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akhla lies at N25 28 and N 25 44 Latitude and E 28 48 and E 29 21 longitude. Located 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Kharga, Dakhla, at 410 square kilometers (256 square miles), shares the same northern escarpment as its eastern neighbor. The scarp runs for 200 kilometers (125 miles) east-southeast to west-northwest along athe northern edge of both depressions. The 300 to 400 meter(960 to I,280 foot) high scarp is composed of a top layer of white chalky limestone followed by a mid-section of "greenish and ash-grey leafy clays" (the terms used by Rohlfs) and has a base of brown and black beds containing gypsum and scattered deposits of fossils. In fact, there are fossils and bone beds throughout the oasis. Between the scarp and the cultivated areas from Qasr Dakhla in the west to beyond Tineida in the east is the Sioh Ridge, a 2 to 3 meter (6.4 to 9.6 thick dark-brown bone bed of fish, fish teeth, bones, and vertebrae. These bone beds create phosphate, which is used as fettilizer. Other minerals found in the area include ocher, cobalt, nickel, salt, and barytes. There are also black and red clays, the latter containing iron oxide. Most of the mudbrick buildings in the oasis are tinged with the red of iron oxide.

  The escarpment, which is eroding in a northerly direction, helps to break the harsh winds, allowing for rich agricultural development along the floor of the depression it has a number of bays, one near Qasr Dakhla at Bab al-Qasmund where the Darb al-Farafra exits the oasis, one northeast of Balat where the Naqb Balat leaves the depression, and another east of Tineida where Naqb Tineida leads up the cliffs of the Abu Tartur Plateau to the Darb Ain Amur.

  The northern escarpment is the major cliff in Dakhla. The eastern part of the oasis is open to Kharga, the west is blocked, not by a cliff but by the massive dunes of the great Sand Sea, and the south drops over a minor escarpment and then runs free and clear for hundreds of kilometers past the Gilf Kebir and into Sudan. Higher than Kharga, the lowest point in Dakhla is 100 meters (320 feet) above sea level. More fertile than Kharga, 45 percent of the total area is under cultivation.


As with all the oases, water is the key ingredient in Dakhla. Prehistoric lakes once covered most of the cultivated area of this oasis. Today an artificial lake has been created just north of Mut in the hope of developing a fishing industry, but the main water source remains the wells. Deep wells are characteristic of this depression. As in Kharga, they are drilled to great depth so that the water can be extracted from Nubian sandstone. This drilling process is an expensive and time consuming affair and it is disastrous when a well runs dry. Farmers go to great lengths to keep the source open and clear of overgrowth.

  At the beginning of the twentieth century there were 420 ancient wells, known by the natives as Ain Romani, and 162 modern wells, called bir, or abyar in the plural. Rohlfs  in 1874, reported that a Hassan Effendi, originally working with the French mining engineer LeFevre, had drilled sixty wells in Dakhla in thirty years. The wells form only the first part of the irrigation system, since the farmers must also dig irrigation canals to transport the water to the fields. Today 600 wells exist in Dakhla with more on the way.  It takes one million Egyptian pounds to create a new well. The springs and wells contain iron, magnesium, sulfur, and chloride and their healing waters are good for rheumatism, colds, skin diseases, and kidney stones.

  No aqueducts have been found in Dakhla. A member of the Canadian team suggests that the geology of the oasis is not conducive to the construction of such systems.

  Golden colored barchan sand dunes stretch along the edges of the depression. The 2 kilometer (1.2 mile) wide western field, almost true magnetic north-south, runs for 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) between Gebel Edmondstone and the scarp. The road to Abu Minqar and Farafra Oasis, often blocked by blowing sand, passes directly over one of the dunes. The view north at this point is spectacular, with dozens of crescent shaped golden dunes marching south from the pink and white scarp over which they tumble to reach the depression floor.

Caravan Routes and Roadways

Darb Ain Amur, Road of the Lovely One, passes east through Tineida and the Wadi al-Battikha over the scarp through Naqb Tineida to the Abu Tartur Plateau and Ain Amur, Ain Umm Dabadib, and Qasr Kharga. Used by Archibald Edmondstone in 1819 on his way back from Dakhla and by Rohlfs in 1874, it is the shortest distance between the two oases. (See Kharga Oasis for details.)

Darb al-Ghubari, the Dust Road, is the second major route that crosses east-west the main road through the oasis. (See Kharga Oasis for details.) There is a cut off from this route that leads to Baris in the south of Kharga Oasis.

The Darb al-Farafra links Dakhla Oasis to farafra Oasis in the north. It begins at Qasr Dakhla where I goes north over the scarp at Bab al-Qasmund, veering west over dunes to Bir Dikker and Qasr Farafra. It continues on to Bahariya, Siwa, and Fayoum.

Darb Abu Minqar begins at Qasr and moves northwest between Gebel Edmonstone and the northern scarp to Ain Sheikh Marzuqe, and to the northwest of Farafra Oasis. It is the modern roadway. (See Farafra Oasis.)

Darb al-Tawil, the Long Road, bypassing Kharga completely, is the only direct connection from Dakhla Oasis to the Nile Valley. Like most of the desert tracks, it is an old route and there is evidence that it was used extensively during the Old Kingdom. In 1908, Winlock tells us, tea, sugar, and coffee came with the caravans over this route. In this century it was still a viable route, often used by caravans loaded with dates on their way to market in the Nile Valley. The Dab al-tawil has several starting points in the oasis. The westernmost route begins just east of Qasr Dakhla in the western part of  the oasis. It quickly climbs the escarpment near Qasr and joins the Darb al-Khashabi, which works its way north from Asmant. Shortly thereafter the Darb al-Tawil turns northeast. At the Naqb Rumi, the Darb al-Tawil is joined by a third route from Balat and Tineida. (Some sources consider this the main route of the Darb al-Tawil in Dakhla.) This route begins at Balat and moves northeast 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) to a bay I n the 350 meter (1,120 foot) scarp. Here it is joined by a track from Tineida.

  They climb out of the depression at Naqb Balat and continue northeast along the desert to Naqb Rumi. He Darb al-Tawil, now complete, continue northeast through Naqb Shyshini and heads to Manfalut near Asyout in the Nile Valley. Edmondstone took five days to reach Dakhla, setting up camps along the way. Just as along the Darb al-Arbain, he was struck by the number of dead camels along the way. The trip took him sixty-four marching hours which he calculated as 178 miles.

Darb al-Khashabi, the Wooden Road, begins at Asmant and passes over the scarp at Nawb Asmant, heading almost due north where it seems t disappear. It is named the Wooden Road because it passes through a grove of dead trees.

The Darb al-Tarfawi is the only sothern route in the oasis. Used in 1893-4 by captain H.G. Lyons, it begins at Mut and heads south through the empty and seldom used southwestern desert to Bir Tarfawi and then on to Merg and l-Fasher in Sudan.

A spur goes to the Gilf Kebir and Gebel Uwaynat. This isolated area is currently the focus of a major development program and plans are underway to launch a large agricultural project in the area. The Darb al-Tarafwi is receiving attention and is now paved for over 300 kilometers (187 miles). It will eventually be a major artry linking Dakhla to the southwestern corner of Egypt. 

The People

There is evidence to suggest that Dakhla has been inhabited since prehistory and maybe as long s 200,000 years ago. Recent studies carried out the Canadians indicate that the ancient inhabitants suffered from arthritis, tuberculosis, and iron deficiency anemia. The average life expectancy of men was twenty-four, while women lived to be around thirty-seven.

  By studying Late Roman remains they have also discovered the antibiotic tetracycline was present in many of the bones. It helped protect the health of people in this oasis those many centuries ago. Further investigation showed that it was naturally ingested and not synthetically manufactured. In all probability, it was produced in contaminated grain which was consumed during hard times.

  In 1819, the population of the entire oasis was estimated at between five and six thousand. Cailliaud found the people of Dakhla to be much more friendly and curious about Europeans that those of Kharga, Bahariya, and Siwa. They were more willing to show him around.

  Today's population is an amalgam of peoples who have traveled to the oasis through the ages. There are elements of Libyan, Nubian, and Sudancese heritage, but mainly the people are Berber and Bedouin. Among themselves they make distinctions from village to village : al-Mahub is of Sanusi origin; Balat and Tineida are Moroccan; Qasr is Saudi Arabian; Qalamun, Turkish, and Mut is Asyuti and Bedouin. Sheikh Wali is considered a new village populated by the people from Gedida.

  As in all the oasis in the Western Desert, people marry within the extended family. Although patterns vary, educated men marry at twenty-five to thirty and uneducated men at twenty to twenty-five. Women marry at a younger age. The head of every village must be invited to every wedding (and when someone dies, each village must send a representative). Life expectancy for men in the oasis today is sixty to seventy-five, for women seventy-five to eighty.

  When problems arise in a family, the eldest man still makes the decisions. If the dispute cannot be solved within the family, then the matter is brought before the mayor of the town. Police are never involved in these matters. This type of discipline can only work if there is respect among relations.

  Today, The villages retain many distinctions, even in dialects. At Qasr they pronounce the I like an n, saying unna for ulla, the water jug. In Tineida, they use the classical "Qaf." In Asmant ei as in 'bay" is pronounced "oy" as in "joy," so "Enti fein?" (where are you?) is pronounced "Enti foyn?"



The bread of Dakhla is the eish shamsi, sunbread, of Upper Egypt but called aghif in Dakhla. It is baked the same too. The oven, tabuna, here in Dakhla, has a symbol to ward off the evil eye at the top of the oven door. Known as 'the man,' al-rais, it looks like a little man. Bread is eaten as the morning meal.

In the fields, at midmorning, leftovers, dates, or fresh vegetables are eaten. Lunch is a mid-afternoon affair, around 2 or 3 o'clock. It is usually bread, rice, and vegetable stews.

Poultry and meat are eaten on special occasions. Rich families have it once or twice a week. Rice and macaroni are common.

Millet pudding is a specialty of Dakhla, as are date honey and date paste. Palm wine is not unknown.

The Crafts of the Oasis

Dakhla's heritage is both rich and representative of the four other oases in the central desert. As in the Nile Valley, women use kohl, powdered antimony, to accent their eyes. Hey also use henna. Young girls get a rich burgundy color from using black henna, while old women, with silver hair, become carrot tops when they used red henna on their hair. Henna is also applied to the soles of the feet and the palms of the hand. It means protection and good luck. It keeps the evil spirits away. Orange henna handprints were once seen everywhere, on doors, walls, and even sides of donkeys.

  Tattoos are also a method of personal adornment that have symbolic purpose. Tattoos bring luck if done at the grave of a favorite sheikh. They also bring strength to aching hands, poor eyesight, or broken bones. Three dots at the corner of the eye make the eyes strong. A bird at the temple helps too. Tree branches are often seen on women's chins for fertility. All these customs are beginning to wane.

  However, it is in other crafts, especially baskets ad pottery, that Dakhla excels, and exceptional items are still being made. The best place to see the crafts of Dakhla Oasis, including the elusive necklaces and dresses once worn by the women, is the small but exciting Ethnographic Museum in Mut. (For details see Mut below.)


There are many impressive mountains in Kharga Oasis, particlarly in the north where they not only determine access routes, but dictate the personality of the oasis. Gebel al-Ramliya, Mountain of the Sand Dunes, at 448 meters (I,433 feet), is located near the northeastern edge of the depression just above the escarpment. Gebel al-Aguz, Old  Man Mountain, is connected to the escarpment, but protrudes above it, just south of the modern descent into the oasis. Gebel Umm al-Ghanayim, the Mountain of the Mother of Spoils, Follows along he eastern edge of the escarpment. Gebel al-Ghanima, 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) south of Gebel Umm al-Ghanayim, and due east of Qasr Kharga, is 5 kilometers (3 miles) west of the edge of the eastern scarp. Running north to south it is 2 kilometers (I.2 mils) long with a 250 meter (800 foot) wide flat top and is 383 meters (I,225 feet) above sea level. Gebel al-Teir, Mountain of the Birds, is the most elusive mountain in the oasis. When one searches for landmarks it is never where you think it should be. Located near Qasr Kharga, Bagawat is found in its foothills.Gebel al-Tarwan, Just of Gebel al-Teir, is much samaller, being 0.05 kilometers (0.03 miles) long and only 32 meters (I02 feet) above the depression floor. It is currently being mined for its white limestone, and is destined to disappear altogether if mining continues. To the south of its western side is Bagawat. Gebel al-Zuhur, Mountain of Roses, is than a mountain and even a poor excuse for a hill. Located to the west of Gebel al-Tarwan and Bagawat , just to the east of the main road, its only Desert Roses are selenite.

The most impressive mountains in the entire depression are Gebel al-Tarif, Mountain of the Border, and its small neighboor Gebel al-sheikh. The pair form the called Gebel Ghurabi has no distinction other than as a landmark for finding the beginning of the ancient desert road to Ain Umm Dabadib and Ain Amur.

In the south stands the rugged Qarn al-Ginah, a rugged sandstone hill 14.5 kilometers (9 miles) southwest of Qasr Kharga. Standing alone on the depression floor it is visible from most locations and serves as an excellent landmark. Gebel al-Tafnis is located on the scarp due east of Baris. Gebel al-Qarn, Horn Mountain, a 204-meter (652-foot) double-peaked black anticlinal hill surrounded by sand dunes, is located 16kilometers (10 miles) southwest of Baris and is the southernmost mountain in the oasis.

The Abu Tartur Plateau , Plateau, Plateau of the Cone shaped Hat, separates Kharga and Dakhla  oases, and covers I,200 square kilometers (750 square miles). Its Oval-shaped, flat-topped summit is surrounded by high scarps on three sides and is joined to the  escapment in the northwest by a small saddle. Rich in phosphate, the Abu Tartur plateau is attracting modern mining ventures. The fabled Ain Amur is located on one of its northern slopes.



Most of the water in this oasis and throughout the Western Desert comes from rainfall in tropical Africa that saturates and penetrates the ground and moves north through two layers of Nubian sandstone. The sandstone, which composes most of the depression floor, is 700 meters (2,240 feet) thick. The water gushes forth from the depression floor at a rate of II million gallons a day, watering the cultivated area of the oasis, which is only I percent of the total area of the depression.

The water flows from a spring , ain, if it bubbles up naturally and only needs to be cleared from time to time, or a well, bir, if the source had to be tapped by a drill. There are hundreds of springs and wells in Kharga and most of them have been running nonstop night and day for thousands of years with no sign of abating. Some date as far back as Acheulean times. In I8232, the French mining engineer LeFever worked in Kharga frilling wells, and new wells are constantly being dug.

Ancient spring are called Ain Romani in Kharge. But they may in fact be Persian, as the Persians developed considerable water resources in Kharga too. The ancient springs still retain their old wooden linings of doum or date palm or acacia wood. Built water right they are still in good working order after 2,000 years.

There is another method of obtaining water which was used in ancient times, probably developed by the Chinese or the  Persians and possibly brought to Egypt by the Romans. An elaborate underground aqueduct system tapped  trapped water in limestone riges below, but near, the surface. Once tapped the  water was channeled through a massive system of tunnels to lower lying areas where it was used for irrigation. Sometimes these tunnels went on for kilometers. Three systems were known to exist in Kharga: at Ain Umm Dabaib, Qasr al-Labeka, and Qasr al-Geb. Now a new site must be added, for the French Mission at Dush has found an extensive system at Manawar.

These amazing systems exist in many areas of the ancient world and are still used in Afghanistan  and Iran (Persia), where they are called qanat; in Libya and Algeria, where they are called foggara; in Oman, where they are called falaj; in southeast Asia where Bahariya, Farafra, and Kharga and in each place under a different name. In Bahariya they are manafis, in Farafra, jub, and in Kharga manawal.

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