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Day 1 & 2 21/22- 12- 2102 Cairo – White Desert
Our desert journey started immediately after we landed at Cairo airport . The car was waiting for us to pick us up from airport , we bypassed Cairo city and proceed towards the desert. On the we saw unfinished apartment blocks illegally occupied by homeless families, these were the effort of previous regime to provide mass housing for citizens. We saw glimpse of Giza pyramids over skyscrapers before entering in Desert.
Twenty two kilometers from beginning of the road the railway from Helwan joins the road and follows it all the way to reach Managim (First Village of Bahariya oasis). Midway in the journey at 155 kilometers (97 miles) we had a rest stop with a gas station and a cafeteria. The road was very good and average traffic speed was more than 100km. Traffic was very less and most of the times road was entirely ours. It was a lovely sunny morning with very comfortable temperature and endless desert and sand dunes in both sides. We reached Bawiti around 1 PM. There was some local protest (gas price issue) going on and people blocked main road, with the help of a local boy (apparently he was local contact for our guide) we managed to use some alleyways and reached to our hotel Sand Rose. As a town Bawati was not very attractive but the hotel was small but very nice. After a much coveted shower we were ready to explore main attractions of Bahariya. I crossed main road and walked little bit in the desert while waiting for the car.
Our new 4-wheeler with is driver arrived little late and then we were off for lunch. We visited a local restaurant and ordered for one beef meal and two chicken meals. Meals came with hefty portion pitta bread ( Eish Masri ), rice , salad ,bird-tongue soup. Chunky pieces of beef and potato cooked in spicy gravy and two plates of grilled chicken. We were completely full.
Our first destination for today was “Museum of the Golden mummies”. The Valley of the Golden Mummies is a huge burial site at Bahariya Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt, discovered by Dr. Zahi Hawass in 1996. Hawass and his Egyptian team found around 250 mummies over several seasons; however, the site has more than this number – according to the excavator even more than 10,000. It all began in 1996 when an antiquities guard was riding his donkey in the Bahariya Oasis. The donkey’s leg stumbled in a hole, revealing an opening in the ground. Soon, teams of archaeologists, architects, restorators, conservators and engineers began what would be the largest excavation ever done in Egypt that continues to this day.The guard saw us and opened the museum. There were around 10 mummies are on display.
Next destination was tomb of Tomb of Noble Bannitu. We had to climb down steep stairs . Tomb was small but looks fascinating with universal day decoration. Inscriptions acclaim Bannentiu as a priest and a prophet. Here the pillars are square and the murals are in brick red, golden yellow, pale blue and black upon white. Some of the deities have only been sketched in, but there’s a fine solar barque at the back, and the embalming process is shown on the right-hand wall.
Then we went to Temple of Ain al-Muftella. There were four 26th dynastic chapels which formed together the temple. This may have served city centre of El-Qasr. We know that parts of the temple were built by a high priest named Zed-Khonsu-efankh who’s brother, Sheben-Khonsu was governor of the district during the reign of Ahmose II. After the death of Sheben-Khonsu, Zed-Khonsu-efankh also took on his brother’s role as governor. Rural temples such as this one in Egypt may have been required to be serve as a general purpose place of worship for a number of different gods. Scenes in the first hall depict Zed-Khonsu-efankh, and sometimes his brother Sheben-Khonsu, along with Ahmose II, who wears the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, standing side by side making offerings to thirteen gods, who include Mahesa, Bastet, Amun, Mut, Khonsu, Harsaphis (Herishef or Arshaphes), Hathor, Thoth, Nehem-awa (the consort of Thoth), Amun (ram headed), Anubis and Isis. Occasionally, the god Ha (a god of the Western Desert) is also included in the procession.
Another set of reliefs in the side entrance depict Ahmose II standing with an ankh in his right hand along side the hippopotamus goddess, Taweret, Horus and the cow goddess, Hathor. Behind them is another scene depicting a child, several unrecognizable gods and goddesses, and the goddess Ma’at with her feather, who are all facing the gods Montu, Horus and Sekhmet.
In the second chapel, which was also probably built by Zed-Khonsu-efankh, we find a scene portraying the high priest with a shaved head worshipping Osiris. Another scene shows Zed-Khonsu-efankh, Sheben-Khonsu And Ahmose II before a similar procession of gods as in the first chapel, but with the addition of Seshat, the goddess of writing. Other scenes in this chapel show the sisters of Osiris mourning his death, along with a list of the names of various deities.
Then we were supposed to visit small, two-chamber temple which is the only place in Egypt where Alexander the Great’s effigy and cartouche have been found. Unfortunately this was closed. Next we visited a hot spring which is used by locals as swimming hole. We saw few kids there. Then we saw an artificial lake formed mostly by excess water from sugar cane cultivation.
Next was Gebel el Dist, locals call it Magic Mountain because of the way the light plays on the texture and material of the mountain during the different hours of the day. It was an off-road drive and our driver Mohammed skilfully negotiated boulders and sand dunes.
Our final destination for the day was black mountain. Black Mountain is also known as English Mountain. As on summit are the ruins of a World War I lookout post, which was manned by Captain Williams, after whom the mountain is sometimes called.
We walked to the top of the English Mountain. From top we saw sweeping panoramic views of Bahariya. We watched sunset from there and then we were on our way back to Hotel.
After spending couple of hours it was time to have dinner. The dinner menu was basically same as Lunch but additionally we had Sesame paste and Aubergine fry. It was a long day ..Next day we left for white desert . We slept that night at a camp under the stars.
Day 3 – 23-12-2012 White Desert – Frafra Oasis – Dakhla Oasis
I woke up very early in the morning around 4.30 to watch sunrise. I did not find my sandals outside the my camp. After the daybreak I found the thief by its foot mark. I followed it quite sometime and finally caught a glimpse of it before it disappeared and managed to recover my sandal, it was a desert fox . I did not realize when it sneaked into my camp. Nevertheless after our breakfast in the beautiful white desert we were off again to Frafra Oasis, one of smallest yet prosperous western desert oasis. We went to visit Deir Al Hagar , sandstone temple to the Egyptian gods Amun, Mut, Khonsu, and Seth was actually built by the Roman Emperor Nero.
We visited museum of local painter Badr Abdel Moghny. I met his son and he gifted us few postcards of his fathers painting.
Then we proceeded to Dakhla Oasis , one important town in the Pharaonic and up through the Roman and Islamic periods. Here we had our lunch and visited ottoman town of Al Qasr with its chambers, dwelling rooms. The tomb of Sheikh Nasr el Din, the Ayyubid mosque, the restored house of Abu Nafir and the ancient olive press.
After checking in to our hotel we checked into our hotel and resigned for the day.
Day 4 – 24-12-2012 Dakhla Oasis – Kharga Oasis
Today nothing was in our itinerary to Kharga Oasis , this was supposed to be long drive to Kharga. Hanny suggested few stopovers and we gladly agreed. First was Qila el-Daba, was probably the Necropolis of the nearby town of Balat. It is believed to be 6th Dynasty (Old Kingdom) the burials were rich with funeral equipment. Wooden and ceramic coffins were used by the wealthy but further cemeteries containing more modest burials have been found to the south and east of the mastabas. These poorer people were often buried in simple pits and wrapped only in layers of matting or a sack. The necropolis were built with steps from mud bricks and dressed with slabs of limestone. The highest mastaba stands 10 meters high (32 feet) Three of the mastabas have been identified to Old Kingdom Governors of the oasis, which indicates the importance of Dakhla in that time. The tombs had niched façades like others of the Old Kingdom and a funerary Stela at the entrance identified the occupant. Excavation is still going on in this area. The site is currently managed by a French archaeological society.
Then after 45 mins we reached Al Balat. The modern village of Balat, around 9km west of Tineida, has spread beyond the older fortified town. Built during the Mamaluke and Turkish eras, the Islamic town is perched on a mound and little has changed since Medieval times. Inside the walls of this once busy town, picturesque winding lanes roofed with palm fronds shelter dark ornately carved doorways of houses typical of the Islamic architecture in the oases during this period. The roofed streets would have acted as additional protection for the inhabitants, as they were too low to admit mounted invaders. The old houses consisted of two or three stories with mud brick walls plastered and painted in pink or ochre. Bread ovens and storage containers can still be seen on the roofs of some of the crumbling dwellings, though few people live in the old town today. The Egyptian government is hoping to clear the area so that it can be restored and turned into a museum.
From Balat we went straight towards Kharga Oasis. Our first stop was Kharga Museum.Designed to resemble the architecture of nearby Bagawat, this two-storey Museum is housed in a cavernous, well-lit building made from local bricks. Inside is a small but interesting selection of archaeological finds from around Al-Kharga and Dakhla Oases.
After launch visited Al Bagawat cemetery. Built during the exile of Nestorius to the oasis, considered one of the best-preserved Christian cemeteries from its era in the world. There are more than 260 domed mausoleums still standing, and several still have intact wall paintings.
We also visited temple of Hibis. This is most well preserved temple of Kharga Oasis and one of the finest example of Persian Period temple in Egypt. Unfortunately this temple was closed due to ongoing restoration work so visited from outside.
Finally we visited Nadura Temples from outside. There is hardly anything remained here.The settlement of Nadura is now buried and the two temples of the village are badly ruined, but the southern entrance wall of the main temple can still be seen on top of the hill.The main temple was built during the rule of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius during the 2nd century AD. A sandstone gate in the southern crumbling enclosure wall fronts a courtyard which contained the three rooms of the temple. Another smaller entrance was through the northern wall. Remains of the pronaos on the western side of the structure can still be seen, but the vestibule and sanctuary have now virtually disappeared, buried by sand. The façade of the pronaos, typical of the period, had screen walls linked by columns and is decorated inside with figures and hieroglyphic texts.
Originally thought perhaps to be outposts of the large and well-preserved Temple of Amun at Hibis, 2km to the north-west, it has been difficult to know to which deities these two temples were dedicated, largely because of the deteriorated condition of the remaining reliefs. Since early explorers first documented the temple, speculation on the specific deities honoured here have been widespread. There are some suggestions that the goddess Mut was the temple’s main deity as she appears in several reliefs, as does Amun, Khonsu, Ihy, Thoth and Bes, while others have associated Amun of Hibis, a local form of Amun worshiped at Hibis Temple.
A Coptic church once stood within the space outside the temple and the whole structure was later reused as a Turkish fortress during the Mamaluk and Ottoman Periods. Remains of the second uninscribed temple can be seen at the base of the hill towards the main road. After coming back to Hotel we said good bye to Hanny and our driver , they were really superb and because of them the whole trip was so smooth and enjoyable.
Day 5 – Kharga Oasis – Luxor
Next morning a huge 12 seater van arrived to take us to Luxor. The distance was close to 370KM and it took us approximately 5 hours to reach Luxor.We booked a hotel on the east bank of river Nile called El – Mesala. The hotel is virtually opposite to Luxor Temple.