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Educational Visits to Egypt

Western Desert Oasis Adventure Safari
(for Educational Visits)

6 to 8 days

School trips to Egypt - Student group on Egypt Educational tourThe Western Desert Oasis Tour begins in Cairo where you will visit the classical site of the Giza plateau, home to the pyramids of Khufu, Khafra and Menkaura. You will also see the tombs of the Nobles in the vast Giza Necropolis as well as visiting the majestic Sphinx. As if the mighty pyramids were not enough excitement for one day, during the afternoon, the group will visit the Egyptian Museum in Cairo where you will have the opportunity of discovering Tutankhamen's treasure for yourself as well as viewing a wealth of artefacts from the Old, Middle and New Kindoms of Ancient Egypt.

Following your visit to Cairo, this exciting Oasis adventure takes you on an expedition tour of four Desert Oasis - Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla, Kharga.

Bahariya, known since ancient times as the ‘Northern Oasis’ is situated in a depression about 100km long by 40km wide and completely surrounded by high black escarpments. The valley floor is covered with lush groves of date palms, ancient springs and wells and is strewn with numerous conical hills which probably once formed islands in a great lake during Prehistoric times. Improved roads and the advent of the 4x4 vehicle has meant that Bahariya is no longer an isolated oasis, but merely a few hours drive from Cairo.

Lush palms in Bahariya OasisBahariya Oasis is surrounded by black hills made up of ferruginous quartzite and dolorite. Most of the villages and cultivated land can be viewed from the top of the 50-meter-high Jebel al-Mi'ysrah, together with the massive dunes which threaten to engulf some of the older settlements.

The Oasis was a major agricultural center during the Pharaonic era, and has been famous for its wine as far back as the Middle Kingdom. During the fourth century, the absence of Roman rule and violent tribes in the area caused a decline as some of the oasis was reclaimed by the sand.

Wildlife is plentiful, especially birds such as wheatears; crops (which only cover a small percentage of the total area) include dates, olives, apricots, rice and corn.

There are a number of springs in the area, some very hot, such as Bir ar-Ramla but probably the best is Bir al-Ghaba, about 10 miles north east of Bawiti. There is also Bir al-Mattar, a cold spring, which poors into a concrete pool.

Bahariya consists of many villages of which Bawiti is the largest and the administrative camels crossing road at desert oasiscenter. Qasr is Bawiti's neighboring/twin village. To the east, about ten kilometers away are the villages of Mandishah and el Zabu. A smaller village called Aguz lies between Bawiti and Mandishah. Harrah, the eastern most village, is a few kilometers east of Mandishah and el Zabu. Hiez is the last village, but it may not always be considered as part of Bahariya because it is so far from the rest of the villages, about fifty kilometers south of Bawiti.

school adventure holidays - Western Desert SafariThe people of the oasis, or the Wahati people ( meaning "of the oasis" in Arabic), are the descendants of the ancient people who inhabited the oasis, Bedouin tribes from Libiya and the north coast, and other people from the Nile Valley who came to settle in the oasis.

The majority of Wahati people in Bahariya are of the Islamic faith. There are many mosques in Bahariya. The nature of social settings in the oasis is highly influenced by Islam.

Also, traditional music is very important to the Wahati people. Flutes, drums, and the simsimeyya (a harp-like instrument) are played at social gatherings, particularly at weddings. Traditional songs sung in rural style are passed down from generation to generation, and new songs are invented as well. Music from Cairo, the greater Middle East, and other parts of the world are now easily accessible to the people of the oasis.

The Roman fortress is probably the most prominent ruins at Ain el-Rees. Two of its ancientWestern Desert Safari - Educational Trips to Egypt walls still rise above a sandy hill that overlooks the modern village (if it can be called a village). As with most of the structures in the area, including many of the more modern ones, the fortress was mostly built of mudbrick, and apparently served as a large garrison. In fact, this is the largest of any Roman fortresses found in the Western Oasis and it probably housed a large contingent of soldiers, as well as local rulers in order to protect Egypt from desert attacks, as well as securing the well established trade routes through this region. Near the fortress is a cemetery that acted as the military counterpoint to the one closer to El Bawiti that we now call the Valley of the Golden Mummies.

The Oasis of Farafra is a triangular-shaped fertile depression to the north-west of Dakhla and roughly mid-way between Dakhla and Bahariya, with the impenetrable Great Sand Sea bordering the region to the west. Since 1958 Farafra has been part of the Wadi el-Gedid or ‘New Valley’, but in ancient times it was known as Ta-iht or the ‘Land of the Cow’. This name probably came from the region’s association with the cow-headed goddess Hathor, known for her nurturing qualities. The largest depression in the Libyan Desert, measuring around 200km long and 90km wide (at Qasr el-Farafra), this oasis currently has the lowest number of inhabitants in the New Valley.

Egypt Oasis - Desert Safari for SchoolsFarafra’s ancient history is clouded in mystery. Ta-iht is mentioned in texts from the Pharaonic era - in the titulary of a Dynasty V official and in the story of ‘The Eloquent Peasant’, which relates to the reign of King Khety of Dynasty X. A list of localities in Luxor Temple names the oasis as a source of dates and minerals during the reign of Rameses II, while an inscription by his son Merenptah at Karnak Temple, tells of the occupation of Farafra by Libyan troops during his Dynasty XIX reign. At Edfu Temple Farafra is mentioned as the third of the Seven Oases, ‘. . . Ta-iht at the north-west of Kenemet’ (Dakhla).

Even though it is mentioned in literary sources, Farafra is not noted for its ancient monuments and no archaeological evidence of Pharaonic occupation has yet been found. But like many remote places there are stories and legends associated with Farafra. One of these legends connects the oasis with the mysterious disappearance of the army of Cambyses, the Persian king who conquered Egypt in the 6th century BC. In a story told by Herodotus, Cambyses sent an army of 50,000 men from Thebes to Siwa to destroy the Oracle of Amun. It was reported that the army travelled seven days to the city of ‘Oasis’ (Kharga?), then probably via Dakhla to Farafra before striking off across the desert towards Siwa, perhaps attempting to cross the treacherous Great Sand Sea. The army never reached Siwa and was never heard of again. Herodotus was told that Cambyses’ army met their fate when a great sandstorm rose up and engulfed the marching men, causing them to entirely disappear - the search for the lost army has inspired the journeys of desert explorers ever since.

The few sites of archaeological interest in Farafra all date from the Roman Period onwards,School adventure trips to Egypt Oasis when a fortress was built to guard this section of the ancient caravan routes to the other oases and to the Nile Valley. Even then the oasis seems to have been sparsely populated. Most of the Roman ruins are centred around Qasr el-Farafra, today the capital town of the oasis and in ancient times the only village. The qasr or fortress on the northern side of the town dominated the top of a ridge overlooking the surrounding desert. Possibly built on the site of an original Roman structure and constructed from stone and mudbrick, the present fortress was enlarged or rebuilt during Medieval times after which it contained at least 125 rooms. Next to the qasr is a small well which would have provided the inhabitants with an important water source in times of siege. Unfortunately the fabric of the building was damaged by rain in the 1950s, adding to its state of collapse, although it is still partly inhabited today. There is also an ancient cemetery near Qasr el-Farafra, where a few undecorated rock-cut tombs are almost completely buried by sand. Other rock tombs can be seen in areas nearby, some of which were used as dwellings by early Christian hermits, who scratched or painted their crosses on the walls.

White desert adventure safari trip for schoolsMost visitors to Farafra Oasis go there to see the White Desert, the area to the north-east of Qasr el-Farafra which is renowned for its spectacular scenery. The chalk-white landscape is strewn with alien shapes, boulders of brilliant white which thrust up from the surface of the desert, intensified by the clear light of noon, shimmering gold at sunset or blackened and shrunken in a cloud-filled sky. Many of the formations are given descriptive names - sculpted by the harsh desert winds into weird shapes which constantly change over time. There are ‘monoliths’ and ‘mushrooms’, 'ice cream cones’, ‘tents’ and ‘crickets’, as well as the majestic conical flat-topped ‘inselbergs’, to name but a few of the formations.

school trips to Egypt OasisAs part of a White Desert safari the visitor may see an important spring known as Ain Hadra, where palm trees rise up from a mound in the desert on the ancient caravan route to Bahariya. The ground is covered with pottery sherds left by travellers in Roman and Byzantine times and amongst the remains of buildings here, Ahmed Fakhry found Roman amulets of Sekhmet and Harpocrates, a scarab and a Roman coin. Ain Hadra is situated at the southern end of a small picturesque depression, the Ain el-Wadi. Although long deserted the tiny oasis was inhabited during the Roman Period as attested by the many pottery sherds. There is evidence of former cultivated fields near the spring at Ain Hadra but the area had never been excavated. To the north is the entrance to the Wadi Abu Hannis with a miniature escarpment along its western edge called Witaq Abu Tartur, where there are more remains of Roman mudbrick structures, possibly a large house.

The Dakhla Oasis lies to the northwest of Kharga and is also about 310 km to the southeast of Farafra. This oasis consists of 14 settlements and has a population of about 70,000 people. Dakhla is the farthest oasis out of Cairo and is considered one of Egypt's most beautiful oases.

Oasis trips to Egypt for SchoolsDakhla sits in a depression surrounded by pink cliffs. There are about 30,000 acres of cultivated land. Most of its 70,000 or so residents are farmers who constantly fight the battle of the dunes that threaten their fields and orchards. The fields and gardens are filled mostly with mulberry trees, date palms, figs and other citrus fruits. Dakhla has retained most of its culture and charm even though it has increased in size by about double and government funding and technical training has revitalized the economy. Dakhla is the only place in Egypt where new water wheels which are driven by buffaloes are constructed. They are made of palm timber and clay jars and are called saqiyas.

Research has found that the Oasis has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and that there was once a huge lake here. There are neolithic rock paintings that indicate that the lake was frequented by elephants, buffaloes and ostriches. As the lake dried up, the inhabitants migrated to the Nile valley and were probably some of its first settlers.

Dakhla Oasis is dominated on its northern horizon by a wall of rose-Colored rock. Fertile cultivated areas growing rice, peanuts and fruit are dotted between sand dunes along the roads from Farafra and Kharga in this area of outstanding natural beauty. The capital, Mut,school adventure trips to Egypt's Western Desert Oasis named after the ancient goddess of the Theban Triad, houses the Museum of the Inheritance, a traditional house, with an intricate wooden combination lock. Rooms, with sculpted clay figures, are arranged to show different aspects of Dakhlan culture and family life. Al-Kasr, about 35 km. from Mut, was originally a Roman settlement which later became the medieval capital of Dakhla. The old town is a labyrinth of mud-walled alleys narrowly separating houses with elaborately- carved wooden lintels; there is also an Ayyubid mosque. Climb to the rooftop of the 10th century madrassa (school) for wonderful views of the surrounding area. Bir al-Gabel, a palm-fringed salt lake where you can camp and picnic, is on the road back to Mut.

group trips to Egypt OasisDay trips from Mut could include the 1st-century al-Muzawaka tombs and Deir al Hagar, a temple which was originally dedicated to the Theban Triad and later rebuilt by the Romans. After exploring the temple, bathe in the hot sulphur spring nearby. Visit Bashendi to see Roman tombs and a factory where carpets are still woven with scenes of Dakhlan life. At nearby Balaat village, a trading post with ancient Nubia, archeologits are still uncovering
dozens of 6th dynasty mastabas.

Kharga, known to the ancient Egyptians as the 'Southern Oasis' is the largest of the oases of the Libyan Desert and consists of a depression about 160km long and from 20km to 80kmJeep Safari to Western Desert Oasis wide. Today it is often referred to as the 'Great Oasis'. In ancient times a lake occupied a large part of the depression and the thick deposits of sandy clay then laid down, forms the bulk of the cultivated land. Although the oasis gets little rain, water is obtained from wells dug into the porous sandstone which underlies much of the desert area and extensive reclamation work has been undertaken since the beginning of the 20th century.

Kharga is also the name of the bustling main city of the oasis whose inhabitants now number sixty thousand, including one thousand Nubians who were settled here after the creation of Craftsmen in Desert Oasis Adventure - EgyptLake Nasser. The oasis is still growing and the Egyptian government have plans underway to reclaim even more of the desert areas and to offer land and homes to people in the overcrowded Nile Valley as well as to make the area more attractive to tourists. The main source of income in the oasis is from agriculture, the cultivation of dates, cereals, rice and vegetables, which are sent to markets in the Nile Valley. Kharga's main craft is basket and mat-making from the leaves and fibres of the palm trees.

Historical references to expeditions into Kharga Oasis go back as far as the Old Kingdom, but little evidence remains in Kharga today of life in pharaonic times. The ancient route Western Desert Adventure Safari for Schools and collegesinto the oasis from Luxor, known as the Luxor-Farshut desert road is currently being studied by the Oriental Institute of Chicago, who have uncovered remains of several early structures and a great deal of pottery from as far back as the Middle Kingdom. Throughout its history Kharga seems to have been the place to where undesirable inhabitants of the Nile Valley were banished - the fierce summer heat, devastating winds and remote location making it an ideal place of exile and many records survive from the New Kingdom to illustrate this. There are also many historical accounts of expeditions sent to quell the rebellious inhabitants of the oasis.

Tombs in Western Desert SafariDuring the Third Intermediate Period, Egypt's Libyan rulers began to take an interest in the Oases, improving the desert tracks and making an effort to bring the marauding desert tribes under control. From this time onwards Kharga began to prosper and two temples dedicated to the Theban triad were built at Hibis and el-Ghueita during the Late Period. By then it was securely attached to the Nile Valley and when the Romans came to Egypt they increased the prosperity of the oasis by creating new wells, cultivating many crops and building a series of 'fortress settlements' for protection of the caravan routes. These Roman 'fortresses' are especially numerous in the Kharga Oasis, where the Darb el-Arba'in (the 'Forty-Day Road') which ran north to south between Asyut and the Sudan, was the most important trade route. This was later to become part of the infamous slave-trade route between North Africa and the tropical south.

Map of Kharga OasisThe chain of at least twenty mudbrick forts vary in size and function, some are large settlements or garrison towns, while others are small desert outposts, but most of them lie close to the road crossing the oasis, following the ancient track. 'Fortress' is perhaps a misleading term for these structures, for although it is thought that Roman soldiers were stationed in all of them, they are not all regarded as primarily defensive structures, nor do they necessarily indicate a high level of hostility, at least during the earlier years of the Roman Period. The larger fortresses may have been built on existing settlements, but during Roman times their populations grew rapidly. The Romans went to great lengths to secure water in the oasis, although little is known about how or when the original bore-holes were made - some are over 120m deep and continue to be used today. They also built long underground aqueducts up to 50m deep in the water-bearing sandstone, which must have involved a huge amount of labour. Many of the Roman fortified settlements are situated strategically on hilltops and several, such as Qasr Dush, Qasr el-Ghueita, Hostel in Kharga Oasis for school visitsNadura, and Qasr el-Zayyan incorporated temples and large communities of people.

There are numerous ancient sites to see in Kharga oasis. Some are close to the road but many others will require the use of a 4x4 vehicle to visit them. The oasis is connected to the Nile Valley by two main routes, one from Armant, near Luxor to Baris, in the south of the region and the second from Asyut to Kharga City in the north. Tourists are encouraged to use the northern route, which follows the ancient Darb el-Arba'in.

 

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