The desert: a state of mind
A trip to another world, strange and peaceful, barren and yet full of hidden life
Are you hungry for adventure amid
literally breathtaking landscapes and breathtaking quiteness? If that’s the case and, on top of that, you are a Tolkien fan, and always wondered how the fantastic sceneries he describes in his books could look like, then you just have to pay a visit to the Ahaggar National Park (also known as the Hoggar). In the heart of the desert, north from the town of Tamanrasset, lies the plateau of Atakor.
Here, you will discover a less known face of the Sahara, with rocky mountains instead of sand dunes. As a matter of fact, the sand that covers other parts of the desert is the result of the erosion of the extinct volcanos on the plateau. Don’t let yourself be deceived by the apparent barrenness, this part of the Sahara is populated by touaregs and is actually full of life: strange trees (be careful, some are poisonous!), flowers, camels, donkeys, fenechs, beetles, birds, butterflies and
yes! even fish!
In order to explore the area, you will need a local guide (not just for security reasons but above all because the desert can be deadly if you get lost!). You can decide wether to do a trek or take a 4X4, or a combination of both. The Atakor is also a paradise for climbers, with its almost vertical peaks. I strongly recommend to go there in October, November. In the summer is just too hot and December to February it can get quite chilly, especially at night. April should also be interesting as the Tafsit festival takes place then.
One of the highlights of the trip is the Assekrem, one of the highest peaks and one of the rare occassions when you will cross other travellers. You can put up your tent at the refuge and have a meal by the fire and exchange stories with them. At dusk and at dawn go up to the monastery on the top of the mountain and admire the sunset and sunrise with a cup of tea and a chat with one of the pères (monks) that live there.
There are too many fantastic sites in the Hoggar to describe them all, the possibilities are endless! You can decide your own itinerary depending on your interests: climbing, trekking, prehistoric art, nature observation…I particularly liked the Tahat (Algeria’s highest mountain), the Afilal Guelta (lake), with its strange flowers and fish (the only remaining in the Sahara!), the eroded volcanic cones such as the Iharen, Mount Ilaman, the basalt Tamergidan mosque, the Akar Akar, the tomb of Tin Hinan, the queen of the Touareg, at Abalessa, … and I could carry on like this for ages! Just go and see for yourselves! ;)