My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Friday, 18 December 2015

Ethiopia - the road to Axum

We continue on our journey after lunch in Wukro - with a long trip in prospect as we head North towards Adigrat where we will turn West to Axum and our next overnight stop…

oxen threshing the grain
We climb even higher into the mountains. The landscape seems softer here, prettier somehow. There are many more cacti now, and farm compounds with families out in force harvesting grain, and threshing it with the help of their cattle. These animals are driven round and round in a small circle, tethered together, trampling the stalks, the women continually brushing the resulting separated grain back into the centre of the pile. There are also simple hand held ploughs drawn by oxen in the surrounding fields - a timat is the area of land that two oxen can plough in a day.

grain threshing with oxen
We drive through a patch of quite hard rain. The villagers in the small communities we pass through run for cover and seem disconsolate - although they clearly need rain - just not at harvest time! The rain season was too dry this last year which has seriously affected yields.
We approach Adigrat, standing at nearly 2500 metres. Small flocks of sheep and goats guarded by the roadside await sale and slaughter. The road ahead goes on to Eritrea - we turn left towards Axum.
We climb again - it is a dramatic hairpin road but of good quality. Many lorries on the road are carrying quarried rock presumably for more road improvements further ahead. There is much road building in process - much being undertaken by the Chinese, we are told. Some of the quarrying in the small quarries we pass looks manual and extremely hard work but the lads always have time to give us a cheery wave as we drive by. Later along the road we see donkeys with metal buckets strapped across their backs, weighed down with some of these heavy rocks. 
Debre Damo Monastery in the distance
We reach the summit, stopping soon for a stunning view - amazing terraced slopes and sheer drops. We drive for some while along the top of this valley, looking down for many miles on this amazing scenery to our right - the sun coming out from behind the clouds in time for us to fully enjoy the panorama. Many children, some very young, are walking back from school - in this sparsely populated countryside some of them clearly have quite a journey each day. The little ones wave cheerfully as we drive by. We cross a very wide river - the river bed largely dried up - but still a large group of women are finding enough pools of water in which to do their washing - before spreading it all over the nearby bushes to dry in the sun.
stunning scenery
the Adwa mountains
Just past Bizet we spy 
in the far distance Debre Damo Monastery, perched on its 3000 metre high amba, or flat- topped mountain. Founded in the sixth century by one of the monks collectively known as the Nine Saints, (who brought Christianity to Ethiopia from Syria and beyond), it is pretty impregnable. Even after a very long drive by hired vehicle or an arduous hot walk from the main road, the final hurdle is to be hauled up the last 15m high cliff via two leather ropes, one around your waist which is hauled up by the priest at the top, the other you use yourself to assist with the climb. Women are strictly not allowed. Can't say I'm sorry!
Most of the villages seem to have a circular stone wall enclosure within which there is a water pump - children pump water while women gather around no doubt to exchange the local gossip.

sun set behind Adwa mountains near Axum
We are now in the stark granite Adwa mountains - jutting into the sky like teeth - and at Inticho, with just over an hour still to drive, we stop for a panoramic view and for a much needed leg stretch.
early morning hotel view of the renowned Stelae Park

Finally after four tiring but immensely fascinating hours of drive we thankfully arrive at our hotel for the night set high on the outskirts of Axum overlooking the Stelae Field and its famous obelisks. Tomorrow we will explore this further as well as visit the reputed resting place of the Ark of the Covenant in the Cathedral Church of St Mary of Zion. 


  1. Amazing scenery! Look forward to reading about the stelae.

    1. I found the scenery sensational - loved the country!