Climbing the Taka Mountains in Kassala, Sudan
Not many visitors end up travelling to Sudan and, with various wars still ongoing; it is not hard to see why. Huge swathes of the country, however, are completely safe to visit and the rare tourists who do make it here are inevitably astounded at the generosity of the Sudanese.
One of the most hospitable peoples in the world, it is not uncommon for restaurant owners to refuse your money as some kind soul has already paid for you. In this country, you will be constantly treated as a guest and welcomed into people´s hearts and homes.
With more pyramids than neighbouring Egypt, Sudan has a wealth of historical and archaeological sites that are seldom visited in comparison and, amidst the desert, they are simply spectacular to behold.
There are a surprising number of things to see and do and one of my favourite places in the country are the breathtaking Taka Mountains.
Located in the east of Sudan on the border with Eritrea, Kassala is a quiet, relaxing city to visit and the whole area is completely dominated by the mountains that rear impressively above the buildings down below.
Driving through the dusty sand-strewn desert to reach Kassala is an adventure in itself and although climbing the mountains is a challenge, you will definitely feel a sense of accomplishment.
Hardly anyone climbs this mountain and, reminiscent of Pride Rock in the Lion King, there are a number of great photos just waiting to be taken. Approaching the base of the mountain, you pass by lovely little colourful cafes, hidden amongst the rocky landscape and they are a great place to stop off for a coffee and a snack before attempting the climb.
Anything but a simple climb, you will find yourself scrambling over gigantic rocks and hurdling small chasms as you ascend the mountain. Heart racing and palms sweaty, it is an exhilarating place to step off the beaten path and it will certainly leave long-lasting memories!
Clambering over boulders under the unforgiving sun is arduous work but as you slowly rise above the city, the view gets better and better until you finally crest the mountain and see Eritrea on the other side, stretching away endlessly before you. Otherworldly in appearance it is an amazing climbing experience, alone amidst this desolate landscape.
Once you have safely returned to the solid ground, you simply have to visit the derelict and beautiful Tomb and Mosque of Seyyid Hassan; forgotten to the world, this amazing site is a fitting reward for the nerve-wracking yet satisfying climb you have just undertaken!
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Most visitors to Sudan arrive in Khartoum and to get to Kassala you need to take a bus which should take around seven hours. The price is around SDG 210, or just under 12 dollars and this includes a drink and a snack. Due to the recent increase in fuel prices, transport prices have also fluctuated.
Before leaving Khartoum, it is best to get a travel and photo permit and you can get these for free at the Ministry of Tourism. It is unlikely though that you will be checked.
The mountains are visible from wherever you stay in Kassala and to get to their foot, you can either walk or take a taxi which should not set you back much at all.
Do – Activities & Attractions
While the mountains are the most prominent landmark in Kassala, there are a number of other sights to visit.
On the lower slopes of the mountains, there are a few lovely little cafes which are definitely well worth checking out. The rocks are painted in a myriad of colours and among the multicoloured boulders, women sell delicious coffee with popcorn. All in all, it’s a magical place to relax before or after the climb.
Nearby is the Tomb and Mosque of Seyyid Hassan which looks incredible with the Taka Mountains looming behind them.
The Gash River while usually quite dry is also nice to visit and lots of people head here in the evening to walk along the banks or to drink coffee and smoke shisha.
Stay – Accommodation
If you have spent any time in Khartoum, if you mention that you are taking a trip to Kassala the odds are that one of your friends or even acquaintances will sort out accommodation for you with one of their friends or family members.
There are a range of cheap and quite basic hotels, most of which are based in the streets surrounding the bus station.
Eat – Restaurants
In Kassala, you will find all the standard Sudanese fare and very little else besides it. The coffee here is heavenly and the fruit juices are a refreshing option in the overbearing heat that always pervades the country.
As usual, fuul is the main dish on offer and for a bit of variation try the ta´amiya (falafel) which is always good. To delight any Sudanese person, enquire as to whereabouts you can try ghuraasa and the odds are that they will take you there themselves if not at least point you in the right direction. This thick pancake-based meal is delicious and there are usually a couple of sauces to choose from.
Around the various souks in the city is where you will find the majority of the restaurants.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
Sudan is a very dry and arid country and there is little variation in temperature throughout the year. Temperatures regularly reach over 40 degrees and it hardly ever rains.
In Kassala, the rains come around July and August to replenish the river but even these are sporadic.
When climbing the mountains be sure to take the sweltering heat into account and prepare accordingly. Bring lots of water, a hat and get ready to clamber over an endless stream of boulders! Depending on how you progress, the climb there and back can take anywhere from three to five hours.
Safety – Possible risks
When visiting Sudan, it is important to know that various conflicts, such as Darfur, have been ongoing for a number of decades. Protests do at times erupt about living conditions in the country but generally speaking as a tourist and guest in Sudan, you should be completely safe in the areas which you are allowed to travel in.
While it can be quite hard to acquire a visa, once you have arrived you will be overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Sudanese and the tourist sites are amazing to visit as you will often be the only person there.
International bank cards do not work in Sudan so make sure to take all the money you think you will need with you when you arrive. You can then change dollars, pounds or euros into Sudanese Pounds.
Kassala, as you will see, is a friendly and laidback city and very safe to visit.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim to those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Sudan is very cheap to visit in large part because you will be treated as a guest wherever you go! In all seriousness though, food, transport and tourist attractions are all very cheap if you live like a local with some meals going for as cheap as 15¢. In Khartoum, there are more hotels and restaurants catering to foreigners and as such, you can really spend a lot if that´s your style.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Sudan is an Islamic country so you should follow the rules of the place and wear respectable clothing at all times. Women may prefer to wear a headscarf but as a foreigner, you are given a bit of leeway so it is not completely necessary.
Sudan is a dry country so no alcohol is allowed and if you do get caught drinking you can be punished with up to forty lashes of a whip.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Climbing the mountain is very tough and clambering over huge boulders in the searing sun is certainly tiring work. Alone above the city, make sure to stay safe when attempting the climb and pack a decent amount of water.
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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?
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