Sudan: A temple too far in Dongola

The locals are the icing on the cake when it comes to delightful Dongola

The friendly locals are the icing on the cake when it comes to delightful Dongola

It took 24 hours sitting on a ferry (sailing for only 16 of those hours) and a six-hour mini-bus ride with a driver who momentarily fell asleep and almost killed us.

But finally, at 11.30pm, two days after we left Egypt, we arrived in Dongola, Sudan.  If that seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a three-hour Nile walk – you haven’t seen Dongola.

Dongola is in the north of Sudan, Nubian land far from the troubled border regions in the south. The people are friendly, kind and honest. You may get ticked off for being ‘inappropriately’ dressed by the Sharia Police, especially if it’s a Friday. And you will have to register with the police as soon as you arrive – even if it’s 11.30pm and the policeman is already in his pyjamas – but this town is tourist-friendly, even if those tourists are few and far between.

The delightfulness of Dongola starts at breakfast. We step out of the Lords Hotel lokanda (a cheap hotel where most people sleep on a mattress-less bed in the courtyard)walk all of five paces to our left and sit down to the most delicious fuul (stewed kidney beans) I’ve ever tasted. I’ve tasted quite a lot of fuul lately.

This version with big chunks of onion served with a side of green vegetable, like rocket but with far more kick, a spicy sauce and cooling lightly tahini-flavoured yogurt, stands head and shoulders above the rest. There is no cutlery, only the delicious Sudanese bread to mop up the goodness from the one stainless steel bowl, which jointly holds the table’s servings.

At two Sudanese pounds per serving it is one of the first, and unfortunately one of the last, examples we have in Sudan of excellent value for money.

 The town itself is not particularly beautiful, the rows of squat buildings and the one set of (token) traffic lights exude a gentle charm but won’t send you into raptures or diving for your camera. However, the morning passes pleasantly as we talk to the lovely locals, many of whom speak surprisingly good English. With those that don’t speak English we communicate with friendly and expansive gestures – something of which there is no shortage: Dongola is extremely welcoming.

After a midday nap and read, we decide it has cooled down enough to set off on our walk. In the Lonely Planet Africa edition it says that it is a two-hour walk along the east bank of the Nile (opposite the town) to the ruins of the Temple of Kawa. It warns that the temple is almost completely buried under sand and that the walk is often more inspiring than the temple itself.  We are not temple and tomb must-see-ers. For us the drawcard is the walk.

We start by taking the road out of town towards the big, modern-looking bridge over the Nile. On the way we see beautiful desert plants, well looked after donkeys, Ottoman-style houses with big courtyards, beautiful palm trees, minarets and loads of smiling locals.

The Nile itself is wide, surprisingly so, with large islands in its midst and fishermen at its banks. On the other side of the bridge is a security checkpoint regulation-white tent but we pass without questions.

Now we have turned right and are in a wide expanse of sand heading towards a cluster of buildings maybe half a kilometre away. By the time we get there we are parched and the water we have brought with us is boiling hot. One of the wonderful things about Dongola is that we can drink the local water without getting sick (thanks to the clean fast-flowing Nile) and we gratefully fill up our bottles at the many local water stands – some of which are refrigerated.

This collection of squat buildings and tents is a university and we are invited to a party which they are preparing for that night. We promise we will indeed join in upon our return journey but as fate has it that return journey never happens.

From the university we move into a market area, full of goats and colourful truck-drivers – the latter pose for photos instantly, completely confident that their trucks painted with oasis scenes are worth a photo.

From the market we head into village territory. There is a gaggle of women, with colourful material wrapped around them, filling pots at the Nile – the full pots are of course balanced on their heads.

There are farmers – who also want their photo taken. There is the most beautiful brown calf you can imagine, sheltering from the sun in a clump of bushes, and some strange rodent-like creatures in the trees.

There is a field with one man and many women all using hand-held sickles to get in the crop and then there is the beautiful village of Kawa with its handsome low houses and clay urns filled with water sheltering under trees.

We keep walking through the village and out the other side on the advice of the locals. We have been walking at least two and a half hours and it is starting to get dark. We have not seen any signs of electricity and do not expect to see any. There are three of us on this trip and one has cut his heel on a piece of sharp reed. We have no medical supplies so he is using the hot desert sand to sterilise and heal the cut.

The next local we see, a goat-herder as it turns out, we ask whether it is likely we will make the temple before dark. He has very little English, we have very little Arabic, but again using hand signals, pointing at the sun and our watches, we think we have communicated effectively and the answer is an emphatic no.

It is a wrench not to see the temple remains after such a long trek, but this was always about the walk, not the temple. And after the rigours of in-your-face Egypt the natural beauty, the serenity and the wonderful locals have already made the experience magical.

There is a bitumen road not far from us now. We head towards it and soon are riding in the back of a truck, breathing in the intoxicating scent of freshly cut grass on its way to market in Dongola.

We arrive back at the Lords Hotel just as the café next door puts a huge batch of delicious fish in the massive fry pan out front and a linguistics professor invites us to his table.

The delights of Dongola continue.


NB: Dongola is not your average tourist destination which is part of its appeal.  However, it is known to be safe and friendly for tourists. This is NOT the case for all of Sudan. Please check carefully with various sources before travelling to less well-known areas. Not all of our experiences of towns in Sudan have been positive!


Chrisanthi Giotis


Dongola is the tourist

Dongola is the tourist friendly place to travel. This is not very famous place to travel but there are number of hidden beauties are there over here. There are many tourist visit this place and they really enjoy after visit this place. In India also there are number of beauties are there. Jharkhand India is one of the best place to travel in India.