Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 November 2008
Issue No. 921
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Proposed itinerary to the Western Desert

MANY travel agents arrange safaris in the Western Desert that vary in duration according to the travellers' convenience. Here is a 12-day expedition to Gilf Al-Kebir and the Western Desert:

- Day 1: Arriving at Dakhla Oasis by bus and staying overnight at Dakhla Desert Lodge. Dakhla, northwest of Kharga Oasis and 310km southeast of Farafra, is the farthest from Cairo and sits in a depression surrounded by pink cliffs. It is host to approximately 30,000 acres of cultivated land. Evidence has found that the oasis has been inhabited since prehistoric times and that there was once a huge lake there. There are Neolithic rock paintings that indicate the lake was frequented by elephants, buffaloes and ostrich.

- Day 2: Visiting the Fortress, a mediaeval Ayyubid city built circa 1100 AD. Highlights of the day include the house of Abu Nafir with its heavy carved door. It is said to be built over remains of a Ptolemaic temple as the door jambs depict hieroglyphic inscriptions, probably from re-used blocks.

- Day 3: Heading southwest to the Gilf plateau, during which travellers will pass by the Crater, the largest prehistoric meteor crater in Africa. En route will be many vehicles and war relics left over from military activity during WW II.

- Day 4: Entering the Gilf. One of the stops will be at the Eight Bells, so named as there are eight significant hills along the way.

- Days 5 and 6: This will be the climax of the trip for many travellers. Visiting Wadi Al-Forak to the Cave of Swimmers and Al-Mistikawy Cave. The latter was discovered in 2002 by Ahmed Al-Mistikawy, a senior guide at Zarzora Expedition. Due to the remoteness of the area, only a few hundred had visited the cave. However, scientists recently began to document the drawings in the cave and analyse what are believed to be Neolithic shelters.

- Day 7: At Wadi Hamra, acacia trees and greenery dot the landscape. Travellers will also see prehistoric rock art.

- Day 8: Descending the Gilf Plateau to the Great Sand Sea passing through Al-Seleka where the natural phenomenon of silica was formed.

- Day 9: A little bit of action here. Continuing northeast towards Ain Dallah through the Great Sand Sea. The great sand dunes are ideal for sandboarding and mesmerizing to walk through.

- Day 10: Exiting the Great Sand Sea towards the White Desert. At this point, travellers have the option of heading to a hot spring in Farafra Oasis. Known in Pharaonic times as the Land of the Cow, Farafra is the most isolated of the five Western Desert oases. A short ride away from the oasis's village are hot sulphur springs and the Mufid Lake fit for swimming. As in other oases, most Farafra houses are painted in blue (to ward off the evil eye) and decorated with landscapes, birds and animals, the handiwork of local artists.

- Day 11: From the White Desert to Bahariya Oasis through Agabat. Spend the night in the Black Desert to enjoy the scenic views of black topped mountains.

- Day 12: Arrive back in Cairo.

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