There is nowhere else on Earth quite like it. Actually, Egypt’s White Desert could easily be on another planet. Its beauty is utterly surreal, with natural limestone sculptures as far as the eye can see, their feet set in golden desert sand. And utter stillness pervades.
A huge sphinx in a field of giant mushrooms. Towering pinnacles like chimneystacks; animal faces and birds frozen in flight. They all stand in gold dust sprinkled with black pebbles, and a full moon bathes the scene in liquid indigo light. It appears as a larger-than-life Salvador Dali creation; actually, it’s Egypt’s exquisite and inspiring White Desert.
For over 3 000km², ice-white chalky sculptures rise from the sandy desert floor in a natural art exhibition. Carved by the wind into fanciful designs, the White Desert is as close as you’ll get to walking on the moon. It’s so that quiet you can hear your heart beat, so movingly beautiful that you don’t want to blink.
About 500km from Cairo, the White Desert forms part of the Western Desert of Egypt – an expanse of sand that is also part of the Sahara that swathes right across North Africa. The great sand sea of the Sahara is mostly a huge dune field, but for a few exceptions: the White Desert and Black Desert are two.
Ali Ganawi cuts a dashing image in long white robes and Ray-Bans. He’s thoroughly Bedouin and has been driving the desert all his life. When I ask if he’s ever been lost, he looks quizzically at me and says: “How can you get lost, when you have the sun and stars?” They’re navigational tools to Ali, who has never used a compass, much less a GPS. He spends his life driving where there are no roads, not even tracks – and there is definitely nobody to ask for directions.
The ancient oasis town of Siwa is enchanting, with the old mud-brick city of Shali spilling down the mountainside. Oases, lakes and sweeping palmeries transform the desertscape into a substantial piece of green paradise. The local Bedouin people are friendly and hospitable, and the vibrancy of the culture is depicted in colourful hand-woven carpets and tapestries. Intricate silver jewelry is also a traditional Bedouin craft and often depicts the sun and stars, which are integral to Bedouin life.