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

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Bahir Dar and the Blue Nile Falls

early morning on Lake Tana Bahir Dar
Bahir Dar is a beautiful town, and very different from anywhere else we have stayed during our trip. The streets are lined with palm trees, there are many tulip trees with their flamboyant red blossoms, and it is very busy, with traffic chaos and tuk tuks everywhere. There are also many Jacaranda trees, sadly not yet in bloom but they must be a beautiful sight later. The lakeside hotel affords splendid views and pleasant strolling in the gardens down to the water's edge.

St George by the Sea - Bahir Dar with congregation gathered
for funeral
Today, our penultimate full day in this wonderful country, sees us soon in the coach on our way to visit the Blue Nile falls downstream of Lake Tana. The locals call the falls Tis Abay or "smoking water" because of the steam clouds and rainbow created when the falls are in full flow. But since 2003 a hydro-electric station upstream has taken much of the flow out of the falls except during the rainy season and because of this the falls can disappoint the tourist. We were quite lucky but from pictures seen elsewhere it is clear that the falls have lost much of their former drama.  

Saddle billed stork on way to Blue Nile falls
The drive is 35km along a very bumpy road - our guide calls it the "African Massage Service". Along the way we are again treated to much bird life: Sacred ibis, Long Crested Eagle, Saddle billed stork, Heron, Cattle Egrets (peck the seeds out of cattle coats), the Glossy Ibis, kingfishers, silver beaked hornbill, and a huge number of birds of all kinds on a rubbish tip we pass - watched over by many vultures in the surrounding trees.

We pass a farmer carrying his simple wooden ox-drawn plough on his back, boys chew on the sugar cane, an important crop here which grows well in the very fertile black soil.
farmer with ox drawn wooden plough
Finally we arrive at the end of the road, and have a short walk across open land to a small boat which ferries us the short way across the river - weaver bird nests hanging in profusion in the waterside bushes - to another short and very pleasant walk to the Falls. Along the way we see the Sensitive Plant growing wild, along with Khat trees, and crops of Kidney beans and Onions.

Lunch is al fresco in the grounds of the hotel next to ours. We are much bothered by flies! The food is good but served in quantities far too vast for many of us. Asking for smaller portions, we are told to simply leave what we don't want. This goes against our upbringing of leaving empty plates. A white rabbit hops around among us, clearly the restaurant pet!

village scene at beginning of walk to Falls
Soon we are off again to see the Orthodox school for Deacons beside the Abune Hara Monastery, which is apparently an important place of pilgrimage for Ethiopians from all around the country. But this is a disappointment. The church has a service in progress and unusually they will not let us anywhere near. The school is quite a hike through the forest - pleasant enough as a walk with lots of butterflies and birds and plant-life to see, but on arrival at the compound the teacher is away, the pupils are on holiday and there is little to see. Not the finest moment of the trip. Also it is very difficult to find very much on-line about this place. I would welcome any further information. But we do learn that the students have to beg for their injera bread which they dry in the sun and it will last many months in this way. We also see the spring and pool of Holy Water deep in the forest along the path we take to the school. 

view from the boat to the Blue Nile Falls
The day ends with a night club - a real treat to experience the quite unique music and dance skills of these exuberant people - some of us are even invited on stage to dance and make fools of ourselves. There is plenty of the local brew on offer and I think we all sleep well that night.
Our pilgrimage is nearly at an end. I find it hard to believe just how much we have seen and done in our eleven days; and we have really only scratched the surface of a wonderful culture.  

The Blue Nile Falls
There are reports on the internet and in some guide books of an alarming tendency in some areas for children to throw stones at tourists, and for visitors to be threatened for money over and above the standard entrance fees at some sites. 

We met none of this and perhaps did not go to the offending areas. I would say that it is essential to use the official local guides, tip good service and attention, and ensure that by supporting the local street and market vendors, cafes and restaurants then the locals can see that we are only helping them by putting our money into their local economy. 

Abune Hara Monastery church we could not enter

Night club entertainment 
the boat across the Nile to the Falls

Also treat the people with respect, being careful where we point our cameras outside the tourist sites themselves, always seeking permission before taking photos of individuals. Hopefully then such localised aggression can be curbed before it is to get out of hand. It would be a great pity if because of isolated incidents tourists are put off visiting what is surely a very worthwhile and rewarding holiday destination. 

Lake Tana

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