Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 December 2007
Issue No. 874
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


By Mohamed El-Hebeishy

IT'S NOT the work of some talented artist; it's purely natural. Mohamed El-Hebeishy sets out to discover the artistic beauty of the White Desert.

A mushroom, a chicken or perhaps a rabbit are all examples of the various shapes that have been naturally formed. As the name White Desert may indicate, the whole area is made up of snow-white chalk shaped and outlined as a result of being exposed to what geologists call "differential erosion". The soft particles have been eroded, leaving us with the core hard rock of the chalk fantastically moulded into thousands of different shapes, an endless array of mind boggling formations that the most creative of artists could not repeat.

The White Desert was declared a natural protectorate back in 2002 due to its unique landscape and desert formations which are simply unparalleled. Located as part of the much greater Western Desert, the White Desert lies in near proximity to the tranquil Farafra Oasis. The smallest of the Western Desert's big five oases, Farafra is actually the oldest as it was mentioned in the Pharaohs classical "The Eloquent Peasant". Its place in history does not stop at that. A few brick edifices that date back to the Roman era are still holding ground. In addition, Al-Yaqubi mentioned the oasis in his ninth century Kitab Al-Buldan (Book of Countries).

Stranded in the middle of the desert, Farafra suffered periods of oblivion when the oasis was simply forgotten, one of which commenced with the Ottoman rule. On 17 February 1820 the first European laid foot in Farafra. French mineralogist Frédéric Cailliaud marched for 32 hours from Al-Hayez in Bahariya to reach Farafra. Upon his arrival he found 180 people living in one single village -- Qasr Al-Farafra.

Badawiya Expedition Travel runs Badawiya Hotel in Farafra in addition to camel and jeep safaris in the White Desert. For further details and reservations go to Tel: +20 2 2575 8076.

photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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