The River Atbara is the last tributary to feed into the Nile. It is seasonal in that the volume increases from June until the end of September. Four times each decade there will be a high flood which causes devastation.
It is pleasant to sit beside the river, even to watch the ferry crossing. This tranquil scene has a darker side, though.
In the 1960s when the Aswan High Dam was being built, the inhabitants of Wadi Halfa, close to the Egyptian border, were re-settled at Khashm el Girba. This area was completely different to the ir homeland , and many problems were faced. However, they settled in eventually growing crops ,and the dam at Khashm el Girba was part of the scheme to help them. The Atbara river , however, deposits so much silt that the dam is working at less than half its potential.
An interesting walk can be made around the old railway district. You can look round the old and crumbling station, and witness the chaos that a Sudanese train journey entails. There's also some unusual houses where railway workers used to live, little cottages with domed roofs, and a small church - a testament to colonial days. And there was no shortage of old men drinking coffee and desperate to tell me about the 'old days' when the trains used to run on time!
When people talk about the river in Sudan they invariably mean the Nile - no wonder, given its tremendous size and importance. But the Atbara river is significant in its own right and, snaking off towards Ethiopia through Eastern Sudan, surprisingly large.
As with the Nile itself, there isn't really much to see - lots of water and some fairly dull, dusty mud banks. But at certain points the river becomes quite a social event, with groups of locals gathering for a swim and a picnic. Catch a ferry to the other side from one of the ferry terminals - there's nothing much there and it's a short journey, but the ferries are a great experience.
Just take a walk around the Sikka Hadeed area (the railway quarter, which makes up most of the town), to see the strange architecture. there are no specific sights to see, but domed houses in rows next to British-built churches, mud-brick mosques and palm trees is fairly unusual for Sudan.
Atbara in the dry season has wide beaches alongside the Nile where locals come to play football and sit with friends in the late afternoon.