And quiet flows the Nile

on the telly

And quiet flows the Nile

The glorious Nile river that flows into the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea is over 6,500 km long, making it the longest river in the world. Poets and writers have raved about the splendid sunsets they have seen while sailing down the Nile in a felucca sailboat and the panorama of Instagram-worthy scenes they have snapped on their phones.

They reminisce about the sun-kissed ripples on the river, the verdant palms, the bustling river banks, the silent water buffaloes and above all, the gentle melange of an ancient culture with a bright new world.

But when a fearless explorer and former British Army paratrooper like Levison Wood treks along the Nile river, taking seven million steps in nine months, he has a different story to tell. His is a tale of adventure, through routes that are fraught with danger, peril and exhilaration. His entire journey has been documented and is being aired by Discovery Channel in their series called Walking the Nile.

In this TV series, we can watch Wood as he embarks on a journey that is truly one of a kind. During the trek, he dodged minefields, saved himself during a violent civil war in South Sudan, was robbed, averted gangs, braved unfriendly terrain and endured the harsh climate. And yet Wood also traversed a world full of vibrant landscapes and infinite beauty. All through his journey, he was inspired by the humanity and history that’s unique to Africa.

For the love of East Africa

In an exclusive interview with Levison Wood on his Nile trek, it was evident that he was fascinated by the magnificence of the region around the Nile. “The idea of walking the Nile is a result of my own fascination with East Africa,” he begins. “I have always been very interested in visiting the region. The idea really occurred to me about seven years ago when I was working for a charity in Southern Africa. I thought it would be a great experience to try and walk around the Nile river as the surroundings around the Nile are full of exhilarating places.”

Wood started his journey from the source of the Nile and walked till he reached the shores of the Mediterranean. He found that he could walk a maximum of 53 km in a day. “Of course, there were both good and bad days,” he remembers. “In Sudan, the temperature would go up to 62 degree Celsius and we used to walk for almost the whole day. We would start walking at 5 am till 10:30 am, and then, we used to take rest due to the extreme heat. We would resume the walk at around 4 pm and carry on until it grew dark.”   

The Nile is a life source to six African countries, namely Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Republic of Sudan and Egypt. Wood says that Sudan was his most favourite place. “The people were so friendly there,” he says. In the Republic of Sudan, Wood was treated to unparalleled hospitality when the Nubians, known as ‘the truest people of the Nile’, offered him and his guide the use of their beds and their very best food and drink. Some people even offered to give him some land, buy him a house and find him a wife.

In South Sudan, however, there was a civil war going on and Wood was quite anxious about the dangers that he might have to face. There was also political instability in Egypt. Despite these dangers, Wood managed to continue his trek.

Being attacked by vicious animals was just as dangerous and Wood describes his experiences in detail. “In Uganda, I was chased by a hippo and on two occasions by some Murchison bulls. There were regions that were full of crocodiles too. In the wild, it is important to understand the habits of wild animals whether they are crocodiles, elephants or hippos.”

When asked how different the Nile trek was from his Himalayan journey, Wood says, “It’s actually difficult to compare the two journeys, as both were challenging in their own way. I think the Nile one was longer. I was also more mentally prepared for the Himalayas.”

Strong in all senses

Crossing the Sahara was very difficult for Wood due to many reasons. “The temperature goes up to 57 degree Celsius in peak summer, which made it very tough,” he says. “I still can’t believe that I did it. At one point, we ran out of water. However, we kept on walking as there was no other option.” As for the food they ate on the way, Wood says that they ate bush rats, maggot stew, sparrows and anything that the local people fed them.

According to Wood, the mental fatigue and loneliness on a trip like this is enormous. “You need mental and physical strength to go on these trips. Apart from that you need to prepare yourself in advance. Fitness-wise, I keep up a base level. I have been doing these expeditions for many years and I was also an officer in the British Army,” he says.

When asked about all that he learned during his many journeys, he replies, “If you travel with an open mind and eye, then the first lesson which you will learn is the feeling of being proud and grateful for what you have, especially when you see that there are lots of people out there who don’t have the option of having comforts.”

Wood feels that anyone can be a traveller if one is spurred on by curiosity. Though he has travelled to almost 100 countries, he is still raring to travel to the rest of the countries in the world. “I have almost given half of my life to my love for the wild,” he says. “However, the other half belongs to my family and friends. I feel so lucky when I come back home.”

Walking the Nile airs every Wednesday at 9 pm, on Discovery Channel.

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