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If you're coming from the north, the road into Dakhla is where you really begin to feel that you could see the end of the Earth with a good pair of binoculars. The road is a thin band of black that stretches out ahead of the car, snaking between shimmering mirages, while over to the right the massive, sinuous dunes of the Great Sand Sea appear and disappear on the horizon. Just outside town, you come to a place where the dunes seem to threaten the road itself, riding up the power poles until they're half-buried and sending fingers of sand across the tarmac.

Yet, like most places that seem to be in the middle of nowhere, Dakhla is very much the middle of where it is. It was an important town in the Pharaonic and up through the Roman and Islamic periods, and each successive era has left it monuments. For me, the real must-see places in the oasis are the medieval towns of Qasr and Balat. More or less abandoned these days, they are in remarkably good condition and some of the houses in Qasr are even in the process of being restored. From an archaeological perspective, I really enjoy Kellis, or Asmant al Gharab. It was a significant center under the Romans, and it seems to have housed a disproportionate number of Manicheans -- a religious inclination frowned on by the Romans. This is particularly interesting in the context of how Kharga, the next oasis up the track, came to be used as a virtual penal colony for people who disagreed with their rulers. Far from being cut off from the world -- or perhaps simply because, in a sense, it was -- this section of the desert seems at one time to have been teeming with ideas. The other must-see in Dakhla is Deir al Hagar, a 1st-century Egyptian temple built by the Romans that was discovered in the 19th century and is now very nicely restored.

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