Enormous caravan trains once traversed the Sahara Desert that extends for nine million square kilometres and is the largest desert in the world. Just a few kilometres beyond Sudan's metropolis of Khartoum in Omdurman is the splendid burial place of the famous 19th century Islamic leader, Al Mahdi, one of the most important exponents of Sufism. It was also Al Mahdi who invaded Khartoum, a city founded by the Egyptians that was later ruled by the British. In the 19th century the infamous warriors of the Hadendoa people were also the courageous soldiers of Al-Mahdi's army. Today they live in the environs of the Red Sea Mountains where the camel is the only means of transport. Those travelling across the Sahara have always had to cope with the savage climate of the desert and in ancient times, as well as today, the overwhelming heat saps the strength of both man and beast as the daytime temperature can reach a scorching fifty five degrees Celsius. At the foot of the mountain range that we must cross in order to travel deep into the homeland of the Hadendoa we meet a group of wood gatherers. In addition to the trading of camels and goats, the gathering and selling of wood is one of the main sources of income for this unique nomadic people. Without a sound several mounted Hadendoa warriors have approached us. The atmosphere is anything but relaxed and our uncertainty seems to please the warriors who, mounted on camels, are truly menacing. In the past the British army also experienced the wrath of these people. The looks on the faces of the Hadendoa further increases the tension. Finally, after what seems like several minutes, we tentatively step forward. In broken Arabic we try to explain to the warriors that we have journeyed far to meet them. Our initial scepticism is replaced by a long and amicable handshake with their leader that sets our fears to rest. Surrounded by the desert and the Red Sea Mountains and cut off from most of the influences of modern civilization, the legendary Hadendoa Tribe has somehow managed to maintain its unique cultural identity and freedom.
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