Notes from the Egyptian Desert

Nobuko, my friend and traveler, leaves her lasting impressions about the Egyptian desert. She is on her way to Amman/Jordan now.

Visiting the desert is truly my most favorite thing to do. I enjoy it more than beaches. The complete silence and the sky reaching from horizon to horizon, whichever way I look, make me feel so FREE like nothing else does.

From Dakhla to Bahariya, it takes 6 hours and 50 E pounds by bus. I wish  I could have travelled during the day to enjoy the scenery, but due to the time crunch my underestimation had created, I had to take a bus at 5pm. So I only had 1 hour to see the landscape. About the depressed tourism situation, I had reported earlier.

But things must be worse than I can see, because many hotels in Bahariya, the most visited oasis in the western oasis area, have disconnected their phones or do not answer the phone. Among the ones that are still operating, Desert Safari Home was the budget choice at 50 E pounds per night for a single room. The son of the owner, Mohammed, picked me up at the bus station at 11:30pm. The owner Mr. Badr received me at the hotel, but I was  too tired to chat.

The next morning I learned that there was another guest there!! In Luxor and Dakhla, I was the only guest. I was very happy to have  company, and possibly being able to go on an overnight desert trip and share the cost with this person. If you are alone, the price for a two-day trip costs a whopping 700 E pounds. But with two people, the price per person drops to 400 E pounds.

The other guest was a Spanish woman my age, she also has been traveling alone for one year. And thankfully we hit it off! I tried to convince her to do a three-day trip with me, but due to financial reason, we settled on the two-day trip. Really, the more people, the cheaper when you travel. The more people you have with you, the better your chance of succeeding in bargaining on prices of room and transportation (you can even hire an entire vehicle!). You can also share the cost to hire a driver / guide.

That day we took it easy and only did a mini tour for two hours (35 E pounds per person). The excursion was short, but high was its intensity, because we had to go across many sand dunes. The driver, Sahid, is a Bedouin who looks like a “gangsta” with his sunglasses on. But he becomes like a small child with complete sweetness when he smiles. He agreed in good humor when I made him pose with me for a photo of us looking like two mean “gangsta”!

Nobuko desert gangsta

Driving over sand dunes is not an easy fleet. One must have the ability to gauge how much momentum or control is needed to go up/down the dunes without getting stuck or flipping the jeep over, and the skills to deliver the calculated maneuvers. He was more than competent because he drove it like he was playing in a sand box with his mini car.

The next day, we headed out around 11am. We were so happy to have Sahid as our driver again. The first stop was the Black Desert. I was not so excited about this one, but oh boy, it is so beautiful there! The black volcanic rocks turned into black sand and it covers a vast area like powdered sugar sprinkled over a pound cake, creating a gradation of color shift from brown to black.

Black Desert in Egypt

Black Desert in Egypt

Because of this effect, you can see even the most subtle sand waves created by the desert wind which go on for miles. Wow. No eye catching frills, only the simple tone gradations of two colors. But because of this simplicity and the vastness of the view, it’s a painting done by nature on the largest canvas, and to me, it is far more moving and beautiful than famous pieces in any given museum.

After  lunch and a few more stops, we reached the White Desert – another incredible landscape. It looks like thousands of odd shaped pieces of white growth are sticking out of the desert floor which itself is also largely white with patches of brown sand. Upon getting off the jeep, I realized that the desert floor of this area is actually entirely white, if all the sand was swept off.

White Desert in Egypt

White Desert in Egypt

White Desert

Nobuko in the White Desert, Egypt

Nobuko in the White Desert, Egypt

 

Its color is evidence that the area was once a sea bed and the desert floor contains salt. We walked around while Sahid set up camp and cooked for us. We found so many sea shells – in their original shape and still intact – on the ground. The white “rocks” looked like cloud patches and the white ground shaped like waves by the continuous winds. It made me feel as if I was walking on the surface of the ocean, or in the sky.

Sahid is a great cook. He made a chicken – rice – vegetable dish. It sounds simple, but I have never had a chicken dish like that one before. And we enjoyed a bonfire, with a full stomach and the desert night sky, it was hypnotizing staring at the fire. Two foxes visited us to get the leftovers. They were so small!  After they had their fill, they used our plastic cups for toys, and played with them for a long time without getting bored.

Our camp did not have a roof. Since it does not rain, and the wind was not strong, it was perfect. I fell asleep fast, but I was awakened when I felt through the blanket one of the foxes walking over my legs.

Sahid said there used to be as many as 35-40 groups coming to the White Desert to camp before the revolution when tourism was still booming. So the foxes must have gotten used to being around people. That night we were the only ones in the area, and we felt lucky to enjoy the quietness of the desert.

Edit: The photos were added on 14 May 2013.

Notes From Jodhpur, India

My guest-blogging friend Nobuko shares her travel experience with us. With love, from India
Jodhpur- The Blue City
It is called the Blue City, because many houses are painted blue. Reportedly, the blue color repels mosquitoes as well. I arrived by bus from Jaisalmer, a journey that supposedly takes four hours, but as always it took longer, more like 5.5 hours.
Along the route, a woman boarded. She had herself covered in a sari, but I could see her features occasionally when the sunlight shone on her. She was strikingly beautiful! I wanted to take her picture, but I could not find a way to be discreet about it, because she was also staring at me, too!  Maybe she did not know that I was looking at her since I had sunglasses on…

Once, dropped off outside the city proper of Jodhpur, I was in a dreadful anticipation of the inevitable rickshaw madness which awaited me. I think it is a kind of initiation or Right of Passage before I am allowed to enter a new city each time I arrive. I am getting better at haggling, or so I thought. I played a hard game by ignoring quotes of 80 to 100 rupees and sticking to my gun; 40 rupees.

And eventually, I found a guy willing to take me for 40 rupees.  In my mind I did this “Yes!” motion of making a fist and pulling the elbow back by bending my arm like seen during sports events when our team scores – you know what I am talking about?  But this prick dropped me off 3 km from my destination!  Since my hostel was located off the main road, I did not know that I was so far from the destination. Meandering around the street, I was helped by kind passerbys who not only got me another rickshaw, but also negotiated the rate on my behalf.
Cosy Guest House, tucked away by narrow winding lanes and leading up to a hill, became my temporary home in Jodhpur. It has a magnificent view of the Fort and its West Gate. At the hostel, I ran into Thomas and Adrian whom I had met in Jaisalmer. They were off to a three-day camel ride in Jaisalmer – which I thought was insane – but they returned one day early due to its intolerable heat. The tour companies should not sell safaris that lasts more than two days during the summer, unless they send along an emergency aid team.
The three of us went to the Fort via the West Gate. This Fort had never been taken over by any enemies and it is the pride of Jodhpur. The path to the entrance was dotted by musicians dressed in traditional attires and playing traditional folk music. I tell you, it is so captivating to hear the music at an old historic site – it can trance you back in time and make you want to twirl around and sway your head as well.
I particularly liked a guy playing a string instrument called Ravanhatta. He let me play it. It is like a violin, but you have to keep the bow taut by pressing the thumb on it while playing, which made it dificult to produce a pleasing sound. Check out if you want – doesn’t it just make you want to spin round and round?:
The museum inside was actually very nice with extensive information explaining each item on exhibit. It was 300 R for a foreigner, but the cost includes the audio guide as well, which usually can run 80 R. The most impressionable and a bit creepy sight was the handprints left on the wall by court women, who had to die in Sati (funeral practice in which widowed women immolated themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre) as they left the fort gate for the last time to make the procession before they were brought to the funeral site.
The theme of one of the exhibits was Origins of the Cosmic Oceans. It says:
Hindu philosophy understands the universe to be periodically destroyed and recreated. When the present world is not in existence, the Absolute (Sat Brahman) alone is present. The emergence of Consciousness (Purusha) and Matter (Prakriti) from the Absolute, creates the cosmic ocean and thus the Universe. According to Nath teachings, the mahasiddhas (great perfected beings) remain sentient during the intervals between creation, when the cosmos is covered with vast waters.
Thomas and Adrian knew all the good spots in town, one of which was a Lassi shop. They serve the thickest and tastiest Lassi!  It is so thick that they give you a spoon to scoop the last bit of what you paid for. If nobody had been watching me, I would have stuck my index finger in to swipe the cup clean, as  I believe the index finger was made for such function. But all smiley eyes were on us, so I controlled myself.
What I noticed about Jodhpur is that the locals leave tourists alone. I realized that I had been so much on guard when I arrived in Jodhpur. But people gave me friendly smiles, including women. I experienced no harrasement even when I walked alone, apart from Thomas and Adrian. Shop keepers just call out once or twice. The only persistent ones are those who work at the spice shops, I don’t know why…
I enjoyed my stay there, so I highly recommend Jodhpur.

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