Glimpses at the river Nile

The River Nile is the longest in the world, stretching for 4,187 miles. The Nile flows from south to north and is formed by three major tributaries: the White Nile, the Blue Nile and the Atbara.

The Blue Nile has its source in the highlands of the African country of Ethiopia, by Lake Tana. The runoff from spring rain and melting snow caused the annual summer flood of the Nile that the Egyptians depended on for water to irrigate their crops, and deposit fertile top soil.

the nileJust north of Khartoum the combined White and Blue Nile meet their final major tributary, the Atbara which also has its source in the Ethiopian highlands.

The Nile then plunges into a canyon. Before the construction of the Aswan High Dam; the Nile rolled through a series of six rapids, called cataracts, between northern Sudan and southern Egypt. Since construction of the dam, the river has gradually changed its course.

North of Cairo, the Nile splits into two branches (or distributaries), the Rosetta Branch to the west and the Damietta to the east. Lake Nasser is a man-made lake created by the construction of the Aswan High Dam, opened in 1971

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. The dam was built to regulate the flow of the River Nile , and thus benefit the region’s inhabitants. However, technology often also disrupts a local ecosystem, the life and nature it affects.

  • The Canyon

    The canyon that was once behind where the dam is now, was flooded after the dam was built. Before the region was flooded for the dam, some Ancient sites were carefully moved. Others were permanently covered and destroyed by the water. Lake Nasser stretches over a distance of 312 miles. Gone are the days when Egyptians worry that the Nile will flood too high, destroying their crops; or fall too low, not providing proper irrigation. To enjoy the benefits of a steady river flow, thousands of peoples homes were submerged when the dam went into operation and Lake Nasser was formed.

    The Aswan High Dam has caused other changes
    . The water surface of the lake has reduced the average temperature in the region. The dam has also harnessed the water for the production of electricity and navigation has been improved.

    Furthermore, the Nile is no longer flowing strongly enough to keep salt water from the Mediterranean Sea from forcing its way up the Nile.

    In one generation, thousands of years of life along the River Nile have been permanently altered.

The river Nile and its banks

The Nile is truly the River of Life and has been revered in Egypt since ancient times
. Until the Aswan High Dam was built, only 4% of Egypt was cultivated, but this has now been extended to 6%. Nearly all habitation owes its existence to the narrow strip of land either side of the river itself or to the very fertile Nile Delta in the north.

One explanation for the shape of the Ankh, the ancient Egyptian symbol for eternal life, is that it is thought to represent the Nile and its importance to life and consequently their religion. The two side arms represent the two banks of the river – East for the Living and West for the After-life. The top loop is for the productivity and fertility of the Nile Delta; the stem is for the Nile itself.

The proximity of the Desert to the river is a constant reminder of the fragility of the narrow strip of life which survives all the way from Aswan to Cairo. Many of the dwellings and settlements have a very simple existence with few modern amenities.

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Boats of the river

The history of Egypt is totally dominated by the River Nile. At one time nearly all transportation was by boat along the river. Consequently it was always thought that Gods would travel by boat – or barque as it was called. The souls of the dead also traveled by barque in the afterlife.



The felucca has remained, over the centuries, the primary transportation of the Nile. Its ancient form still graces the river as it has done since the time of the Pharaohs. Motorized barges transport bulk material and modern cruise ships transport tourists, but the felucca remains despite modern alternatives.

The felucca rarely has any form of engine and relies entirely on the breeze which builds during the day and usually subsides at night. Some of the craft today are used to carry tourists who wish to enjoy an eternally peaceful journey carried along by the gentle breeze and the currents of the river.

Few are now made entirely of wood, but the basic layout has barely changed. They don’t have a keel as such, but a heavy centre plate which can be raised in the shallows. The sails are seriously low tech affairs made of native cotton and other natural fibers.

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Tour Boats

There are a phenomenal number of tourist boats on the Nile and most of them resemble a floating block of flats – they have little charm on the outside and absolutely no connection with Egypt on the inside. They are floating hotels designed to keep the Western traveler sanitized from the world outside – but Pharaoh does exact his revenge!!

The River Nile is possibly the most famous river in history. It was by its banks that one of the oldest civilizations in the world began. Not surprisingly, the Nile teems with life. Many different types of animals, birds, and fish all call the River Nile home. Hundreds of years ago, even hippos and lions could be found here in the Nile Valley.

The crocodile

The crocodile’s eyes and nostrils are on top of the head so it can see and breathe while the rest of it is underwater. As an added advantage, its ears and nostrils can close when it dives, and a nictitating membrane (a transparent eyelid) closes over the eye to keep water out.

Nile Crocodiles range all over Africa, eating almost anything (including each other), but rarely moving away from their chosen body of water. Hatchlings eat small fish and insects; adults will go after turtles, baboons, and even the gigantic wildebeest. They live in large “communities” of several dozen crocodiles, but even there they tend to leave each other alone except during a “feeding frenzy” when they will all unite to take down a much larger animal.

The Nile Valley is home to so many creatures we wouldn’t be able to see them all, but here is a good collection for you to see.

This fearsome reptile is the Nile Crocodile. These gigantic animals have not been seen around the Nile for many years, though recently they’ve started making a comeback behind the Aswan Dam. The skin of the Nile Crocodile, unlike that of most reptiles, is not shed, but grows with the animal.

Although crocodiles look like alligators, they can be distinguished by their longer, narrower snout, and their fourth tooth, which sticks out from the lower jaw rather than fitting neatly into the upper jaw. The adults can reach lengths of over 10 feet and can weigh up to 1500 pounds.

Crocodiles swim mostly with their tails. Though their back feet are webbed, they rarely use them underwater. On land, they use their powerful legs to move around. They only look slow; Nile Crocodiles have been known to “gallop” at speeds of about 30 miles an hour.
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