A KHAWAGA'S TALE: The hidden pleasures of Wadi Rishrash

Peter A. Carrigan
5 Min Read

The desert is boring. No shops or ahwas, no cinema; a monotonous sameness that is the polar opposite to the pleasures and excitement of Cairo.

Why go out there? Don’t you know it is populated by wolves, drug dealers and bandits?

City folk tell these tales, like the ancient mariners who recalled giant squid, sea monsters and ships that were drowned by gigantic whirlpools.

It is the unknown for the majority who live on her doorstep and she may be simple, but never boring.

Even though you don’t come across desperados, the desert offers a budget escape that is rife with adventure, nights full of meandering conversation and, at this time of year, a pleasant daytime ambience that allows for steady hikes.

Such a place is Wadi Rishrash, two hours from Cairo along the Korymat road, which turns off the Ring Road at Moqattam.

Approximately 80 km from Cairo along a dual carriageway, you pass through the Helwan toll station and then make a U-turn through a gap in the dividing barrier just after the 26 km sign. You pass another sign, Parking 1km, and the break in the barrier is just 100 meters past that.

Driving back towards Cairo, you pass the 80 km sign and just 20 meters after the 78 km sign; there is a break in the side barrier. You turn right through this barrier into the desert.

Following this track, which could be done easy enough in a two wheel drive vehicle with good clearance, you traverse the land for a few kilometers then drop down into Wadi Rishrash.

The track follows the Wadi for 12 km, ending up at King Farouk’s former hunting lodge, which consists of three small deserted and somewhat derelict buildings.

The further you travel down the Wadi the narrower the valley becomes and the sheer cliffs tower above you as the vegetation becomes thicker, until palms spring from behind the hunting lodge where wells were once used to provide fresh water for the shooting parties.

For a closer look at the evidence of the King’s aim, you should visit his palace in Manial, where the walls are studded with trophies.

But I didn’t go for the history; I went to trek among the Wadi’s dry tributaries that screech from the cliff line and offer great rock scrambling and glorious views from atop the plateau that runs to the horizon.

Rocky and dry, the valley offers an endless array of fingers that you can follow where the water has spliced the land, curving and slicing the bedrock and leaving a trail of rippled sand, evidence of the rushing mountain streams that tumble down following the intermittent thunderstorms.

It is a glorious land alright, high mesas, conical knolls and ridge lines that are as sharp as an accent among alpine altitudes. Ruggered and rare is the beauty of Wadi Rishrash with a good all weather road and plenty of spots to pitch up for the night.

It is the night which holds the secrets of the Wadi. As the sun sets early behind the cliff line the shadows paint each façade of the landscape a dapple of crimson and the many angles of nature’s work is revealed.

With a rising moon, big and bright, there is no need for artificial light, only a small fire for character and the Wadi’s features appear to almost creak and wake from their sleepy day.

Check the lunar cycle for a pitch black night and the stars will do the rest.

Seeping through the night sky, twinkling their tattered light, the mysteries of the universe offer no answers, other than to believe that surely, in one form or another, we can not be alone.

Visitors worry about wildlife; foxes, scorpions and snakes in the desert. But these are not interested in humans. A fox may be curious, but never encourage or entice the scavenger; they will soon get bored and trot off.

Snakes like the warmth of a rock and scorpions hide under them where they may get a drop of moisture.

For the weekend the beach of course will usually entice. But at this time of year, coming into November and December, the desert offers the best R&R.

Taken with a dose of Bedouin philosophy; that silence is prayer and nature is god, you will awake with a revitalized soul and reordered priorities when you return to the “sophistication of Cairo.

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