Monday, August 18, 2008

Travel: Sahara safari

Deccan Herald (Arjun Manjunath)

A description of a brief trip to Farafra's splendid White Desert. The reference to "the most amazing desert cheese" made me feel like abandoning rainy London and getting straight on a plane! Gibna beida is something that I could eat until it comes out of my ears. I have no idea why something so mild is so addictive.

So far, National Geographic had been our window to the pyramids, sphinx, mummies and everything about Egypt. A 12-day trip to Egypt this summer exposed us to an Egypt beyond the pyramids. The Desert Safari was one of the major highlights of our Egypt trip. The desert itself was totally new. Before Egypt, I had visited tombs if not the pyramids, rivers and cruises if not Nile but never had I been to a desert. Although I had seen a lot of it on television, it is something to step on that undisturbed wavy dunes of sand and leave a footprint which gives you a momentary impression that you are the first one to be there.

After a day’s trip to Alexandria from Cairo, the next morning we set out to the Bahariya oasis. It was a five-hour journey and we were scheduled to meet our desert guide Wahid. We took the Upper Egypt Bus service. As we eased ourselves out of Cairo, the desert started to appear. It is customary to see a huge gigantic mountain or lush green thick forest in front of you and feel amazed, but to see a vast expanse of nothingness (not even water) and still feel amazed is something only a desert can offer.

It was an amazing view but a five-hour journey into the desert can be quite dehydrating and left us starving towards the end. After reaching the oasis, we met Wahid — the ‘king of the desert’ (as he fancies himself). He is by far the most energetic person, a genuine desert lover and hence a passionate guide in the true spirit. Wahid took us to his house. A typical desert house from the outside but had everything from a refrigerator to a DVD player inside. An amazing vegetarian lunch was waiting for us.

See the above page for the full story. There are no photographs of the White Desert accompanying this article but here's a page with some good ones from an earlier post:

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