After the dervishes, when the sun sets, the place to hang out on a Friday night in Omdurman is Omdurman Park. You won't be too surprised to find out that there's not really much here, but nonetheless it's one of the city's main nightspots. There are lots of people hanging about on the grass, talking and eating, or playing football, and there's also a fairground. There are bumper cars (dodgems), rides and even a rollercoaster. You can even buy candyfloss from the stalls - I wouldn't recommend eating it though! Entry costs (to the best of my memory) 500 pounds.
The dervishes and followers meet at Hamed Al Nil mosque/cemetary every Friday night before sunset. Sufism is a mystical/spiritual side of Islam that many orthodox Sudanese Muslims distrust and in some cases are a bit wary of, but it has many followers in Sudan and there are always large crowds. Arriving at dusk with hundreds of people gathering in a cemetary adds to the spiritual experience and it can all get quite emotionally powerful and intense for the first time visitor.
In a way the dervishes themselves are a bit disappointing. Generally quite old and not too mobile, they don't whirl much but just kind of dance around. Compared to dervishes in places like Turkey these are quite tame. But guys in multicoloured coats whip the crowd into a frenzy, many chanting and swaying themselves into a trance. The first time I went the guy next to me suddenly collapsed into a coma-like state, such was the emotional force of being involved. While the dervishes may be old the energy created by the crowd is incredible and a little scary. It's a not to be missed experience, particularly if you get right in the middle of the crowd.
This is probably Omdurman's most famous 'tourist attraction' but this is not one of those traditional rituals performed purely for the benefit of rich tourists. Sudan has very few tourists and most weeks the people watching the dervishes are all Sudanese. Visitors are welcome but remember this is a serious religious event - start being too intrusive and waving your cameras all over the place and the crowd may not be so welcoming. It is friendly though so feel free to join in - I've been on the front row dancing with the rest of the crowd and had a fantastic time. Just be a bit respectful and it's probably best to go in small groups or ideally with Sudanese.
The Khalifa was the Mahdi's second-in-command and eventual successor. Unlike the Mahdi's tomb, the Khalifa's house is open to all the public and is in fact a museum showing aspects of life in late 19th century Omdurman.
There are plenty of photos, old letters, and the first ever car in Sudan is on exhibition here. There's usually a guide hanging around who speaks some English and can explain things. Wandering around the house and looking at the old water systems and things like that is very interesting.
The Mahdi was the 'saviour' of the Sudanese people at the end of the 19th century and led one of the world's most successful anti-colonial uprisings, against the Anglo-Egyptian forces aiming to control much of the Sudan. Gathering support from Kordofan and the West of Sudan, he united the country and even got the support of the Southern tribes by promising (falsely) to end slavery. Seen by some as a new prophet, he led his army to Khartoum (basing himself in Omdurman) and famously defeated General Gordon, who even more famously had his head chopped off (not by the Mahdi). Several years later the increasingly bloated Mahdi was succeeded by the Khalifa, before Lord Kitchener came up the Nile (slightly too late for Gordon!) to reclaim the city for Britain. Far from being the supposed civilised avengers, Kitchener massacred much of the opoosition in cold blood and desecrated the Mahdi's tomb and body.
His tomb is one of those things that every visitor should make the effort to see but, to be honest, 'seeing it' is pretty much all you can do. The striking silver dome dominates the building and the surrounding skyline and you can wander around the grounds but it's highly unlikely non-Muslims will actually be allowed in. Some claim to have got in but most don't manage it - I guess it depends who's on the gate. You can generally take photos inside the grounds - although ask permission (which may or may not be given). Having never been inside it I can't really comment, but have a look at the outside anyway.
Omdurman used to be a walled city, but nowadays there is precious little evidence of it. All you will see is the main gate, Abdel Guyoum Gate, as you turn away from the Nile on the bus towards Shuhada. There is little to warrant getting off the bus here, but there are a couple of Nileside cafes (expensive) nearby, as well as the remains of Omdurman's fortifications.
On Fridays, take a bus to an area called Hamd en-Nil, and jump off when you reach a big cemetary. A couple of hours before sunset, members of a Sufi order gather together to sing, chant and whirl in the dust wearing colourful patchwork clothes. All the men stand in a huge circle, mostly wearing white jellabiyas, and sway to the chanting which gets faster and faster. In the middle of the circle are the darawish, those who have abandoned the modern way of living and dress in green-coloured rags. As the tempo increases, they begin to whirl, spin, jump, leap, roll...a spectacular sight. It is not uncommon for believers to suddenly become carried away with emotion and break into the circle for a whirl themselves.
Now when I went, there was a largeish group of khawajas taking photos indiscreetly (actually, they got in the way on more than one occasion) and tempers flared slightly...this is not really a tourist attraction, although tourists are tolerated if they stay very much in the background.
Next to the Khalifa's House is the impressive tomb of the Mahdi. I'm not entirely sure if non-muslims are allowed to enter (probably not!), but you can get a good view of the building from outside. It isn't original, as that was destroyed by Lord Kitchener, who threw the Mahdi's ashes in the Nile, but the new building is certainly worth the trek through the heat to see it. !
Just a few minutes walk south of Shuhada Square in Omdurman is the Khalifa's House, which is now a small museum. The low mud-brick building doesn't look much from the outside, but it is surprisingly large inside and contains several interesting exhibits such as the first car in Sudan, the first printing press in Sudan, and the life history of the Mahid, including a few pictures of his death. You will soon attract the attention of the English-speaking guide, who is very knowledgeable about all Sudanese history, pointing out letters sent by General Gordon, and the Mahdi's enormous food bowl. Entry is just 1000 pounds/100 dinars, and the museum is open in the mornings until 12am most days.
Opposite Khartoum on the other bank of the White Nile lies Omdurman, which is much more interesting than Khartoum. The buildings are older, the streets seem livelier, and there are also some amazing souqs (markets). The main one is the Omdurman Souq which sells almost everything possible. Comparing it to the suqs of Sana'a or Damascus is not really fair...this is no Souk al-Hamidiyeh, or Suq al-Milh, but it is a genuine market area for local people, not tourists....so it is certainly worth a wander round. It isn't that huge, but you will get at least partly lost, so it is lucky that there are plenty places to find a drink in the heat!