Joanna Lumley’s Nile

Monday, 26 April 2010, 9:00PM – 10:00PM on ITV1

Joanna is driving through the desert, en-route to Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. With over 600 tribes and 400 dialects, Khartoum is a cultural melting pot. It is also the meeting point for the White Nile and the Blue Nile where, incredibly, the two waters meet but don’t mix.

Joanna says: “You can just see the difference here, almost like a line dividing the two rivers. And I’ve heard this. It’s extraordinary. We all think of water mingling together but sometimes when rivers meet they flow for as long as 10 miles together without mixing.”

Khartoum is also famous for a riverside battle in the 1800’s, where the British overthrew the Magdi, a devout but ruthless ruler of the day. Thousands of Whirling Dervishes took up arms in 1898 when Britain’s General Kitchener sailed up the Nile to take the city for the British, resulting in a bloody battle that left 10,000 Sudanese dead.

The remains of The Melik, one of the British gunships, can still be seen by the Nile. The ‘Whirling Dervishes’ also remain and continue to perform wild dances as an integral part of their worship.

Joanna visits the shipwreck of The Melik: “I can’t believe I’m standing on the very same deck where General Kitchener stood giving orders to his men.”

Back in town, Joanna meets local lady Hanan Abas, who is keen to show her an unusual beauty treatment called a ‘dukhan’, which Sudanese brides take part in as they prepare for their wedding. Brides-to-be have a dukhan before their wedding day and regularly during their married life. The treatment is associated with sensuality and eroticism, as well as cleansing and smoothing a woman’s skin.

Joanna says: “Given that this is such a secret, it’s been difficult to find someone to show us how a dukhan works. But fortunately Hanan has agreed to help.”

The treatment involves sitting naked, covered with a cloak, over burning wood to be smoked. In Omdurman market, Hanan buys some dukhan wood for Joanna, who investigates the other products on offer. She finds a range of stools, with the middle of the seats cut out and black cloaks to wear during the treatment.

Joanna checks the cloaks and jokes: “Prada, fabulous.”

Looking at the stools she says: “You sit on this, stark naked. You’re butt naked. It’s like being Joan of Arc going out to choose which wood to be burnt on. God, I am so anxious.”

Hanah then imparts some important local knowledge: “There is something I have to tell you about the dukhan that you will not hear a lot. It makes actually women a bit narrower. That’s very naughty of me to say.”

Joanna replies: “It’s very essential that you’ve told me this. So I shall be slim, bronzed, fitter, narrower. Holy moly, bring it on.”

Joanna then heads to a local house to try the treatment. Hanan and her friend Sarah prepare her for the treatment and tell her to pretend she is getting married.

Joanna replies: “In fact tomorrow is my wedding anniversary. I don’t have a husband here but I can dream.”

Despite her initial nerves Joanna is later astonished how soft her skin has become and how enjoyable, if unusual, the treatment is.

Khartoum is where the Nile splits in two. The White Nile comes from the south through Uganda and Rwanda and the Blue Nile thunders down from the highlands of Ethiopia to the east. It is to Ethiopia that Joanna heads next.

So far, the Nile has appeared as a tranquil water way. However, in Ethiopia the Blue Nile crashes its way down from mountainous gorges and ravines into the deserts of Sudan far below. It is a young and lively river, which is almost impossible to navigate and live beside because of the landscape.

Flying high above the Blue Nile, Joanna is astonished by the power of the river and the beauty of the landscape.

She says: “It’s absolutely thrilling. We are now flying over deep, deep gorges and at the bottom of it is the Blue Nile. I’ve got to say it doesn’t look blue at all, it looks like the colour of vanilla fudge.”

Touching down at Lake Tana, Joanna visits the town of Bahir Dar and tries the Ethiopian national dish of Injera pancakes.

She says; “The only thing about these Injera pancakes, is they have a sort of look of tripe about them, which can put you off. Particularly when they come rolled up like wet flannels, like something you clean the floor with and haven’t rung out. Injera has a sour, nutty taste, but it melts in the mouth. It’s actually delicious.”

She also visits a Tej House where alcohol is sold and drinks with several of the local gentlemen.

Back on the water Joanna boards a boat which will take her to the Zeghie Peninsula, a large jut of land that shares a remarkable connection with England.

Here she enters another world where ancient island monasteries dot the lake. Arriving at St Georges Church, Joanna finds the St Georges Day celebrations a lively affair.

She says: “They’ve been having a church service that’s been going on all night long celebrating St. George. Because St George is a patron saint over here as well as England. Sometimes they represent him doing saintly things but mostly they have him on his white horse slaying a dragon.”

The small spring of Gish Abay is the source of the Blue Nile and believed to have healing properties. People travel from far and wide to bath in its waters. Joanna collects some holy water and is blessed by a local priest.

Finally she heads north into the wild Simien Mountains which are the birthplace of the Blue Nile. The altitude has created fantastic training conditions for long distance runners and Joanna meets the Simien Girl Runners who are training to compete at the next Olympic games.

Joanna is overwhelmed by their dedication and says: “I’ve heard so much about them. They just train here on these mountain roads, before school. Most of them are farmer daughters, country girls and they just spend all their time training. It’s unbelievable. They haven’t got brilliant foot wear but they are just brilliant.”

After meeting the Simien Girl Runners, Joanna is ready to head south again, to pick up the White Nile in Southern Sudan and continue her journey to the river’s source.

Joanna says: “I think this is the most extraordinary country I’ve ever been to. It is absolutely staggering, filled with alps and meadows and jagged mountains, which looks as though they’ve been made by children and just glued in. It’s an astonishing place and I’ve got to leave Ethiopia now. It pretty much breaks my heart.”

Monday, 19 April 2010, 9:00PM on ITV1

Joanna is in Aswan, on the banks of Lake Nasser. So far her travels have taken place in the relative comfort of Egypt but things are about to change. Ahead of her, lies an 18 hour journey on a crowded ferry, which will to take her across the lake to Wadi Halfa; the remote gateway of Sudan. Lake Nasser was created when a huge dam was built across the River Nile at Aswan. At 300 miles long it is the world’s largest man-made lake and its vast size resembles a sea.

As the sun sets, Joanna settles into her new floating home and makes new friends in the ferry’s restaurant. Below deck, where dinner is served, the temperatures reach over 40 degrees and the lavatories are a far cry from Joanna’s earlier Nile cruise. But even on this remote mode of transport Joanna is still recognised as a Bond girl from her 1969 appearance in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.

Up on deck, under the stars, things are cooler. But every spare inch is packed with sleeping passengers.

A Call to Prayer signals dawn and Joanna sees Lake Nasser in daylight for the first time. Beneath the lake lie villages and ancient temples, which disappeared when the area was flooded to build a vast dam across the River Nile at Aswan.

Sailing past The Sun Temple of Abu Simbel, built by Rameses II, Joanna reveals that the temples were cut it into thousands of pieces and rebuilt high above the water line before the area was flooded.

She arrives at the tiny Sudanese port of Wadi Halfa and is soon back on the road, following the Nile south through the desert. Her first port of call is the remote village of Wawa where she meets a man who survived a vicious attack from a crocodile.

The Nile crocodile is one of the largest in the world and Joanna watches as the man re-enacts the deadly fight which nearly took his life. She then travels to a nearby sand bar in the baking sun, hoping to see the fearsome creatures for herself.

As evening approaches, the sun goes down but the heat in the desert remains fierce. Joanna swaps comfortable hotels rooms for camping under the stars and spends the night in a tent in the Sudanese desert

The following morning, Joanna heads for the sacred town of Karima, on the edge of the Nile.
The town was the heart of the ancient kingdom of Nubia, the pharoanic kingdom which once ruled Egypt. As she climbs the holy mountain of Jebel Barkal, Joanna sees how the Nile creates a green-fringed streak slicing through the desert.

Below her are the ancient Nubian pyramids of Karima and the tombs of El-Kurru, where Joanna discovers paintings to rival those in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. At a Nubian wedding, the ancient tradition of the bride and groom being still blessed by Nile water remains. Water is seen as a gift in this arid land.

Sudan is the only country where the Nile bends so wildly that at one point it flows north. Rather than follow the Nile, salt caravans created an ancient ‘short cut’ across the Bayuda Desert.

Taking this route, Joanna visits a nomad family in their ramshackle shelter and is moved to see their simple way of life.

It is a thought provoking visit but Joanna must move on to rejoin the Nile in Khartoum. At this point the great river is joined by the Blue Nile and Joanna will follow it into the highlands of Ethiopia.

Monday, 12 April 2010, 9:00PM

This brand new four-part factual series for ITV1 sees Joanna Lumley travel the length of the River Nile from mouth to source. This epic journey, seen through the eyes of one of Britain’s most treasured stars, encompasses the rich, varied history and contemporary daily life of the world’s longest river. From the luxury of Egypt and the searing heat of Sudan to the lush landscape of Ethiopia and the jungles of Rwanda, sumptuous shots of the richly varied territories coupled with Joanna’s engaging manner and interaction with the everyone she meets bring this rare expedition vividly to life.

Episode One:

Crashing through the waves of the Mediterranean, Joanna begins her epic Nile adventure on an Egyptian fishing boat. The Egyptian coast is actually the end of the Nile but the start of her 4000 mile journey south, through five different countries, to reach the mighty river’s source.

From the riviera city of Alexandria, once home to Cleopatra, Joanna begins her long journey, following the intricate Nile delta by train. Heading south to Cairo, against the Nile’s flow, Joanna travels in the same direction as explorers have for thousands of years. They were desperate to find the source of the river Nile, a crucial lifeline to many surviving in inhospitable lands.

In Cairo, the Nile widens to become a backdrop to one of the biggest capitals on earth. Accompanied by Egyptian Ramy Romany, Joanna’s friend and dragoman, [does that mean guide? Should say so] riding atop a camel ‘Charlie Brown’, Joanna is taken on a unique trip to Giza’s Great Pyramids via the backstreets of Cairo, where she is introduced to the intricacies of Ramadan fasting.

Filled with the romantic sights of ancient Egypt, Joanna continues her journey south by overnight train along the Nile’s banks to Luxor, centre to some of Egypt’s top industries – temples, cruise boats and dates!

Later, acting as a judge for an ‘Egyptian Night’ Mummy Competition on a local cruise boat, Joanna meets the Brits who come back to the Nile year after year, drawn by the romance of the river.

On the Bridge with the ship’s captain, Joanna is intrigued to find that Nile watercraft come in all shapes and sizes. Traditional sailing boats, once used to carry stone downstream to build temples and pyramids, are still used for the same purpose today.

Hitching a lift with a stone boat captain in the middle of the day, when the tidal stream is best, is a hot affair – but this captain knows the river and its dangers better than most. As Joanna drifts upstream towards Aswan, her final stop-off in Egypt, she is fascinated to hear that life on the tranquil Nile is not all good. There are many local myths and legends about the river and sailing the waters often means risking an encounter with demons.

On her arrival and final evening in Aswan, Joanna ponders her journey so far and where the next day will take her. To continue her Nile adventure, she must leave Egypt’s well trodden tourist path and venture south into Sudan. It’s a country completely off the tourist map and one where she suspects things will get a lot tougher.

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