|SAFARI DESERT TRIP:
akhla lies at N25 28 and N 25 44 Latitude
and E 28 48 and E 29 21 longitude. Located 120 kilometers
(75 miles) west of Kharga, Dakhla, at 410 square kilometers
(256 square miles), shares the same northern escarpment
as its eastern neighbor. The scarp runs for 200 kilometers
(125 miles) east-southeast to west-northwest along athe
northern edge of both depressions. The 300 to 400 meter(960
to I,280 foot) high scarp is composed of a top layer of
white chalky limestone followed by a mid-section of "greenish
and ash-grey leafy clays" (the terms used by Rohlfs) and
has a base of brown and black beds containing gypsum and
scattered deposits of fossils. In fact, there are fossils
and bone beds throughout the oasis. Between the scarp and
the cultivated areas from Qasr Dakhla in the west to beyond
Tineida in the east is the Sioh Ridge, a 2 to 3 meter (6.4
to 9.6 thick dark-brown bone bed of fish, fish teeth, bones,
and vertebrae. These bone beds create phosphate, which is
used as fettilizer. Other minerals found in the area include
ocher, cobalt, nickel, salt, and barytes. There are also
black and red clays, the latter containing iron oxide. Most
of the mudbrick buildings in the oasis are tinged with the
red of iron oxide.
The escarpment, which is eroding
in a northerly direction, helps to break the harsh winds,
allowing for rich agricultural development along the floor
of the depression it has a number of bays, one near Qasr
Dakhla at Bab al-Qasmund where the Darb al-Farafra exits
the oasis, one northeast of Balat where the Naqb Balat leaves
the depression, and another east of Tineida where Naqb Tineida
leads up the cliffs of the Abu Tartur Plateau to the Darb
The northern escarpment is the
major cliff in Dakhla. The eastern part of the oasis is
open to Kharga, the west is blocked, not by a cliff but
by the massive dunes of the great Sand Sea, and the south
drops over a minor escarpment and then runs free and clear
for hundreds of kilometers past the Gilf Kebir and into
Sudan. Higher than Kharga, the lowest point in Dakhla is
100 meters (320 feet) above sea level. More fertile than
Kharga, 45 percent of the total area is under cultivation.
As with all the oases, water is the key
ingredient in Dakhla. Prehistoric lakes once covered most
of the cultivated area of this oasis. Today an artificial
lake has been created just north of Mut in the hope of developing
a fishing industry, but the main water source remains the
wells. Deep wells are characteristic of this depression.
As in Kharga, they are drilled to great depth so that the
water can be extracted from Nubian sandstone. This drilling
process is an expensive and time consuming affair and it
is disastrous when a well runs dry. Farmers go to great
lengths to keep the source open and clear of overgrowth.
At the beginning of the twentieth
century there were 420 ancient wells, known by the natives
as Ain Romani, and 162 modern wells, called bir,
or abyar in the plural. Rohlfs in 1874, reported
that a Hassan Effendi, originally working with the French
mining engineer LeFevre, had drilled sixty wells in Dakhla
in thirty years. The wells form only the first part of the
irrigation system, since the farmers must also dig irrigation
canals to transport the water to the fields. Today 600 wells
exist in Dakhla with more on the way. It takes one
million Egyptian pounds to create a new well. The springs
and wells contain iron, magnesium, sulfur, and chloride
and their healing waters are good for rheumatism, colds,
skin diseases, and kidney stones.
No aqueducts have been found in
Dakhla. A member of the Canadian team suggests that the
geology of the oasis is not conducive to the construction
of such systems.
Golden colored barchan sand dunes
stretch along the edges of the depression. The 2 kilometer
(1.2 mile) wide western field, almost true magnetic north-south,
runs for 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) between Gebel Edmondstone
and the scarp. The road to Abu Minqar and Farafra Oasis,
often blocked by blowing sand, passes directly over one
of the dunes. The view north at this point is spectacular,
with dozens of crescent shaped golden dunes marching south
from the pink and white scarp over which they tumble to
reach the depression floor.
Caravan Routes and Roadways
Darb Ain Amur,
Road of the Lovely One, passes east through Tineida and
the Wadi al-Battikha over the scarp through Naqb Tineida
to the Abu Tartur Plateau and Ain Amur, Ain Umm Dabadib,
and Qasr Kharga. Used by Archibald Edmondstone in 1819 on
his way back from Dakhla and by Rohlfs in 1874, it is the
shortest distance between the two oases. (See Kharga Oasis
the Dust Road, is the second major route that crosses east-west
the main road through the oasis. (See Kharga Oasis for details.)
There is a cut off from this route that leads to Baris in
the south of Kharga Oasis.
The Darb al-Farafra links Dakhla Oasis
to farafra Oasis in the north. It begins at Qasr Dakhla
where I goes north over the scarp at Bab al-Qasmund, veering
west over dunes to Bir Dikker and Qasr Farafra. It continues
on to Bahariya, Siwa, and Fayoum.
Darb Abu Minqar
begins at Qasr and moves northwest between Gebel Edmonstone
and the northern scarp to Ain Sheikh Marzuqe, and to the
northwest of Farafra Oasis. It is the modern roadway. (See
the Long Road, bypassing Kharga completely, is the only
direct connection from Dakhla Oasis to the Nile Valley.
Like most of the desert tracks, it is an old route and there
is evidence that it was used extensively during the Old
Kingdom. In 1908, Winlock tells us, tea, sugar, and coffee
came with the caravans over this route. In this century
it was still a viable route, often used by caravans loaded
with dates on their way to market in the Nile Valley. The
Dab al-tawil has several starting points in the oasis. The
westernmost route begins just east of Qasr Dakhla in the
western part of the oasis. It quickly climbs the escarpment
near Qasr and joins the Darb al-Khashabi, which works its
way north from Asmant. Shortly thereafter the Darb al-Tawil
turns northeast. At the Naqb Rumi, the Darb al-Tawil is
joined by a third route from Balat and Tineida. (Some sources
consider this the main route of the Darb al-Tawil in Dakhla.)
This route begins at Balat and moves northeast 15 kilometers
(9.3 miles) to a bay I n the 350 meter (1,120 foot) scarp.
Here it is joined by a track from Tineida.
They climb out of the depression
at Naqb Balat and continue northeast along the desert to
Naqb Rumi. He Darb al-Tawil, now complete, continue northeast
through Naqb Shyshini and heads to Manfalut near Asyout
in the Nile Valley. Edmondstone took five days to reach
Dakhla, setting up camps along the way. Just as along the
Darb al-Arbain, he was struck by the number of dead camels
along the way. The trip took him sixty-four marching hours
which he calculated as 178 miles.
the Wooden Road, begins at Asmant and passes over the scarp
at Nawb Asmant, heading almost due north where it seems
t disappear. It is named the Wooden Road because it passes
through a grove of dead trees.
The Darb al-Tarfawi
is the only sothern route in the oasis. Used in 1893-4 by
captain H.G. Lyons, it begins at Mut and heads south through
the empty and seldom used southwestern desert to Bir Tarfawi
and then on to Merg and l-Fasher in Sudan.
A spur goes to the Gilf Kebir and Gebel
Uwaynat. This isolated area is currently the focus of a
major development program and plans are underway to launch
a large agricultural project in the area. The Darb al-Tarafwi
is receiving attention and is now paved for over 300 kilometers
(187 miles). It will eventually be a major artry linking
Dakhla to the southwestern corner of Egypt.
There is evidence to suggest that Dakhla
has been inhabited since prehistory and maybe as long s
200,000 years ago. Recent studies carried out the Canadians
indicate that the ancient inhabitants suffered from arthritis,
tuberculosis, and iron deficiency anemia. The average life
expectancy of men was twenty-four, while women lived to
be around thirty-seven.
By studying Late Roman remains
they have also discovered the antibiotic tetracycline was
present in many of the bones. It helped protect the health
of people in this oasis those many centuries ago. Further
investigation showed that it was naturally ingested and
not synthetically manufactured. In all probability, it was
produced in contaminated grain which was consumed during
In 1819, the population of the
entire oasis was estimated at between five and six thousand.
Cailliaud found the people of Dakhla to be much more friendly
and curious about Europeans that those of Kharga, Bahariya,
and Siwa. They were more willing to show him around.
Today's population is an amalgam
of peoples who have traveled to the oasis through the ages.
There are elements of Libyan, Nubian, and Sudancese heritage,
but mainly the people are Berber and Bedouin. Among themselves
they make distinctions from village to village : al-Mahub
is of Sanusi origin; Balat and Tineida are Moroccan; Qasr
is Saudi Arabian; Qalamun, Turkish, and Mut is Asyuti and
Bedouin. Sheikh Wali is considered a new village populated
by the people from Gedida.
As in all the oasis in the Western
Desert, people marry within the extended family. Although
patterns vary, educated men marry at twenty-five to thirty
and uneducated men at twenty to twenty-five. Women marry
at a younger age. The head of every village must be invited
to every wedding (and when someone dies, each village must
send a representative). Life expectancy for men in the oasis
today is sixty to seventy-five, for women seventy-five to
When problems arise in a family,
the eldest man still makes the decisions. If the dispute
cannot be solved within the family, then the matter is brought
before the mayor of the town. Police are never involved
in these matters. This type of discipline can only work
if there is respect among relations.
Today, The villages retain many
distinctions, even in dialects. At Qasr they pronounce the
I like an n, saying unna for ulla, the water jug. In Tineida,
they use the classical "Qaf." In Asmant ei as in 'bay" is
pronounced "oy" as in "joy," so "Enti fein?" (where are
you?) is pronounced "Enti foyn?"
The bread of Dakhla is the eish shamsi,
sunbread, of Upper Egypt but called aghif in Dakhla. It
is baked the same too. The oven, tabuna, here in Dakhla,
has a symbol to ward off the evil eye at the top of the
oven door. Known as 'the man,' al-rais, it looks like a
little man. Bread is eaten as the morning meal.
In the fields, at midmorning, leftovers,
dates, or fresh vegetables are eaten. Lunch is a mid-afternoon
affair, around 2 or 3 o'clock. It is usually bread, rice,
and vegetable stews.
Poultry and meat are eaten on special
occasions. Rich families have it once or twice a week. Rice
and macaroni are common.
Millet pudding is a specialty of Dakhla,
as are date honey and date paste. Palm wine is not unknown.
The Crafts of the Oasis
Dakhla's heritage is both rich and representative
of the four other oases in the central desert. As in the
Nile Valley, women use kohl, powdered antimony, to accent
their eyes. Hey also use henna. Young girls get a rich burgundy
color from using black henna, while old women, with silver
hair, become carrot tops when they used red henna on their
hair. Henna is also applied to the soles of the feet and
the palms of the hand. It means protection and good luck.
It keeps the evil spirits away. Orange henna handprints
were once seen everywhere, on doors, walls, and even sides
Tattoos are also a method of personal
adornment that have symbolic purpose. Tattoos bring luck
if done at the grave of a favorite sheikh. They also bring
strength to aching hands, poor eyesight, or broken bones.
Three dots at the corner of the eye make the eyes strong.
A bird at the temple helps too. Tree branches are often
seen on women's chins for fertility. All these customs are
beginning to wane.
However, it is in other crafts,
especially baskets ad pottery, that Dakhla excels, and exceptional
items are still being made. The best place to see the crafts
of Dakhla Oasis, including the elusive necklaces and dresses
once worn by the women, is the small but exciting Ethnographic
Museum in Mut. (For details see Mut below.)
There are many impressive mountains in Kharga Oasis,
particlarly in the north where they not only determine access
routes, but dictate the personality of the oasis. Gebel
al-Ramliya, Mountain of the Sand Dunes, at 448 meters
(I,433 feet), is located near the northeastern edge of the
depression just above the escarpment. Gebel al-Aguz,
Old Man Mountain, is connected to the escarpment,
but protrudes above it, just south of the modern descent
into the oasis. Gebel Umm al-Ghanayim, the Mountain
of the Mother of Spoils, Follows along he eastern edge of
the escarpment. Gebel al-Ghanima, 14 kilometers (8.7
miles) south of Gebel Umm al-Ghanayim, and due east of Qasr
Kharga, is 5 kilometers (3 miles) west of the edge of the
eastern scarp. Running north to south it is 2 kilometers
(I.2 mils) long with a 250 meter (800 foot) wide flat top
and is 383 meters (I,225 feet) above sea level. Gebel al-Teir,
Mountain of the Birds, is the most elusive mountain in the
oasis. When one searches for landmarks it is never where
you think it should be. Located near Qasr Kharga, Bagawat
is found in its foothills.Gebel al-Tarwan, Just of
Gebel al-Teir, is much samaller, being 0.05 kilometers (0.03
miles) long and only 32 meters (I02 feet) above the depression
floor. It is currently being mined for its white limestone,
and is destined to disappear altogether if mining continues.
To the south of its western side is Bagawat. Gebel al-Zuhur,
Mountain of Roses, is than a mountain and even a poor excuse
for a hill. Located to the west of Gebel al-Tarwan and Bagawat
, just to the east of the main road, its only Desert Roses
The most impressive mountains in the entire depression
are Gebel al-Tarif, Mountain of the Border, and its
small neighboor Gebel al-sheikh. The pair form the
called Gebel Ghurabi has no distinction other than
as a landmark for finding the beginning of the ancient desert
road to Ain Umm Dabadib and Ain Amur.
In the south stands the rugged Qarn al-Ginah,
a rugged sandstone hill 14.5 kilometers (9 miles) southwest
of Qasr Kharga. Standing alone on the depression
floor it is visible from most locations and serves as an
excellent landmark. Gebel al-Tafnis is located on
the scarp due east of Baris. Gebel al-Qarn, Horn
Mountain, a 204-meter (652-foot) double-peaked black anticlinal
hill surrounded by sand dunes, is located 16kilometers (10
miles) southwest of Baris and is the southernmost mountain
in the oasis.
The Abu Tartur Plateau , Plateau, Plateau of the
Cone shaped Hat, separates Kharga and Dakhla oases,
and covers I,200 square kilometers (750 square miles). Its
Oval-shaped, flat-topped summit is surrounded by high scarps
on three sides and is joined to the escapment in the
northwest by a small saddle. Rich in phosphate, the Abu
Tartur plateau is attracting modern mining ventures. The
fabled Ain Amur is located on one of its northern slopes.
Most of the water in this oasis and throughout the Western
Desert comes from rainfall in tropical Africa that saturates
and penetrates the ground and moves north through two layers
of Nubian sandstone. The sandstone, which composes most
of the depression floor, is 700 meters (2,240 feet) thick.
The water gushes forth from the depression floor at a rate
of II million gallons a day, watering the cultivated area
of the oasis, which is only I percent of the total area
of the depression.
The water flows from a spring , ain, if it bubbles up
naturally and only needs to be cleared from time to time,
or a well, bir, if the source had to be tapped by a drill.
There are hundreds of springs and wells in Kharga and most
of them have been running nonstop night and day for thousands
of years with no sign of abating. Some date as far back
as Acheulean times. In I8232, the French mining engineer
LeFever worked in Kharga frilling wells, and new wells are
constantly being dug.
Ancient spring are called Ain Romani in Kharge. But they
may in fact be Persian, as the Persians developed considerable
water resources in Kharga too. The ancient springs still
retain their old wooden linings of doum or date palm or
acacia wood. Built water right they are still in good working
order after 2,000 years.
There is another method of obtaining water which was
used in ancient times, probably developed by the Chinese
or the Persians and possibly brought to Egypt by the
Romans. An elaborate underground aqueduct system tapped
trapped water in limestone riges below, but near, the surface.
Once tapped the water was channeled through a massive
system of tunnels to lower lying areas where it was used
for irrigation. Sometimes these tunnels went on for kilometers.
Three systems were known to exist in Kharga: at Ain Umm
Dabaib, Qasr al-Labeka, and Qasr al-Geb. Now a new site
must be added, for the French Mission at Dush has found
an extensive system at Manawar.
These amazing systems exist in many areas of the ancient
world and are still used in Afghanistan and Iran (Persia),
where they are called qanat; in Libya and Algeria, where
they are called foggara; in Oman, where they are called
falaj; in southeast Asia where Bahariya, Farafra, and Kharga
and in each place under a different name. In Bahariya they
are manafis, in Farafra, jub, and in Kharga manawal.