Bahariya Oasis Travel Guide
About Bahariya Oasis
Why is there an oasis here? and why do you find a couple more of them running in a bow stretched out from the western bank of the Nile?
Well, this is the way the Nile was running several thousand years ago, long before the eve of the first Nile civilizations. The water popping up now from deep underground, in wells all over Bahariya, are leftovers from those days. These reservoirs were long considered a long time resource, and large funds were pumped into the region. When newer research proved the reserves more limited, and sufficient for only 100 years of today’s exploitation, the large schemes for development were left dead. Places like Bahariya still suffers from this, and Bawiti is in many ways a sad place.
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. It is one of the more fetching of the desert circuit oases, and at just 365km from Cairo is also the most accessible. Surrounded on all sides by rocky, sandy mesas, much of the oasis floor is covered by forests of date palms and pockmarked with dozens of refreshing springs.
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.
During the Pharaonic era, the oasis was a centre of agriculture, producing wine sold in the Nile Valley and as far away as Rome. Its strategic location on the Libya–Nile Valley caravan routes ensured it prospered throughout later ages. In recent years, stunning archaeological finds, such as that of the Golden Mummies, and easy access to the White and Black Deserts have earned Bahariya a firm spot on the tourist map.
Bahariya consists of many villages, of which El Bawiti is the largest and the administrative center. Qasr is el-Bawiti’s neighboring/twin village. To the east, about 10 kilometers away are the villages of Mandishah and el-Zabu. A smaller village called el-‘Aguz lies between El Bawiti and Mandishah. Harrah, the easternmost village, is a few kilometers east of Mandishah and el-Zabu. El Hayz, also called El-Hayez, is the southernmost 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 El Bawiti. There is an oasis at El-Hayez where mummies have been found on which genetic studies have been conducted.
Improved roads and the advent of the 4×4 vehicle has meant that Bahariya is no longer an isolated oasis, but merely a few hours drive from Cairo – in fact, many tourists today will go there on a one or a two-day trip.
People and culture
The people of the oasis, or the Waḥātī people (meaning “of the oasis” in Arabic), are the descendants of the ancient people who inhabited the oasis, Bedouin tribes from Libya and the north coast, and other people from the Nile Valley who came to settle in the oasis.
The majority of Waḥātī people in Bahariya are Muslims. There are some mosques in Bahariya. The nature of social settings in the oasis is highly influenced by Islam.
Also, traditional music is very important to the Waḥātī 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.