Set in a depression covering over 2000 sq. Km. Bahariya Oasis is surrounded by black hills made up of ferruginous quartzite and dolerite. Most of the villages and cultivated land can be viewed from the top of the 50-meter-high Jebel al-Mi’ysrah, together with the massive dunes which threaten to engulf some of the older settlements. Wildlife is plentiful, especially birds such as whiatears; crops (which only cover a small percentage of the total area) include dates, olives, apricots, rice and corn.
Bawiti is the largest village in the oasis; its picturesque hillside quarter overlooks lush palm groves irrigated by the Ain al-Beshmo, a natural spring hewn from the rock in Roman times which gushes water at 30 C The neighbouring village of al-Qasr was built on the remains of a 26th dynasty temple-nearby, at Qarat Hilwah, you can still see tombs with paintings dating from the same period. Famous for its mineral and sulphur springs, including Bir Mathar and Bir al-Ghaba, Bahariya is also known amongst local Bedouin for informal music and poetry recitals. Go on desert excursions by day and spend your evenings relaxing in the cafes smoking shisha, playing backgammon and listening to authentic Bedouin music. Travelers can now go
Desert en route. Farafra, known as Ta-iht or the Land of the Cow in pharaonic times, is a single village. The most isolated of the New Valley Oases it is renowned for its strong traditions and piety. According to folklore the villagers once lost track of time and had to send a rider to Dakhla so they could hold the Friday prayers on the right day. The oldest part of the village, on a hillside. is next to peaceful walled palm groves; a short fide away there are hot sulphur springs at Bir setta and swimming at El-Mufid Lake. As in other oases many of Farafra’s houses are painted blue (to ward off the Evill Eye) but here some are also decorated with landscapes, birds and animals, the handiwork of local artist, Badr. A combination house, museum and studio exhibiting his paintings and ceramics is situated in a garden full of sculptures made from objects found in the surrounding desert.
Dakhla Oasis is a collection of fourteen different settlements, dominated on its northern horizon by a wall of rose-colored rock. Fertile cultivated areas growing fice, peanuts and fruit are dotted between sand dunes along the roads from Farafra and Kharga in this area of outstanding natural beauty.
The capital, Mut, named after the ancient goddess of the Theban Triad, houses the Museum of the Inheritance, a traditional house, with and intricate wooden combination lock. Rooms, with sculpted clay figures , are arranged to show different aspects of Dakhlan culture and family life. Al-Kasr, about 35 km.Mut, was originally a Roman settlement which later became the medieval capital of Dakhla. The old town is a labyrinth of mud-walled alleys narrowly separating houses with elaborately-carved wooden lintels; there is also an Ayyubid mosque. Climp to the rooftop of the 10th century madrassa for wonderful views of the surrounding area. Bir al-Gbel, a palm-fringed salt lake where you can camp and picnic, is on the road back to Mut.
Other day trips from Mut coul include the 1st-century al-Muzawaka tombs and Dir al-Hagar, a temple which was originally dedicated to the Theban Triad and later rebuilt by the Romans. After exploring the temple, bathe in the hot sulphur spring nearby. Visit Bashendi to see Roman tombs and a factory where carpets are still woven with scenes of Dakhlan life. At nearby Balaat village, a trading post with ancient Nubia, archeologists are still uncovering dozens of 6th dynasty mastabas.
Kharga used to be the last but one stop on The Forty Days Road, the infamous slave-trade route between North Africa and the tropical south. Today, it is the biggest New Valley oasis and its modern city houses 60,000 people, including 1,000 Nubians who moved here after the cration of lake Nasser. Outside the main centre is the Temple of Hibis, built on the site of an 18th dynasty settlement of Saites, persians and ptolemies One of the few persian monuments in Egypt, the 6th century BC temple is well-preserved with painted vultures and huge reliefs of Darius greeting Egyptian gods on the outer walls. Ten kilometers away, the Necropolis of al-Bagawat contains 263 mud-brick chapels with Coptic murals, including the Chapel of Peace with images of Adam and Eve and the Ark on its dome and the Chapel of the Exodus with frescoes of pharaonic troops pursuing the Jews led by Moses, out of Egypt. Pharaonic monuments include the al-Hhuwaytah Temple which dates from 522 BC and the Temple of Amenebis.
The thermal springs at Bulaq and Nasser villages to the south, are famous for water temperatures of up to 43 C and reputed to be suitable for the treatment of rheumtism and allergies. Camping facilities are available near both villages. Further south is Baris Oasis, the second largest settlement in Kharga. Houses designed in traditional Nubian style by Hassan Fathy remain uninhabited- local people refused to live in them because of their similarity to tombs and building stopped in the late 1960s. Ancient monuments include the Temple of Dush, dedicated to Isis and Serapis. Its name derives from Kush, the ancient Sudanese capital which traded with Egypt along the Nile. Arcgeologists are still unearthing the ancient city of Kysis with the temple is associated; and elaborate system of clay pipes and and abandoned Christian church, suggest that Kysis was abandoned when its underground springs dried up but the exact date remains a mystery.
Siwa, the most inaccessible of all Egypt’s oases until very recently, is also one of the most fascinating. On the edge of the Great Sand Sea, its rich history includes a visit from Alexander the Great to consult the Oracle of Amun in 331 BC. Siwans have their own culture and customs and they speak a Berber language, Wiwi, rather than Arabic. Many women still wear traditional costumes and silver jewellery like those displayed in The Traditional Siwan House museum in the town centre. Siwa remains one of the best places to buy jewellery, rugs, baskets and traditional robes and head-dresses decorated with antique coins.
The original settlement, Aghurmi, was superseded by Shali, founded in 1203. Built of salt-impregnated mud of kharsif, the fortress-like community expanded upwards rather than outwards. Set among thick palm groves, walled gardens and olive orchards, with numerous freshwater springs and salt lakes, modern Siwa clusters beneath the remains of ancient Shali. Climb through the ruins of the old city for magnificent views of the whole oasis. Walk, hire a bicycle or ride in a caretta( donkey cart) to outlying sights and bathing places. These include 26th Dynasty tombs with murals and inscriptions at Jebel al-Mawta (The Hill of the Dead) and the Oracle of Amun, and acropolis temple dating from around 550 BC. Near the Oracle is a ruined Temple of Amun and the famous Cleopatra Bath, a deep pool of bubbling water where you can bathe. Anther favounite bathing spot is Fatnis Island, on the salt lake of Birket Siwa, surrounded by palm trees and beautiful scenery.