Desert and oasis brochure


Published on

The desert is one of the mysterious places on earth where normal
rules about living are suspended and even absent. More like the
sea than any comparable landmass the desert stretches away to
the horizon blinking as if it is its opposite- a giant lake- but of course
this is just a mirage. To visit the desert is to plunge into a place of

Published in: Travel, Technology
1 Like
  • Be the first to comment

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Desert and oasis brochure

  1. 1. EGYPTDeserts& OasesAll oases of theWestern Desert
  2. 2. The White Desert
  4. 4. Deserts&OasesEGYPT G UIDEWelcome to the The desert is one of the mysterious places on earth where normal rules about living are suspended and even absent. More like the sea than any comparable landmass the desert stretches away to the horizon blinking as if it is its opposite- a giant lake- but of course this is just a mirage. To visit the desert is to plunge into a place of marvels. Monastic and spiritual folk have trav- eled to the desert since the begin- ning of history to get away from dis- tractions of life to find a communion between man and the natural world in all its awe, wonder and vastness. Some of those ancient monaster- ies are still inhabited in the Egyptian desert still far from ‘civilization’. Sand dunes near Bahariya The desert is above all a clean place- there are, once you leave the oases, no mosquitoes and no flies, and the ground is as clean as antisep- tic- when a Bedouin cuts his foot he will rub sand in the wound to hasten healing as sand in the deep desert is as clean and bacteria free as things get. The sheer variety of the Egyptian Sahara is staggering. It is the most varied desert on the planet. Unlike the endless gravel plains of Libya, the Egyptian desert landscape can change abruptly from steep lines of seif dune to rocky canyons to vertiginous escarpments to plains dotted with strange conical hills to sand sheets that seem to stretch for ever only to end in a confusion of star dunes after a distance. The variety is endless which is why walking is always fascinating in the The White Desert
  5. 5. desertEgyptian desert. At first the very lack ofanything apparent causes one to fo-cus and open up. In our busy modern WELCOME TO THE DESERTlives we close ourselves off to survive,but in the desert we return to our pri-meval state where every rock, flowerand flying bird is of vital interest.Then, after a while, you begin to seethat desert is not a dead world, anempty world at all- it is overflowingwith things to find and look at: fos-sils, flint scrapers, lizards, beetles,diminutive fennec foxes with theirhuge ears, falcons, petrified wood, The Black Desert pottery, acacia trees clinging to life, ochre deposits, pre-historic shark’s remains- the list goes on- the desert is a place of marvels just waiting to be found. Egypt is 95% desert. Yet for much of its history Egypt has been the story of the fertile 5% that lies The White Desert alongside the river nile.stone axes and spear heads left More and more, though, peoplebehind from when the entire desert are beginning to value the over-was a wetter savannah; grinding looked desert, this great wilder-stones, ostrich egg shells, 5000 year ness which is a place of incred-old rock art paintings and carvings, ible beauty and wild solitude.old camel route markers, Roman The White Desert 7
  6. 6. BASIC FEATURES ABOUT EGYPT AnD ITS DESERTSWhere did all the sand come from? years generated what might beScientists have yet to fully agree on thought of as the world’s biggest beach.this one. Some of the current theories The sea came inland as far as the oasisinclude the idea that the constant of Bahariya, which is over 300kmgrowth and then shrinkage of the from the current Mediterranean coastMediterranean over the last 70 million of Egypt, and then retreated. Wadi Hamra WILDLIFE In THE DESERTThe animals you expect to see in big ears help keep it cool withoutthe desert are not the ones you will sweating.see. Most people expect to see You can also expect to see padsnakes and scorpions- when in fact footed geckos and other desertthese are rare, very rare in the deep lizards. Beetles with elongated legsdesert. You are much more likely to to keep them above the hot sand.see falcons wheeling in the sky or Weddan, or wild sheep, still exista jerboa, a small rodent, hopping down near Uweinat and the Gilfalong. Deeper into the desert, espe- Kebir. Ibex, long horned deer, arecially at old campsites, you may get still seen in the Eastern desert, somea shy visit from a Fennec fox, whose as near as twenty kilometers from Cairo. P E O P L E I n T H E D E S E R TIn the Oases people are the same from North West Africa. The differ-stock and same traditions as the ent oases have different mixes- forpeople of the nile- broadly speak- example in Siwa the culture is verying. Mixed with them and influenc- different since the majority are orig-ing them are Arab Bedouin from inally of Berber origin.the East, and Berbers originally Dakhla
  7. 7. E x P L O R E R S O F T H E D E S E R TGerman, Egyptian, British and Ital- tient” and Major Ralph Bagnold ofian explorers have all played their Britain drove for thousands of milespart in discovering the secrets of the in adapted Model A Fords throughSahara in recent times. One of the country no one had ever seen formost prominent was Gerhard Rohlfs many years, and certainly neverwho attempted to reach the Libyan mapped.Oasis of Kufra from Dakhla in 1874. Modern explorers of the desert haveIn the end he turned north to Siwa tended to relinquish the car for theafter receiving a rare two days of camel and walking on foot. Ger-rain at a place forever after named man Carlo Bergmann and Dutch- WELCOME TO THE DESERTRegenfeld- rainfield. woman Arita Baaijens have usedAfter Rohlfs came the aristocratic camels to track thousand of milesEgyptian explorer Hassanein Bey, along ancient camel routes thatwhose six month journey from Siwa have long been disused.past Uweinat and into the Sudanranks as one of the greatest des-ert journeys of all time. HassaneinBey was not only the first explorer tovisit Uweinat, he was also the first toglimpse the Gilf Kebir. At the sametime, using half tracked vehicles,the Egyptian Royal, Prince KemalAl-Din made the first extensive jour-neys around the Gilf Kebir plateau,which he named and was the firstto map.Tracked vehicles were followed bythe motor car. Explorers such asCount Laszlo Almasy of Hungary-the real life model for the book andmovie character “The English Pa- The White Desert TIMInG In THE DESERTOne day can be all you need to get fuel and water. But even on this, thea real taste of the desert. longest time you are likely to spendYou can walk up a dune and feel in the desert you will still not feel itthe true emptiness of the place even is quite long enough...when you are only a few kilometerfrom the road. But most would agreethat you have to spend at least onenight in the desert to get its real fla-vour. See the incredible night sky; sitby the fire and next morning watchthe sun rise in all its glory.Longer trips of a few days are evenbetter as you will have a chanceto learn something of the stars andsee how varied the desert is. no trip,however, is likely to last more thantwo weeks without restocking on Bedouin fire camp 9
  8. 8. theOasesTravel in the Egyptian desert is much as it does anywhere individed between the deep des- this interconnected world, andert and the Oases. The Oases for this the desert traveler shouldare in the low parts of the des- be grateful. Kids still wave at youert, nearer to the water table. and smile, people will still wantEach oasis sits in its own hollow to talk to you- simply to be youror depression, which can be friend rather than to score somethousands of kilometers in area. money. Indeed in the Oases it pays to leave behind your cyni- cal hardened traveler exterior and take people as they come. Within the Oases themselves DakhlaEach oasis has its own char-acter- which you will discernwhen you visit. Fayoum, with itsextensive fields and gardens,and proximity to Cairo, is verydifferent in feel to Siwa with itsoriginally Berber population andisolated position.The Oases are all, however,away from the hurly burly of masstourism and mass employment.Time stands still in the Oases, as Dakhla Oasis
  9. 9. THE OASES Siwa Ecolodge Adrere Amellalpeople are not so sophisticatedas to inflate prices much- thehagglers here are amateurscompared to the Bazaars ofCairo.For entertainment you can seekout Bedouin music- which can Dakhla Oasis be marvelous and improvised, hot springs, ancient monu- ments, temples and fortresses, museums and crafts. just walking the streets of any oasis is an act of exploration as you learn about a culture alien to your own, living in one of the driest places in the world. Bahariya Oasis Dakhla Oasis The White Desert 11
  10. 10. El FayoumThe Fayoum as it is known is the huge lake, which on a rough day looksonly artificial oasis, created not very much like the sea that gives theby water springing forth from the special character to the Fayoum. Theground but by a long canal, natu- lake used to be major place for duckrally formed by the flooding Nile, hunting and the hotels on its southernthat dates from Biblical times, called shore hosted such luminaries as Win-Joseph’s canal. ston Churchill and King Farouk as theyThis stretches from the nile to the took pot shots at flying birds. Thoughgreat lake of Birket Qarun. It is this there is still some duck shooting there Lake Qarun
  11. 11. is far more bird watching both on this there is also the monastery oflake and the nearby Wadi Rayyan Wadi Rayyan where modern dayanother artificially created expanse monks carry on the traditions ofof water. their forebears who originally dug rock caves here at the dawn ofLake Qarun was a freshwater lake Christianity.until recent times. This has beenproven by the fish skeletons and At the visitor centre of Wadi Rayyanfreshwater plankton remains found it is possible to view the lake which is often favoured by birds migrat- EL FAYOUM OASISin mud deposits. In ancient timesthe flood of the Nile was powerful ing south and north from Africaenough to charge the lake with new to Egypt who glimpse this vastwater. However since the 1900s, stretch of water as a natural rest-when the British introduced both a ing place.dam at Aswan (anticipating thelater high dam) and a system of Away to the west of the Fayoumirrigation by more extensive ca- is the Whale Valley, which is partnalization along the nile, the wa- of a tour described later in thister entering the lake has been guide.more run off from agriculture than For now it should be mentionedfresher water direct from the nile. that Whale valley, or Wadi Hitan,The growth in salinity means the contains some of the best pre-fish now caught in Lake Qarun are served fossil skeletons of extinctpredominantly sea fish introduced whales anywhere in the world.from the Mediterranean. Huge and strange this haunting place is well worth a visit.In the Fayoum Oasis itself you willfind a reasonably modern centraltown surrounded by masses ofpalm tree plantations. There areancient water wheels to view andplenty of ruins of Pharaonic andRoman origin- some in the desertnorth of Lake Qarun.Camels do a lot of the donkeywork, so to speak, these beingoasis camels that live on greenfodder known as birseem ratherthan on the tangled thorns of thedesert.Fayoum includes the protectedarea of Wadi Rayyan, a desertarea that surrounds two lakes con-nected by a small waterfall theonly one in the Egyptian desert. Aswell as wadis and hills to explore Wadi Hitan 13
  12. 12. BahariyaBahariya feels like the first real springing up with safaris tailored todesert oasis in Egypt. match the growing breed of travel- lers out to do more than stand andYou reach it after a four or five stare.hour’s drive from Cairo along awell made road that sees a bit of At Bahariya itself the main towntanker traffic but little else. There is you drive through is Bawati. Thereonly one stop en route-a barn-like are other smaller villages clusteredtea house-after 150km (and a small- within the depression of the oasis,er one about 10km further on) and many of them mentioned in Ro-that is it. It was on the right hand side man times. Bahariya has beenof the road, in the direction of Wadi inhabited for many centuriesNatrun, that French Flyer Antoine de and it was here that the so calledSaint Exupery crashed in 1935. Sur- Golden Mummies were unearthedviving on a half pint of coffee and a few years orange Exupery survived- andlater wrote about the experiencesin the marvelous desert book ‘‘Wind,Sand and Stars’’.Being relatively near to CairoBahariya has attracted a number offoreigners over the years in searchof peace and desert freedom. Theyhave started, or been involved with,the several eco-spiritual companies Mummies in Bahariya
  13. 13. Some of the mummy cases can All around Bawiti there are an-be seen in the museum in Bawiti cient sites waiting to be visited.which you drive past on the way When one tires of sightseeing thein. There are shops selling most oasis is well equipped with hotthings- here you can buy your springs that gush from the earthBedouin scarf’s and rugs. and cleanse you of the sand of desert traveling. Temple of Alexander BAHARIYA OASIS On the road going in the direction of Siwa is the temple dedicated to Alexander- the only one that still exists in Egypt- perhaps he came back through Bahariya after visit- ing the oracle at Siwa. After the dusty atmospheric town of Bawiti one drives through the Black Desert, called this because the air has oxidized the manga- nese in the rocks making them Golden Mummies black.Look out for the traditional shopssuch as the bakery which is asmall blackened hole in the wallthrough which hands pass to re-ceive their daily bread.The hills behind the town includeGebel Dest- this was where impor-tant dinosaur remains were foundby German paleontoligist EricStrommer nearly a hundred yearsago. He discovered a tyrannosau-rus-like carnivore called Spinosau-rus, which, if you have seen ‘‘Juras-sic Park III’’ does battle with T-Rextowards the end of the film. Bahariya ? DID YOU KnOW? The Bahariya villages of Mandisha and Zabu are threatened by encroach- ing sand. A huge wave of a dune has already engulfed many houses and now looms over a street of small buildings. Hot Spring 15
  14. 14. FarafraFarafra is the nearest oasis to toman, times. At first sight it seemsthe White Desert. People usually as if the old mud walled, originallyvisit this desert from Bahariya and Roman, fortress in town has fallenmiss out on seeing Farafra. Which into disrepair, largely washed awayis a pity as Farafra has a special by freak rainfall since the 1950s.charm all of its own. The other mud fortresses- nota-The Farafronies have had their bly in Dakhla Oasis are uninhab-number swelled in recent years ited- but despite its parlous stateby the new valleys settlement of repair the Farafra fortress stillscheme. Wells were drilled to sup- has a few families thus providingply with water these new farms a unique sense of continuity to theand the population has increased ancient past of the oases.considerably from a few thousandin the 1980s to over 15,000 today.Many of these people live in thenew hamlets that surround themain town of Qasr Farafra whichnow has around 5000 inhabitants.This has led to an increase in thenumber of shops on the highwayas you drive through- always auseful thing for resupplying a des-ert journey.As you walk around Farafra with itslow, tin roofed buildings it is hardto picture it in Roman, or even Ot- Palm Trees in Farafra
  15. 15. Crafts of FarafraUnlike Siwa, with its jewelry, andDakhla and Kharga with their ce-ramics, there is no great craft tra-dition celebrated in Farafra apartfrom the spinning of wool- bothfrom camels and sheep. Unusually,both for Egypt and the world in gen-eral, spinning is considered a male FARAFRA OASISoccupation. Heavy fellows can beseen strolling the main street twirl-ing a spindle and bobbin as theychat with friends and drink a glass ofmint tea. Knitting, too, as amongstsailors, is an occupation practicedby men as well as a few liberatedwomen in Farafra. The White Desert Farafra has its own institutions- but they are people rather than places. There is the ubiquitous ‘Mr Socks’ a relative of the Bedouin Badawi clan who bombs around on his moped with a wooden crate full of hand knitted socks and other useful Bedouin type ap- parel. The socks are great for the desert at night and good for pad- ding around oasis hotels when you do not want a stray mosquito go- ing for your ankles. Women knitting in FarafraHot SpringsAs in Bahariya, Farafra is well en-dowed with hot springs. Whatcould be more relaxing than soak-ing away the desert sand after ahard safari through the White Des- Bedouins near Farafraert? Bir Sitta, Well Six, is particu-larly good for travellers, especiallyif suffering a few aches and painsfrom the new experience of camelriding. The large hot bath contains ? DID YOU KnOW? The first census of Farafra in 1892 put the population at a mere 542 inhabitants, onetraces of sulphur which are said to thirtieth of its current popula-aid muscle and joint recovery. tion. 17
  16. 16. DakhlaDakhla is among the most remote QasrOases being far from both Cairoand Luxor. Yet it is well worth the ex- Dakhla is home to many ancientpenditure in time and effort. remains, hot springs and tower-You pass from Farafra along one ing over it – the escarpment whichof the loneliest stretches of road in dominates the skyline on the north-Egypt. If you stop, you can stand by ern side. In the oasis town of Qasryour silent car and hear nothing but (like many of the Oases, the mainthe wind for ages. town is called Qasr after the fortress) a Dutch lead team of locals haveIt is a large oasis covering a large succeeded in almost completelyarea with many small villages and rebuilding the dark mud walled oldhamlets. You will know when you town.have arrived as many of the famerslike to wear straw hats- which you donot see in other oases.Dakhla is considered to be one ofthe oldest inhabited places in Af-rica, or rather Mut, its largest townis.Mut, which means mother in theAncient Egyptian tongue, is reallythe mother of all dwelling places.Houses carbon dated to 13,000 yearsago have been unearthed there. Balat City in Dakhla
  17. 17. This place of narrow alleys and se- been excavated, some robbed butcret passages is one of the great as you cast your eyes further theresights of Dakhla. Lose yourself in an are many more similar looking hillsendless labyrinth which is like some- spread throughout Dakhla.thing out of desert sequences in‘‘Starwars‘‘ or the movie ‘‘The Shel-tering Sky‘‘. DAKHLA OASIS Deir El Haggar Biking in Mut To see all the antiquities in Dakhla you can ride in the back of a pick up, take a taxi or hitch lifts. Better, probably, is to hire a pedal bike. You can hire bicycles in all the Oa- ses. Mut is no exception- though with its wide largely empty roads it makes for some of the best on-road cycling in Egypt. DakhlaDeir El HaggarA few kilometers before Qasr is theintriguing Roman ruin of Deir ElHaggar. This place was once undersand- which helped preserve thepaint on the carvings. There is some-thing very recent about paint and tosee some that is 2000 years old isquite amazing. One can compareoneself to the great explorer Rolhfswho signature can be seen quiteclearly on a column in front of the Little girl in Dakhla oasistemple of Deir El Haggar.But he carved it when the sand wasmuch higher. now cleared away toreveal more of the temple, his graf- ? DID YOU KnOW? Desert raiders originating in Chad attacked Dakhla up until the 19th century usingfiti is a good three meters above the iron boomerangs. These areground. not so different in design toAcross the way from this restored the boomerangs used by theroman temple complex are coni- Ancient Egyptians to catchcal hills full of tombs. Some have small birds. 19
  18. 18. KhargaKharga is the largest of the Oa- In Roman times Kharga was ases, the administrative centre of powerful centre of activity. Therethe new valley Governorate. It is are many remains along with thosealso the nearest to the nile valley, of more ancient times. Sincebeing only two hours from Luxor. the camel’s introduction aroundIt has a large population of over 500BC, Kharga has been the final70,000 people and plenty of new post on the Forty Days Road frombuildings in the centre. Sudan- along which all the trade of East Africa used to come. EvenAs you arrive the tang of dates today great caravans of camelsassaults your nose and the sight come along this route- but theyof row upon row of date palms. are mainly destined to be eatenThough busy and modern, in once they have arrived at, Kharga still retains the ro-mance of the desert. Chapel Ceilings of Baga-Pottery is one of the crafts cel- watebrated in Kharga. In the maintown of Qasr there are numerous Here are the domed roofs of oneshops selling ceramic products of the best preserved Christianas well as a pottery factory you cemeteries in the world. Therecan take a tour round. You can are 263 ornate tombs and manyalso get some good bargains chapels. The roof paintings are ofat Kharga’s lively bazaar or souk particular interest. Ask to see thewhich is located in the southern painting that depicts the zodiacpart of Qasr town in the buzzing surrounding portraits of Mary andMidan Showla. jesus. This very same design ap-
  19. 19. Paris, Egypt It is widely believed that Baris in Kharga is named after Paris in France. Perhaps this is an example of the great sense of humour Egyp- tians display. The world famous architect Hassan Fathi designed an ecologically sound village KHARGA OASIS Inside of ‘‘The Peace Chapel’’ in the necropolis of Bagawat to replace old Baris, hence newpears in pre-Christian Ptolemaic Baris. Unfortunately the locals didEgyptian art in the Temple of Den- not take to being moved and newdera but sadly the original was re- Baris is now deserted, an interestingmoved to the Louvre in 1820. example of great architecture that somehow misses the mark.But one can trace the line thatconnects the two utterly differentreligions.Ain Um DabadibAin Um Dabadib, located some40km north of the main town ofQasr Kharga, is an amazing for-tress that has been occupied sincebefore Roman times. An incredibleplace that sits below the escarp-ment but 220metres above thedesert floor it commands greatvistas. All around are scattered and Palm Trees in Kharga Oasisbroken pots that date all the wayback through Islamic times toChristian to Roman and before. ? DID YOU KnOW? Kharga was a penal colony most famously in ancient Egyptian and Roman times. One of the most famous inmates was the poet and satirist juvenal (AD60 to 130) who was imprisoned for his rude remarks about the court of the Emperor Hadrian. He was later par- doned and returned to Rome. Fortress Ain Um Dabadib 21
  20. 20. SiwaSiwa Oasis is the favourite of There are no major hotel chainsmany desert travellers. though there are a few highly in- dividual top class places to stay-It has a unique atmosphere, an Prince Charles stayed at one whenambience that is genuinely relax- he visited in, truly a magical place. Surrounded by lakes that are too saline to support fishing Siwa has been famous for its olive groves and palm gardens since ancient times. Siwa ecolodge Adrere AmellalIt can be reached either alongthe desert road from Bahariya or,more usually, down from MarsaMatruh on the northern coast. Siwa ecolodge Adrere AmellalThere is also an air service though Today Siwan olives and Siwan bot-you need to check first about when tled water are considered the finestflights are leaving from Cairo. and purest in Egypt. It is an easily
  21. 21. supported claim as there is noth- Siwan Craftsing produced here that might bea pollutant. Siwa has two popula- Siwa has the best craft tradi-tions, originally. The Siwans, who are tion of any of the oases. You canberber in origin, and the Bedouin, get unique ceramic tajin, Saharanwho inhabit villages around the cooking pots, handmade and firededge of the Oasis and whose gaily in bread ovens rather than kilns.dressed women are not as reclusive Wedding dresses of stunning designas the native Siwans. are made by women, who dress SIWA OASIS plainly the rest of the year.One is struck in Siwa by the ruinedmud town of Old Shali that wasabandoned, finally, in the 1980s Music in Siwaafter severe rain damage. It is next You will notice that Siwans are un-to the new town of Shali and looks inhibited and talented a ruined castle made of mud Siwans tend to keep in musicalpies. You can visit it by picking your practice for the four big festivalsway through the darkened passage- they hold each year, as well as theirways but mind where you step. highly musical weddings. The big- gest festival, Siayha, which anyone can attend, draws over 10,000 Si- wans to nearby jebel Dakhour for three days of feasting, dancing and singing. Shali SiwaSiwa is most famous as being ?the site of the Oracle visited byAlexander the Great in 331BC. DID YOU KnOW?He arrived and demanded that Despite there being a sunken boat in Lake Shiatta, therethe Oracle answer his question (re- were no boats in Siwa afterputed to be ‘Will I rule the world?’ the ancient times. Only In 1924answer being ‘Yes, but not for very did traveler Byron de Proroklong’). As well as being able to visit manage to cross, in a hast- ily contrived dinghy, to thethe reputed site of the Oracle there islands in the salty lakes whereis Cleopatra’s pool and the ruined he found no treasure but flinttown to visit, to name but a few of tools and other signs of prehis-the sights. toric occupation. 23
  22. 22. theDesert tours tracks you can drive over- to affectThe desert beckons- but where and an escape. Lots of pushing is alwayshow will you go? I took a long time required- the more that push thegetting used to the idea that actu- quicker you get back on your jour-ally I could go anywhere in the des- ney.ert. It is like the sea- no one ownsit and nothing stops you roamingin any direction. nothing stops youexcept the need for water and fuelof some kind.I think it is best to think of thedesert as a place where you walk.Certainly you can only experienceits wonders when you are up closeand personal with the sand and therock. Driving and camel riding mayget you to where you want to be butit will be your own legs that always There is no experience quite thecomplete both the outer and inner same as driving at speed overjourney of a desert of quest. whale back dunes. The sand andThat said, the choice of transport sky seem to merge and distance isdepends on how deep you want to distorted. The driver has to be care-go into the desert and how much ful not to go over the knife edge oftime you have. The tours listed be- a dune- and these can pop up anylow are a tiny fraction of what is pos- time. The ground is utterly smoothsible. There purpose is to get you and all you hear is the swishing ofthinking. You can then start talking sand under the tyres. It is as close towith guides and safari operators flying as you can get without leavingfrom a strong position of knowledge. the ground.At the very least you will have an ac- Ascending steep dunes seems tocurate picture of what is possible, go against what is possible- but withthe sheer width of range of possible a big enough run-up any dune, if,desert journeys. of hard sand, can be conquered. Descending a slip face also looksDesert driving impossible at first. Though a face of loose sand is never more than 35Currently driving is how most people degrees or so it will look from the topexperience the desert. When the like a 60 degree slope. The car willcars get stuck, as they do from simply slide down the slope as longtime to time, you will learn how to as it descends perpendicular andextract them by digging away the not at an angle- the movement issand and laying sandplates – metal slow and rather pleasant.
  23. 23. Cars go far and fast and for a trip to tic and more ‘real desert’ than cars-the Gilf Kebir you will have to go by but you will not go so far as you willcar unless you fancy a month long in a vehicle. However, if you walk incamel journey. Cars do mess up the desert, even a few kilometersthe desert. This is not a problem in from the road will feel isolated.sand since the wind will wipe awayany tracks. Drivers in the Great Sand Desert thrillsSea, the Siwan dune desperadosand the raiders of the world’s longest The desert is also legitimately adune, Abu Moharik, are no threat to place for thrill seekers- as long DESERT TOURSthe desert. However, driving over as they know the risks. Dirt bike rid-pebbly desert leaves tracks that ers whoop with joy at the prospectnever go. I have found the tracks of burning around a giant bowl ofmade by Laszlo Almasy’s Baby Ford sand or up and over small dunes.expedition in 1930- seventy years Accidents happen when you fail toon and still clear. Eventually one see some small change in the des-hopes that car drivers will stick to ex- ert surface- a hole or sudden end toisting slops when they cross the vul- the dune.nerable parts of the desert and only Sand boarding increases in popu-fan out when they hit pure sand. larity year by year. Though not asCamel riding and walking fast as snow boarding, with the right wax you can shoot down some of the massive dunes in the Great Sand Sea and have thrills to spare. There is no ski-lift to get you back to the top again and its either a walk that will get you fit quicker than almost anything else, or hitching a ride in a 4x4 running in a cycle from top to bottom. Though riding a mountain bike may sound crazy in the desert, the latest generation of ‘flat tyre’Camels also leave tracks- but these mountain bikes make it possible.are negligible compared to those These bikes, developed at first for rid-left by a car. Camels are silent- ing on snow, are now being used forapart from snorting and coughing. making desert journeys around theThey walk at human speed, maybe world. But even a normal mountain4.5km/h, so you are as comfort- bike can be ridden on much of theable on or off the saddle. Riding desert- as long as you avoid dunesa camel that is part of a camel and do not mind pushing from timetrain is easy- keep one hand on the to time. Of course you are limitedsaddle and use the other to steady by having to carry water, but as Ithe book you are reading- you can- mentioned with walking- if you ridenot read while being driven in a even a few kilometers alone or in acar- camels smooth out the bumps small group into the desert it will feelrather better. like a great journey.Camels are arguably more roman- 25
  24. 24. Short Tripsgetaways weekend up to 3 days 1. AROUnD FAYOUM AnD WADI HITAnThe Fayoum and especially WadiRayyan are a great place to firsttaste the desert.Wadi RayyanTo get here from Cairo takes aboutan hour and a half if the traffic isfine. Wadi Rayyan is a protectedarea with lakes and desert promis-ing interest for all. Wadi Rayyan ing ranger from Wadi Rayyan will usually guide the driver. The whales in question are extinct mammals with eel shaped bodies about 20meters long- bigger than a grey whale- closer to the size of a blue whale. The teeth were sharp Wadi Hitan and saw-like, indicating a differentWadi Hitan - Whale Valley diet to modern whales. They are be- lieved to have existed here 40millionIt is easy to visit the Whale Valley in years ago. Known as basilosaurusa day from Cairo. An accompany- isis they retain feet, of a kind, un- like modern whales which just have? remnant projecting bones. DID YOU KnOW? Bedouin legends abound in Wadi Rayyan of buried trea- The incredible lines of vertebrae, sure. Rayyan they claim was a each one weighing 20kilos or more, king who was laid to rest here make for an eerie sight, as if one with all his gold. Strangely, has arrived at a graveyard of the di- widespread in the Wadi are circular ‘sand dollars’, fossil- nosaurs, which, in a sense, one has. ised anemones that look like There are smaller whale remains stone coins. Maybe this is the too- the five meters dorudon which real treasure. may be related to existing whales.
  25. 25. 2. AROUnD HURGHADA In THE EASTERn DESERTThe Eastern DesertYou enter a quite different worldwhen you cross the nile from thesandy Western Desert to the moun-tainous and rocky Eastern one. Stilldry and arid, but this time there arehills, and valleys and wadis, cutting SHORT TRIPSthrough the whole area from theRed Sea to the nile River. St Paul’s Monastery Climb Egypt’s highest St Anthony’s Monastery Peak- Gebel ShayibMonastery of St Anthony Egypt’s highest continental African peak is Gebel Shayib- the overallSt Anthony (251-356AD) is consid- highest being Gebel Katarina inered to be one of the founders of the Sinai, which is classed as Asia.Christian monasticism and as such Gebel Shayib is revered as a moun-the monastery ranks as the oldest tain of mystical importance to thein the world. 320meters above the M’aaza and when one climbs in themonastery is the cave where St An- early dawn and sees the exquisitethony lived. Climb the 1158 steps rainbow effect of the sun shiningwhich will take over half and hour to through a ‘mist oasis’ one can un-get to the cave. The entrance is tiny- derstand their reverence.but it widens out into the tiny chapelwhere the monk worshipped. It ishard to imagine living here for fortyyears- but of such commitmentmonasteries are built. ? DID YOU KnOW? On the Red Sea Coast south of Marsa Alam there is the Middle East’s largest rock spire- the Berenice Bodkin. not often climbed due to its remote location it is visible for miles. Church of St Anthony’s Monastery 27
  26. 26. Long Trips 4-7 days allowing morein depth experience of the desert 1. THE WHITE DESERT CIRCUITThe White Desert is justifiably themost well- known desert destina-tion in Egypt- and for good reason.For sheer quantity of unearthly andbeautiful wind-carved rock forma-tions it is unequalled in any desert inthe world. It also enjoys easy accessfrom the road- some of the bestcamp spots being only a couple ofkilometers from the asphalt- thoughyou would never know that.Monoliths and canyonsComing along the road fromBahariya you will be struck by thehuge inselbergs, monoliths thatlook like rockets on the launch padand the hunched shoulders of gi-ants. This area between the roadand the escarpment edge, whichruns pretty much parallel to the roadis a great place for exploring. The White Desert The Sphinx Valley Further along the road to Ain Dalla on the right is the incredible valley of the sphinxes- natural sphinxes that again confirm the origin of Phara- onic art in the natural forms of the Western Desert. The White Desert
  27. 27. 2. AROUnD SIWA- WALK, SAIL, SURF AnD DIvE THE GREAT SAnD SEAThough a fair amount of car pow- setting of high dunes and hills thatered dune bashing goes on at Siwa surround the small is far more in keeping with its tran-quil atmosphere and ecologicalleanings to take natural poweredtransport. Your basic motor will beyour feet with camel back up. For abreak there will be wind assistancefor sand sailing and gravitational LOnG TRIPSpull for sand boarding. The Great Sand Sea Sand Boarding Here at Bir Wahed you can also try your hand at sand boarding. But The Great Sand Sea the bigger dunes are further south-Bir Wahed but all within a reasonable distance of Siwa. You can bring your own snow-Bir Wahed is a mini oasis and hot board- which does work- especiallyspring some 12km south of Siwa at on the really steep dunes, and thethe start of the dunes of the Great Siwans have all the right waxes toSand Sea. Bir Wahed was drilled by make boards really fly. They alsoman in search of oil- but the result have custom boards that are theis more marvelous- especially in the fastest of all. 3. TOWARDS THE jARA CAvESAfter a day’s traveling from Ba- Don’t worry about snakes and scor-hariya you will finally arrive at the pions- it is far too dry for these crea-Jara Caves, or El Caf as the Bed- tures- and if you are carrying a torchouin call it. everything alive down there will hide away from you.These are the largest dry caves Inside the cave are a few prehistoricin Egypt - it is easily the size of a carvings of antelope and down there, with great thickstalactites hanging down. The flooris sandy and tracked by beetles. ? DID YOU KnOW? Camels can go an entire winter without drinking as long as there is fresh veg- etation available for them to eat. Sand dunes near Bahariya 29
  28. 28. Expeditions from 10-21 days exploring the deep desert areas 1. ExPLORInG BETWEEn BAHARIYA, SIWA AnD THE GREAT SAnD SEABahariya roadThe ‘road’ from Bahariya to Siwatakes you past a sequence of largeoasis lakes, most of which aresalty and without fish. Most of theoases were inhabited in the past,and even not so long ago were thesummer quarters of some Bedouinpeople and their animals. Siwa Arag Arag is the nearest oasis to Siwa and on the opposite side of the road from Bahrein. You cannot see it from the road, it is beyond the first ridge of what becomes the Qattara depression- scene of that Great War movie Ice Cold in Alex. Arag has also got rock cut tombs which are always worth a peak. Bahariyya Oasis The Great Sand Sea? The Great Sand Sea DID YOU KnOW? The area between Siwa South of Siwa you soon enter the and Bahariya is supposed Great Sand Sea. This is the world’s to be where the Lost Army largest sand sea with dunes up to of King Cambyses met 400meters high. their doom in a terrific sandstorm in 524BC.
  29. 29. 2. DOWn TO THE GILF KEBIR AnD BEYOnDFor people who have seen the mov- and baboons. The art here is accu-ie or read the book ‘‘The English Pa- rately dated by the last time theretient‘‘ then this is the tour to make. was any water in the region- 5000- 7000 years ago.Uweinat and Karkur TalhDeep in the corner of Egypt whereit borders Sudan and Libya lies the ExPEDITIOnSmountain of Gebel Uweinat. Mostpeople are in a bit of hurry to seethe Gilf as well so at Uweinat theylook at the rock art in the valley ofKarkur Talh. This valley, named af-ter the acacia trees which still growhere, is home to vast quantities ofrock art- both drawings and engrav-ings. Wadi HamraThe Gilf Kebir - Wadi Soura Silica glassand the Mestikawy cave Thought to be caused by a giantAt 900metres high, souring up from meteorite landing about 29 millionthe flat desert is the astounding years ago, the silica glass is spreadmajor plateau known as the Gilf in surprisingly small area- aboutKebir. This is where Laszlo Almasy, 50 square kilometers or less, in thethe real life character on whom Great Sand Sea. King Tutankha-‘‘The English Patient’’ was based, mun’s chest scarab was made ofdiscovered, or, more accurately, silica glass. How it was transportedrediscovered the caves containing from that remote part of the desertpictures of the famous swimmers. to Thebes is another mystery. Silica Glass Mestikawy Cavenearby is the Mestikawy Cave,found in 2002 on an expedition led ? DID YOU KnOW? Laszlo Almasy, the real life model of ‘‘The English Pa- tient’’, in the movie of theby Colonel Ahmed Mestikawy, con- same name, believed hesidered the largest single site of rock discovered the long lostart in Africa. It contains an amazing oasis of Zerzura in the wa-quantity of pictures of animals long dis of the Gilf Kebir.since extinct here such as giraffes 31
  30. 30. DESERT A L T E R n A T Iv E Sjourneys mixed that can bewith more general holidays in EgyptMany people, perhaps on the first trip to Egypt, want to mix a desert journeywith appreciation of the ancient sites of the nile valley and perhaps alsothe Red Sea resorts. With that in mind it is possible to make many shortercombined tours of great interest. SAKKARA, DAHSHUR, FAYOUM, WADI RAYYAn Head out of Cairo towards the stepped pyramid of Sakkara and the ancient temple complex. Then investigate the Red Pyramid and the mysterious Bent Pyramid before continuing along the road to Fayoum Oasis and Wadi Rayyan. LUxOR, KHARGA, DAKHLA The Temples of Luxor and Karnak are a must for anyone with an interest in Ancient Egypt. You can then take the bus or a taxi to Kharga and then Dakhla where you can view more ancient monuments. ALExAnDRIA, EL ALAMEIn, MARSA MATRUH, SIWA Alexandria is the old centre of Ptolemeian Egypt, explore the catacombs and the new Library, eat great seafood and head towards the old battlefields of El Alamein and then the sea resort of Marsa Matruh. Then take the three hour bus or car drive down to Siwa where you can sample all the delights of the desert.
  31. 31. CAIRO, BAHARIYA, FARAFRA, DAKHLA, KHARGA, LUxORThis is the granddaddy of mixed trips with a big desert compo-nent. Start in Cairo and head out via the Pyramids. Then downtowards Bahariya- if in a 4x4 you can take in the valley of theWhales. Then visit Farafra and Dakhla and Kharga, before endingup at the glorious archeological treasure trove of Luxor. DESERT ALTERnATIvES HURGHADA DIvInG, GOUnA KITE SURFInG AnD CLIMBInG GEBEL SHAYIBMillions of tourists come to Egypt for its excellent diving. Hurghadais one of the main centres and offers a wide variety of diving op-portunities from reefs to wrecks to snorkeling. Once you have hadyour fill under water check out the surface at Gouna where thereis one of the finest centres for kite-surfing in the world. After thathead inland and climb the highest mountain on mainland Egypt-Gebel Shayib. CAIRO, PYRAMIDS, FAYOUMWith not much time on your hands but a desire to see the deserthead out of Cairo West to the Pyramids and after enjoying themto the full continue along the desert road towards Bahariya. Aftera hundred kilometers turn south towards Lake Qarun, followingyour way through the amazing fossil beds on each layer of theescarpment. At the edge of the lake pick up the road and headtowards Wadi Rayyan and the valley of the Whales. HURGHADA, vALLEY OF THE KInGS, KHARGAHurghada, home to sea, sand, diving and nightlife makes a greatplace to start any holiday in Egypt. With resorts spread along thecoast either side of the main town there is plenty of choice. Whenyou tire of the pool head inland for the culture- and take in theValley of the Kings. From Luxor head out to Kharga and the des-ert. 33
  32. 32. Templates of Desert Tours 7 - DAY TO U R Whale valley & BeyondImportant note: These tours are examples and for information purposes only.Broadly similar tours are available but individual operators will amend and tailorthem to suit conditions and demand. This incredible value tour takes in three of the ‘must see’ sights of the Egyptian Desert- Whale valley, jara Caves and the White Desert. Leaving Cairo early you arrive at Wadi Rayyan where it is possible to view both the giant Lake of Qarun and the smaller lakes of Rayyan. Whale valley is a short drive further on and you will be able to admire the exposed gigantic remains of fossilized and long extinct whales. From there you cross the world’s longest single dune system, the mysterious Abo Moharik dune. This takes you to the huge stalactitic jara caves, which inside is big enough to fit several buses! You cross now to the jewel of the Egyptian wilderness- the White Desert- a strange and wonderful landscape of chalky buttes and inselbergs replete with beautiful soft sand and marvelous wind carved boulders. You may also visit from here Farafra Oasis, famous for its hot springs. From here it is a day’s drive back to Cairo via Bahariya Oasis where you might care to stop and view the illustrious Golden Mummies discovered in 1999.
  33. 33. Wadi El Natroun Cairo 1 a n Giza ar sio PYRAMIDS pr t s OF GIZA D e Qat e PYRAMIDS Qaroun Memphis Lake OF SAQQARA Qa ro u n ley V al L a ke 2 e al El Fayoum Wh 4 3 Fayo u m Wadi El Rayan Oa s is r Beni Suef ve Ri Nile Easte t WHALE vALLEY & BEYOnD Dese 10 Bawiti Bahariyya Oasis ALEXANDER t El Minya er rn THE GREAT TEMPLE r 5 BANI HASAN es TONA EL TOMBS D Des ert GABAL RUINS Mallawi n White hit e 6 TEL EL W er D ese r t 9 A AMARNA bu st 7 Mo harik N Dune il Qasr Farafra AsyutWe Farafra e Oasis 8 Ri ve r Abu Minqar Sohag ROUTE: 1 Cairo, 2 Lake Qarun, 3 Wadi Rayyan, 4 Whale valley, 5 Abo Moharik Dune, Sphinx and The Great Pyramid in Giza 6 jara Caves, 7 Wadi Karaween, 8 White Desert, 9 Farafra Oasis, 10 Bahariya Oasis, Cairo Bahariya Oasis 35
  34. 34. Templates of Desert Tours 8 - DAY TO U R Qattara Depression and the north CoastImportant note: These tours are examples and for information purposes only.Broadly similar tours are available but individual operators will amend and tailorthem to suit conditions and demand. Follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and visit Siwa by traveling through the fascinating wilderness of the northern Coast. You start from the town named after its founder, Alexandria and motor south into the Qattara Depression, the lowest point in Egypt, a vivid and extraordinary landscape of shifting sands and rare plants, scene of the famous movie Ice Cold in Alex. Your first stop is El Mogra, a salt water lake surrounded by five fresh water wells. It is 34meters below sea level and a place of jurassic fossil remains. From here you traverse the depression to the tiny oasis settlement of Qara. Then it is time to go south to Siwa, the most remote Oasis in Egypt and the most culturally diverse with its mix of Berber, Bedouin and Egyptian cultures. Here you may care to consult the oracle just as Alexander did in 332BC. north from Siwa lies Marsa Matruh, a delightful sea resort and home to the cave complex used by the German General Rommel to mastermind his at- tacks on the British and Australian forces at El Alamein. Which is your next desti- nation- a unique historical experience with a military museum and cemeteries dating from WW2. It is only a few hours’drive back to the fascinating city of Alexandria.
  35. 35. M e d i S e a t e r r a n e a n Sidi Barani Rosett Alexandria Sallum Marsa Matruh 6 Sidi AbdLIBYA el Rahman Porto Marina 1 7 Bo rg El Alamein El Arab 2 Wadi El Natroun s ion es pr De 3 QATTARA DEPRESSIOn AnD THE nORTH a S i wa Qara 4 ta r 5 ElGabal Mawta Oasis Qat Siwa Cleopatra Bath Si wa AMON Oa s i s Gabal TEMPLE El Dakrur Arag Oasis r t Bawiti T h e G re a t se Ba ha r i yya De ALEXANDER Sea Sa nd Oa si s THE GREAT TEMPLE rn se rt De e W h i te Whi te st D ese r t We Qasr Farafra Fa ra fra Oa si s ROUTE: 1 Alexandria, 2 El Mogra Lake, 3 Qattara Depression, 4 Qara Oasis, 5 Siwa Oasis, Western Desert, edge of Qattara Depression 6 Marsa Matruh, 7 El Alamein, Alexandria, Alexandria Marsa Matruh beach 37
  36. 36. Templates of Desert Tours 10-DAY T O U R The Sand Sea OasesImportant note: These tours are examples and for information purposes only.Broadly similar tours are available but individual operators will amend and tailorthem to suit conditions and demand. The remote and mostly uninhabited oases of the northern Sand Sea offer a unique and wonderful insight into the Western Desert in landscapes of rare and stunning beauty. It is only a half day’s drive to Bahariya Oasis, your gateway to the northern Sand Sea. From here, where you may enjoy bargaining with the locals over Bedouin handicrafts, you travel offroad to the largest of the uninhabited Oasis lakes- Sitra. Then it is on to nuwamisa, and then Bahrein where there are ancient tombs cut into the hillside- some even with mummy wrappings and skeletal remains. north from Bahrein is the idyllic oasis of Arag, which is still used from time to time by Bedouin herdsmen. There are more abandoned dwellings here and the chance of glimpsing the rare gazelle of the Egyptian desert. next stop is Siwa, surrounded by salt water lakes it is place packed with ancient monuments together with a people both welcoming and helpful. If you get the chance to hear some Siwans making music- take that opportunity for they are truly gifted. From Siwa you plunge south into the Great Sand Sea, driving between the long lines of dunes that reach over three hundred and fifty meters high. Your desti- nation is the old well of Ain Dalla, known since before Roman times and after that the majestic White Desert and the cosy oasis town of Farafra.
  37. 37. Wadi El Natroun Cairo a n Giza ar sio PYRAMIDS s OF GIZA p r tt e D e Qa Siwa Qara Oasis PYRAMIDS AMON Qaroun OF SAQQARA Mem TEMPLE Gabal Lake El Mawta y l l e Qaroun Lake VaLIBYA Siwa Cleopatra Fayoum El Fay 5 e Bath Oasis al Wh Wadi Arag El Rayan Si wa 4 Beni r Oasi s Nuwamisa Suef ive 3 El Barhein Nile R Sitra 2 rt ALEXANDER Bawiti THE GREAT TEMPLE T h e G re a t e Bahariyya es El Minya Sea Sa nd Oasis THE SAnD SEA OASES BANI HAS TONA EL TOMBS rt GABAL RUINS D se De Mallawi e rn White Deser t Whit TEL EL AMAR 7 Ain Dalla te 8 Asyut Farafra Qasr Farafra 6 Wes Oasis Abu Minqar N ew V all ey Ain Umm Dabadib El Qasr Dakhla AL BAGAWAT Oasis NECROPOLIS Al Kharga Mut Regenfeld Kharga Oasis Bulaq Ge lf K Baris ebir ROUTE: 1 Cairo, 2 Bahariya Oasis, 3 nuwamisa, 4 Bahrein, 5 Arag, Siwa Oasis, Islamic Cairo 6 Great Sand Sea, 7 Ain Dalla, 8 Farafra Oasis, Cairo The White Desert 39
  38. 38. Templates of Desert Tours 13-DAY T O U R Rock Art in the Western DesertImportant note: These tours are examples and for information purposes only.Broadly similar tours are available but individual operators will amend and tailorthem to suit conditions and demand. visit the largest single site of rock art in Africa- the Mestikawy Cave, the intriguing rock carvings of Karkur Talh as well as the Swimmer’s Cave, made famous by the movie ‘‘The English Patient‘‘. From your start at the remote oasis of Dakhla, the oldest continually inhabited place in Africa, you travel through remote desert to Bir Terfawi, your entry point to the vast sand sheets that lead to the Gilf Kebir. It is here you will view the astounding rock paintings and engravings of the Shaw cave, located in recent times by explorer W.B. Kennedy Shaw, the Mestikawy cave, which was found in 2003 by explorer Ahmed Mestikawy and the Cave of the Swimmers which was named by Laszlo Almasy, the Hungarian real life model on whom ‘‘The English Patient‘‘ is based. Further south near the massif of Uweinat you may visit Karkur Talh, an area full of rock art and offering the chance of glimpsing the rare and reclusive wild sheep known as the weddan. From the Gilf you may return via Abu Ballas, an eerie hill where thousands of broken pots have been found. It is now believed this was part of a water storage trail lead- ing to Uweinat in Pharaonic times. Back in Dakhla you should visit the restored fortress town of Qasr- a labyrinth of twist- ing passages no wider than two people- a truly amazing place.
  39. 39. wV al l ey c a Va l l e y El Qasr D akhl aLIBYA Oasi s Silic Mut 1 Regenfeld Gelf K e bi Wadi Abu El Abu Ballas r 9 ROCK ART In THE WESTERn DESERT Malik Gilf E l - Ke b i r Protec to rate 6 Wad i So u ra Mestikawy Cave 7 Trop i c of Ca ncer Wa d i Furaq Wad i Memorial Wi ssa Tarfawi Well 4 Peter 8 and Paul 2 3 5 UWEINAT MOUNT 1 934 M Karkur Talh SUDA N ROUTE: 1 Dakhla Oasis, 2 Bir Terfawi, 3 Wadi Furaq, 4 Shaw Cave, 5 Uweinat (Karkur Talh), Qasr village in Dakhla Oasis 6 Mestikawy Cave, 7 Swimmer’s Cave, 8 Wadi Wissa, 9 Abu Ballas, Dakhla Oasis Wadi Hamra 41
  40. 40. Templates of Desert Tours 14-DAY T O U R Sailing the Sand SeaImportant note: These tours are examples and for information purposes only.Broadly similar tours are available but individual operators will amend and tailorthem to suit conditions and demand. The largest Sand Sea in the world is your ocean for a few weeks as you explore this amazing desert of towering dunes, little known oases and prehistoric remains. Leaving Cairo behind you make your way to Bahariya Oasis and then on to the ma- jestic uninhabited lake of Sitra. Driving through the northern end of the Great Sand Sea you alternate visiting the fascinating oases of Bahrein, nuwamisa and Arag with rolling dunes and canyons of remarkable beauty. As this area was once under the Mediterranean there are ample opportunities to see fossil remains such as shark’s teeth and ‘sand dollars’. You emerge from the northern leg of the journey at Siwa, the calmest and most mysterious of the Oasis towns. Your stay should take in the collapsing mud town of Shali which looks like a set out of ‘‘Star Wars’’! From here you will be eager to plunge deeper into the Great Sand Sea, driving down the endless dune corridors past fan- tastic displays of star, barchan and seif dunes. Through this surreal landscape you emerge at the Ammonite scarp, most recently discovered by the German explorer Rohlfs. The top of the scarp is littered with the fossil remains of ammonites. From here you reverse the journey Rohlfs made in 1873 and arrive at the place he called Regenfeld- ‘rainfield’ in German- a place where it rained and allowed him to refill his water bottles. Past Regenfeld you hit the Abu Ballas trail and view the strange water mountain and its myriad broken pots before leaving the sand at Dakhla and returning to Cairo via the stunning White Desert.