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Bamako:

Bamako is the capital city of Mali. It is located in the southwestern part of the country. Bamako originated as a group of villages in 1880, when the French occupied it. From then on, it grew to become the capital of the former French Sudan in 1908. Today, Bamako is a busy city with a population of over 475,000 people and contains many attractions such as zoos and botanical gardens. This city also possesses many research institutions and is the commercial center of the country. Mud brick building as an industry still prevails because from 1960 to 1970, a serious draught occurred in the countryside causing many rural workers to migrate to the city. Bamako stretches across both sides of the Niger river. This position enables a lot of shipping and trade to and from the city. Bamako sends cement and petroleum products down the river and receives rice and peanuts, which it then transports to other cities via railway. This city also has an airport.

Timbuktu: Bernard Cloutier
Lumumba Statue

Photo: Bernard Cloutier



Djenné:

In Djenné, it is worthwhile to visit the town with a local guide. The tour will take you through the medieval centre with its monumental mud houses, Koran schools and craftsmen’s workshops. Of course he will also tell you everything about the famous mosque, the largest mud building in the world. Djenné is protected by UNESCO and consists entirely of mud buildings. It is forbidden to build houses from concrete and corrugated iron. The sight of the town has thus, apart from an occasional car, hardly changed since the Middle Ages. It is not hard to imagine the heydays of this ancient commercial and religious centre. Monday is market day in Djenné. Around noon, there are so many people in town, that you can hardly get through the crowds. The usually quiet market place has changed into a sea of colours, smells and noises. From a roof nearby the market place, you will have a beautiful view over this event with the mosque as scenery.


Dogon Country:

As special as sleeping in the desert is waking up in a Dogon village. At daybreak, the village awakens. From the roof where you have been sleeping, you’ll see daily village activities. Women, on their way to the well greet friendly, children start their plays, the radio is turned on, you hear the pounding of the millet. Crowing cocks, braying donkeys and bleating goats join the concert. The escarpment with its clinging houses and granaries form a beautiful décor. In the villages, you will have enough time to make contact with the Dogon people and their way of live. The guide will show you the particular places of the village. For example the Toguna, the meeting place, covered with an immense layer of straw, the Bina temple for the snake god Léwé, the Gina house for the ancestors, the menstruation hut and the circumcision cave. During the trekking, you will mostly sleep on the roof of small mud houses. The sanitary fittings are very simple and not always clean. The toilet is a hole in the floor and the shower a bucket of water, which you should use sparingly. If you dread having to overnight this primitive, you could also make day tours from a hotel in one of the bigger Dogon villages. The best way to discover the Dogon Country is by foot. Alternately you will be walking over the plateau, down over the plain and through lush gardens and climbing or descending the escarpment. The walks in itself are not very difficult, but the weather can become very hot. That way, a Dogon trekking could become rather strenuous.


Hombori and surroundings:

The road from Mopti to Hombori leads through a beautiful bizarre shaped, mountainous landscape. From the basic but pleasant guesthouse, you have a beautiful view on the Hombori Tondo. With 1155 meters the highest point of Mali. The top cannot be reached without ropes and according to the local people, ghosts inhabit it. You can walk however halfway up the mountain to visit some villages. From Hombori you can make trips to the holy rock "the Hand of Fatima" or to villages in the surroundings. From the village Dagana, for example, you can walk to an abandoned village on the top of a mountain. According to the inhabitants, the ancestors still live there, whilst ghosts inhabit the holy sources. The only living creatures you will see however, are monkeys. The guide will tell you impressive storeys about legendary Songhai kings with their superhuman powers.


Mopti:

Mopti was a backward village in medieval times when Timbuktu and Djénné were great imperial cities. Now the situation is reversed and Mopti is an important port on the Niger halfway between Bamako and Goa. Mopti is surrounded by low areas whose flooding during the wet season is controlled by an intricate system of causeways and dykes built by the French to transform swamps into usable agricultural land. It is a prosperous place with a big market and a beautiful Mosque. Mopti is one of the liveliest harbour towns along the Niger River. In the streets, you will see all kinds of people from all over the region. Bozo, Touareg, Fulani, Songhai, Bambara, Hausa settled down in this town or just pass by to do business. The town is situated on a crossroad of two important rivers, the Bani and the Niger. In the harbour large, decorated, pinasses come and go. Traders sell the merchandise directly in the market at the wharf. From a café, you can let the hustle and bustle pass. In the old centre, you walk through narrow alleys. Here, live is more relaxed. You can visit the Mosque, the women’s market, a potters home and crafts workshops.


Segou:

Segou used to be the centre of the old Bambara kingdom, described in the famous book of Maryse Condé. From Segou you can visit the old royal residence Segou Koro, nowadays a small village near present-day Segou. You can also make a tour by traditional boat over the Niger River, which is impressively wide here, to a village of potters. In Segou itself, it is worthwhile to walk through the colonial quarter with its shady avenues. The French colonizers constructed small palaces in Malian style. Towards the evening, you can install yourself on a pavement near the river to watch the sun set.


Timbuktu:

Timbuktu is renowed as The Desert City whose name has become synonymous with remoteness and isolation. It's no wonder that it has acquired that reputation for the tracks going out are just as bad as the one coming in. Arriving by car or boat, after days of seeing nothing but sandy roads or water, barren landscapes and some tiny villages, you may understand the enchanting effect Timbuktu caused in those days. It’s true, much of the ancient lustre has disappeared, but you can still feel the atmosphere of the legendary sultans, great warriors and rich tradesmen. Timbuktu used to be an important intermediate station on the Trans Sahara Route between West and North Africa. Here the merchandise was transhipped from boats to camels. For months in a row, camel caravans, loaded with valuable goods, like gold and salt trespassed the Sahara Desert; a dangerous adventure. It was often impossible to find water and food on the way, getting lost was a serious threat and brigands laid in the wait.

Now the merchants have left and it is only an administrative center for the north, a region of secondary importance in today's Mali. The brilliant Islamic scholars have also left and have been replaced by the French secondary school shown here. In Timbuktu, you can visit the inside of the oldest mosque of the town, the houses where famous explorers stayed, the ethnographic museum and the artisans market. From Timbuktu, we organise tours by camel from 1 up to 10 days. You can alternately walk or sit on camel back. During these camel tours, you will sleep in the open air or at Touareg camps. Sleeping in the desert is an experience by itself. When the last tea is finished and the camp fire is extinguishing, you enjoy the overwhelming starry sky and the immense silence.

Timbuktu was founded around 1100 AD by Tuareg nomads who chose to camp here because of wells. A century later it was taken from the Tuareg by the Mali Empire and rapidly became a center for north-south commerce. In the late 13th century, the Mali sultan Mansa Musa built the Djingereyber Mosque in the traditional sahelian dried-mud style. It has been rebuilt many times since and has this appearance today. In its heyday under the Askia Dynasty of the Songhai Empire (1468 - 1591), Timbuktu was a brilliant center of Islamic culture and an important market where gold and slaves from the South were traded for salt, cloth and horses from the North. Timbuktu never recovered from the Moroccan invasion in 1591 following which it lost control of the trade that had made it rich.


Last update: 25 April 2008

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