Western Oases - Train & Bus to Kharga
The train to Asjut, due at 9.25am was running Egyptian time
and arrived at 10am but we had no problems finding our first class
carriage (EP9 each)(A$2.00). We had to travel by train because
the road from Luxor to Asjut is closed to tourists.
Arriving at Asyut at 3pm, we detrained. At the exit gate, we
noticed some other foreigners being stopped by police but we walked
past without a problem and asked someone to direct us to the bus station
to Kharga. This turned out to be beside the railway station.
The next bus was at 5pm so we bought our tickets (EP9)(A$2.00)
and had a chicken lunch at a nearby cafe. I must say we couldn't
have done this nearly as easily without Jay, whose excellent
Arabic made it a breeze.
As we strolled back to the bus stop, a friendly soldier approached
us and said he was detailed to assist us "foreigners" onto
the bus. So we three and the two French couples we had seen at the
train station were herded onto the bus and our luggage locked safely
The trip took three hours on an excellent tarred road and we were
entertained by a videotape of some Egyptian potboiler. It was so old
that the driver had to keep stopping it and smoothing the tape out.
But it passed the time between checkpoints where the police always
made for Guy and I to ask our nationality. Jay, being
part Indian, blended in well and had no problems. The bus driver became
very blase about his foreign passengers and shouted our nationalities
to the police before they could approach us.
We arrived in Kharga at 8pm. It is the first of the Western
Oases. The word Oasis comes from the Coptic word ouahe.
The Egyptian Government is eager to promote tourism in these Western
regions but they are still concerned about the safety of tourists.
It's a bit of a Catch 22 situation - they want you to go there but
they don't want you to go anywhere without an armed guard. Difficult
to meet the locals that way!! These towns have been settled by several
thousand Nubians who were displaced when the Aswan Dam was
built so they are no longer small fertile oases with a few nomadic
tribes but in the case of Kharga, a large town of some 6,000
people. Very disappointing.
It was dark, of course. We were met by a carful of Tourist Police
who checked our nationalities (again) and insisted on escorting us
to our hotel. As there were no taxis in town, we chose what we thought
was the nearest hotel. In the Lonely Planet it says "close
to the bus station". Of course, it was a different bus station
and we had a long walk ahead of us. So off we trotted down the street,
Jay lording it in the police van because of his age. Guy
cracked an imaginary whip as I made "baa baa" noises, which
had the police convulsed. (The French, of course, thought we were
quite mad and ignored us.) But we were just like a mob of sheep being
herded down the street.
WiIth our heavy packs and climbing up and down the high edges to footpaths,
it seemed an eternity before we arrived at the Dar al Bayda Hotel
Thanking our escort, we cleaned up and went out for Egyptian pizza
- a flaky version of the Italian dough with eggs, meat and vegies
on top. We decided we would move on the next day to Dhakla, hoping
it would be more of an authentic "oasis".
The next morning we came downstairs to a tremendous fuss. The French
couples had already left on an early bus and the police were distraught.
They hadn't been checked off their list. Now they only had 2 Canadians
and one Australian, no 2 Australians and 1 Canadian (they kept getting
mixed up). I often wonder what happened when these lists were eventually
sent into Head Office, for Guy and I ended up as Spanish!!
to the Lonely Planet, there are several temples to see south
of Kharga, as it was the last stop but one on the infamous
40 Days Road, the slave route between North Africa and the
tropical south but we could find no taxis to take us out there.
we wandered the streets, taking photos of the local butcher with an
early morning customer checking out the fresh carcass and a fruit
merchant sheltering from the early morning sun.
to some minibus drivers, it appeared we could travel to Dhakla
any time a bus filled up with 14 people so we gathered our baggage
and were on our way at noon for EP7.00 (A$1.55) each plus an
extra EP3 (A$0.65) each for baggage and house-to-house delivery.
But first, it was Jay's turn to be caught. Our Egyptian police
guard asked Jay if we would have our photos taken with him and Jay
readily agreed. We were carted off to the local photographic studio
where a charming young lady took our photo - and we took hers - see
You guessed it - Jay was supposed to pay for the privilege
of having his photo taken. We laughingly shared the cost and waved
farewell to the young policeman as we boarded our bus for Dhakla.