‘Moon-land’ is the place for which we planned our Sahara trip on the first place. Years ago, we came to know about this place from Google image and then & there, our bucket list got modified!! We wanted to be there, in the White Desert of Sahara, on a full moon night!! Later, when we were preparing for our Egypt trip, we contacted Khaled, a local guide from Baharia Oasis and planned for a 3N/4D camping trip in Sahara, obviously including the White Desert National Park! In the meantime, I became obsessed about my dreamland; saw all possible images on ‘White Desert Sahara’ in different websites innumerable times! At one point it seemed that this place became so familiar to me, that nothing would be left virtually unexplored!
But how wrong I was! Thank God!
It was the 3rd day of our trip. After spending the previous night amidst the Great Sand Dunes of Sahara we proceeded towards the White Desert part. (To know about that experience see our previous blog: Our ‘Arabian Night’ amidst the Great Sand Dunes of Sahara) This area between Baharia and Dakhla Oasis is not very far from the highway and visitors coming from Cairo usually take this route. But we were with Khaled and from the experience of our first couple of days, we were sure that nothing usual would be going to happen. We were taken through the proper desert and to our surprise, gifted an extremely thrilling dune bashing experience! It was not mentioned in our itinerary! We had never dreamt of having something like this! My heart was still pounding even when we stopped in Agabat Valley and for the first time, witnessed those massive Mushroom Rocks!
Agapat is a small valley where Mushroom Rocks are found emerging from sand dunes. Here, rocks are white, but the color of the surface is not as milky white as in White Desert National Park. The rocks are undergoing massive exfoliation and I found the lower parts of the structures and the parts underneath the exfoliated layers milky white. Probably this is just an earlier evolutionary step in the formation of the White Desert. The entire area was virtually unfamiliar to me and needless to say that visiting any place without any previous knowledge & expectation…nothing like that!
Sun was just above our heads soaking water from our bodies and creating a burning sensation on the skin. But who cares? Especially in such an out of the world ambience! We were running around the rocks, getting amazed how tiny we are in comparison to them, clicking continuously! It was exciting to find rocks resembling our familiar things like sugarloaf, a wall with a gate, even another ‘Sphynx’ in Egypt!
There were varieties of stones scattered here and there! But here, I’m not going to tell anymore. Wait for our next project: a separate blog about the stones of Sahara.
Now it’s lunch time. Hamuda, our driver stopped the car under a palm tree. While he and Khaled are busy in preparing our meal, let’s have a look on the making of the White Desert. The white rock is actually chalk rock, which is a sedimentary rock, composed mainly of skeletal fragments of marine organisms. It may sound strange, but yes, there was a sea called Tethys and some seven millions years ago, due to the movement of tectonic plates a part of this sea got confined by land and dried up resulting the formation of the biggest desert of the earth. The deposited calcium carbonate in the form of milky white chalk rock got open to the air and years after years underwent abrasion of wind-borne grains of sand. As sand grains are heavy, they cannot be carried much high above the ground, therefore the lower part of the chalk rock got eroded more rapidly, creating a structure which looks like a mushroom. It is also called Gour.
Instead of white mushrooms, to our surprise, a sea of white waves welcomed us while entering the White Desert National Park. We have no other choice but to stop the car and capture that marvelous sight in our camera!
There we saw thousands of Mushroom rocks beyond those white waves, glittering under the eye soothing blue of the sky and the soft rays of afternoon sun. Oh my dreamland! It is far more beautiful than what I had imagined till then! Few famous Mushroom rocks resembling to some familiar things and named accordingly are mostly seen in internet, so I used to think that those few structures would be scattered here and there and nothing else. But in reality, they were countless in number, stretching over the horizon. I knew nothing!
While Hamuda was driving through the White Desert, we were passing numbers of Mushroom Rocks one by one; I was thinking which location was going to be our tonight’s campsite! From the experience of previous day, I was sure that Khaled would choose the best location. But here, every place is equally beautiful, so I gave up guessing and finally saw our makeshift home was going to build in front of a Falcon, I mean a Falcon-shaped rock!
Just like the last afternoon, we missed to observe how Khaled and Hamuda pitched the Bedwin tent, because after getting down from the car, just like the last afternoon we rushed towards the natural wonders surrounding us!
Experience makes you rich, not money! If you think it is just an unrealistic philosophical thought, then I will recommend you to be here, to touch the massive white rocks, hug them, climb on them, lean on their lap, wait and see how cosmic gold spreads over the sky and the sun is slowly vanishing behind the silhouettes of countless Mushroom Rocks.
We came back to our tent. Our colorful Bedwin tent looked so pretty on the milky white background. As usual everything was kept ready for our safety & comfort! Khaled and Hamuda were preparing our dinner. How indifferent they are! The moments which are priceless to our life, are parts of their everyday life. But they were not indifferent towards our feelings! All our crazy wishes had been met and all our crazy activities had been pampered so that we would have no regret!
While the last trace of golden light disappeared from the sky, an amazingly mystic blue prevailed over the moon-land; yes it looked exactly like the surface of the moon. And we started moon-walking, with our camera and tripod. We left our tent far behind, walked and walked, often stopped for photo-breaks, but kept traveling across those white wonders glowing under the tender light of full moon. The photographs we had taken that night might be some weak attempt to hold our visual memories, but what we felt that night was kept within us, as it’s beyond my words.
Dinner was ready while we finally got rid of that mesmerizing moon-walking and came back to our tent. In my previous blog I have written about the making of the dinner during camping; it was almost same tonight, so I am not repeating. Just like the last night there was a gossip over cups of Bedwin tea. I was feeling contented, but was sad inside. The night we longed for many years is about to finish!
But the cherry on the cake was yet to come. Desert Fox aka Finnet Fox is very common to see here and at night they come close to the tent in search of food. Hamuda dug a hole into the sand nearby and put our left-over food. A glass full of water was kept inside another hole. One side of our tent is open. We planned to keep our head towards this direction, lie on a prone position with camera in hand and wait for the fox. But it was a long day. We were so tired that we felt asleep, keeping fingertip on the shutter. Suddenly, I don’t know what made both of us awake at once, we opened our eyes, saw two glittering dots just in front of our tent and in no time pressed the shutter. It was as tiny as a cat! Not a baby, it’s a full grown desert fox, the smallest fox of the world. We saw it roaming around our camp-chairs left outside. Initially it got scared due to the flashlight of camera, but later found us harmless; approached towards our tent and drank form the glass. Khaled offered it food, and it came slowly and ate from his hand like a pet creature.
It was a very remarkable photographic experience indeed! We never did and probably will never do wildlife photography lying on mattress, under warm blanket and keeping heads on pillow!!!
The combination of an ink-blue sky, dazzling white rocks and glimmering yellow sand did not let us sleep after sunrise! We took camera and started walking. On last afternoon we explored the area on the left hand side of the tent, so this morning we proceeded towards right. We started our day with the happy memories in close proximity of the white rocks, framed innumerable landscapes, made funny gestures and took each others’ photographs, and tried to find which rocks resembled to which familiar thing. In that way we found camel, tree, duck and even Netaji (our national hero).
After breakfast it was time for pack up. Seeing us down, Khaled assured that during our return we would explore areas of the White Desert where we could not reach by foot. We stopped in front of some of them and took pictures. The ‘Mushroom & Chicken’, the most celebrated rock formation was far away from our campsite and we were taken there by car. I saw that couple of rocks encircled by a boundary so that nobody can climb. It indicates its touristy appeal.
While taking exit from White Desert I noticed that Mushroom Rocks were still there on the peripheral area, but the color was not white any more, it turns more and more greyish.
We finally left our dreamland while the highroad came! But it was not ‘The End’ of our trip. Another small surprise was still there, but it is another story, will be told in another blog (Sahara ‘Rocks’!!!).
Related posts on Western Desert (Sahara):
Wander with Reshmi & Saikat