Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 October 2009
Issue No. 966
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


By Mohamed El-Hebeishy

Visitors to the southern peaceful city of Aswan often miss it; the much larger Elephantine Island keeps it hidden from sight. Mohamed El-Hebeishy sails on a felucca heading for Kitchener's Island.

British Lord Horatio Kitchener was an ambitious military leader during the early 20th Century. For his leading role and exceptional performance during the re-conquest of Sudan (1896-1898), he was awarded a tiny island on the Nile in Aswan. Being an avid gardener and keen botanist, Kitchener began importing exotic trees and planting them on his island.

In 1899, and with the help of the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation, the Botanical Garden was created. Twelve years after his death in 1928, Kitchener's Botanical Garden was transformed into an experimental station for local plants, as well as those native to equatorial regions. Even today, the island's southern tip is not open for visitors, since it hosts a biological research centre.

After the ownership of the island reverted to the Egyptian government, it was turned into a tourism attraction. While botany enthusiast will fall in love with the place, a stroll in the shady walkways of the Botanical Island will appeal to all visitors. It is an ideal way to spend a relaxed, lazy afternoon.

Known in Arabic as Geziret El-Nabbatat, Kitchener's Island offers more than just exotic plants and a leisurely walk. It is also a good site for bird watching. Ardent bird watchers can grab their binoculars and scout for shrikes, warblers, wheatears, egrets, or perhaps larger waterfowls like Purple Gallinule.

photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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