Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Nubian Desert Treasures Part 1

Since I arrived to live with Grant in Khartoum in August last year, he has been telling me about the desert "out there". When we lived on the diamond mines of Namibia in the nineties, a four-minute walk from our home took me to the edge of town and the beginning of the Namib desert. Not so here in the huge city Khartoum. The only time I'm reminded of the desert, is during severe dust storms when it comes to visit me. I'd never been out to visit IT!

Earlier this year we dicussed doing a trip to the coast after October when the diving and holiday resort at Port Sudan on the Red Sea opens up for the winter season.  

However, when we obtained travel and photo permits last week, Grant suggested we travel North to the Sudanese pyramids in the Nubian desert. Now I don't know about any of you out there, but until we came to live in the Sudan, I never knew there were pyramids in this country. Not only are there pyramids, there are more pyramids in the Sudan than in Egypt. Admittedly they are smaller than their Egyptian counterparts, but when you visit the various pyramid sites in the Sudan, you are normally the only people there.  

Meroe pyramids lie 220km/138 miles north-east of Khartoum. We left home at 5am while it was still dark and made our way through the city, and eventually onto the Port Sudan highway.

At last! We were on a trip into the desert.

There's something cosy about being on a road trip. Last year, Grant travelled this road and further north quite a few times on on business. He pointed out many interesting places and scenes as we drove along.

Villages of mudbrick houses dotted along the highway

A motel complex on the highway between Khartoum and Port Sudan.  I love the plastic orange palm tree peeking out behind one of the rondawels/round huts!

Baby camels in transit

If you own a donkey in Africa, you are a wealthy man. Donkeys are as much part of the traffic in and around Khartoum as the motorised transport. They also, like women pedestrians, have the right of way. The Sudanese are generally very kind to their animals. You often see a donkey munching a pile of greens on the ground while it's owner is doing business with another merchant 

 This is not a river on either side of the highway; it is rainwater. As we drove along, we found evidence of recent heavy rains.

I took a total of 419 photos on my camera/s on our trip into the desert. Grant took one on his. This was IT (ha!)

Early morning coffee under this sky in the desert. What more could we ask for?

As we drove through the desert towards the Meroe pyramids (which we could see in the middle distance), two camels riders crossed our path. We stopped and I told them we were on our way to the pyramids. They cheerfully told us to follow them!

Grant gave my Sony camera to one of the Sudanese gentlemen and he took this photo (Photo credit: Sudanese Camel rider)

Apart from viewing the pyramids (photos follow below), we also had our first-ever camel ride. We'd entered a fenced off area approximately a kilometer-and-a-half from the pyramids. We were ushered into an office by a middle-aged lady who spoke a little English. (She could tell us we owed her SDG40!) Outside, we were suddenly surrounded by no less than nine camel riders (where had they all materialised from?) all shouting that they wanted us to ride their camel. When I could make myself heard,  I negotiated with two to take us for a ride. A third rider and his camel accompanied us. He was the gentleman who took photos of us on our mounts and the group one (four of us and a camel) when we arrived at the pyramids. When Grant paid for our rides, he paid " our impromptu photographer" as well.  

While I photographed Grant from atop my camel, the gentleman photographed me!
My camel photographed while I perched on top of it. Not an easy feat but I enjoyed it immensely. There are photos of me on the camel but I am keeping them for a post later in the week

A camel ride cost SDG10/US$4.16 one way to the pyramids about a kilometer away. When we arrived at the site and I asked the men if they would wait for us,  they immediately replied,
"ʻGhynyā ShrwnThānyh" (another 20 SDG!)  I told them we'd walk back

Camels are very vocal. They groan and grumble, especially when other camels come near them. They sound like a bunch of cantankerous people thrown together in a room! They are very docile but can bite if you get too near them. We also heard afterwards that they spit on/at you, but we escaped this experience!

Here we are at the site with our camel drivers. My camel was to the right and out of the photo

My first sight of the pyramids up on the hill
I was so excited to visit the Meroe pyramids and kept snapping away while exclaiming at this or that pyramid and its structure or colouring. After about ten minutes, Grant said: "Once you've seen one pyramid, you've seen them all." Oh no sirree! I beg to differ. Just look at all the different shapes and sizes!
The decapitated pyramids reveal rubble cores covered in brick; an ancient, quick-fix building technique. Each pyramid sits above a simple tomb chamber, which is dug into the rock below, and porch-like structures on the eastern sides of the pyramids house decorated funeral chapels.

In the foreground are reconstructed pyramids to show us what they looked like. The Meroe pyramids are smaller than their Egyptian counterparts but there are many more pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt. You also have the site to yourself when visiting these pyramids

Not all of the pyramids at Meroe are intact — many look as if they have been neatly bitten off at the top. This vandalism was the work of a 19th-century Italian treasure-hunter who dismantled the monuments as part of his largely unsuccessful search for gold. Over time other marauders have plundered the site while the harsh elements also took their toll

There are about forty pyramids at the Meroe burial site. I couldn't get enough of photos of them!

More pyramids

An ancient pyramid almost intact

I loved the gold sheen of the blocks

The sands of time...

Another group of pyramids can be seen in the background.
Back at the entrance to the fenced off area, we bid farewell to the Meroe Camel Tranport Company

Tourist traps exist even in the desert, albeit here was only one elderly gentleman and three young lads displaying their wares! Grant felt sorry for these vendors and decided to support them. Here he holds up an old coin. (there are more vendors touting jewelry and curios. See tomorrow's post)
If you're like my darling hubby and also wonder why I'm waxing lyrical about pyramids, please bear with me; tomorrow's post is also about our visit to the pyramids this time I'll include many photos of the trip there and back.  

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The Arabic word for pyramids is ʼHrām (pronounced Shrum). The Arabic word for desert is Şḩrāʼ (pronounced Sheera)


  1. Wow! That looks like an absolutely amazing trip, I'd love to see something like that someday. There are deserts in the American West, but nothing like that.

  2. Very interesting Jo! Thanks for sharing all the wonderful photos.

  3. Oh Jo----I LOVE it.... I had no idea you were so close to the desert and to pyramids... How neat to get to take a camel ride... I'm in AWE Bigtime!!!!! Glad you took so many pictures. You can show us lots of them....


  4. What an incredible trip, Jo! I have to admit I'm a bit envious!! But your marvelous photos are the very next best thing to being there! You have a great way of not just "taking pictures", you manage to convey a true sense of "being" there. I also love the way you and Grant interact with the people -- that doesn't always happen with everyone! Thanks again for taking us along! Enjoy the rest of your week! And thank you as always for your visits and comments, they're always much appreciated!


  5. This is a fascinating post, Jo. I, too, had no idea there were pyramids in Sudan! How fun that you had your first-ever camel ride!

    I really like the golden sheen of some of the pyramids. Some of them do look like they're made of gold.

    You have had such amazing adventures in Africa!

  6. Wow! A memorable virtual trip!

  7. What a fascinating post of a land I have not visited in person Seeing the variety of pyramids with their distinctive sheen really does feel like traveling through sands of time. It is easy to understand why you were entralled. The “camel company” seems like the desert version of a city cab. What fun! Thank you for sharing this awesome journey.

  8. I had no idea that Sudan had pyramids. How amazing! Are they very old? The desert looks beautiful.

  9. Oh Jo, this is so exciting. Seeing the pyramids and riding a camel seems like such an exotic adventure. So glad you can now share more images of this amazing landscape. Can't wait for more.

  10. Wow! What an incredible desert trip! Like Sylvia...i am envious!

    Thank you for sharing Jo. I had fun looking at the photos while reading your descriptions. Thanks for 'taking us'. You made me want to visit Al Ain desert.

  11. Thank you for sharing these beautiful and interesting photos

    Have a nice week,
    Greetings, Bram

    My Word Tuesday post

    Seen on My World Tuesday

  12. Jo, I thoroughly enjoyed this post & going on this trip with you - wow, I never knew there were pyramids in the Sudan, and so many of them, too ! Loved the camels and laughed at Grant's comment re if you've seen one pyramid, you've seen them all ! Look forward to the next post ..... your photos are all lovely ....

  13. What a WONDERFUL experience Jo!! It is so often that I hear people talk about going overseas and yet they never seem to explore the country they live in and I wonder why it is?

    I for one never realized that they have pyramids there too so it goes to show one is never to old to learn something new. Thanks for the great post.

  14. Wow ! you lucky girl ! I am green of jalousy !! I didn't know either that there were pyramids in Sudan, it's because there are no tourists there (yet) ! Otherwise the landscape the camels etc look very much like Egypt ! I love camel riding and do it each time I have the occasion !
    Discovering something so special in 2010 is really something ! As long as there are things to see on Earth, I refuse to go to the moon, lol !

  15. This post today is one of the many pleasures of blogging. You live such a different life from my sedate urban existence. You mention that they are tombs as as the Egyptian pyramids. But are the tombs of wealthy important people as well?

    I love the variety of the pyramids. I love the interplay with the cameleers. I love the back of the camel's head. Not what I expected at all. I expected dirty and scruffy.

    I love Grant's typical attitude - seen one seen em all.

    Thank you for this, Jo.

  16. Very interesting post. I am so glad that you documented your trip with the photos. Your story was interesting and informative. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful experience.

  17. Wow what an awesome trip!
    The structures in the Sudan I believe is where the construction techniques were being worked out as far as the angles were concerned. Some of them were too steep and collapsed under their own weight...
    Some of the first I think were of a "step" type construction to gain height.
    Love the transportation company! Those guys are going places...

  18. Jo it's unbelievable - the beauty of everything different from what you know, the pyramid, the sunrise, the streams of rainwater in a desert...!

    I love the colourful reddish ?'blankets' over the camels back, and it's contrast with the immaculate white clothes of the camel drivers.

    Can't wait for tomorrows post!!

  19. This is such a great post. I loved taking a virtual trip with you to see the pyramids. Now I wish I was there to ride the camel for real. :)

  20. Jo: Wonderful post showing the African lifestyle.

  21. Hi Jo, I was searching for expat bloggers in Sudan and yours popped out. I lived in Khartoum in 2005-06 and went to Meroe and the surrouding sites for christmas. It was a wonderful trip, as I can see that you had too!

    Look forward to read more about your life in wonderful Sudan.

  22. I'm envious of your adventurous photo jaunts and wish I could be there, too! But thanks for sharing your fabulous trip through the desert. What a great experience.

  23. I enjoyed the desert visit. They pyramids are fascinating, and it's so interesting to learn about the camels


Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate your feedback. Jo