Ethiopian Utopia

Ethiopia, the an­cient land­locked coun­try in the Horn of Africa, of­fers a range of rich cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences in Ad­dis Ababa, Bahir Dar and Lal­i­bela. The cap­i­tal is also a great stopover des­ti­na­tion be­fore pro­ceed­ing to the rest of Africa or the West.

The Luxury Collection - - Ethiopian Utopia - -By Aruna Rathod

A quiet, peace-lov­ing coun­try, Ethiopia is re­ferred to as the land of ori­gins be­cause the ear­li­est fos­sils of mod­ern hu­mans were found here, as well as those of a ho­minid species that pre­ceded us. The most fa­mous fos­sil of the lat­ter is that of a fe­male Aus­tralo­p­ithe­cus Erec­tus, dis­cov­ered in 1974, which was named ‘Lucy’. Ethiopia houses the Na­tional Mu­seum at Ad­dis Ababa, where a cast of Lucy is dis­played along with the his­tory of mankind. One of the dis­plays recre­ates how she must have stood some 3.2 mil­lion years ago, and at 3 feet 7 inches she was tiny! The real bones are pre­served in the ar­chives of the mu­seum.

Bahir dar, an old town that of­fers a va­ri­ety of at­trac­tions in­clud­ing the pic­turesque Lake Tana and the Blue Nile, and Lal­i­bela, the UNESCO World Her­itage Site, are two must see places in Ethiopia.

Laid back in Bahir dar

Bahir dar is best reached by the 45-minute flight from Ad­dis Ababa and is known for the beauty of Lake Tana which lies 1800 me­tres above sea level. It is a quiet sleepy town, ideal for re­lax­ation.

When in Bahir dar, the best place to stay are the Ku­riftu Lodges, a chain of re­sorts near Ad­dis Ababa and in Bahir Dar.

Af­ter check­ing into the pic­turesque Ku­riftu Lodge, in­dulge in the wel­come drink which in­cludes wa­ter­melon or mango juice (to­tally sugar-free) or a cup of fine Ethiopian cof­fee. Ex­plore the re­sort, and the re­lax­ing spa, which is to­tally made of stone struc­tures and spa­cious rooms. Rus­tic, rough fur­ni­ture adorned with fur cush­ions, art­works painted into the walls, four-poster beds, a well-stocked bar with Rift Val­ley wines makes the rooms en­dear­ing. Around 6 pm, visit the pool side which over­looks the lake and in­dulge in evening snacks and some san­gria. Or­der a bot­tle of wine, soak in the sun­set or swim in the ex­otic pool. One of the most in­ter­est­ing fea­tures of check­ing into Ku­riftu is the com­pli­men­tary Swedish body mas­sage and a foot mas­sage for each day that you stay. Book an ap­point­ment and leave the rest to the ex­pert masseuse!

For day two, af­ter a sump­tu­ous break­fast, leave for the monas­ter­ies sit­u­ated on one of the is­lands. Since Chris­tian­ity came to Ethiopia in the first cen­tury, monas­ter­ies were built in the 7th cen­tury when mis­sion­ar­ies ar­rived. There are 37 is­lands, though not all are ac­ces­si­ble for tourists. Af­ter about an hour on a smooth boat ride, dis­em­bark at a quiet jetty to visit the House of Mary (bête Maryam Monastery); about 500 me­tres from the jetty. The ‘church’ is a wooden struc­ture, with a thatched roof, bam­boo screens and its high­light is the paint­ings from the 16th cen­tury – very colour­ful and de­pict­ing scenes from the Bi­ble. On the way back pick up a sou­venir from the au­then­tic stalls, that sell a va­ri­ety of Ethiopian hand­i­crafts. Our guide tells us it’s bet­ter to buy here than in Lal­i­bela, as the pieces are priced rea­son­ably here. Heavy metal crosses in in­tri­cate de­signs, small crosses that can be worn as pen­dants, hand-painted plac­ards, wooden hand­carved an­i­mals, jewellery – there is a fas­ci­nat­ing ar­ray of goods sold by smil­ing women. Ethiopian cur­rency is the Bir and one Bir is equal to three In­dian ru­pees.

We head back to the ho­tel, over the placid lake wa­ters en­joy­ing the sun­set. It’s time for din­ner at the restau­rant and in­jera is a must

on ev­ery Ethiopian menu. Made from a lo­cal grain called tef, it is made into flour, mixed with wa­ter and kept aside for a few days to fer­ment. It is then poured onto a grid­dle and scooped out into a large plate. On the in­jera, one can place the spicy chicken or any meat stew, along­with veg­eta­bles, dal and sal­ads. It is a dish that can be shared by more than two peo­ple.

Lal­i­bela – a re­flec­tion of glo­ri­ous times

While in Ethiopia, a visit to Lal­i­bela is a must. A UNESCO world her­itage site, it houses mas­sive churches built from stone be­low ground level to pro­tect them from de­struc­tion by in­vaders over the cen­turies. Sit­u­ated at a height of 2500 me­tres above sea level, in rocky ter­rain, Lal­i­bela has a small air­port. An hour’s drive took us to the Moun­tain View ho­tel, through the sim­ple city square with min­i­mal fa­cil­i­ties, yet a few sou­venir stores. Our ho­tel was sit­u­ated on a cliff where ev­ery room over­looked the val­leys, al­low­ing for a fan­tas­tic view at all times.

Af­ter a meal at the restau­rant called Seven Olives, we started for the churches. Our guide in­formed us that King Lal­i­bela ruled Lal­i­bela in the last bit of the 11th cen­tury and be­gin­ning of the 12th cen­tury. He be­longed to the Zagwe Dy­nasty and built the Lal­i­bela churches, to­tally 11 in all. Each church was carved out from a sin­gle mass of red vol­canic stone. As we reach, we see a huge metal canopy pro­tect­ing the UNESCO world her­itage site. Af­ter buy­ing the en­trance ticket, we walk a few steps and sud­denly a deep gorge ap­pears with a mas­sive church in­side!

Vis­i­tors have to make their way over a few rough steps and stand in a moat like area as the walls of the moun­tain rise above you. Carved out from Lasta Moun­tain, the mag­nif­i­cent rock-hewn church com­plex leaves us awe-struck. We en­ter the first church af­ter re­mov­ing our footwear, and it’s dark, silent and musty. A priest sits in prayer and on re­quest blesses vis­i­tors with the fa­mous Lal­i­bela cross. Till date Sun­day ser­vices are held in­side the churches. As we walk out, we walk through trenches, moats, court­yards, all con­nected to each other by a maze of tun­nels, mak­ing it seem like a walk back into cen­turies. The com­plex is vast and there are a cou­ple of smaller churches and a good 500 me­tre walk takes vis­i­tors to the most fa­mous and most pho­tographed church of St. Ge­orge. It has a cross-shaped roof that is vis­i­ble at the road level and one needs to walk down at least 20 feet to ac­cess the church.

To­tally amazed, I am dazed at the beauty of the churches and how they have stood the test of time over cen­turies. We walk back to our ve­hi­cle, vis­it­ing a tiny stall that sells rough clay re­pro­duc­tions of the St. Ge­orge’s church and some cute pea­hens that are hand­made.

As we leave Lal­i­bela the next morn­ing, I feel to­tally blessed at hav­ing vis­ited this sa­cred site.

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