Tigray, Ethiopia’s northern most region, has more than 120 rock-hewn churches. It was in 1966 that a religious father named Abba Josief who astonished many people by reading out the list of the churches. Before then, however, only two or three churches were known to scholars.
The rock churches are found in Gheralta, Tsaeda Imba, Atsbidera, Haramat, Ganta afeshum and in many other places scattered unevenly over an area of 180 x 140 Kms. Gheralta, northwest of Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, is the home of a quarter of the rock churches, some famous for their stone workmanship, ancient paintings and old manuscripts, and others known for their magnificent view and difficult ascent. Such great churches as Abune Yemata (Guh), Mariam Korkor, Debretsion (Abune Abraham), Yohhanes Maequddi, Abune Gebre Mikael and Selassie Degum are in the very heart of Gheralta, making it the home of rock churches
Some four hours drive from Axum-plus a further two hours, stiff uphill walk from the road ends - lies the monastery of Debre Damo, situated on a cliff top in one of the wildest part of Tigray. Debere Damo is unique and unforgettable. The bluff on which Damo stands is a real-life Shangri-la. Remote and beautiful, far from the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, the cool celestial island of rock offers panoramic views over the surrounding countryside and complete seclusion and peace for the hundred or so monks and deacons who live there. The monastery’s treasures include an extensive collection of illuminated manuscripts and the intricate carving on the beams and ceiling of the ancient church around which the monastery is built.
The scenery of Gheralta is spectacular. The view of the graceful mount Gheralta and the far-reaching Hawzien plain is a rare combination of extraordinary beauty. George Gerster, the Swiss photographer, in his book churches in Rock writes, ‘Gheralta with its ‘western film’ scenery of mountains seems to be a kind of Ethiopian Arizona. An Arizona, however, without motels or desperados but nevertheless an Eldora do with the choice intellectual pleasure of constantly stimulation and satisfying the passion for discovers’
Tours of the Tigray rock- churches can be given either in combination with the Historic route or separately with exclusive request of travelers.It is also possible to combine the Danakil Depression, Ertale and the Tigray rock-churches as an adventure and off- the beaten truck package.
ABYATA-SHALA LAKES NATIONAL PARK
Abyata-Shala Lakes National Park is formed by the twin lakes of Abyata and Shala. It has a total area of 887 square kilometers (550 square miles) in size, of which 482 square kilometer (300 square miles) is water. Both lakes are terminal lakes but very different in nature. The park was created for the many aquatic bird species that use the lakes, particularly Great White Pelicans and Greater and Lesser Flamingos. The surrounding area is mainly acacia woodland, some of which is very degraded by man.
Lake Abyata is a shallow pan, only 14 meters (46 feet) deep and its level fluctuates periodically. The beaches are unstable and saline, which creates a very real danger of sinking on the vehicles that venture too close. The lake provides the main source of food for the colonies of great while pelicans on the nearby Lake Shala.
Lake Shala by contrast, is, at 260 meters (853 feet), Ethiopia’s deepest rift valley lake, possibly the deepest lake in Africa north of the Equator. Shalla’s islands are used as breeding sites by many birds, and are home to the continent’s most important breeding colony of Great White Pelicans. The color of the water is like cold tea and there is a high concentration f salts, making it feel soapy. Few fish are found in this lake. It is also one of the seven nesting sites of the bird in the whole of Africa.
Apart from the above mentioned birds, some others include White-necked Cormorant, African Fish Eagle, Egyptian Geese, various Plover species, and Herons. Local mammals are not numerous but include Grant’s gazelle, Greater Kudu, Oribi, Warthog and Golden Jackal. Besides, some of the scenery is very beautiful, especially at dusk; the sight of Pelicans dipping into the silver waters of Lake Abyata is unforgettable.
BALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Lying south-east of Ethiopia, Bale Mountains National Park covers 2400 square kilometers (1488 square miles) covering wide range of habitats and ranging in altitude from 1500 to 4377 meters (4920 to 14357 feet) at Tulu Dimtu, the highest point in the southern Ethiopia. The spectacular Harenna escarpment running from east to west divides the area into two major parts. To the north is a high altitude plateau area known as the Sanetti Plateau (4000m) formed of ancient volcanic rocks and dissected by many rivers and streams that have cut deep gorges into the edges. In some places this has resulted in scenic waterfalls and alpine lakes.
The vegetation here varies according to altitude. The park can be divided into three main zones. Around Dinsho, in the north, there are grass riverine plains, bordered by bands of bushes, particularly sagebrush and St. John’s Wort. Wild flowers, such as Giant Lobelia, Geraniums, ‘red-hot pokers’ and Alcheilla, form carpets of color. Higher up the mountains heather appears either as small bushes or as mature trees.
The second zone, the Sanetti Plateau, is home to typical Afro-Alpine plants, some coping with the extreme temperatures by either remaining very small or becoming large. The best example of the latter is the curious looking Giant Lobelia, whose stems stand high against the skyline. Wild flowers are many and various, the dominant plant being the Helichrysum, or ’everlasting’ flowers that can be seen in many forms. Keep an eye on the indigenous Abyssinia rose, with its lovely subtle scent.
The third habitat which is the southern part of the park is heavily forested – the moist, tropical Harenna Forest, is home to tree species such as Haenia, Celtis and Podocarpus.
The wildlife of Bale includes many endemic species. The park was originally established to protect the two endemic mammals: the Mountain Nyala and the Semien Fox or Jackal.
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