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Posts Tagged ‘Lake Tana’

Forget the Safari: Africa’s Most Intriguing New Destination

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on September 15, 2016

One of Africa’s newest biosphere reserves, Ethiopia’s Lake Tana and its island monasteries are holy ground for art- and nature-lovers


LIKE MANY MARRIED couples, my husband and I have very different ideas about what constitutes a fun vacation. Last February, for example, while he took off for a week-long European skiing trip with his friends, I opted to spend two weeks traveling solo around dry and dusty northern Ethiopia. I’ve been drawn to Ethiopia ever since my high school years, in Flint, Mich., when a classmate, who’d moved from Addis Ababa to the U.S., regaled me with stories of the country, with its prototypical, fairytale-like castles and elaborate churches carved out of rock. It sounded pretty exotic to my teenage self. More than two decades later, as my guide, Dawit Teferi, who along with a driver, took me around the rock churches in the Tigray region and then to see the verdant peaks and valleys of the Simien Mountains, northern Ethiopia delivered on those early promises. But I never expected anything like Lake Tana.

The largest body of water in landlocked Ethiopia, Lake Tana is about 1,400 square miles, a fraction of the size of Lake Michigan, my childhood stamping grounds, but with an outsize claim to fame: It’s the source of the Blue Nile, which, once it joins with the White Nile, in Khartoum, Sudan, becomes the world’s second-largest river. But Lake Tana isn’t just holy ground for geography nerds. Within the lake’s copper-colored waters are 37 islands, many of which shelter centuries-old churches and monasteries filled with brilliantly colored frescoes and paintings. And since custodians of sacred religious sites tend to be gentle on their natural surroundings too, last year Unesco declared Lake Tana a biosphere reserve.

The morning Dawit and I arrived in Bahir Dar, the largest city on the shores of Lake Tana, we had already spent three sweltering hours driving in from the old royal capital of Gondar, and I was champing at the bit to see the Blue Nile waterfall. The churches could wait. After checking into our hotel, we drove another hour, on a horribly bumpy road, to a riverfront village where we caught a small ferry to cross the tributary waters of the Blue Nile. Three minutes later, we were on the opposite riverbank, walking past fields of sugar cane, onions and khat (a popular local stimulant). We soon rounded a bend, and seemingly out of nowhere appeared the falls, pouring down a 147-foot rock face. Dawit told me that the falls—also known as “Tis Abay” (“Smoke of the Nile”) in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language—were half the volume they’d be right after the rainy season, which ends in September. Even so, they gave off an impressive spray. We watched as locals climbed on the slippery rocks, eager for the cooling mist, but I worried about getting too close; falling into these hippo-filled waters seemed a surefire way to ruin a vacation. So after some manic photo-taking, we headed back, passing by a rickety bridge that connects the two sides of the river. A farmer walked his three donkeys across, seeming to take no notice of the sway. Dawit bought chickpeas, still on the branch, which we munched on as we walked back to the boat dock in the glaring midday sun.

After lunch back in busy, palm tree-lined Bahir Dar, we hopped on a small ferry to take us across Lake Tana toward the 16th-century monastery of Ura Kidane Mehret, built on the Zege Peninsula that juts into the lake. It took our little boat about an hour to reach the shore, and then we trekked uphill another 20 minutes, passing coffee bushes, screeching monkeys and vendors selling hand-carved figurines and sistrums, musical instruments to accompany chanting. Sweaty and cranky from the heat by the time we arrived, I stepped inside the candlelit church—shoes off—and was immediately soothed.

Like most Ethiopian Orthodox churches in Lake Tana, this one was round, fragrant with incense and awash with murals and paintings, all done in golds, vivid reds, greens and blues. Many depicted biblical scenes of Mary, while others illustrated Ethiopian saints, such as Takla Haymanot, who, it is said, prayed for so many years standing on one leg that it finally broke off. Dawit told me these paintings were about 250 years old but that other nearby churches had much older works and relics. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, Lake Tana’s isolated monasteries served as hiding places for both people and religious treasures, including, legend has it, the Ark of the Covenant. (The ark is now said to be in the city of Axum, in the far north.)

On our way back to Bahir Dar, at the end of the day, we stopped at the small forested island of Entos Eyesu to visit one more church. There, a young monk in a white robe greeted us and led us into another small round sanctuary, explaining that the chapel was rebuilt in the 1990s, but the original church dated back to the 1400s. In the monastery’s tiny museum, a young nun in flip-flops took out a 700-year-old holy book to show us the drawings of St. George, the patron saint of Ethiopia, depicted on its goatskin pages. For the umpteenth time during my trip, I was thrilled to be exactly where I was—and not skiing.



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Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on November 13, 2015

My Note: This is a very fascinating phenomenon:Cranes2 According to one biologist’s estimate, more than one in twenty of the migrant birds leaving Europe for Africa. These migratory birds travel freely, without any border restriction; no government permission, no passport, no visa, while ‘master’ of the animal kingdom, a humanbeing is told by fellow humans not to enter into a particular country – just like Europe deliberately flooding its lands with Islamic invaders, while slamming its doors on Africans and Christians.

Stopover: The Mediterranean island of Malta is considered to be a key spot in the migration routes of birds where many birds pass over the islands while they are migrating, both in Autumn and in Spring. Many of these birds only stop by for a short period of time and use Malta as a resting and feeding place during their long journeys. These stops are very important for birds as they allow them to re-gain the energies they need – very curios – just exactly like their human masters (EU and African leaders) who have just met in Malta to try hammer out some “cooperation” to “tackle the migration crisis.” The plan is to provide cash incentives to African governments if they helped speed up the process of deporting illegal immigrants from Europe, and replace them with “skilled” immigration from African countries. BRAIN DRAIN. The arrival of Millions of Syrians and Afghans has currently plunged the EU into crisis, their focus is on tomorrow’s Africa? – memories seem to have faded of the drowned Africans. What a diabolic game!

I sometimes wish birds like Cranes were our leaders and ambassadors.

Ahja 4

Researchers from the Estonian University of Life Sciences banded a juvenile Eurasian Cane in Estonia last summer (left). Their goal? To track the young crane on its first autumn migration and study the crane’s behavior and habitats used both during migration and on its wintering grounds.

On July 8, 2013, a young Eurasian Crane named “Ahja 4” was banded and tagged with a satellite transmitter (22 g solar powered leg-band Argos/GPS MTI PTT-100) near Ahja village, Estonia close to its nest site. After banding, Ahja 4 spent its pre-fledging period near its home area within a few kilometers from the nest site. After fledging, Ahja 4 and its family joined the nearest flock of cranes roosting in a raised bog flooded for peat extraction at Meelva, approximately18 km from the nest site. The crane family fed mostly in cereal fields and cultivated grasslands around the Meelva Bog. Ahja 4 began migration on the morning of September 22 and arrived at its wintering location approximately 5,900 km south in Ethiopia on November 20. This wintering site is the southernmost documented wintering location of a satellite-tracked Eurasian Crane.

A special expedition from the Estonian University of Life Sciences, in cooperation with Estonian national TV, visited the wintering area of Ahja 4 at Sululta close to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia between January, 16-26, 2014. The main scientific goal of the expedition was to study the home range, habitat use and behavior of a satellite-tracked crane on the basis of GPS locations. In total, 236 different locations visited by Ahja 4 were described. The crane family fed mainly in agricultural fields (barley, oat, peas, and other crops) and roosted on the river floodplain together with many other waterbirds. According to our counts and information from local people, the size of the crane flock where Ahja 4`s family roosted was ~2,000 birds.

Over two months, Estonian researchers tracked the banded Eurasian Crane, Ahja 4, as it completed it’s first autumn migration between Ahja, Estonia and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

September 22: Migration begins from Ahja, Estonia2015-11-13_011856

—September 24: Arrives in Vitebsk area in northern Belarus

—September 29: Continues to south of Minsk in central Belarus

—October 16: Flies to southern Belarus very close to Ukrainian border

—October 19: Leaves Belarus and continues south, roosting overnight in central Ukraine, Crimea, and central and southeastern Turkey

—October 23: Arrives at the Hula Valley in northern Israel

—November 10: Leaves the Hula Valley and continues south, with short overnight roosting on the Sinai Peninsula, at Safaga on the Red Sea western coastal uplands, and Kassala River valley in eastern Sudan

—November 15: Arrives at Tana Lake in northern Ethiopia

—November 16: Moves to the east coast of the lake

—November 19: Continues journey to Sululta wintering area and arrives midday on November 20.


Some Notes on Cranes and co.:


Already, towards late October, the undulating flights animate the sky, accompanied by unceasing calls “krou-krou-krou”. The first Common Cranes’ flocks announce the autumnal migration for wintering beneath more clement skies.

Many people see in the cyclic cranes’ migrations a symbol of regeneration. Some attach them to the hyperborean worship, stemming from Greek Mythology. These mythical inhabitants of Northern Europe lived in a country considered as Heaven on Earth. The Common Cranes would be to a certain extent, the messengers of this other universe, “behind the North wind”.

During the migrations, the bird showing the way at the head of the V-shaped flock has in front of him only the unlimited horizon. But the others, in shifted position, also have in front of them the empty space. From time to time, the bird which is in the lead leaves the place to another, and takes again a more modest rank in the flock. The Ancients saw in this game a great sense of responsibility and an obvious democracy symbol

But the Common Crane is not only a symbol. It is also an improved bird, being able to fly at great elevation and on long distances. It invariably follows the same way, a band of a hundred kilometers of width, which leads it in autumn from northern Europe towards France, Spain and North Africa, and return in spring by the same way. The species breeds in northern Europe, Scandinavia, Denmark, Poland, Russia and Siberia.

Wintering sees the flocks stopping in France (Champagne and Landes of Gascogne), and especially in Spain, in Extremadura. A few thousands of birds go to Morocco. Another way of migration leads the flocks to Tunisia and Algeria, coming from Finland. The populations of Central Asia migrate as far as Ethiopia, via the Nile valley, for wintering.

IS Threat to Syria’s Northern Bald Ibis Near Palmyra

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon has offered a reward of $1,000 (£646) for information on the whereabouts of Zenobia (named after the queen of Palmyra), the only remaining bird who knows the migration routes to wintering grounds in Ethiopia.

Northern bald ibis return to Syria from their wintering grounds in Ethiopia.

I think it’s very safe to say that Egypt is the worst place to be a migratory bird,

Egypt last year estimated that continuous nets lined at least 700km of the Egyptian Mediterranean coast during the autumn migration, the only places not intensively netted being military bases and cities. The Egyptian coast is the world’s biggest bird trap

Lake Tana – A Paradise for Biodiversity


Unique habitats on the shores of Lake Tana 

The Lake Tana region has a high level of biological diversity and is considered part of two biodiversity hotspots: the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot and Horn of Africa Hotspot. Its invaluable ecosystems and habitats are of local and international significance.

Abundant wetlands, swamps, marshes and floodplains are found all around the shores of Lake Tana and its tributaries. Together these form the largest wetland complex in Ethiopia and are of global importance. These are rich natural ecosystems and support many endemic animal and plants species.

The lake is internationally recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Its wetlands provide a habitat for many endemic and migratory bird species which depend on the area for feeding, nesting and roosting. Due to its location at the horn of Africa, the lake is an important stopover and wintering site for many migratory birds on the flyway between Europe, Asia and Africa. The marshes and shallow areas of the lake are some of the most important wintering areas for Central and Northern European migratory bird species including the Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveller and the Black-tailed Godwit. Rare bird species such as the endemic Wattled Crane and Black-crowned Crane also use the wetlands surrounding the lake. Vast undisturbed reedbeds serve as breeding, feeding and roosting sites for these resident crane species and are essential for their survival. 

A Unique Underwater Ecosystem

Lake Tana is well known for its unique concentration of endemic fish species due to the lake’s isolation from other water bodies separated by the Tis Issat falls. Approximately 70% of the 67 different fish species recorded in Lake Tana are endemic and the lake is home to the only remaining intact flock of Barbus fish in the world. Hippopotamuses, and reptiles like the Nile Crocodile and Nile Monitor also populate the lake and its surrounding areas. Papyrus, one of the characteristic features of Lake Tana, grows along the lake’s shoreline.

Islands of Biodiversity

There are a few patches of original forest vegetation that have been protected by churches and monasteries in the area. These remnant church forests are islands of biodiversity, providing refuge for well over 100 tree and plant species, many of them indigenous and rare. These sites are invaluable pools of genetic resources for example of wild coffee and field crop varieties.

70,000 Cranes Wintering in Ethiopia

Watch: My Favorite – the crane

A journey to Ethiopia’s Lake Tana


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Sacred Rivers: The Spiritual Side of The Ganges, The Nile and The Yangtze

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on October 12, 2014


As his new television series ‘Sacred Rivers’ begins, Simon Reeve reveals the spiritual side of the Ganges, the Nile and the Yangtze

Outside a small hillside shrine at Gish Abay in the lush highlands of Ethiopia a large crowd had gathered under the sweltering midday sun. They were waiting patiently by a shack with a tin roof for Orthodox priests to bless them with water from an unimpressive little stream. But as it dribbles through a grassy meadow and tumbles down a rocky hill, hundreds of other trickles and torrents join it, and the stream is transformed into the mighty Nile.

I was visiting Gish Abay, revered by millions as the source of the world’s longest river, while filming Sacred Rivers, a new TV series for which I travelled the length of the Nile, the Yangtze and the Ganges.

The three journeys were rollicking adventures and an opportunity to explore remote and magnificent areas of the world, while having my brain fed with stories about the cultures, religions and countries that have emerged along some of our greatest rivers. They were also eye-opening experiences and often extremely moving.

Hundreds of pilgrims had travelled from across Ethiopia to the source of the Nile, either to give thanks for the holy waters, or to seek good fortune or healing for a depressing list of ailments. There was both wailing and joy. One young woman told me, with the certainty of the pious, that her kidney infection had just been cured by contact with the water.

The shrine at the source is underwhelming, but the veneration of the water made absolute sense to me. The Nile is life-giving. In the arid regions of north-eastern Africa, human existence would be virtually impossible without it. The same is true of the Ganges and Yangtze. Rivers have helped to shape the development of human civilisation. What could be more normal than to thank and praise God or the gods for the magical, mysterious gift of a river that has nurtured and sustained vast numbers of humans for aeons of time?

The Nile: The life-giving force at the heart of Africa

Two great tributaries form the world’s longest river: the White Nile running north from Lake Victoria, and the Blue Nile, which begins in Ethiopia, where I began my journey from source to sea.

Think of the Nile and you invariably think of Egypt, pharaohs and pyramids. But it’s actually Ethiopia that provides almost 90 per cent of the total flow of the Nile.

With a BBC team I followed the Blue Nile from Gish Abay to the far north-west of Ethiopia, and the vast waters of beautiful Lake Tana, an inland sea covering more than 1,000 square miles, also considered by some to be the source of the Blue Nile.

Fishermen on the lake still use boats made from papyrus, which grows all the way along the river Nile and played a major role in all of the civilisations that grew up on its banks. A local boatbuilder called Girma let me paddle around in one of his new creations, and although papyrus boats are as stable as a bowl of jelly, to my amazement I managed to avoid a watery dip.

Across the lake I stopped at the 700-year-old monastery of Ura Kidane Mehret, one of dozens in the area. Inside, vivid wall paintings tell the story of Ethiopia’s spectacular religious heritage. According to legend a Lake Tana monastery was also the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Many Ethiopians believe it’s still in the country.

Heading north into Sudan, I saw the meeting point of the two Niles, the extraordinary spectacle of Khartoum’s ”whirling dervishes’’, and took a long drive into the desert to a region once home to the ancient Nile civilisation now known as Nubia.

Nubia developed along the river 5,000 years ago, and stretched from northern Sudan into southern Egypt. It is still little-known, but there are more pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt, and at Nuri there is a royal cemetery containing pyramids for 20 kings and 54 queens of the Nubian kingdom known as Kush.

Climbing the ruined side of the pyramid belonging to Taharqa, the greatest of all Kushite pharaohs – who ruled not only Sudan but the whole of Egypt as well – was a breathtaking experience.

Standing on top of Jebel Barkal, a lone 90m-high outcrop once considered the holiest site in Nubia partly because of its proximity to the Nile, I could see clearly why so many people worship our sacred rivers. Around me there was desert. Beyond the river, there was desert. But along the riverbanks, there was life.

Religions often developed out of a desire to explain and understand the forces of nature and creation. At Nuri there could not have been a clearer representation of the powerful gift of a river.


Dam Rising in Ethiopia Stirs Hope and Tension

grand-ethiopian-renaissance-damThere is a remote stretch of land in Ethiopia’s forested northwest where the dust never settles. All week, day and night, thousands of workers pulverize rocks and lay concrete along a major tributary of the Nile River. It is the site of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the continent’s biggest hydropower plant and one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever in Africa.

Ethiopia is a poor country, often known best for its past famines, but officials say the dam will be paid for without foreign assistance — a point of national pride. Computer-generated images of the finished structure are framed in government offices, splashed across city billboards and broadcast in repeated specials on the state-owned television channel.

We lean on the generousness of the rest of the world,” said Zadig Abrha, deputy director of the dam’s public mobilization office. “So there is a conviction on the part of the public to change this, to regain our lost greatness, to divorce ourselves from the status quo of poverty. And the first thing that we need to do is make use of our natural resources, like water.”

Ethiopia, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, has poured its resources into a slew of megaprojects in recent years, including dams, factories, roads and railways across the country.

Continue reading…


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