Al-Ahram Weekly Online   8 - 14 January 2009
Issue No. 929
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


By Mohamed El-Hebeishy

THERE is more than meets the eye. Mohamed El-Hebeishy rides the vast Western Desert in search of hidden gems, some buried under real sand, and others having fallen into oblivion though standing just 10 metres from the highway.

It is a journey through trillion upon trillion of sand grains, an infinite army that if attacks, will bury the toughest of men. Legend has it that when Persian Emperor Cambyses conquered Egypt, he vowed to demolish the Oracle of Amun located in the stranded oasis of Siwa. To fulfil his pledge, he sent a mighty 50,000-man force to the misfortunate locality. A sandstorm buried the whole army, to the last of its courageous men.

But not all historical effigies have been concealed by the power of the roving sand. Some are just there, a few steps off the beaten track. It is just that we never tried to discover them. Or better yet, rediscover.

Dakhla Oasis is one of the Western Desert's five major oases. Dakhla, a cluster of much smaller oases, might be known for its Qasr Al-Dakhla (Dakhla Palace), a maze of narrow alleyways zigzagging into a full-fledged mediaeval Islamic village. The seemingly complicated labyrinth will take you to a journey back in time, with its ancient mosques, spacious madrasa and beautifully decorated mud-brick houses. But is that all Dakhla has to offer?

Bashandi, one of the small oases making up Dakhla, is a five- minute drive from the famous qasr. A reverent man once came to this small cut-off area, preaching to the people and calling the place home. When it was time and the sheikh died, he was buried in Bashandi. No one recalls his name, but if you want to visit his tomb, you won't get lost. Just ask for the tomb of Al-Pasha Hindi. Now you know how Basha-(he)ndi acquired its name.

photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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