The publication of the Bradt Travel Guide to Sudan (author Paul Clammer) comes at both a welcome and opportune moment. Indeed, how many years is it since we have seen any sort of travel guide for Africa’s largest and possibly most exciting country? The last that I am aware of was Kim Naylor’s ‘Africa – The Nile Route’ published by Lascelles in 1982. That included Sudan as part of an overland route from Egypt to the Kenya coast.
Sudan has been so far off the map for travellers for so long that the prospects of it ever returning to the itinerary of travellers have been bleak. One event above all though has changed this perspective. That is the signing of a peace deal between the government of Sudan and the rebel SPLA at the beginning of this year, which has ushered in a new era of hope that Sudan may be turning the corner and, again, becoming a destination that visitors and travellers may wish to sample. The enormous fly-in-the-ointment of this optimism is the continuing conflict in the western Darfur region, and a simmering conflict in the eastern Red Sea Hills region. Both of these flashpoints effectively deny these regions to prospective travellers.
This guide then is most useful for those regions where travel and tourism is possible, starting with that desert metropolis, Khartoum, which, along with Omdurman and Khartoum north, makes up the great tri-city at the confluence of the two Niles. The Bradt guide takes us on a tour around modern Khartoum, a city where Arabia meets Africa, and increasingly where Asia too meets Africa, with a blossoming of Chinese migrants, following the oil industry and establishing vibrant business around the city.
There is surprisingly much to do in Khartoum, and Paul Clammer takes us around the Omdurman souq; dancing with dervishes, and to one of the most unexpected and fascinating museums in Africa – the Sudan National Museum, where the ancient glory of a Sudan that once ruled the Nile valley, from Khartoum to the Mediterranean and even into Palestine, is on display.
The rest of the guide concentrates, quite naturally, on those regions of the country where travel and tourism is possible, particularly the Nile, north of Khartoum, where tombs and pyramids from the ancient Meroitic and Napatan civilisations abound; the Red Sea coast for underwater adventure, and the towns of the east, particularly Kassala, famous for its fantastic sugar-loaf jebels.
Although the west and the south have shorter sections to themselves; until these regions become safe for travel, the Bradt guide warns against travelling there as yet, although there is useful background on the history of the conflict in both regions and the hopes and prospects for peace.
Rather surprisingly, there is a more detailed guide to travel in the Nuba Mountains of southern Kordofan, and while this region is historically famous as a result of the glossy photography of Leni Reisenthal, it has only recently emerged from conflict, and travel presents real dangers, not least that of landmines and unexploded ordnance. This danger is not dealt with sufficiently and needs a more explicit warning, especially for off-road drivers and trekkers.
In lieu of travel advice for regions currently inaccessible, a hefty proportion of this guide concentrates on background information on history, culture and politics of Sudan. While much of this is fascinating, even for a seasoned Sudan ‘hand’ sometimes it gets lost in itself and we find ourselves confusedly switching from a guide to photography, to ‘how to be a Khawaja’ i.e. white foreigner, in Sudan, with little intermission between the two sections.
The maps are generally adequate and there is a brief introduction to survival Sudanese-Arabic. The guidebook has a sufficiently 21st Century feel that incorporates a listing of GPS locations for main archaeological sites, and access to internet cafes and the mobile-phone network (incorrectly referred to as Mobinil instead of Mobitel).
For those travellers looking for new adventure, Sudan certainly presents that lure. This book, though, is touted as being also for foreign aid workers: Since most of the regions in which foreign aid workers are posted are off limits for ordinary travellers, this guide deals only briefly with them, and as such is of less value for that category of foreign visitor. Nevertheless, Paul Clammer has done his research well and has clearly enjoyed undertaking that research.
While a little heavy going at times, the Bradt Travel Guide to Sudan should be an essential part of any traveller’s kit when venturing to this part of Africa – Hopefully, it will be regularly updated as more regions of this vast and enticing country open up to foreign visitors once again.