Darb al Arbein

Kharga was once a major stop on one of the most important major trade routes between Sudan and Egypt. Today, the highway south of the city follows almost exactly the route of what was known as Darb al Arbein, or the "Forty-Day Road." For more than 700 years, this was the conduit of the untold wealth in ostrich feathers, gold, ivory, and slaves that Sudan sent to Egypt in return for weapons, cloth, and metal goods.

Nowadays the old route is abandoned, and though the name is still in use, it actually refers to quite a different route: a camel-trading track that starts in Omdurman, across the river from Khartoum, and makes its way to Daraw, near Aswan in Upper Egypt. The new route sticks close to the Nile and, being a little shorter and easier than the old one, only takes about 30 days.

Back in the heyday of the big trading caravan, staying so close to the Nile would have invited attack and robbery, and so the route looped far out into the relative safety of the open desert. The Sudanese town of Dongola, on the Nile between the third and fourth cataracts, was the major southern terminal back then, and the caravans, which were made up of more than 10,000 camels, bore due north across some of the most arid and inhospitable territory on Earth. After a pause in Kharga, they would angle northeast, reentering the Nile Valley around Assiut, where the riches could be unloaded and sold to merchants from Cairo.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.