The great land of newly independent South Sudan slopes northward towards the Sahara, and the longest river in the world runs through it. The River Nile — the ‘White’ version — ploughs through humid jungles and Sudd swampland before joining the Blue Nile at Khartoum, the capital of today’s tighter-dimensioned Sudan. The city of Omdurman has evolved beside it, and together their population numbers 5 million.
Khartoum. What does this name bring to mind in popular history, a 19th century siege, or a 1960s epic movie about a siege? By 1879, the Mahdists — Arab and African Sudanese — couldn’t abide ruling Egypt’s heavy taxes; they were levied no matter how much drought or famine. Led by Mahdi chief, Muhammad Ahmad, 1883 saw the start of Mahdi warrior uprisings. Famously, Britain sent General Charles Gordon to secure Khartoum and ‘smash up the Mahdi’.
In January 1885 after a siege of 313 days, 50,000 Mahdist warriors broke through the city walls, spearing and ‘cutting to pieces’ General Gordon and his 8,000 Egyptian and British soldiers and Sudanese tribal sympathisers — "perhaps the worst army that has ever marched to war", wrote Winston Churchill. 4,000 citizens were also slain, and many others were forced into slavery. The Siege of Khartoum ended with Gordon’s head being presented to Mahdi chiefs to celebrate their decisive victory.
Khartoum lies at the confluence of the continent’s great rivers. They merge at Al-Mogran, where a clay-dense White Nile cascades towards her less sedimentary sister, the Blue. Genuine colours vibrate at the city centre’s chaotic Souq Arabi; they are in spice stalls, carpet booths and jewellery shops, and they’re bartered-for by Khartoumites. The market spreads across city squares, with its Great Mosque, the Mesjid al-Kabir, an essential rendezvous nearby. And in this part of Africa, what could be more necessary than a camel market? Souq Moowaileh is a defining experience — quintessentially Sudan.
The ancient Egyptians named named the Merotic region of Sudan ‘the Kushitic Kingdom’. Here they extracted gold, horded elephant ivory and amassed incense and exotic spices. In today’s Sudan, more pyramids were laboriously constructed than in Egypt, but they are basically burial chambers bereft of pharaonic rooms or corridors. Meroë was the southern capital of the Kushitic Kingdom from 800 BC to 350 AD. Today, over two hundred Nubian pyramids rise from the sand in three ruinous groups.
The ancient Nile-side kingdom of Nubia lies in the north of Sudan and in southern Egypt. Our desert-savvy tour leaders will escort you to little Gebel Barkal’s fabulous remains, among them 13 temples and 3 palaces. These, together with the kingdom city of Napata have been added to World Heritage’s illustrious list. The pyramids here are royal mausoleums and date back to the 3rd century BC.
Traversing Sudan can be excitingly unpredictable; discovering remote desert history is challenging, but Elite Tour Club members have a taste for all this! Unpredictable route conditions, Nile-crossing inconveniences and air-conditioning glitches in the 4x4 — they might all be sent to try us. We thank you in advance for your customary forbearance, senses of humour and adventure.
Ask our travel consultants now about arranging a luxury tour to Sudan tour or look at our suggested itineraries.