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Front Page Preface Timket Gondar Axum Debre Damo Lalibela Lake Tana Epilogue
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Sunset over Lake Tana, viewed from the garden of Hotel Tana in Bahar Dar. Although tourism in Ethiopia is still in its enfancy, high-end hotels ($35/70 single/double) with all western comfort and amenities have long been established in major tourist attractions, such as the Hotel Yeha in Axum, Hotel Roha in Lalibela, Hotel Goha in Gondar. These incumbent hotels, however, have recently been challenged by new-comers like the Papyrus in Bahar Dar and the Remhai in Axum, which offer about a third of the price.
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Moon rise over Lake Tana. Covering 3,500 sq km, it is not only the largest lake in Ethiopia but also the home of the numerous orthodox monasteries on some of its thirty-seven islands. As a source of the Blue Nile, its water is like the milk which quenches the thirst and provides the livelihood for more than a hundred million people in Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.
If I were to live in Ethiopia, I would choose neither Addis Ababa nor Gondar, but Bahar Dar. Emperor Haile Selassie would certainly agree, as he built his palace, and once tempted to move the Ethiopian capital here.

Now a regional capital, Bahar Dar has not grown into a metropolitan like Addis Ababa. Unlike Gondar, on the other hand, it has every thing it needs to qualify as a city. Situated at the southern shore of the Lake Tana, it is the most charming and pleasant city in the entire Ethiopia. Palm trees grow along the centrally divided avenues. click to enlarge
Just outside the city of Bahar Dar, water flows calmly at the mouth of Lake Tana, before reaching the thundering Tis Isat Falls. The water and the isles provide an ideal ecosystem for not only water birds but also hippos and crocodiles.
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The Blue Nile Falls fed by Lake Tana forms the upstream of the Blue Nile. It is also known as Tis Issat Falls after the name of the nearby village.
Offices, banks, hotels and, alas, internet service, start to spawn around the town. The 3,500-square-kilometre Lake Tana provides a haven for a wide range of flora fauna, as well as the Christian hermits. It also nurtures the city with abundant water and food source. Some thirty kilometres east of the city, near the bustling village of Tis Isat, the water of the lake thunders down the forty-meter Tis Isat Falls, following the Blue Nile to the Mediterranean, leaving arcs of rainbow behind.

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Papyrus grows robustly around the shore and islands of the Lake Tana. Boats made with dried papyrus are widely used by locals for fishing and transportations.
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A fishnet sits idly next to the watch tower at the Narga Selassie Monastery in the Dek Island.
In the modern and comfortable Papyrus Hotel, I finally relax and washed away the dusts collected in the past two weeks. Hotels like this with hundreds of guestrooms and a swimming pool aimed to compete with the incumbents such as the Ghion and Tana Hotels. However, their older counterparts seemed to survive well in competition owing to their precious assess - the lakeshore.

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A priest at the 17-century Kebran Gabriel Monastery at the middle of Lake Tana.
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A halcyon day at the Dek Island.
At the waterfront garden of Ghion Hotel, visitors sap tea or juice under the large canopy of the banyan trees while the birds sang. The sunset added a golden tone on the flocks of dancing pelicans. After dusk, candles lit dimly the garden in the breeze, the silver moon rose above the wave on the lake. On the distant islands from the shore, I imagined, Christian hermits in the monasteries must be reciting scripts under the moonlight.

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A young monk at the Narga Selassie Monastery.
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The main church at the Narga Selassie Monastery. It boasts a typical Ethiopian Orthodox church architecture with circular porticos and thatch corn roof.
For centuries, monks on these islands and peninsulas had enjoyed their very own sanctuary with tranquility and peace. As twenty-first century tourism flourished, this isolation was more vulnerable than ever. From the small pier at the Ghion Hotel, it only took a few hours for the motorboat to reach the centre of the lake, where the muddy water turned green like a halo surrounding the holy Dek Island under a dense forest canopy. Hidden in the trees, an arc cloister enclosed the circular thatch-top Narga Selassie Monastery.

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A priest at the Nagar Selassie Monastery.
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The intricate Ethiopian Orthodox crosses in different churches have always been unique and rarely identical.
While the priests were busy lifting the curtains covering the religious murals for other tourists, I sneaked out of the monastery to experience a halcyon picture of the island. Through the foliage, the sun cast a motif of shadow on my path, and the air was loomed with the scent of wild lemons. The white-domed watchtowers stood in siesta. A papyrus boat and a fishnet laid sun-bathing on the stone fence, forever looking the green ripples on the lake. But it was the thousands of robust papyrus by the water did not seem to lay rest. Their slander trunks swayed gently with the breeze and wave, as if they were greetings this stranger from afar.

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A warden at the Nagar Selassie Monastery.
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At the Monastery of Nagar Selassie, a priest is demonstrating his holy book to the visitors. Nearly every church in Ethiopia possess similar books with Geez written on sheep skins. The ages of these books are often unknown but believed to be a few hundred years. Among the bible stories, the killing of the serpent by St. George is the most common graphic depiction. Exhibition of the books to visitors has become a standard procedure of the churches.
As the moon rose again, the water birds stood tall on the treetop watched the motorboat made its way back to the mainland. Like the lake water, I soon would set off my journey, going back to where I belonged. However, unlike the lake water, which bore no memory, I would be forever haunted by the beauty of this exquisite land.
Last Update: October 25 2009 01:47:24 -0500