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White Desert, Egypt

By Namit Arora | Mar 2008 | Comments

Whitedesert19The Western Desert, a vast expanse that starts at the western bank of the Nile and continues well into Libya, is the desert of deserts. Covering a total of 2.8 million sq km and bordered by Libya in the west, Sudan in the south and the Mediterranean in the north, it is a world of desolation and beauty -- and one of the few places in Egypt where you can go for days at a time without seeing a soul. Five isolated but thriving oases dot this otherwise uninhabited expanse: Kharga, Dakhla, Farafra, Bahariyya, and to the north-west of these, Siwa.  (óLP, Egypt).

In Jan 2003, Usha and I traveled through four of the five Oases in Egypt's Western Desert (or Eastern Sahara), including a special excursion to the hauntingly beautiful White Desert, known for its otherworldly white chalk rock formations. In Farafra, we hired a 4x4, camping gear, a driver who doubled as a cook, and drove about 50 km over shifting sands.

Usha, with her keen eye for detail, spotted seashells in the sand, a thrilling discovery for us. It is one thing to know that the Sahara was once below the sea, another to see proof of it. Also visible are remains of ancient lava flowsóbits of lava rock rolled around for millions of years, eventually turning into lots of black spheroids, inch-wide in diameter. Our "tent" had two right-angled walls (to act as windbreakers) and no roof. We saw a gazillion stars and the white rocks looked beautiful in the moonlight. But even four blankets didn't feel enough when the temperature dropped to near freezing that night. Here are some scenes from the trip, set to some music I like from north Africa.


Tuaregman A funny aside: The book Sahara, describes "four major ethnic groups of the Sahara, including the [Muslim] Tuareg, whose men rather than the women wear veils ... Tuareg women tell the men that 'a child can sleep in the womb for years, or even forever.'"

This [provides a cheating] wife a welcome and convenient pretext for representing to her husband in a respectable light any increase in the family that may have taken place in his absence.

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