2009 is here – and what a unique way it began for the elder Sankarans, joined by my former roommate Manish. im002846Under a starlit sky in the middle of the Black part of Egypt’s Western desert, shivering partly in delight and largely from the freezing cold, but warmed nevertheless by a campfire built for us by our Bedouin guide Ahmed, im002853 not to mention the food and tea he’s just plied us with, all of which was topped of by a Bedouin song with his drums. This experience was the real McCoy of camping – no tame campgrounds with pre-constructed tents or anything. We were the only people in that part of the desert as far as we could see and other than a moth that flew by, and a mouse I thought I saw scurrying across the fire  (everyone else pooh-poohed my story but the second night brought forth evidence that my claim was a plausible one at least) there wasn’t a living creature within reach.  There was one small patch of light on the ground from what Ahmed identified as a small village some 5 km or even more away but that was it. Eerie but very cool.

The second night was an encore, further west in the white part of the same desert, a little colder perhaps, but less desolate, for we could discern other campers around us. In fact, there were perhaps too many because tending to our ablutions seemed a bit of a hazard. Some of us had narrow escapes being caught with our pants down by a wayward jeep looking for a campsite! While on this topic, I should mention a curious thing. Out among the elements as it were, people seem not only willing but positively eager to talk about bodily functions! Generally a circumspect individual, even Manish wasn’t above inquiring “Mission accomplished?” sometime during the day. Maybe its the feeling of being in a landscape so alien that people need the comfort of talking about the most mundanely familiar! Whatever the reason, evidently its not just Mary there is something about, but the desert as well!

Our two nights were truly a study in contrasts. The black desert is black because of volcanic activity. The most interesting sight for me was this mountain topped with what looked like charcoal bricks! Ahmed told us that it was a “famous volcano.”

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El Marsosa

The white desert is made of a brittle white rock – limestone most likely – overlaid with sand.

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Though winter those glistening white patches are limestone not snow.

Other interesting things abounded. There was a the Crystal Mountain which, at first glance did not appear to live up to its name. im002865It was a nice looking gateway or hole in the rock, im002866but there was no transparency or anything to the hills. In fact the top looked like red sand.im002870 But a closer look revealed plenty of crystalsim002868 imbedded in the stone like so many shards of glass catching the sun a different angles. Further into the desert im0028772we drove through a pass called the Agabat im002874(in our trusty 4-wheel drive) which Ahmed tells us was the sole, albeit treacherously difficult route for camels until the roads were built. Then there were the flower stones. im002881At first glance mere black pebbles  strewn on the desert floor but upon closer scrutiny revealed a veritable garden of black im002882chrysanthemums.

It was at about this point that my camera batteries started to give out and so I have no more pictures. Of the magic springs springing forth at unexpected places providing a brief flash of green and dates; of a tomb site overlooking one such grove, where there are a couple of glistening human skulls and a fabric like covering with what felt like (according to Dad and Manish) real human hair; or of the odd formations of white in the New White desert where we camped which our guide identified with such odd names as chicken, fox, ice cream and mushrooms. Of course there were many more that looked like the outlines of sphinxes and pyramids – it’s obvious where the pharoahs got their ideas. As we drove by these mountains of rocks gave the illusion of large cities in the the distance like an Egyptian Shanghri-La (Ankh-re-Ra?).  It wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine that if we actually reached one such city, that a giant Ramses himself would rise to greet us and usher us into the brand new year. Have a great one everyone.

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