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Khartoum, a city of contrasts and contradictions
By Heidi Kingstone
Khartoum is not a particularly beautiful city, but it does have both the White and Blue Niles, murky and muddy as they are, and it’s quite exciting to see them, and to take a boat ride at night in particular. There are the palaces of the Sudanese super rich lining the river and aglow after the sunsets. You can also see the smoke from the illegal brewers who set up shop for a couple of hours on the banks. It’s a strict Muslim country but when it comes to dress they wear their Islam somewhat more lightly. Muslim women dress conservatively, but foreign women can dress almost any way they like, and due to the ex-pat community based there international restaurants have sprung up. Ozone is probably the most famous, set in the middle of traffic island, it has excellent coffee, apparently the best ice cream in the country, attracts rich locals as well as the usual international crowd, and it’s unique selling point (USP) is the sprinkler that sprays out a fine mist that evaporates quickly and cools you down instantly.
Nothing in Sudan is cheap. The Egg, the Libyan hotel that now dominates the landscape, is another place to sit and watch the sun go down, but despite its architectural grandeur, it’s largely empty and characterless.
Rashid Diab is Sudan’s most famous artist, and for good reason. His paintings are haunting and beautiful, and he is a wonderful self-promoter, but also a man with talent and character. The Rashid Diab Art Center is in his house, and well worth a visit.
It’s pretty easy to get around Khartoum, either by taxi, or little motorized tuk tuks. Talk money before you go, and not all of the drivers speak English, so be prepared, but people are generally extraordinarily helpful. Beware of the tuk tuks outside the city that have vicious chariot-like steel plumes attached to their spokes.
If Sudan were more on the tourist route people would flock to the pyramids, which are about 320km north-east of the capital, smaller than their well-known Egyptian counterparts. There are a few dozen significant ruins from the Meroitic kingdom that lasted between 300BC and 300AD. The pyramids are easily reachable by car along a well paved stretch of highway a few hours’
drive from Khartoum, making it a perfect day trip.
It’s best to leave Khartoum in the early morning, about 6am, avoiding the unbelievably bad Khartoum traffic, and gives you time to
see the sites before the heat gets un- bearable. Even in winter temperatures linger at 35C. As with most things in Sudan, you need a permit. Sudan is not a popular tourist destination for many reasons, not least political upheaval and a tense security situation. Even in the 19th century, when the European craze for all things Egyptian was in full flow, Sudan was closed for business as it underwent its own series of revolutions.
The pyramids stand in various states – from heaps of rubble to reconstructed ones, but most were destroyed by the Italian adventurer-explorer, Giuseppe Ferlini, who came in 1834 looking for gold, which he was determined to find.
Not far from this royal burial site across a field of acacia and hostile thorn trees is an inauspicious looking site that costs $10 (R113.50) to enter.
There you can find the en-closure of the pools of the kings, now locked up and protected. This ancient elite had their water piped
in from the nearby Nile, and you can still see the painted elephants that decorated the baths. You can also easily make out the
stone figures of the carved lions, representing the power of the Meroites, where the water flowed from their mouths. The elite of Meroe also drank sweet water from a separate source. It’s always interesting to get a bit of local colour; so, after a thorough tour, we stopped at the shai house where I had excellent gowa, Sudanese coffee, good conversation and ful, the local dish served mainly in the morning for breakfast, mopped up with bread, esh.
Omdurman, an extension of Khartoum, has a great market, and there are a couple of people, mostly foreigners, who make jewellery and bags aimed at a western clientele. On the other hand you can buy all sorts of endangered species – crocodile and snake – at all the shops around town.
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|Print article||This entry was posted by Barbara Kingstone on January 17, 2011 at 1:28 am, and is filed under Africa. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|