Kharga (Arabic الخارجة) is an oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt. It's the largest of the five western oases, 160 km long and from 20 km to 80 km wide. The main town is also called Kharga, separated by a desert strip from Baris to the south. The reason to visit is the antiquities just north of Kharga town, and the string of Roman forts set up to control Darb El Arbayin, the "Forty Days Road" bringing gold and ivory from Africa into Egypt.
Like the other western oases, the climate is hot desert, 40+°C summer and 10°C in winter. There is zero rainfall and all the oasis supply is "fossil water" extracted from the aquifer, a non-renewable resource.
- 1 Kharga (Arabic: الخارجة) is the main town and transport hub. It is entirely modern but has visitor facilities, and the district is dotted with ancient sites, the best being the Temple of Hibis and the necropolis of El Bagawat. References on this page to Kharga mean this town and vicinity unless "Kharga oasis" is specified.
- 2 Baris (Arabic: باريس) is the other town, 86 km south and separated by a strip of desert. The main sight is the Roman-era temple at Qasr Dush, and there's also the weird modern shell of the Hassan Fathy village. Baris lacks facilities so most visitors day-trip from Kharga.
Buses run at least daily from Asyut, which is on the main Cairo-Luxor road and railway. They set off at 08:00 and take 3-4 hours to Kharga. Some continue to Dakhla Oasis, another 3-4 hours. Along the road 2-3 hours out from Asyut, admire the melon field of Wadi Battish - the desert sand is dotted with limestone footballs or geodes. After another 40 km the road tops Kharga Pass to descend into the oasis.
There's a direct highway from Luxor to Baris, at the south end of the oasis. There's no public transport along this route but it's a good highway for taxis and private vehicles.
A highway leads south from the oasis for mile upon aching desert mile, following the ancient caravan trail towards Darfur, before despairing of further progress and looping back north to Dakhla oasis. There is no crossing point into Sudan.
Kharga has an airport but no flights, and trains no longer run here. The old narrow-gauge railway from the Nile valley was replaced in 1989 by a standard-gauge track all the way to Safaga on the Red Sea coast, intended to export phosphates from Kharga's deposits. But by the time it was completed the price of phosphates had dropped, the deposits were never mined, and the new line was abandoned. The track still lies alongside the highway between Kharga and Baris, and in parts along the Baris-Luxor road.
Arrange a taxi to take you around the antiquities - your accommodation will negotiate the best deal, and the driver will know which dusty unsignposted turn-off to head down. The principal sights of Kharga town are within a long walk on a cool day, but you don't want to be weary before you start, and then there's the getting back. Several sights need a vehicle, and some are only for off-road vehicles with a guide.
Buses and minibuses ply between Kharga and Baris, taking an hour.
- 1 Temple of Hibis, 2 km north of Kharga town, is a large well-preserved temple from the Saite-Persian period of 664-404 BCE. It originally stood on a lake island in the town of Hibis, but lake and ancient town are now farmland, and Hibis means "plough". The temple is dedicated to two versions of the god Amun. You enter down a long hallway lined with sphinxes, through several pylons into the main temple. The hypostyle hall has walls shaped like huge papyrus rolls, richly decorated. One of these, showing Seth defeating Apep, is a foretaste of Saint George and the Dragon. The naos or inner shrine has a pantheon of Egyptian deity and royal figures, with almost 700 figures. Adult admission LE80, combi-ticket with El Bagawat LE120, as of Nov 2019.
- Seen on a hill east of the Temple of Hibis is the larger of the two temples of Nadura. They're both scrappy so that's probably close enough.
- North of the temple heading towards the Necropolis are remnants of a Roman Christian settlement at Ain el-Kharab and the monastery of Ain Gallal.
- 2 Necropolis of El Bagawat, Kharga (1 km north of temple). One of the oldest Christian cemeteries in Egypt, which had been used in pre-Christian times. There are 263 Coptic funeral chapels, of which the Chapels of Exodus and of Peace have frescoes of the 4th-7th C AD. There are many mud-brick chapel domes, etched with biblical stories. Adult LE80, combi-ticket with Hibis LE120.
- Another km north of the Necropolis are monastic ruins of Ain Muṣṭafa Qashiff and Deir el Bagawat.
- A further 2 km north is a collection of ruins around Ain Sa'af, Tahunat Hawa (with a tall tower), Burg el Hammam and Gebel el Teir (which has cave carvings).
- 3 Qasr el Labacha is a settlement 35 km north of Kharga town, with a Roman fort. You'll need an off-road vehicle.
- 4 Umm al Dabadib in the desert 50 km north of Kharga is a 4th C AD Roman fortress. It's by a waterhole, an obvious spot for an army base and checkpoint on the caravan route. It's still being excavated and one curiosity is that although designed by and for the late Roman Empire, the units of building correspond to ancient Egyptian cubits. There are also rock tombs and an aqueduct. You'll need a guide and an off-road vehicle to get here safely and back.
- The Romans fortified every waterhole on the road north, with a good example at 5 El Munira. (Determined to be their imperial equals, the British also had a military camp nearby.) Some 5 km west into the desert are the temples of Ain el Tarakwa and Qaṣr el Ḍabashīya. Other Roman forts to the north are at Muhammed Tuleib, El Sumeira and Qasr el Gibb.
- 6 Ain el Bileida 7 km northwest of Kharga is a complex with a fortress, two temples and various adobe buildings.
- Qasr el Baramuni is the remains of a fortress on a ridge 4 km south of Kharga. Other remains in this area are scattered, scrappy, or almost buried in sand.
- 7 Qasr el Quweita, 20 km south of Kharga, is a triple temple to Amon, Mut and Chons. It's extensive, with carvings. There's not much to see at Ain Askar 500 m away, but interesting artefacts have been found.
- 8 Qaṣr ez Zaiyan, another 5 km south, has a temple to Amun of Hibis.
- Tombs of the Sheikhs are 32 km south of Kharga, 4 km south of the village of Bulaq on the east side of the highway. Prince Khalid lies to the south and Sheikh Qamr ad Daula to the north. The road south of here is through desert, until the oasis resumes towards Baris.
- 9 Ain Shams ed-Din, 70 km south of Kharga and 20 km north of Baris, has remains of a fortress, church and graveyard.
- 10 Tafnis el-Balad is a mountain collection of caves and rock shrines with Greek inscriptions. The public road only reaches the village of Ain Tafnis, and you must have an off-road vehicle and an official archaeologist guide to access the site.
- 11 Hassan Fathy Village 8 km north of Baris is one of several 20th C villages across Egypt created by re-imagining traditional adobe styles, under the tutelage of architect Fathy (1900-1989). Construction began in the 1960s but halted on the outbreak of war in 1967; the project was abandoned and the buildings were never used.
- 12 Qasr Dush (15 km south of Baris). Daily 09:00-17:00. The main sight is the extensive sandstone Temple of Isis, Sarapis (or Osiris) and Horus. It was begun under Domitian circa 50 AD and completed over 60 years under Hadrian and Trajan. There's also a smaller second temple of similar date, a Roman fortress, and graveyard. Gold ornaments found nearby in 1989 are now in the Cairo Egyptian Museum. Adult LE80, combi-ticket with Hibis and Bagawat LE120.
- Ain Manawir out in the sand dunes 5 km northwest of Qasr Dush has the scrappy remains of a temple, fortress and aqueduct. Ain Ziyada east of the highway is under excavation (as of 2019) so you can't visit, and there's little to see.
- 13 Tower of the Dervishes in the village of Maqs el-Qibli looks venerable but was only built in 1893 as a British bastion during the Mahdi uprising. It's now a private dwelling.
- 14 Qasr Baris has a Roman adobe ruin.
- Along the highway to Dakhla, 15 English Mountain is the implausible name of one outcrop, where a British observation post was built in 1915. It's littered with canisters and similar remnants, and there's even the hulk of a railway station.
- Dig deeper into the subject. This page only covers sights of interest to the casual visitor, but far more is known, on top of the many unknowns that are sure to lie unexcavated. For more, click on the left sidebar to reach the German version, which runs to 36 pages and a level of detail to make all but a desert-hardened archaeologist break out in hives. For entirely different approaches to Egyptian scholarship, read The Egyptologists by Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest (Random House 1965), or any "Oriental" murder mystery by Agatha Christie (who married a renowned archaeologist and traveled widely in these parts), or just hum the tunes from Aida.
There's a line of small stores for basics in the centre of Kharga and to a lesser extent along main drag in Baris. You don't come here for shopping, which is why the traders of antiquity just rested their camels before plodding onward to the fleshpots and markets of the Nile.
- Kharga has a cluster of simple places in town centre all with similar fare. They'll be delighted to see a Westerner, especially anyone with Arabic beyond "salaam" and with ready cash.
- Baris has a handful of similar places. There's nothing along the badlands roads beyond (the clue's in the word "desert"), so eat it all up and say shukran.
- Mint tea is always a good choice, any time of day.
- Qasr El Bagawat Hotel, El Kharga (next to Necropolis), ☏ .
- Also in El Kharga are El Dar el-Beida (Casablanca), El Radwan Hotel, El Safwa Hotel, El Zohour Hotel, Hala Hotel (aka Oasis Hotel), and Sol Y Mar Pioneers.
There are four main carriers in Egypt. Reckon to get a signal for a call within 5 km of the two towns, but not 4G. Beyond the towns, zip - the desert is a cruel place.
- Back to Asyut returns you to the Nile valley and thence to Cairo.
- A direct highway cuts across the desert from Baris to magnificent Luxor. You need private transport to reach it.
- 200 km west of Kharga is the oasis of Dakhla, reached by daily bus. From there you can journey through the other oases of the Western Desert to the Med coast.
- Not Sudan or Libya alas. You may not cross these nearby borders.