Everywhere I went this winter some person, club, or association was in the midst of planning a trip to El Fayoum, Suddenly El Fayoum had become the in place, the winter destination of many. Tempted to see for myself what's behind this newfound zeal, I, along with friends, children, and grandchildren, headed out to El Fayoum on a balmy, 22-degree, February day.
As we got closer to Fayoum, a serene and tranquil aura engulfed us: Lake Qarun on our right and agricultural land endowed with lush greenery, palm trees, and subliminal peacefulness on our left. In two hours time, we arrived at our hotel, left the young ones around the heated pool and headed our way to Wadi El Rayan, a protected ecological site designated as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. And we were definitely not disappointed.
We drove for a good hour or so before we entered the World Heritage site of Wadi El Rayan. It cost us five Egyptian pounds per person, aka approximately 25 cents, which must be upped immediately since the excursion is worth by far more, and if the area is to maintain its preserved nature and status.The rugged and uneven terrain is the only drawback, but the end result was worth every bump and jolt.
Wadi el Hitan Museum, the Whale Valley Museum, a paleontological wonder, sits amidst this ecologically rich area. The museum opened its doors only last year and is the prime source for the current infatuation with Fayoum. Designed in such a way so as to simulate the sand dunes of the area, the dome-like structure is as breathtaking as the surrounding dunes it replicates.
Inside a mind-blowing story unfolds depicting a history that spans over literally millions of years. Archaeological changes to the area are explained with photographs, graphs, illustrations, and, more striking, fossils. The oceans that existed and disappeared over millions of years, the evolution of inhabiting creatures from ones with claws and limbs to swimming dolphin-like ones, and the history behind all this is exemplified in the museum.
The museum’s centre piece is a dome-like chamber that houses the fossils of two entire huge whales that lie side by side, one of a doridun, the other of a basilosaurus isis, a massive limbed whale.
No other place in the world reveals how whales evolved over time from a land-based animal into an ocean mammal or is favoured with the number and quality of fossils as Wadi el Haitan.
The museum also boasts a 25-seat auditorium that runs a documentary on the evolutionary process as far as creatures and land is concerned. The plaque at the entrance pays homage to not only designers and archaeologists but every worker who contributed effort and time. The glass doors into the museum have perforated drawings that speak of the same creatures. All additional buildings such as the cafeteria and washrooms enjoy the same structure, the dome-like one, as the main building of the museum. All in all the museum borders on the superb, and it deserves the International Council of Museums Best Practice for 2016 that it won.
That is for the interior; once outside, the mapped area pinpoints several fossil formations of whales and other sea creatures. The notion that we are viewing the fossils of the inhabitants of this area, which are extinct today, but roamed the vicinity millions of years back, leaves one in awe.
Content and gratified, we moved on.
The driver of the four-wheel drive careened us through a landscape of unbelievable beauty, down hilly surfaces and up steep terrain amidst a sweeping expanse where erosion and time rendered impeccable formations across a vista that takes one’s breath away.
There is more to Fayoum: waterfalls that spring in the midst of nowhere and a flourishing pottery village, Tunis, that boasts pottery schools and scores of artistic outlets where you can try your hand in making your own pottery. That is besides other activities such as birdwatching, hiking, trekking, sand-boarding, parasailing, and fishing.
The whole area has a serene ambience to it that is unmatched anywhere in Egypt, or elsewhere around the world. I can see why El Fayoum has suddenly gained the interest of many. El Fayoum—you should go.