Love for the desert, qualified by the need for amenities ---- a qualification of which I wholeheartedly approve -- brought together a major Egyptian travel company and its Italian counterpart,Viaggidea.
In the governorate of Al-Wadi Al-Gadid, which covers most of the western desert, the two companies created Desert in Style, a project Viaggidea's Giuseppe Boscoscuro (who directed the Italian Tourism Association for seven years) elaborated on with passion: "We aim to provide tourists travelling in the western desert with fixed tent-like camps that offer the comfort of a hotel while preserving the allure and mystic of the desert."
I met Boscoscuro for the launch of Desert in Style on Sunday 29 March, at the site of the project's pilot Al-Tabouna Camp in the village of Baris, some 125 km south of Kharga Airport. There were 20 tents, each 35 sq m, furnished with two single beds, a dresser and -- the one thing whose absence cut short my previous foray into this stunning part of Egypt -- a fully equipped toilet with hot and cold water. Each tent also has an outdoor enclosure for star gazing, an activity that can be enhanced with hot chocolate or fresh juice, courtesy of the most marvellous achievement of human civilisation: room service. At last it is possible to enjoy nature in my own natural state, without the need to put up with distressing omissions in matters of lifestyle.
Besides, Al-Tabouna is less than 10 km away from the Temple of Dush, a beautiful Isis-and-Osiris number that counts among the most significant in the area, and whose treasures, discovered in March 1989, are now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Archaeologists are still arguing over the exact lineage of the edifice, but it was probably built by Domitian, enlarged by Trajan, and further enlarged developed by Hadiran. Beyond frescoes of the three emperors in question, there are few decorations in evidence today, but the facade is believed to have been covered in gold. Extant on the front wall are a dedicatory inscription by Trajan dated 116 AD and 19th- century graffiti by Cailliaud (who claimed to be the first European traveler to reach it).
Kharga, once known as the Oasis of Thebes, lies 550km south of Cairo; it used to be the penultimate stop on Darb Al-Arbai'n, the well- known desert trade route linking Sudan to Assiut. The biggest of the Wadi Al-Gadid oases, it has a population of 60,000 people, including 1,000 Nubians who moved there after the creation of Lake Nasser, and commands some of the western desert's most stunning scenery.
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