Khartoum, the capital of Sudan and located where the blue and white Niles greet each other and travel northwards towards Egypt and the Mediterranean.  With a population of over 5 million the city is friendly and very manageable.

Khartoum traffic chaos
Khartoum traffic chaos

I spent Christmas and New year in Khartoum. One Friday I decided to do some siteseeing. First stop was to be Osama Bin Ladens old home.

Osama Bin Ladens old home.
Osama Bin Ladens old home.

Located in the wealthy Khartoum district of Al Riyadh, Bin Laden lived here between 1991 and 1996. He lived here with his four wives, four sons and one daughter. It is said whilst Bin Laden was in Sudan, he was involved in experimental farming. Apparently, Bin Ladens farms employed thousands of people. The farms grew white corn, sesame, soybeans, sorghum, and peanuts and also cattle and horses. After investing millions into Sudan and building roads, apparently Bin Laden left the country due to his dismay with the political developments of the country.

The land of the Al Shifa factory bombed by the U.S in 1998
The land of the Al Shifa factory bombed by the U.S in 1998

My next stop on the Khartoum unofficial tourist trail was the Al Shifa medical factory that was bombed in August 1998 on the orders of Bill Clinton. At the time of the bombing, the factory was producing anti-malaria drugs and not nerve gas that Clinton claimed it was producing. There was no evidence of chemical warfare production when 14  cruise missiles destroyed the factory and killed hundreds of innocent people.

The confluence of the white and blue Niles- Khartoum
The confluence of the white and blue Niles- Khartoum

Next stop was the confluence of the two Niles, white and blue. The taxi took me to Tuti Island where I walked to the islands northern tip, passing through fields and boys making mud bricks.

Boy making mud bricks
Boy making mud bricks

Leaving Tuti Island I headed over to Omdurman to watch some Sufi dancing, the highlight of Sudan for me.

Sufi dancing Khartoum
Sufi dancing Khartoum

Outside the Hamid Al-Nil mosque, a crowd of around 400 people with a few western tourists, gathered to watch the dervishes of Sufism perform the ritual of zikr.

Sufi dancing - Every Friday in Omdurman
Sufi dancing – Every Friday in Omdurman

Drums beat, feet stomp, the air grows thick as the hum of the chanting grows steadily louder.

A Sufi practitioner - Sudan
A Sufi practitioner – Sudan

Dust begins to rise along with clouds of incense smoke as the practitioners dressed in patchwork robes of green, red and gold begin to swirl into the night.

Sufi dancing - Sudan
Sufi dancing – Sudan

The followers of Sufism are known for there tranquility and a desire to avoid confrontation.  The al-Qadiriya al-Arkiya sect of Sufism based here in Khartoum believe that Sufism is a philosophical discipline that governs all aspects of life, with its  principal foundation coming from Islam.

A Sufi man wearing a patchwork robe
A Sufi man wearing a patchwork robe

The spectacle starts around 4pm every Friday and ends with the sun setting by which time many of the participants are in a trance like state. The ritual performance felt like a blend of African and Arab cultures and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Khartoum.

Sufi man from Khartoum
Sufi man from Khartoum

I spent another week in Khartoum doing lots of stretching exercises and eating good food. Due to the current situation in Syria, many of the restaurants I frequented were run by Syrians. They were very friendly and the food was tasty and cheap.

Men gathering at the YHA to sing to the sound of the Oud instrument
Men gathering at the YHA to sing to the sound of the Oud instrument

Every Saturday at the YHA, a group of local men gather to play and sing along to the sound of the Oud instrument.

Sudan man playing the Oud
Sudan man playing the Oud

In the Arab world, the Oud is considered the ‘king of instruments’. The instrument has a pear shaped body with a fretless neck. Most Western stringed instruments descend from the Oud.

The roots of the Oud date back 3500 years to Persia where is was called a Barbat
The roots of the Oud date back 3500 years to Persia where it was called a Barbat

My last Friday in Khartoum, I decided I would visit the Nuba wrestling on the other side of the city. I went with a lovely couple from Malaysia who are travelling the world on a BMW motorbike. They are both retired and mad as a box of frogs. My kind of people.

Wong and his wife travelling the world on a BMW motorbike
Wong and his wife travelling the world on a BMW motorbike

Enroute to the wrestling, we noticed a group had gathered by the side of the road. Women were dancing and wearing lovely colourful dresses and a handful of men were playing instruments.

Local drum - Sudan
Local drum – Sudan

We walked over and were informed a wedding was taking place.

Sudanese bridesmaids
Sudanese bridesmaids

The locals warmed towards us, encouraging us to take photos. The women clapped and swayed to the beat, as the men, dressed in white, danced in a circle.

The bride - Khartoum wedding
The bride – Khartoum wedding

At different times, individual women would step forward and do a kind of Bez dance from the Happy Mondays.

A Sudan woman dancing at a wedding - Khartoum
A Sudan woman dancing at a wedding – Khartoum

It was all very vibrant and friendly.  No airs or graces, no fancy food nor big stretch limos. Everyone was having a ball.

Good luck to the bride!!
Good luck to the bride!!

From the wedding,  a nice man kindly offered to take us the remaining 2km to the Nuba wrestling stadium.

Nuba wrestling - Khartoum
Nuba wrestling – Khartoum

We arrived at the stadium and it was packed to the rafters. We paid a 15sdp entrance fee and granted a front row view.

Sudan men watching the wrestling
Sudan men watching the wrestling

Nuba wrestling is the national sport of Sudan. Big Nuba men covered in ash and dust, circle each other with the aim of toppling his opponent. It didn’t happen often in the many bouts I witnessed, but when a wrestler was successful, the crowd went crazy.

Nuba wrestlers. One is known as ‘Fat Tiger’ another is known as ‘influenza’ and is 7ft tall
Nuba wrestlers. One is known as ‘Fat Tiger’ another is known as ‘influenza’ and is 7ft tall

Each bout lasted approximately 4 minutes. In some bouts the wrestlers did nothing more than look each other. When a wrestler did manage to flex his muscles and win a bout, a member from the crowd adored the champion with bank notes.

A young Sudanese wrestling fan
A young Sudanese wrestling fan

Even though the sport is popular in the country, outside the ring, a dark reality exists for the Nuba people. The Nuba Mountains, 500km south of Khartoum have been at the centre of a civil war between the Sudan Arab government and Nubian Rebels.

Nubian wrestler - Khartoum
Nubian wrestler – Khartoum

The Sudan government have been accused of ethnic cleansing the Nuba people by bombing hospitals, schools, homes and markets. Many of the Nuba tribe have fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia. The Nubians who have remained in Khartoum believe they are treated as second class citizens and suffer from racial prejudices by the lighter skinned Arab establishment.

Wrestling fanatics - Khartoum
Wrestling fanatics – Khartoum

For centuries,  the dark skinned Nuba people served as slaves for the Arabs in Sudan.   Over time, in this unnatural modern complex hierarchy society we live in today, the Nuba people find themselves at the bottom of the ladder.

Sudanese
Sudanese