Nubian village – African Arabia village of vaults and crocs

Pharoah stories, their pyramids and temples with exquisite vivid writings all over give you a “Larger Than Life” feeling. This many-hued village gets you to Egypt that is different from whatever you had been experiencing till now,

Let me tell you the story of a village where two cultures blend – the African Arabia-Nubian Village.

Index

Where to stay in Nubian Village

Resort under construction with Yellow walls with brown nubian vaults by river nile side

Many Nubian Vaulted structures were under construction – Mostly going to be resorts and hotels. So you can guess the tourism boom, probably in the next 4 years!

We made Aswan our base for two nights and three days for our day trips to Abu Simbel, Philae temple and Nubian village on different days. We stayed in Basma Aswan. Read our post ” Guide to Booking hotels in Egypt” to know in detail.

After spending a day at Nubian village, we regret not staying here for at least a night. There is no doubt about the city’s comfort in Aswan – Easy access to public transport, restaurants and markets is great. But we prefer the village charm more over the city vibe. Focusing on catering to tourists; Nubian village still holds onto its originality. And I hope it continues to do so.

PS: If you choose Nubian village as your base to travel around Aswan, be prepared to use boats often. Do not expect luxury, but do expect a colourful vibe always.

White brick wallks and a NUbian vault under construction at the Nubian village

How to reach Nubian Village

Boats with deck on top are the best!

Nearest airport and train station – Aswan.

Aswan is on the east bank of the Nile, and on the western side is the Nubian village. A 20-minute boat ride from Aswan takes you to the village. You can drive from Aswan to Nubian village too. But it is time-consuming-as, long as one hour. Moreover, the boat ride takes you through the boulders and ridges on the Nile. So reaching Nubian village by boat from Aswan port is a beautiful experience.

Any hotel or hostel you stay in can quickly help you to book a boat ride. You can opt for a private ride or take the boats that run like shuttles every 30 minutes from Aswan Port. There is no entrance fee to Nubian village; only for the Boat ride, you have to pay. Make sure you get to sit on the boat’s upper deck to enjoy the best of the best views.

Indian woman traveller sitting on the boat upper deck in the river nile

Why visit Nubian village?

Colouful shops with a big NUbian man poster cut out on the roof

Egypt is not only about Pharaohs and temples. So if you feel you have seen too many temples and have had an overdose of History, Nubian village is where you can take a break to enjoy anything that is non-Pharoahic.

Indian traveller holding a baby crocodile in Nubian village

Crocodiles are Nubian pets! You can touch them at their homes.

Nubians differ from Egyptians culturally, ethnically and even architecturally! The streets are not corbelled or paved but muddy yet clean. Pathways filled with vivid shops selling carpets, Jalebiyas, spices and handmade crafts are sure to attract shopaholics. However, even if you are not a shopaholic, the muddy streets ( free from trash though), vaulted cafes, the aroma of spices and the glittering Nile steal your heart away. Do you want to sit on the dunes? It’s just a 10minutes walk uphill. Fancy a sunset over the river?- a quick boat ride is always available. Suppose you are keen on exploring different sites. In that case, Agha Khan Mausoleum, St. Hedra Monastery and the crocodile house are just a few minute walk from here.

Who are Nubians

Traditional Nubian painting of a woman with lut musical instrument wearing white Jalebiya

While researching before the trip, I read about the pyramids of Sudan! Sudan’s Northern border is 350km from Aswan and more than 2000km from Giza where you see the most important Pyramids of Egypt. But Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt. The Sudan pyramids are called Nubian Pyramids and are different from the Egyptian pyramids concerning proportion and appearance.

To start farming around the Nile, Nubians moved from Sudan over 8000 years ago to areas around Aswan. These days, the term Nubia has become synonymous with Africa’s blackness, unfortunately. I remember watching an episode of walking dead, where Negan calls Michonne  A Nubian queen”. While the lame world associate Nubians with darker skin tone, Nubian life and the village is more colourful than you can think of.

Who were the Nubians and what were they known for?

Researchers say Nubians are descendants of ancient African Civilizations found in Northern Sudan and Southern Egypt. In ancient times, they were the rivals of Egyptian Pharaohs. There were times when Nubians defeated Pharaohs and ruled Egypt! In modern-day Egypt, we saw people of Nubian ethnicity in Cairo too. The common thing among Nubians and Egyptian Pharaohs was religion. Both of them were the cult of Amun. At the time when Romans invaded Egypt, few Nubians were converted to Christianity too. Right now, most Nubians follow Islam. Their language was associated with Sudanese before, but most Egyptian Nubians speak Arabic and their ethnic language now.

Best things to do in Nubian Village

Indian woman traveller sitting below Nubian vault made of painted bricks

Keep it slow and don’t rush. The riverside village streets are perfect for Strolling and enjoying a day by yourself.

What did we do?

From Aswan, we took a boat ride to the New Nubain village. We went on Shopping for spices and some handmade souvenirs like Sand art in a bottle. On that street full of spice, smelling the spice fragrance, we walked to get inside a Nubian house through a street adorned with colourfully painted Nubian vaulted houses to carry a baby croc in our hands. We had Kadkade on the same house’s colourful terrace and had lunch in a restaurant by the river. And ended the day dancing on the upper deck of the boat sailing on the Nile – Egyptians love partying. So by evening, you hear many boats playing loud music on the woofers and men/women enjoying their evening dancing in the boat.

I won’t say this is the best plan for the Nubian village. Like we underestimated Egypt, we thought there was nothing much for travellers other than a coloured vaulted town by the riverside. It turned out that a day in the Nubian village wasn’t enough.

What you should do in Nubian Village

There are two Nubian villages, Old and New! The one we went to was a New Nubian village. Honestly, I have no clue if what we saw was authentic or was made for tourists. Even if it was made for tourists, they have done an excellent job recreating it. So check with locals in Aswan about the difference between the two villages and decide. Even better, visit both if you are in Aswan for more days. Stay in Nubian village for a night so that you can enjoy the desert on the river bund, visit Aga Khan’s mausoleum, a monastery and eat more good food plus shop more.

Why we love Nubian Village

Most beautiful sunset with golden colour sky and boats anchored on the nile with a blue Nubian house in the background

From day one, it was all about Pharaohs, except for the white deserts of Bahariya. So this vibrant village was different from all the things we had experienced in Egypt! Most tourist buses may not include the village in their itinerary. So it is less crowded than Abu Simbel. Plus, the view of the Nile with the skyline of vaults and domes along with the brown dunes as the background is a sight we never forget. The house on the terraced land, domes and the water reminded me of our trip to Santorini.

Dancing on the Nile near Nubian Village

Before boarding the boat, we expected it to be a regular boat until our guide Mahmoud showed us the ladder to go to the upper deck! So the deck above is a thing for locals and tourists to enjoy. Thus, the beginning of the boat journey to the Nubian village itself was surprising. With delicious village food and fantastic views of the Nile, locals love partying on the boat here. Many locals do opt for boat parties here. When coming back, we didn’t have our own music system on the boat to dance to. But boats passing by with locals grooving to the Egyptian music was more than enough for us to dance by ourselves on the deck.

Cruising through the boulders on the Nile, we landed in the Nubian village. The uphill dune was topped with colourful Nubian vaults. The wandering began through the narrow mud streets of the village. All the buildings were either dome or vaulted. Indeed, a Nubian vault is studied and used by architects in many parts of the world (Sahana’s information). Walking ahead, the mud street opened up into a square. These three cute big fellas were chilling on the streets, waiting for the tourists to pick them up for the ride.

Being told about Nubian spices by Mahmoud, I expected an aroma of fresh spices as soon as we landed in the village. Instead, all I could smell was these cute fellas’ poop.

Cleaner the prettier – streets of the Nubian village

The streets were neither dirty nor clean—definitely cleaner than Giza. There was something calm in this little chaos. Humans, Camels, two-wheelers, cars and supply vans – everyone was making their way through. TA deviation that Mahmoud took led us to a pathway, which was less turbulent. The Camel poop smell was no longer there. But the big guys continued carrying tourists elegantly.

Colouful Nubian village

Indians and spices are like a happily married couple who can not live without each other. Back home in our estates, we grow most of the spices Egyptians grow. But there is always something new to explore. Few things like pepper powder, Masala powder smelled different from the Indian ones. The way the shopkeeper had arranged the spices was eye-catchy. That place could take anyone back in time to ancient periods. The aroma can trigger anyone’s hunger. To know which spices to buy and not buy, read our post “What to shop in Egypt”  Because not everything you see here is genuine.

Pyramid shaped heaps of Egyptian spices

Can it get any more colourful?

From spices to the apparel and the Jalebiyas, everything is vibrant here. It is not a bazar or series of kiosks like in Giza where shopkeepers call you by names and nag you to buy. Instead, everyone here welcomes you with a smile and says, “Wa Alaykum Salam, come to have a look, no price for seeing.”

Colourful streetside shops of Nubian village

The Sand art of Nubian Village

We saw a man filling some coloured powder into a fancy-shaped glass bottle. This was something we had not seen ever before. So curiously we went to his shop. He explained what he was doing. Firstly, it is not some random powder. It was sand mixed with colours. 

Watching him doing it was hypnotic. By the time we guessed what he was doing, he had finished making one. – Filling colourful sand and making patterns inside the bottle with the help of a thin metal stick! After returning home, I tried to figure out the origin of sand art and its uniqueness in the Nubian village. I haven’t found my answer yet.

After soaking ourselves in the aroma and colours of Nubian village streets for 45 minutes or so, we wanted to have a little tea break with some snacks. One thing in our mind was – The village food. I was hoping for something similar to what we had in Bawiti village. Mahmoud said, “I know a place here. It is a local’s house. The view from their terrace is lovely. Let us have some Kadkade there. Later we will go back to the river bank for lunch” That Sounded great! We were glad about Mahmoud’s plan. All we knew was we were about to have a Kadkade break, not about the reptile adventure.

Crocodile – The Pet of Nubians

The lime plastered cyan coloured walls with sand flooring and Nubian village paintings on the walls – it was unique. The carpets hanging on the wall added an extra charm. We spotted two foreigners sitting and waiting for something. On a podium, an Egyptian lady was putting henna( Mehendi) for them. This is one more similarity between India and Egypt. I have read about Morocco Henna art too. Maybe it is common among India/Pakistan and North African nations.

Nubian house with Egyptian carpets

Mahmoud kept walking & we followed him to enter the house. Along the passage, we saw a short height wall covered with a mesh door. I thought it must be a water well. But, when I peeped, what I saw there was the god Sobek himself. A Nile crocodile inside a 4′ wide pit!

For a second, I thought it is not real: because it was still, unmoving. Then, slowly it rolled its eyes toward us. This is crazy to see a crocodile inside a house! Smilingly, Mahmoud pointed at something on the wall -A real Crocodile stuffed and hung on the wall. -like in those Croc Mummy museums at Kom Ombo. Finally, we saw a Nile crocodile in Egypt, we thought.

Nubians Henna art

The lady wearing a Jalebiya and headscarf came to us smilingly. Her Henna customers had left. I thought she is coming to check with us about what we wanted to drink/eat. She and Mahmoud spoke something in Arabic. She looked at us and said, ” Come come.” We followed her to a dark room where they hung more stuffed crocs on the wall. On a table, there was two glass fish tank with some creatures moving slowly. She put her hand inside, and pulled one of those creatures! A baby crocodile was there in her hands. I was freaking out, but Sahana was brave enough to hold it and went on kissing the baby.

Indian male traveller holding a baby crocodile in Nubian house
I WAS TERRIFIED!

I held the baby crocodile in my hands. Its body felt cold. Their skin felt unreal. It is neither rubbery nor plastic. Sahana took another baby and kissed it again. The lady realised that it is neither safe for the baby croc nor Sahana to leave the hatchlings in Sahana’s hands. The lady smilingly asked us to give her the hatchlings back.

“Why would anyone keep a crocodile in their house? Is it their pet? If so, why? You can not pet them, or they won’t love you back. Neither they sleep on your lap like cats nor lick your face like a dog. You can not either milk them or cuddle them like sheep. Did we do the right thing by holding the baby crocs in our hands? Didn’t we encourage animal cruelty? How different is this from the drugged tigers of Thailand’s tiger park? Isn’t it illegal to keep wild animals in captivity?

We kept on rambling.

Egypt’s Nubians tame crocodiles to preserve their culture or for selfie-snapping tourists?

Mahmoud took us to the terrace for a lovely view and a refreshing hibiscus tea break; We were rambling so much that we overlooked the vault decor. Mahmoud explained many things till the tea came. ” From the beginning of their civilisations, Nubians lived on Nile banks in North Sudan and Southern Egypt. Crocodiles were of spiritual significance for them. Once a Totem, now ” a tourist attraction”. The culture with benefits is helping Nubians make money.”

 Even today, when we think of the village, we ask each other – “What is more important? The livelihood of the villagers or the well being of animals.

The Kadkade was good, but the ambience was even better.

We forgot all our thoughts on crocodiles, sipping the tea under the Nubian vault and gazing at the Nile. Finally, after almost 45 minutes, we decided to go out for lunch. In the excitement of the crocodiles, we had not observed the house at all. The walls were adorned with paintings showing the ancient Nubian villages. One thing that caught my eye was, that the Nubian men in the paintings wore white Jalebiya! While other Egyptians wear, Grey, Blue and black.

Indian couple travellers sitting inside a Nubian house

The beauty of the place is, that neither the owner nor her helpers trouble you with their nagging. They had a souvenir shop, and she puts henna if you ask for it. It is not common in Egypt to find this scenario where a seller doesn’t bother you.

On our way to the river bank, we were observing the happenings. People depend on tourism entirely. We could see many buildings under construction on the way to the restaurant. So the place is going to get touristy sooner. This also means people find a way to make their living standards better. It looked like most Nubians come to Aswan for public facilities like hospitals, schools and banking.

What is the plight of Nubians now?

Rainbow themed louvered door to a nubian vaulted house

Mahmoud explained how Nubians are still struggling to get what they deserve from the government. Nubians gave up their land at Abu Simbel near Lake Nasser for the future good of Egypt. Their towns have been renamed in Arabic. Nubain language has been replaced with Arabic. That does not mean Egypt is trying to erase Nubian culture off the country. There is a museum dedicated to Nubian in Aswan ( which we have not been to). There are some privileges given to this minority community too. Development is always a double-edged sword – we realised it here.

Nubian vault under construction

Egypt is a fusion of colours – both in architecture and people’s ethnicity. But, just like in many countries, the “white skin” obsession exists here too. All these conversations happened over a delicious meal at “Ounaty Ka” Restaurant. To know more about what we ate, check our post “Egyptian Delicacies.”

Nubian vaulted colourful hotel

By the time we finished meals, it was time for Mahmoud to catch his train back to his home town Luxor. The last day in Egypt was totally different from the rest of the days vividly. By the time we caught the boat back to Aswan, the desert had turned brownier; skies had turned to gold. Aswan locals were in the mood for a party sailing on the Nile. We danced to their music from our boats, passing across countless boulders and bushes on the Nile, watching people partying on the boat. No wonder this part of Egypt inspired Agatha Christie to write a part of her novel ” Death On the Nile.”

View of NUbian village from nile river

Have we inspired you to travel to the Nubian village? Let us know in the comment section below.

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