17 September, 2011

Khartoum, Sudan: the Beauty by the Nile

Khartoum Map - click to enlarge
Khartoum. An enchanting, mesmerizing, exotic name. Mention Khartoum and many people think of the Charlton Heston/Laurence Olivier movie. Or the expensive, racehorse in the Godfather. Probably due to it being on the strip of land between the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, the name might have been derived from the Arabic word khortoum - because the city's location looks like 'an elephant trunk'. Khartoum (Arabic: الخرطوم‎ Al Kharṭūm) is the largest metropolis and national capital city of Sudan. Khartoum is where all tribes of Sudan converge to and meet. It is where, truly, Arabia meets Africa. Any time of day or night, very safe it is. Vibrant, it is. Crowded, it is. Commercial, it is. Beautiful, it is. Beautiful, but very rarely praised.

For most of its history, triplet Khartoum has been associated with wars. It still is. Established by the Egyptian colonizers in the early 19th Century, as an outpost and garrison for the Egyptian military; Khartoum grew fast. In recent years, Sudan has become one of the fastest growing countries in Africa; with oil earnings, the Chinese very active and heavily investing in the country; many more Sudanese expatriates sending remittances, especially from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf - and better planning - the city has expanded rapidly and is now home to about seven million people; and still growing. Gradually, it is metamorphosing and is being transformed in to the beauty that it should be. With even better planning and management, it can be one of the most beautiful cities in the Arab world;  and, indeed, in the world.

Known for the sandstorms which sometimes blanket the city with dust, Khartoum is large with many, old broad streets laid out by the British years ago. The city comprises three parts, fairly spread out that make the whole: Khartoum proper between the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, Al Bahri in the North-East of main-Khartoum and old Omdurman in the North-West of it. Khartoum proper is the largest and is the administrative center and is where most hotels, travel agencies, restaurants, recreational facilities, sports centers and rowing and sailing clubs are.

North-East of it is Khartoum Bahri which has some light industries; and just North of Khartoum, is another industrial area, with other light industries. Omdurman is more Arabic in look and atmosphere with many shops and narrow streets; it has one of the largest open-door markets in Africa, selling everything from peanuts, handicrafts, artifacts, souvenirs, to textiles and Chinese bicycles. A similar market, selling a variety of items too, but much smaller is in Khartoum proper - the Souk Al Arabi - with its many buses, it is the oldest gathering place for Khartoum residents. 

The city has several museums, notably: the Sudan National Museum, The National Museum for Ethnography, the Natural History Museum, and the Khalifah House Museum. The renowned, historic Mahdi tomb is in Omdurman. If you want to watch or join the Sufi Darvish dance, then, on Friday afternoons, head to West of Omdurman, where too, you can find traditional boats being made. Other interesting attractions in Khartoum, include: the popular Nuba wrestling, the crowded Camel Market, the Mahdi era Abdel Qayyum Gate and wall, its many colorful mosques, the Qasar Al Jamhouri and museum, the Botanical Gardens, Al Sunt forest (by the banks of the White Nile) with its many rare animals and birds, horse racing at the Equestrian Federation Race Track; and beyond, in the North - there is the vast expanse of desert and the Jebel Aulia dam. Within the city and especially on its outskirts, there are many green fields and farms.

The Blue and White Nile rivers spectacularly merge at Al'Morgaan, to form the main Nile River. Al'Morgaan, where many of the city's families head to during weekends - has many attractions, including: a large, beautiful park with many flowers and birds, restaurants etc.. The Blue Nile, which supplies most of the water of River Nile, flows from Ethiopia's Lake Tana; it does not pass through the newly created South Sudan. The White Nile, the longer of the two, originates from Lake Victoria in East Africa, through Uganda and South Sudan. The Nile dominates Khartoum and where the Blue Nile meets the White one, the colors of the two waters meeting and then merging - are very vividly visible.

Divided by the Nile, Khartoum is a city of many bridges. Bridges that help its millions of inhabitants to easily move. About thirteen bridges - nine main ones - and still more being planned, that connect parts of Khartoum proper, Omdurman and Al Bahri. In between these three parts of Khartoum is an island: Tuti Island - which is formed by the Blue Nile and White Nile merging to form the main Nile. Tutti is now connected by a bridge; sadly, in a way, this bridge and the planned development of Tuti, spoil the tranquility and the pristine nature of the Island. Lush, unique, one-of-a-kind - Tutti Island, one of the oldest settlements in the city, with its simple folks, with its greenery, plantations and parks - is now in danger of being destroyed by developers. If development on the island can be managed and controlled with the environment, its wildlife and its people in mind - Tutti can turn out and be a real gem in the center of Khartoum. Another interesting island in Khartoum, further North on the White Nile, is Crocodile Island.

If Sudan can avoid conflicts and wars, Khartoum will continue to develop and expand fast. Construction is now booming around the city. Many forms of infrastructure are being put up. Roads, bridges, bypasses, fly-bridges, water pipes, more sewage and drainage systems, communication and electricity lines are all being built in many parts of the city. What with the millions of residents and visitors; and the many (banned from the center of the city) rikshas or tuktuks - the three wheeled  motorcycle which is a common mode of transportation in Khartoum - most of the city's streets are congested during rush hours. Congested and thriving. Khartoum is beautiful. Beautiful but still scarred by years of neglect and the effects of wars. With time, proper planning, more investments and more properly chosen, environmentally friendly 'cosmetics', Khartoum may truly be what it should be: a real Beauty.

+ Google Map
+ Wikitravel
+ Overlanding Africa
+ Trip Advisor
+ Virtual Tourist
+ Places to visit in Khartoum
+ Sudan Net
+ Flickr
+ Photos of modern Khartoum from Skyscraper City
+ More on Khartoum