The Nile: even Cleopatra wasn't pampered like this

The Nile cruise is one of the world's travel highlights. But Oberoi's new boat offers a very different take on this classic tour, says Katy Guest

As a small child, my little brother used to ask, "If God can do anything, why can't He make snow warm?" We never did receive a satisfactory answer, but I thought of that paradox again as I lay on the deck of Oberoi's new floating hotel, sipping an ice-cold beer and idly gazing towards the stern. At the rear of the sundeck, behind the shimmering pool, cold steam was pouring from a shady trellis. Cold steam. On a 35C afternoon. If God is planning a cruising holiday, He would do well to come and take some tips from the Zahra.

There are cruise ships; there are luxury cruise ships, and then there is the Oberoi group's new super-dooper Nile cruiser, the Zahra. Do you aspire to a life in which you are greeted with a smile and a jasmine-scented cold flannel? Do you prefer your masseuses hand-picked from Thailand, "because they are more beautiful"? Do you like to be wafted to sleep on a soft scented pillow of lemongrass oil and Nile breezes? Then this cruise ship is for you – even if you are not a god. So lavish is it that even its view of the world is superior: guests see the Nile and the Egyptian sky through blue-tinted windows.

When they built the Zahra, the aim was to position it about 10 steps ahead of other luxury cruisers such as Mövenpick's Royal Lotus, the Sun Boat IV or Oberoi's own Philae, a floating gentlemen's club in grand colonial style that looks as though Agatha Christie has just stepped out for a quick murder. Zahra is the same size as a standard luxury cruiser, but with half as many rooms: 25 regular suites, plus two grand suites about the size of football pitches. All have picture windows that gaze disorientingly on to the passing Nile (and, disconcertingly, enable passing goatherds to gaze in). For a maximum of 54 passengers, the Zahra has up to 84 staff. This is not the place to come if you don't enjoy service so attentive that it borders on the obsessive.

On board, the Zahra even smells expensive. As it moves with unlikely speed between Luxor and Aswan, it docks at its own private moorings far away from the diesel fumes of cruising hoi polloi. The perfume of the dark wood decking around the midnight-blue-tiled pool mingles with the scented oils in the spa. The cigar lounge is delicately scented with Havanas and leather-bound books. Even the gym smells upliftingly clean as you power along on the rowing machine, smugly watching the Nile speed by.

In the restaurant, chef Siddhartha Chowdry uses the finest local ingredients, bakes his own bread and rustles up superb curries. He strolls between the tables, bashfully batting away enraptured tributes to his lentil dahl, and takes requests. Our appeal for authentic Egyptian food resulted in a feast fit for Rameses, topped by desserts with names such as Mother of Ali and Fingers of Zenab. We felt like pharaohs.

Awakened by the gentle swish of the bow-wave the following morning, crawling out from between the crisp Egyptian cotton sheets is not easy – but it is worth it. The resident Egyptologist, Ahmed, is a neat, straw-boatered local genius, on whom Agatha Christie's Poirot could have been modelled. He waits each morning with his pointy stick to whisk us away in our air-conditioned A-Team van to receive the wisdom of the ancient world. Not for us the crushed tourist hell of the high noon Valley of the Kings: the Zahra times its visits to fall just ahead of the cruise flotilla, meaning that in the tomb of Tutankhamun we were surrounded by ancient mystery – not by other tourists.

It was the same in the other tombs, where the ancient paintings look as if they were painted yesterday. It was the same among Karnak's pillars and statues, and at the temples of Dendara and Hatshepsut. The body of Queen Hatshepsut was identified only this year by archaeologists, who discovered that she was shockingly obese. Whisked back to the Zahra for another of Siddartha's three-course lunches, we understood how that might happen.

With a belly full of stuffed vine leaves as the sun sinks over the minarets, as ibis bed down in the palm trees and the lights twinkle around the pool, it is easy to feel like the Queen of the Nile on board the Zahra. But don't invoke any ancient curses by imagining yourself an Egyptian goddess – even if you have discovered cold steam.

Compact facts

HOW TO GET THERE

Cox & Kings (020-7873 5000; coxandkings.co.uk) offers an 11-night Nile cruise on the Oberoi 'Zahra' from £1,795 per person. The price includes three nights in a Pyramid-view room at the Oberoi Mena House, one night at the Intercontinental CityStars, and seven nights on board the Oberoi 'Zahra', return flights, transfers, b&b in the hotels, full board on the cruise and all excursions.

News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
Rowan Atkinson at the wheel of his McLaren F1 GTR sports car
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us