Visitors to Nubia are often familiar with the iconic Anakato situated right on the Nile bank, next to Gharb Soheil’s main village dock, with an entrance a mere walk from the alley forming the Nubian market. Even tourists in Nubia, for a day trip via Aswan, can easily make out the vibrantly colored, authentic houses, where small crowds gather for meals to watch the sunrise and sunset before one of Egypt’s most stunning views. Invest-Gate pays Anakato a visit.
Hotel Manager Ahmed “Shampoo” gave up a decades-long career with several Sharm El Sheikh five-star hotels to work at Anakato full-time. “Initially, the idea was that we would have a small guesthouse with two rooms and a shared bathroom to host friends or friends of friends visiting Nubia for a day or two. This was around the year 2000, when I was still living in Sharm El-Sheikh,” he tells Invest-Gate. “At the time, the norm was for Egyptians and foreign tourists, alike, to come to Aswan for a one-night stay, visit all the major temples and that was it,” he elaborates. Tourists, who extended their trip to visit Nubia further south or the Gharb Soheil village in particular, rarely stayed overnight as there were barely any guesthouses or hotels at the time.
By the mid-2000s, Gharb Soheil had become an increasingly popular tourist destination, and word of mouth as well as the advent of social media expanded the circle of those seeking a night or two of genuine Nubian hospitality, according to “Shampoo”. He and his four co-founders agreed to build three additional rooms with a Nile view, installing private bathrooms in each. As several media outlets featured Anakato as a novel idea at the time, fellow members of the Gharb Soheil community imitated, taking up to launching similarly small, intimately peaceful guesthouses, catering to year-round tourist inflows.
Keeping up with the newly-risen competition, Anakato expanded to encompass four complexes along Gharb Soheil’s Nile bank. “Shampoo” now leads a team of over 30 personnel across the four buildings, which all maintain the same traditional architecture and whimsically patterned walls of the first. Today, several of the locals offer a room at modest prices in their clean, often brilliantly painted homes for travellers seeking a true Nubian experience. But the panoramic views from Anakato’s terrace as well as its friendly, accommodating staff, remain unparalleled elsewhere in the village. Staff members take guests for felucca rides across the bank for a swim or to one of the nearby islands to admire the extraordinary, breathtaking scenery. Front-Desk Manager, Chaymaa, is quick to suggest nearby attractions for those whose itinerary could be lacking. The word Anakato directly translates to “home” from the Nubian dialect, and the staff is keen to keep the promise the name insinuates.
“Visitors are interested in culture and civilization, but they no longer want the same old thing, to visit the same ancient Egyptian temples and the Aswan High Dam, the same things all the travel agencies promote. Instead, some of the nearby activities such as the Nubian Museum, nearby villages like Heissa, as well as Nubian music and dance performances are gaining appeal,” says ‘Shampoo’.
A review in the Daily Mail’s travel section, last December 2016, called the boutique guesthouse “psychedelic…an Oasis of color in the Egyptian desert…looks like a fantasy come true”. On TripAdvisor, over 100 reviewers out of a total of 174, historically, give the guesthouse a rating of “Excellent”. One reviewer calls it “the Southern Heaven’s replica”, while others call it “magical” or “a gem”. According to “Shampoo”, Anakato’s regular clientele includes a long line of celebrities, talk show hosts, and politicians, from House Speaker Ali Abdel Aaal to Pop Star Mohamed Mounir and famed actress Fatten Hamama. Minister of International Cooperation and Investment Sahar Nasr allegedly came in for dinner one night, and the staff did not recognize her at first since they are usually “too busy” with work to keep up to date with the news, Chaymaa said with a warm smile, slightly embarrassed before answering a guest’s phone call.
“I really wanted to visit Nubia and I was excited for the opportunity to experience something different from your average stay at a regular hotel. I love travelling to areas that remain un-urbanized, such as St. Catherine, Mount Sinai for instance. Spending a few days indulging in nature, watching the Nile and migratory birds…this was exactly what I was looking for,” says Dina Abdel Rahman, a 33-year-old photographer who stayed at Anakato for the weekend of Aswan42, the Magdi Yacoub Heart Foundation Marathon in February 2017.
On the other hand, Abdel Rahman informs Invest-Gate that she found the bazaars and the camel ride trips somewhat chaotic and disorganized, not to mention that a lot of the souvenirs on sale are not actually Nubian-made. “I really do not see the same colors they used a decade ago, or the tanneries and the leather-making areas,” she complains. “I’m not sure where all of that has gone and I really hope this heavy advent of architecture and tourist inflows does not destroy the nature of Gharb Soheil over the years. In any case, people come here because the area is quiet and the nature magical.”
“I really do not like the luxury that other hotels in Aswan offer. The vibe in Anakato is the real thing, it is just like the rest of Gharb Soheil in terms of architecture and design; the only difference is that some of the furniture is from Ikea–Even the way the staff dresses is Nubian authentic,” says 20-year-old marketing student Soha Khairat, who has been visiting the guesthouse at least twice a year since 2014. “Usually when I travel, after the first week I get homesick, I miss Egypt and my family. But in Aswan, I cry when I’m leaving. It feels like my space,” she expresses.
Gharb Soheil’s population consists of around 2,000 Nubians, largely descendants of those forcibly relocated from nearby islands in the early twentieth century between the time the Aswan Low Dam was built and when its height was raised for the first time. To this day, although there are no police officers in the village, shopkeepers feel comfortable keeping their stores unattended during the night, often only covering the entrance with a thin cloth to protect their goods, but not for fear of robbery. “You only find these kinds of mannerisms in the south,” says ‘Shampoo’, “we always say, locally, that a Nubian is like an angel, with a heart of gold, white teeth, and in his white traditional dress.”
For further details about Anakato, including bookings and room rates, kindly visit www.anakato.com