Lying on a 2,630-metre ridge of the rugged Lasta Mountains, Lalibela remains as an isolated and poor village, despite its historical treasure and religious significance.
I came to Gondar for the Timket. I could have stayed in Addis Ababa, or pushed further to Lalibela. The celebrations in both places were equally colourful, people say. But Gondar had its own legacy - the castles, the gardens and the pool, all of which added an ideal backdrop for the ancient festivity.
Simien Mountains north of Gondar boast one of the most spectacular landscapes of the country. Home to a veriaty of endemic plants and animals (such as the Gelada babooms), it is a heaven for trekkers and declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site.
Emperor Fasiladas must fall in love with this fertile land midway between the vast Lake Tana and the lush Semien Mountains, both laden with resources. He came here in the 17th century, and built his capital with impressive architectures.
The town centre overlooked from Circle Hotel, one of the upper-end hotels in Gondar. It is so-named due to its resemblance of a cylindrical airport tower. Each guest room in a storey occupies about 40 degree of the circle, with wide-opened glass window and balcony. For less than $12, the room includes a small one-channel TV.
And so did the Italian fascists realised the importance of this geographical gateway. They chose Gondar as one of their strongholds in Ethiopia during the WWII. Until recently, their edifices at the main streets remained as the most modern buildings in town, serving various functions from government’s post and telecommunication bureau to a cinema and hotels.
Local vs imported beverages. Even though traditional drinks such as tej have gradually losing ground to imported beverages, local favourites like Deshan Beer (shown in the background), Ambo sparkling water and Harar Sofie (a kind of non alcoholic beer) are holding strong in the market.
Nowadays, tourism has energised the local economy. When visitors arrive in town, the first modern building entering their view is no longer the telecom building but the six-storeyed Circle Hotel strongly resembles an airport tower. Outside the hotel, beaten-up taxis and mini-vans provide people additional means of transportation to the traditional donkey-drawn carriages called Garis. Tour guides lurk around the town centre, restaurants open one after another. Not far from the town, the Ethiopia-Denmark joined venture brewery produced beers overwhelmingly popular in the country.
The courtyard at the Church of Debre Berhan Selasie (Church of the Trinity at the Mount of Light) not far from the town centre. The church is one of the most prominent in Ethiopia owing to its internal wall paintings (see next picture).
The painting covering the entire ceiling of the Debre Berhan Selasie is largely responsible for the fame of the Church. Each winged head of the eighty Ethiopian cherubs demonstrates a slightly different expression.
In the morning of the Timket Eve, amid the sound wave of the celebration horns, I walked through the gate of the 75,000-square-meter Royal Enclosure. Group tourists had not yet arrived. The sun was bright, the sky was blue, the trees were lush, the wind was still. Camelot and Ethiopia seem to be a pair of oxymoron today. But drifting through the palaces, towers, banquet hall and library, it was not difficult to convince that Emperor Fasiladas and his people had indeed enjoyed a golden age in the history of Ethiopia.
At noon, a farmer returns home under the scorching sunshine. The country's unique geographic situation and the use of Julian calendar prompt the slogan by the National Tourist Board "Ethiopia, Thirteen Months of Sunshine".
But it was Fasiladas’ bath, a few kilometres from the Royal Enclosure, that deeply impressed me. After the stone gate, tens of ancient trees surrounded a lush garden. The luxuriant foliage almost covered the entire sunken pool in the middle of the garden. The water calmly reflected the image of the stone tower elegantly stood by the poolside.
Wallpaper with classic Chinese poem on the ceiling of Delicious Bakery, which serves not only fresh bakery but also delicious tri-colour mango-avocado-papaya juice. With little domestic industry of its own, Ethiopia depends heavily on foreign import - heavy trucks from Italy, cars from Japan, light industrial products from China.
Homeless orphans (inset) studying in one of the shelters provided by Kindu Trust. Numerous private charity organisations in Ethiopia provide great relief for a society that has virtually no welfare system. Having witnessed the plight of a young orphan boy called Kindu in Gondar, a British woman Kate Fereday founded a trust fund in 1998 for the street children. Today, the trust has established five shelters around the country housing more than 50 children.
I came to Fasiladas’ bath several times during the Timket celebration. I witness nothing but joy and piousness. In the evening, folks sang and danced around the bonfires in the garden. Not far from here, holiday lights were decorating the tower and the pool. But as the night went by, noisy celebrations were slowly replaced by quiet prayers and vigil. Before dawn, large crowd had already gathered around the pool. The humming of haliluya spread over the air, and soon turned into a large chorus…
Not until I sat in the marble floored airport terminal for my departure flight, I realised that I had been indulged by the charm of the town. A Camelot was indeed no longer, but Gondar always remained in heart as a green and pleasant land.
Last Update: October 24 2009 01:22:50 -0500