Sudan

January 23, 2014


Travel in northern Sudan is all about archeology and remnants of the glory days of Nubian kings who were not just vassals of Egyptian pharaohs, but sometimes ruled over Egypt. Still, the Egyptian gods, hieroglyphics, pyramids, with a little local variation, dominated ancient Nubia.

I arrived in Khartoum (on a red-eye via Cairo) from Asmara, Eritrea, spent a day relaxing, then headed north to Karima, then across the Bayuda desert to Meroë, and later back to Khartoum.

Sudan is an "undiscovered destination" to begin with, and violence in South Sudan drove tourists away, so it was a treat to have these unspoiled places nearly all to myself.

Most drives were on good asphalt roads with little traffic and sand with scrub brush or low acacia gum-trees (plus plastic bags blowing in the wind) for scenery.

In the necropolis of El Kurru, tombs similar to those found in Valley of the Kings by Luxor. Same stars in the ceiling; same deities on the walls. Here: the Tomb of Tanutamani (circa 600 BC) and the closeup of the sons of Horus.

Steeper but shorter than their famous cousins near Cairo, these are the pyramids of Nuri, near Karima. Most of the pyramids and temples date from around 300 BC back to 700 BC. A few are more recent, as late as 100 AD. I'm not going to attempt to recount all the exact dates, dynasties, kings, and queens here.

Karima has this perfect little hotel, the Nubian Guest House.

Jebel Barkal, a striking mountain that rises sharply out the desert, viewed from the hotel grounds. Various kings and pharaohs over the centuries built temples, monuments, and cemeteries nearby.

Well known archeologist Timothy Kendall is the leader of ambitious excavation of temples at Jebel Barkal. Incidentally, the man who wrote the seminal work on the archeology of Sudan was William Adams.

Jebel Barkal: At the Temple of Mut built by Pharaoh Taharqa (circa 690 BC)

On Jebel Barkal watching the sun set over Sudan with Nuri pyramids on the right.

Two small groups of tourists from other parts of Sudan also hiked up the mountain to watch the sun set. They immediately came over to introduce themselves, welcome me, and ask for a photo. (Guys above were physicians in Khartoum.) All the people I encountered were very gracious and friendly.

Karima on the banks of the Nile as viewed from the top of Jebel Barkal. Visited the market and talked with more smiling, friendly people. Also got hooked here on the strong Sudanese coffee with a big dose of ginger.

Driving across the Bayuda desert, brilliant guide Khaled and driver Mubarak produced a feast set up in the cool shade of the tree. Weather was pleasant and not nearly as hot as I anticipated.

Not far from the lunch site, these huts were home to an extended family of ten semi-nomadic Bishariyyin people.

Above is grandmother Dawa, 91, and her son, plus two of his seven children.



Sunset and sunrise at the fantastic pyramids of Meroë (circa 300-700 BC). They survived virtually intact until the 1800s when an Italian treasure hunter blew off most of the tops in search of gold. The only good part of the tragedy is that Guiseppe found very little.

Lots of camels along the coast of Eritrea and now all over Sudan, so I finally had to ride one from the Meroë pyramids back to the tent camp. The photo of my shadow is far less goofy than the direct shot.

In Musawwarat, an enormous and mysterious complex (elephants figure prominently) is under excavation and investigation by German archeologists.

In Naqa (aka Naga), a temple dedicated to Amun is preceded by row of rams.

Also at Naqa, the "kiosk" in front is famous for its combination of Greek pillars, Roman windows, Egyptian windows, and Nubian elements.

Resembling the billowing sail of a falucca on the Nile is my excellent hotel on the Nile in Khartoum, the Corinthia.

In Khartoum, at this oddly unglorified, signfree spot (Al-Mogran), is the confluence of the White Nile (left) and Blue Nile (right). Some 4,100 miles long (6825 km) in total, the Nile is the longest river on earth. Here, nearly 1900 miles from the sea, it's massive. Yet, it looks about the same when it finally gets to Cairo because so little water is added downstream and so much is diverted or evaporates.

Other Khartoum highlights were the National Museum and the friendly souk where you can select among endless varieties of dates.


For the record, as of 1/1/14, the US State Dept. still discourages visiting Sudan and lists it as one of four countries designated as "state sponsors" of you-know-what. The US also has a comprehensive trade embargo, but yet sends considerable humanitarian aid.

The British offer this useful map. I was in the middle of the green area and felt safer than in Washington, DC. Next stop: Somalia.