About six hundred miles upstream from Cairo, on the mighty river Nile stands Aswan; once the boundary between ancient Egypt and Nubia. In midstream lies Elephantine Island, once a military outpost, trading post, now a dusty little village. Overlooked on the eastern bank, high on a bluff stands the red sandstone magnificance of the Old Cataract Hotel; made famous by the novelist Agatha Christie in her story " Death On The Nile", starring the eponymous Hercule Poirot.
It has given succour to many great men and women over the years, including the British wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, after whom one of the upper floor suites is named. It is from here that one of the most memorable sights of a trip to Egypt may be witnessed.
Over Elephant Island on the West Bank, the land rises into sparse sand dunes, and in the distance may be seen the pristine white mausoleum of the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Nizari the largest tribe of Ismaili Muslims. Here until her death in 2000, the Begum Aga Khan made the daily trek through the dusty desert to lay a single red rose on her husband's tomb.
As dusk approaches, the place to be is on the verandah, seated on a high backed wicker chair which shelters you from the cool breeze which wafts off the river below. A glass of mint tea to hand, watch in awe as the stark building turns orange as the setting sun plays "peek-a-boo" with an egg yolk glow behind the mountains which skirt lake Nasser to the south west. The dying solar rays now wash the scene with a gentle pink drifting to purple.
The stupendous Nile, in tints of olive green and chocolate brown, flecked with the whipped cream of splashes around the rocks of the cataract, soon takes on the image of black treacle in the shaded areas below the sun's line. On the water, graceful fellucca float serenely like swans, their wide sails, tinted in the same hues, wavelets gently slapping against their hulls and the wooden jetty. Suddenly as if someone had switched off an electric light, there is darkness, the riding light of the boats dart as fireflies, these and the creak of oar and mast boom, the only evidence of their presence.
The suddenness of this sunset takes many by surprise, lost as they are in the glorious spectacle which precedes it.