Sudan’s N° 1 Tourist Attraction
We wake with sunrise, the land beginning to heat up. This is our first sight of the desert in which we had slept, of the rolling dunes that surround us. Between the crests of two of them rises the pointed tip of a pyramid, and so we pack-up our bags and walk across the sand before it begins to burn beneath our feet, leaving our lone tracks across the dunes. Our blind, nighttime ramble had brought us close.
The pyramids of Begrawiya are a far cry from their Egyptian brothers, and from the crowds that constantly surround them. We arrived and were virtually alone, with only a camel herder for company. Hiking up to the closest of them, we breakfast in its shade, beside these monuments of the Meroitic Pharaohs who flourished from over 500 years BC.
Due to their isolation and the virtual nonexistence of tourism in Sudan, one is left alone—and unhindered—to explore this site, freely entering the antechambers still carved with ancient hieroglyphs. Some attempt has been made to restore parts of the great doorways of some of the more crumbling tombs, but unfortunately they now find themselves covered in a rather crude concrete. It is questionable if this “restoration” has refurbished or simply scarred the two thousand year old edifices.
The scourge of the white man has not left the pyramids untouched, however. In the 17th century an Italian archaeologist plundered the pyramids for gold and other treasures. In the first that he raided, he found treasure in the top of the pyramid itself, thus leading him to lop off the tops of others, all of which proved fruitless as custom has it that the dead pharaohs’ treasure be buried underneath. With many of the artefacts having been sent abroad—to Egypt and Europe—Sudan was left with empty, ravaged tombs.
But for us, the sun was ascending high into the sky, the brutal heat of the desert rising. We walked back out to the road, hoping to flag down a passing bus, plying the route back to Khartoum. In the end, it was a pick-up truck that stopped to offer us a lift. We climbed in the back and sped down the road, the people in vehicles we passed bemused at the sight of three Westerners traveling not in air-conditioned four-by-fours, but huddled in the back of a truck, dropping us in the small market town of Shendi in time for a lunch of fuul and fresh fruit juice. As is the hospitality of the Sudanese, the driver refused any sort of payment.