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Egypt's Desert Dream

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Salvador Dalí could do no better – a soft, sandy desert of lonesome dunes that seems to stretch on in bland tan eternity, suddenly studded with glaciers? The lone rider stops his camel and dismounts to approach this anomaly. He touches a formation and it is as warm as the sands that surround him and stains his hand white. He is not dreaming, this is no surrealist landscape, but Egypt’s Sahara el Beyda, the White Desert.

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Also known as Wadi Gazar, or the Valley of Carrots, this natural wonder is located in the land of Oases. Just west of the center of Egypt, the Farfara and Bahariyya Oases cradle the Crystal Mountain, flanked to the south by the White Desert and the north by the Black.

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By name, this is a land of fairytales, adventure stories, battles between good and evil as J.R.R. Tolkien might have written them. Only this tale was written by the desert itself, a city of castles, minarets, towers, and mushroom-like domes carved by sandstorms in a process called “differential weathering”.

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You too can escape the tourist hubub of Cairo and Giza with a stay in the Bedouin village of the Farafra Oasis or a guided camping trip in the White Desert itself. Watch the rising and setting sun stain the chalk pink and orange, stay up all night on a trip to the moon and get lost in an unadulterated sea of stars.

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It’s an incredible way to get to know the people and lands of Egypt and leave your own imprint, although briefly, in the desert’s eternally shifting sands. Tours are led by experienced, local guides who help newcomers learn to live with the desert (and without toilets or washing facilities). All waste is brought back out at the end of the trip. Seems they are following the scout’s motto, “leave only footprints, take only memories”… and pictures, of course. RS

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