Geographical survey

The least familiar stretches of Nile prove the most interesting

It’s one of the most tantalising travel images in the world — a felucca floating along the Nile at sunset, its lateen sail spread aslant to catch the wind. It takes us back to the beginnings of ancient Egypt, when the need to manage Nilotic flooding and the imperative to trade along the river’s course were the motors of civilisation. Even 2,500 years ago Herodotus was fascinated by the ease with which the Egyptians had learned to cultivate the soil with its waters rather than with laborious ploughs — which, some speculate, had given them the leisure to build pyramids in the down months. Of course many authors have been