Kharga has been a place of exile and banishment for at least 2,000 years. Roman satirist Juvenal (the man who came up with the phrase bread and circuses) is said to have been sent here at the ripe old age of 80 to end his life, and a number of other big names suffered the same fate. One of these, Bishop Nestorius of Constantinople -- who gave his name to the kind of doctrinal innovation that gets you sent out into the desert -- left behind bone-chilling accounts of 5th-century raids and plunder by Nile Valley tribes.

The last 1,500 years have mellowed the place a little, but, in all honesty, Kharga (which has, in the meantime, become the provincial capital) remains a bit of a dump. Whatever was nice about this place has been ruined by badly planned attempts to modernize. Wide boulevards and cement blocks have been pinned onto lifeless traffic circles, and the two or three marginally decent hotels are a long walk from the slightly more interesting old town.

It's a pity the place isn't a little more hospitable, because apart from a small-but-excellent museum, Kharga has two world-class ancient sites that have been excellently preserved: a large 26th-dynasty temple, and a sprawling Christian necropolis from the 5th and 6th centuries A.D.