Badru squinted his eyes against the sun as he trooped ahead with yet another group of excited tourists towards the milky white T-shaped structure looming ahead of them. As he waited patiently for the slower ones to catch up with the rest of the group, he looked around the vast expanse of white sand that surrounded him and his group. This was the White Desert in the Bahariya Oasis. Badru, a Bedouin was born in this desert. This was his home and his heart and he loved bringing people to this place he called heaven. On every visit he enjoyed the look of admiration that lit up in their eyes as they took in the milky whiteness around them along with the curious chalk formations that etched out intriguing shadows on the barren lands. For Badru, named so because he was born on a full moon night on the white sands of the Bahariya desert, the spectacular sights that were formed from rock shapes caused by erosion over several centuries were more than just mere structures. They were his family who had caressed his childhood and helped him grow into what he was. As Badru took his guests around each of these chalk formations, he also regaled them with stories of the Bahariya Oasis.
Cradled in a nook in the harsh Western Desert area in Egypt, Bahariya is an Oasis Depression. It is one of the smallest among the four Oasis depressions in the area and measures around 94km in length and 42km in width. In the prehistoric area, the Oasis was under the pharaonic control by the Middle Kingdom and was popular as an exporter of wine to the Nile Valley. Gradually, in later ages, it became popular as the main channel of communication between Egypt and Libya and witnessed the footprints of Arab armies, merchants and pilgrims on its soil. In recent years tourism is a major source of revenue for Badru and others like him who are the original inhabitants of the Bahariya Oasis.
The Bahariya Oasis comprises several intoxicating destinations to exhilarate the senses and Badru’s white desert is definitely one of those. Located at a distance of 100 km from Bahariya off the road that leads to Farafra Oasis the place is also known as the White Desert National Park. Badru has enticed many an adventurous tourist to spend the nights in the midst of nothingness just to experience the cool night breeze chill their bones as they stare into space and discover themselves anew. His kohl lined eyes take on a far-away look as he recounts his own experiences under the night sky beneath the mushroom rock, one of his favourite among the rock formations. However, he does stop to inform them that for tourists it is mandatory to acquire a permit from the tourist police before engaging into any such adventure. Also as the days may get very lonely with very few transport options plying on the stretch, it is advisable that tourists carry sufficient quantity of water and food with them.
Badru soon introduced the wide-eyed group before him to the other mesmerizing destination in Bahariya – The Black Desert. Known essentially owing to the sooty black colour of the mountains and hillocks that predominates the area, the Black Desert stands out in stark contrast to the pristine whiteness of the White Desert. Badru recalls one of his own expeditions to the area when the black stones draped over the hillocks crowning the desert on a bed of ochre sand had left him completely bewitched. Climbing atop the gravelly hillside tourists will be treated to few of the most breath taking views that would be sure to leave them awestruck. Surprisingly, as Badru reiterates, the spice of the place is in its blandness.
As someone in the group murmurs about whether the place bears any resemblance to the Black Mountains, Badru’s eyes light up as he exclaims “Ah! Jebel Souda!” He shakes his head assuring the group that Jebel Souda or the Black Mountain is another story altogether. The Black Mountain, or the English Mountain as it is also known, Badru begins, is the mass of Dolomite and Basalt that lay enroute to several interesting sites in the North east of Bawiti, the oasis capital. In 1916, the mountain’s summit was used by Captain Williams, an English captain, as a check post to keep a lookout during the Senussi incursions in the First World War. Consequently, the place earned the epithet of English Mountain or the ‘Jebel el-Ingleez.’ The ruined check post still crowns the mountain summit as a heady reminder of its historical significance.
As the lights of the 4×4 vehicles carrying the tourists recede further into the distance, Badru starts his trudge back to his village, eyes ablaze with pride and spirits soaring high as he brings another satisfactory day to a close. He recalls his days when as a 10 year old camel herder he had promised his beautiful land, a recognition that would put it on the world map. Every year as the flow of tourists to the Bahariya Oasis increase, Badru knows his promise is fulfilled.