November 2010: At the time of my trip and for years prior, Sudan was a constant villain in the news. Sudanese President, Omar Bashir was called out by President George Bush as a supporter of terrorism, and of terrorizing citizens of his own country in Darfur and South Sudan. Sanctions were imposed on Sudan by the US government and relations were at an all-time low. This meant that getting a visa would not be easy for me and approval wasn’t guaranteed. Plus, there weren’t many reliable fixers in Sudan and the cost for one was pricey. A fixer would also have to sponsor my visa, and this meant that I would be obligated to purchase a trip from them, which would also drive the cost of my trip upwards. But I had 5 days in Sudan and my goal was to maximize my time so having my own car and driver albeit expensive was the best way to see as much of Sudan as possible. For 5 days, I traveled up the Nile River visiting pyramids and historical sites of the Nubian Kush Kingdom, otherwise known as the black pharaohs. I camped near the pyramids of Meroe and everywhere I went, I had these incredible places to myself.  This is the story of my trip to Sudan.

 

 

About Sudan

At the time of my visit, Sudan was the largest country in Africa and contained rich oil fields in the south.  The south and north were like two different countries. The south was tropical full of grasslands and the north an arid desert. The Nile River runs from south to north and is the country’s lifeline.

Sudan like Egypt has a rich and ancient history. Sudan has nearly 200 pyramids. Many were built during the Kush Kingdom, its most famous kingdom that existed from 2500-1500 B.C. that eventually conquered Egypt.  The Kush Kingdom was also known as the kingdom of the black pharaohs. Christianity and then Islam would eventually spread to Sudan and presently Islam the predominant religion.

Sudan was a British colony but would prove to be very tumultuous for the British which would have to wrestle numerous revolts culminating in one in the late 1800’s that was led by the Mahdi, an Islamic leader he believed he was descended from Mohamad and would unite the Muslim world under an Islamic Caliphate. The Mahdi laid siege to British controlled Khartoum and slaughtered the British army eventually beheading the British governor, Gordon. Despite this Sudan remained a British colony until achieving independence in the 1950’s.

A democratically elected government was eventually overthrown and replaced by a dictatorship under Omar Bashir, who established an Islamic Republic under Sharia law.  In March 2009, al-Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in the western province of Darfur. During my visit Bahir was in power. 

Sudan is a vast country with poor infrastructure and most of the country is entirely unknown to foreigners and seldomly receives any visitors. During my trip I stuck to the Nile region and the surrounding desert north of Khartoum where most of the archeological sites are located such as the Meroe and Nuri Pyramids. I will no doubt return someday to explore more of the country and meet people of its diverse tribal backgrounds.  This was my itinerary below for my 5 days in Sudan. My usual accommodation was a humble family run guesthouse with the exception of when I was in the Meroe Pyramids, I camped in the desert next to the pyramids. 

Day 1

Arrive early morning to Khartoum from Cairo, Egypt
Hotel Sharga, Khartoum
Mogran Park to see meeting of the White Nile and the Blue Nile, merging together.
National museum of archaeology in Khartoum.
Omdurman and see the Mahdi tomb.
Drive throughout Omdurman, across Bayoda desert to Karima. Stay in house in Karima.

Day 2

Drive to Kurru and visit the royal cemetery of the 25th dynasty kings, petrified wood forest, Jebel Barkal, Jebel Barkal is a massive table mountain Visit Amun temple, the temple of goddess Mut built within the mountain, and visit the pyramids near Jebel Barkal. Climb Jebel Barkal for sunset. Accommodation-house in Karima

Day 3

Drive from Karima to Nuri pyramids (Nuri pyramids, the cemetery was found by the king Taharka(680BC-669BC)
Gazali monastery
Bayoda desert (meet Hassani tribe nomads)
Meroe pyramids, the cemetery was used by kings and queens by 270BC till 320AD. Camp in tent next to Meroe pyramids.

Day 4

Meroe Pyramids
Roman bath in a good condition
Shendi city,
Desert track across the Awatib valley to Mussawarat
Visit Naga, the Amon temple, the Roman kiosk and the Lion temple, the Roman kiosk
Khartoum accommodation Sharga hotel.

Day 5

Depart early morning to Beirut, Lebanon via Cairo

 

 

 

 

My route in Sudan

Getting my visa on arrival authorization was not easy. The first fixer I had was in constant communication with me until only a few weeks prior to my trip and then he disappeared leaving me scurrying to find a new fixer last minute and the only one I could find was one that charged a hefty price, but this meant that my trip to Sudan would be salvaged.  I flew into Khartoum via Cairo, Egypt on Egyptian Airlines and stayed my first night in a very bleak downtown hotel before setting off to explore the north of the country the next day with my driver/guide in a private Landcruiser.

 

 

Me with my driver wearing the traditional clothes he gave me

Kahrtoum school dhildren in their uniforms

Unfortunately, I was not in Khartoum during the weekly Sufi ceremony of dancing, singing and worship. I regretted missing this. My highlight of Khartoum was visiting the tomb of the Mahdi, who proved to be a major headache for the British leading a revolt in the late 1800’s that led to the capture of Khartoum and the beheading of the British governor Gordon.

 

 

Tomb of the Mahdi

For most of my trip I followed the Nile River northward. The exception to this was when I had to cross the arid Bayoda desert. Despite following the Nile, I rarely saw it since the villages, agricultural fields and homes typically hugged the Nile and the road was backed off a considerable distance.

 

 

Nile River

Whenever I saw a group of nomads on the side of the road with their her of camels, I usually would ask the driver to stop, and I would visit them for a while and my guide would translate. This group was traveling with a group of 50 some ornery camels. Sudan was one of the easiest places to photograph men, not women and everyone I asked was pleased to pose for me.

 

Desert nomads

Nomad with camels

Nomad with camels

Nomad with camels

Most of the desert of Sudan was bleak and featureless until we traveled across the vast Bayoda Desert, which was hostile in appearance but also beautiful.  At one stop, I climbed a sand dune to urinate, and, in the distance, I saw a group of nomads with camels, so I ran up ahead to them and the look of shock on their faces when a white man suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the mid-day sun was priceless. But the shock soon gave way to smiles and I was able to get some photos.

 

Bayoda Desert

Hassani Desert Nomads Bayoda Desert  

Hassani Desert Nomads Bayoda Desert  

Hassani Desert Nomads Bayoda Desert  

I stayed in Karima near the massive mountain-Jebel barkel, which rises out of nothing. At the foot of the mountain is an ancient temple which was undergoing an archeological dig by European archeologists during my visit. I climbed to the top of the mountain and sat near one of the sheer cliff edges overlooking the flat plains of the Nile River below.

 

Amun Temple at Base of Jebel Barkal 

Amun Temple at Base of Jebel Barkal 

View of Nuri pyramids of Jebel Barkal

Me sitting on a cliff on the edge of Jebel Barkal

 Sunset at Jebel Barkal

From Karima we drove to a small village that was interesting in itself for the glimpse of rural Sudanese life it provided but the real treasure was what lied beneath it in a tomb with perfectly preserved pictographs from ancient Kush times. A village caretaker met us at the gate and opened the lock and let us wander into the dark musty corridors of the tomb where I was blown away by the beautiful pictographs of Kush gods and goddesses.

 

Village Life

Village Life

Exploring the Tomb

Pictographas of the tomb-Between 650 and 300 B.C. The most famous tomb belongs to King Taharqa, the Black Pharaoh who conquered Egypt.  

My favorite stop was where the Nuri pyramids. There are approx. 20 standing now in various levels of collapse but at one time there were 80. We walked the pyramids and had lunch in the shade of the base of one of them. As was the case with every place I visited, we were the only victors.

 

Nuri Pyramids

Nuri Pyramids

We drove to what was left of a Christian monastery now mostly a pile of rubble where a nomadic family was camped out.

 

Nomad girl at Chrsitian Monastery Ruins

On our way to Meroe, we also visited several other archeological sites and one notable one was the Temple of Naga with rows of stone lions the only thing remaining.

 

Naga Temple

Although the Nuri Pyramids were my favorite and I wish I would have camped there, my favorite experience in Sudan was camping next to the Meroe Pyramids. There were no other visitors, and no one was trying to sell me anything. It was hard to believe that such places still existed in this world. My tent was located a few hundred yards from the pyramids but within view and I was sat on top of the pyramids to watch the sun set and rise. When I walked over to them at night, I stopped to look at the stars and I turned my flashlight off. As I stood there in silence and in the awe of the moment, I felt a hand on my shoulder, which scared the crap out of me. It was a guard who didn’t have a flashlight. Evidently, I wasn’t allowed to visit the pyramids at night. I apologized and returned to my tent mostly just happy that I wasn’t just being jumped by some kind of ancient pyramid ghost.

 

Meroe Pyramids

Meroe Pyramids

Inside Meroe Pyramids

Sunrise at Meroe Pyramids

From Meroe, we drove back to Khartoum where I stayed one more night before departing the next morning back to Cairo Egypt.  In Khartoum I went out to eat at a restaurant serving local Sudanese food where a giant gathering of sheiks was occurring. Sheiks from all over Darfur and local areas were meeting to determine the future of Darfur, a region where hundreds of thousands have already died in senseless violence.

 

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