After leaving the busy cities of Mali, the Bandigara Fall is an excellent place to forget the world for a while and do some nice trekkings. This landscape of cliffs and sandy plateaux (picture 1) is very interesting from many points of view: geological, ethnological, archaeological, naturalistic . . . It is very impressing. There are also some cultivations and women irrigate them with empty (well full of water) pumpkins, still following the traditional techniques . Bandigara Fall is also the land of Dogons, grouped in different villages and settlements.
Happily Dogon people have managed to preserve many of their traditional ways, including their mud brick houses, the shaggy roofed-granaries, the tiny markets under the wooden and straw roofs and some ceremonial dances. Nowadays the best way to visit the Dogon country is walking from one village (picture 1) to another. Along the way you can admire mud mosques, beautiful landscapes and have a rest in the shade of baobabs. Other particular constructions that we found were a pharmacy where each hole is used to contain a different medecine and a Christian church (!) They like a lot the wooden details (and they are very nice!) that decorate their windows, doors, stairs or pillars .
The baobabs and some cultivated fields between the villages complete the painting.
Good panoramas, nice people and, at night, a fabulous 360-degree celestial view
Djenné is situated on the shore of Bani River so you need a ferry to reach it. Djenné is probably the most ancient and most impressive city in all West Africa. Placed on a little hill, it's also known as the "Niger's Venice" (keeping the distances, of course :D) because during rainy season it is all surrounded by the water.
Djenné was founded in the XI th century and has always been a very important commercial point between the sabanah and the desert. You can find there a nice blend of different ethnic groups too. All Djenné is built with mud from the Niger River and it's considered "protected city" and World Heritage by Unesco. All Djenné is very interesting: wandering around it is like going back 50years in time! The main spots are its giant Mosque and the big and colorful market (on Monday!) just in front of the mosque.
Djenné was definitely the jewel of my trip to Mali!
If you walk along the Niger River shore in Segou you never will be bored! It’s like a film of popular traditions and funny street scenes. Apart from the busy port you will be able to see potters and craftsmen, people working on the cultivations and women using the Niger's waters to wash the dishes and the clothes (picture 1). And you won't be alone either because kids as soon as they see a ”tubabu” (white person) will come to you to greet you with their smiles. All of them loved our cameras and were happy to be "models for one day" (picture 2); There was a little boy that went with me during all the walking holding my hand and waiting for me patiently every time I stopped (that means every five minutes :-))) ) to take a picture to hold my hand again; What a cute Cicerone! At the end it was hard to say goodbye to him :-(
Bamako is the capital of Mali and the busiest and richest city in the country. Situated on the shore of Niger River, it was founded in 1650.
If you visit this city you'll find a pleasant blend of colonial buildings and busy African markets. It is the terminal of the train that arrives from Dakar too.
Bamako is full of life! It's nice to visit its markets, the craft center (nice wooden sculptures to buy and lots of souvenirs), the national museum and the "point G", which is the viewpoint of the city. Bamako is interesting for its nightlife and live music too, with lots of pubs and terraces.
For me Mopti’s harbor is one of the main attractions in Mali. I could compare it to Djennée’s market. Mopti’s harbor is the perfect place to understand something about life in Mali. Always very busy, it is also a perfect place to do some people watching. Always crowded with big pinasses that are loaded and unloaded with any kind of stuff (basically food), from here also leave the small pinasses to the Bozo villages. The port has also developed a spontaneous small market around it (some stalls) where you will be able to buy the merchandise only few minutes after arriving. You will also find two-three restaurants offering good fish.
I've visited different markets in Morocco, Tunisia, Peru' . . . the big market of Samarkand, the grand bazaar in Istambul . . . but nothing can be compared to Djenné's Market.
The grand marché of Djenné is a real sight of colors, life and activities! It's a good place to see all the different ethnic groups in Mali as well: Peuls, Bozos, Bambaras, Malinkes, Markas, Rimaïbes . . . ,wearing traditional dresses and speaking different languages, that come to the market from different points of the country to sell, buy and exchange their products. It's too crowded, smells are very strong and the temperature is always high so be careful because it's easy to feel sick . . . The market is situated in front and all around the big Mosque. You can take good pictures of it from the roofs of the houses.
Another interesting market in Mali, this colorful indoor market deserves a short visit when you are in Mopti. It has two floors: the ground floor is the real market where locals buy and sell food and on the second floor there are the jewelry stalls and gift stalls basically for tourists. This time I could not immerse myself into this market, it was too closed and crowded for me so I only took some pictures from the external stairs.
Tellem means for Dogon people “the people that were before”. We are talking about a community of small people (maybe pygmies?), basically hunters that, due to unknown reasons, had to leave this land long time ago. Even if there are a lot of legends about this people their origin is unknown. But you still can see their villages (some of them almost inaccessible) built high on the cliffs. They consist in some tiny cave dwellings, grain stores and some sanctuaries where you still can see some rock paintings. Very interesting.
A thousand-year-old and mythical city. Its name comes from the guardian "Buctú" that watched over the well "Tim" that was situated in that area. The city was built around this well and was named Timbuktu. Founded during the XIII th century and now in decadence, it was the old location of Touareg people. It was an important Islamic center in the middle of the desert too. During its bests times it had 25.000 inhabitants, it was crossed by caravans and people from lots of different places that came there to do business.
In Tumbouctou you will find some interesting places to visit:
-the Ahmed Babá center, where some experts classify and restore manuscripts in Arabic from the XIV th and XV th centuries
-the old university
-the museum and the market
-the house of the first European explorer, Major Laing
Personally I found Tumbouctou very disappointing. It is a mythical city and so on but buildings are bad kept and locals ask for money for anything. I found more interesting cities like Djennéee or Mopti than Tumbouctou itself. Touaregs are very persistent, they want to sell you their gifts at any cost (even if you don’t show any interest to them) and sometimes they are aggressive as well. But visiting Mali without going to Tumbouctou . . .
From Mopti you have to ways to go to Tombouctou:
-by pinasse following the Niger River, which takes you three days journey
-by jeep, about 370km of bad road
During the journey by road you will find donkey caravans driven by Mauris. They transport salt from Taoudeni, in the central Sahara, to exchange it in Tombouctou -just like during ancient times- for sugar, tea and other basic goods. Finally you will arrive to Kourioume port where you'll take a ferry to get Tombouctou, also known as "The Pearl of the Desert".
Some advices if you go to Tombouctou by car:
-You will have a 6-7hours journey. There are no signs and maps seem useless there so be prepared for a real adventure ;-)
-The road is very bad (the last 200km are only sand), it's easy to have a breakdown and you won't find too many cars on your way so please if you find people with problems with their car be helpful!
-Don't leave Mopti without buying something to eat and drink because you won't find any restaurant during the way to Tumbouctou . . . there is only sand and sand and it's very hot . . .
Mopti is an industrial and tourist city situated in the center of the country, on the shore of Niger River. Maybe it has the busiest river port of the country where hundreds of pinasses (traditional boats made of wood) are loaded and unloaded day and night. This port is a good place to see the Mopti’s everydaylife and to do a little of people watching. Other interesting spots are, of course, its mud mosque (not as impressive as Djenée's mosque) that dominates Mopti’s landscape, the Women’s Market, the Peul suburb called Teikiriy, its Sudanese style buildings and its crafts market. After lunch take a pinasse to visit different bozo villages not far from the city until sunset.
These houses were built for Moroccan merchants, who spent long time in Djennée for business and wanted to feel a little “at home”. We are always talking about the Mali's typical mud architecture but the style is Moroccan (look for example at the windows).
The entrance to the mosque is only allowed to Muslims but if you walk around it early in the morning soon local people will come proposing you to visit it for some euros.
I was very interested in visiting it because its importance so I agreed and followed them to the back entrance..
The main space is a deep forest of columns without any interest. It’s dark without any windows or illumination so it was impossible to take pictures. The mihrab had no interest neither. It was a very disappointing visit but I had to try it!
This is the famous Djenné's Mosque, the jewel of the city. Djenné was founded during the IXth century so it can be considered the most ancient city in West Africa but its famous Mosque exists only since the XIXth century when it was built to replace a similar building built around year1300. This Mosque is built using the traditional Sahel's mud arquitecture but it's very vulnerable to rain and other weather conditions so every year has to be restored.
The restoration is a very important event for the people of Djenné and other villages around. Everybody contributes somehow to the restoration (carrying mud, water, doing the restoration itself . . .). They re-plaster the mosque walls to cover dirt and cracks made by the wind and rain during the rainy season. The wood sticks are used as scaffolds. It must be very impressive to see and it’s a good example of community work. In 2007 the restoration was on 27th December but I don't know if the date is always the same.
You can take good pictures of the mosque from the terraces of the neighbor buildings. You'll have to pay a little sum to climb up to the terraces but it is worth it.
ACI 2000, Hamdallaye, (formerly Radisson SAS), Bamako, 2566, Mali
Good for: Couples
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