Imagine being at a place that is constantly fuming at 50-degree Celsius and a landscape that changes faster than a chameleon changes colour. That’s the Danakil Desert for you. By Kumar Shree
Acidic pools, sulphur springs, volcanoes and an average temperature ranging between 34-degree Celsius to 50-degree Celsius pretty much define the Danakil Desert. These factors combine together in bringing the Danakil Desert its infamous identity of being one of the most extreme, unwelcoming and inhospitable places on Earth. While the yellow, green and orange deposits are formed out of the interplay of iron and sulphur, these deposits appear supremely pleasing to the eyes. The Danakil Desert in the Afar region of Ethiopia has a climate that can only be described as torturous.
The harsh temperature evaporates all the water from the surface and leaves the land looking baked. It appears as if the entire landscape has been passed through a heat-blasted furnace. The fact that the Danakil Desert sits at one of the lowest places on the planet (410ft/125m below the sea level), and receives an almost non-existent (100 to 200mm) rainfall throughout the year — adds to the distinct character of the region. The brutal landscape and the scorching sun create an inhospitable abode; it is even tough to breathe here as the moisture from your eyes, mouth and ear is sucked away by the dryness lingering in the air.
Despite all that, there are people who live here and call it home. If you have ever wished of being able to witness the evolution at work, Danakil Desert is where you need to be. As you are always struggling to carry out even the most basic functions of the human body like breathing, the Afar people lead a seemingly effortless life. It seems as if they have developed some sort of an invisible immunity shield that protects them from all the ruthlessness that flows around. Their bodies have adapted, and that is one of the most evident sights of evolution at work.
The Afar people lead a simple, nomadic life as they carry their cattle (camels, donkeys and goats) and mobile wooden huts with them. It is the salt in the region that takes care of the economics for Afar people. Generations here have practised just the one trade — the salt trade. Men around here extract the salt from land (using hand axe), cut slabs out of it and take it for sale on the donkey and camelbacks. The journey takes around a week and these camels and donkeys are the only companions.
A river named Awash also flows through the region, and probably it is the only river on the planet that never meets an ocean. The ruthless sun and heat suck it midway and what remains works as a source of life for the Afar people and their cattle. The river is surrounded by a narrow fertile belt and brings both water and the valuable salts with it.
In order to reach and explore the low-lying desert, it will require you to take a drive down from the Ethiopian highlands and go through the unfriendly and demanding roads from a town called Mekele. The place makes sure to test you from the word go, and if you don’t quit, there’s a whole lot to explore that will make for a truly unforgettable experience.
Despite all the harshness and extremism that the Danakil Desert is still an emerging tourist destination. Ethio Danakil Tours appear as one of the trusted hands in taking you safe and sound through the desert.