Shendi lies some 2 hours 45 minutes by bus away from Khartoum costing SP24 - you pay the full price for the fare to Atbara. It makes a convenient base to visit the incredible pyramids of Meroe – also known as the Royal Cemetery.
Shendi was once a mighty city back in the 18th century famous for holding one of Africa’s largest markets, trading predominantly in slaves. It is also the birthplace of current Sudanese President Omar al- Bashir.
There are only two places to stay in Shendi – the El Kawther hotel (about SP100) or the unlabelled lokanda opposite the train station – look for arches for SP10 – seriously over-priced but the owner knows you have no other option. No guesses where yours truly is staying, although the toilets are probably one of the worst i have encountered in Africa – no mean feat!
The pyramids lie some 4okms to the north of Shendi (a minibus charge SP7 and ask for Bajarawiya) on the highway to Atbara. You can also stay close to the site at the Meroe Tented camp for some US$95/120 – single/twin.
There are some 100 pyramids although many are now just outlines dating from 8BC – 4AD. Unbelievably they were predominantly destroyed by Italian treasure hunter Guiseppe Ferlina in 1834 with the tacit support of the Egyptians.
Approaching the site from the highway some 500 metres away, i am invited to ride up to the site on camel for SP5, but even though there is no one else to witness the sight, i cannot bring myself to do it.
Although the pyramids lack the height of the Giza pyramids (30 metres max), what is incredible is the fact that the site is completely devoid of anyone – apart from the guy in the ticket office (admission is SP20) and i have the entire site to myself. A totally surreal experience.
I’d love to stay for the sunset but i have no idea how long it will take to hitch a ride back to Shendi so i depart at 5pm. However, it only takes 10 minutes to secure a lift.
About 2kms on the other side of the highway is the Royal Court, although time and cost prohibit my visit.
Returning to the lokanda (guesthouse), i am told i must report to the police station with all my bags for registration. This process takes more than one hour – apparently i was meant to register my trip to Shendi in the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife in Khartoum. However they are pretty sweet about it and let me off.
Not for the first time on these African travels i feel like a real lucky and priveledged person.