My boyfriend belongs to a dessert region in India known for its historical and traditional significance and hence has very strong sentiments towards the sand, mountains and river since they remind him of his early childhood days.
Hence to reminisce these days, we chose to holiday at a very unique destination which is historically and culturally very rich. Acknowledged as the “Jewel of West Africa’s Crown”, Mali is famous for its long and rich history, villages and of course the Sahar desert and River Niger.
Mali is a culturally rich country covered in sand in West Africa and is a 3rd largest producer of Gold in the African continent. Mali has a population of over 14 million, majority being Muslims. Bamako is the capital and the largest city of Mali located on the river Niger and Bambara language is one of the most widely spoken languages in all of West Africa.
We were warmly welcomed by our tour staff at the Bamako airport from where we headed to the hotel for an overnight stay at a hotel in Bamako.
The next morning, after breakfast we left the hotel to visit Djenne, which is the oldest city in Saharan Africa. We took a stroll around the dusty streets and narrow alleys, passing through beautiful mud villages exploring the majestic Sudanese-style mud buildings and visited the largest and the most beautiful Mosque in Africa. This mosque is the largest mud-built structure in the world. The magnificent great mosque is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. We spent some time admiring this beauty and then we visited the market place, where I shopped for some lovely traditional cotton fabrics. The night was spent in a local hotel in Djenne.
The next morning, we departed from Djenne to the Dogon country. We trekked to the cliffs of Bandiagara, home to the Dogon people. The Dogons are religiously divided between Muslims, Christians, and Animists. The Bandiagara cliff is a 150 km long sandstone cliff completely worth the effort and exertion taken to reach there by hiking in the fierce heat. It was a different atmosphere altogether with the villagers and the scenic beauty welcoming us with open hands. The best part about our trip to Dogon Country was the Mask dance performed by the villagers in one of the villages for 30-35 minutes. We enjoyed our 3 day trip in Dogon Country trekking, visiting so many villages, staying in rustic accommodations, talking to the people, sharing food and getting to know their unique and some really bizarre traditions and beliefs.
At the end of the trip, we couldn’t help thanking our guide without whom the journey wouldn’t have been so exciting and knowledgeable. After this adventurous trip to the Dogon Country, we headed towards Mopti. Mopti is called as the ‘Venice of Mali’ because it is surrounded by Niger and Bani river water. In Mopti, we visited a bustling market called Mopti Market and post lunch; we drove to Segou, the second largest city in Mali. Since we reached Segou at night, we decided to rest and relax and explore the city in the morning. Kalabougou et Farako is a large pottery district were women make pots with their hands by using the clay from the Niger River. These pots are then sold in a weekly market known as Grand Marche. We saw some excellent potter, traditional clothes and handicrafts in this market. After lunch, we proceeded towards the Segokoro village, the original site of Segou and former capital of the Bambara Kingdom.
After our visit to Mopti and Segou, we sailed the Niger River and for our expedition to Timbuktu. The Niger River is Africa’s third longest river after the Nile and the Congo and it makes its way through almost the entire breadth of Mali which includes cities like Bamako, Segou, Mopti, Timbuktu and Gao.
The next three days were full of sailing. We visited the Bozo village – a small fishing village located along the Niger River. It is characterized by a small ethnic group known as the Bozo people. The villagers were very cordial even taught us some unusual ways of cooking fish. Talking to the Bozo fishermen and exploring their way of life was itself an adventure. Post this; we crossed Lake Debo – Mali’s largest lake. We witnessed a large number of migratory birds and herds of hippopotamus. Stopping at this place was a great delight as we got some amazing clicks of landscape surrounding us as well as the flora and fauna. We camped along the riverbanks after sunset and experienced the tranquility of the river. I enjoyed the nicely cooked fresh fish with my loved one and spent the night admiring the dark sky adorned with stars.
The final day witnessed our arrival to the legendary and historic city of Timbuktu after sunset. Timbuktu is one of the northernmost cities in Mali, located on the edge of the Sahara desert. We visited Ahmed Baba Centre which is a precious institute where literary findings of many renowned Muslim scholars have been preserved and well maintained. This institute witnesses many students from across the world for knowledge gaining. The next visit was to a similarly culturally rich place called AL Mansur Korey museum. Both these places are staunch evidences of Timbuktu’s standing glory of the past. Next in line was one of the oldest universities in the world – University of Sankore. This university was built by the chief judge of Timbuktu in 989 AD due to his deep respect and love for Knowledge. The guide told us that the place hosted around 25000 students who came from different nationalities and races to widen their learning about Islam and science. We took a lunch break before heading towards the Sahara Dessert on our camel caravan to the north of Timbuktu towards Tuareg camp. This camel trek made us experience the rhythms of nomadic life in the desert. We did not venture much deeper into the dessert for security reasons. We did overnight camping at the Tuareg Camp under the stars having nice dinner, singing and dancing with the other tourists. The best part was the camel trek during the day and the campfire and local food at night.
From The Saharan Dessert, we left for Timbuktu and from there, we proceeded towards Bamako. Bamako is a very famous tourist destination in Mali. One of the main tourist spots in Bamako is the National Library of Mali. This library has more than 60,000 works including periodicals, videos, audio documents and many more which exhibits the history of Mali. We also got to view some musical instruments, traditional attire, household and ritual objects used by the numerous ethnic groups of Mali. The Muso Kunda Museum and the Bamako Regional Museum are the other two museums which give a rich insight into the life and traditions of the Malians. After exploring the museum, we explored the Bamako Botanical Gardens where we got some very good clicks of the trees and flowers.
After exploring the capital city of Mali, we headed towards the airport.
Our 16 day soft adventure trip to Mali was truly well spent amidst the dessert, river, mountains and warm local people. Mali has a lot to offer the visitor in terms of the scenic beauty and landscapes, the beautiful Sahar dessert, its enchanting history and much more.