to new places after the Nasser Dam was built and the water flooded their homes. When you travel to El Nuba (as we call it in Arabic), it is highly recommended that you visit most of the islands, as each of them will have a different story to tell.
The houses of the locals are always open to welcome visitors, and they are huge fans of crocodiles. They raise them and train them to be human-friendly! You will not find a crocodile wandering the streets in Nubia, but you will surely find at least one in a nearby house. When the crocodile dies, the skin is kept and hung on the wall over the door of the house. This is believed to protect the house from the evil eye, “The crocodile skin will catch people eyes and so, it will keep them away from the house, it is a Pharaonic tradition,” one local explains.
Most of the Nubians in the market can speak English, French, and sometimes Italian, quite well. As for their daily lives, Arabic is taught to them in schools, but you will definitely hear them talking at some point in a very different rhythm. It is their Nubian mother tongue language. “In schools, children are taught Arabic, and in homes mothers and fathers teach Nubian. It is a full language with different written letters,” says Aam Zein, a Nubian local. The Nubian language was used by President Anwar El Sadat as a war code during the 1973 war.
Islands You Should Try to Visit:
This island is a monument in its own right. Most of the Pharaonic kings that ruled Egypt passed by Seheil to register their arrival and their family. You will find their writings engraved on most of the big rocks of the mountains in Seheil. You can also go hiking to see the view of the Nuba from the mountain top, and boy it is pretty much worth the extra effort! There is a very famous rock in Seheil where the story of Prophet Youssef, who ruled Egypt, is engraved.
Heissa and Philae Temple:
You cannot go to Aswan, and miss Philae. It is by far one of the best temples all over Egypt, and maybe the world. Located on an island of its own, Philae’s story is very interesting. It even has a story in modern history. The temple was moved from its original island after it sank under the Nile. This great operation took about 10 years, funded by the UNESCO and carried out by Egyptian hands. The Crusaders visited this temple, and you can see the Cross engraved on many walls in the temple, it was also visited by Napoleon and his men.
Heissa is called bein el sodoud or “between dams”. It is very close to Philae and so they can both be combined in a day trip. People there are exceptionally warm hearted, just as the breathtaking view of the Nile from Heissa is. You will be directed to hagga Safeya house for lunch or tea. Everything about Heissa is magical, including the food!
This is beauty and relaxation day. Barbar has a natural beach on the Nile where you can actually swim! The best combination is trying their amazing natural mud mask all over your body and then bathing in the Nile. On the other side of the Island there is a small Nubian style lounge where you can have tea, or their signature coffee with ginger, and lunch. Barbar also boasts breathtaking views of the Nile.
The Nasser Dam part is more of a historic trip. You will not imagine the grandeur of the dam until you see it. The top of the Friendship Tower (signifying relations between Egypt and Russia) gives you the best bird eye view of the Nile. An endless blue that unites both the Nile and the sky.
Where to Stay?
There are several options for a stay in Nuba. If you want the full relaxing experience, I would recommend an authentic stay at Anakato. It is a Nubian hotel divided into 3 separate buildings each on a different side of the island with a stunning views all around. Most of the rooms have Nile view, which adds more charm to it. The hotel buildings are built to resemble Nubian houses, in red brick and colorful walls. They all have basic furniture and a nice bathroom.
The hygiene is remarkable and you can easily spot how clean the rooms are. You will not find a TV in the hotel, but you will get free WiFi access on the hotel premises!
For a more luxurious stay, you can go for Cataract, Movenpick or Isis in Aswan. Among the three, Cataract is the oldest. It has been there since the British occupation of the 19th century and is, in itself, a piece of art and a must visit. Wherever you stay, make sure you stop by Cataract to catch the sunset from the terrace. A mind blowing view. All three hotels are directly on the Nile, which guarantees easy access to all Nile trips to Nubian Islands.
“Er Minebu”: How are you?
“Enafiatke”: Bye bye
“I orekboury”: I am hungry
“Ermena”: It is none of your business
“Ecadolli”: I love you
Every inch of El Nuba takes you back to a time of simplicity, authenticity and peace; a great spot for a quick detox for the soul. You definitely want to put it on your list of must-see places. Enafiatke.