ethiopia north highland A ride to Ethiopian northern highlands gives the visitor a fantastic opportunity to admire the scenic beauty of the country, endemic wildlife, centuries old history, interesting people and cultures. Let’s begin from the closest one, Washa Michael.

Washa Michael
Addis Ababa is surrounded by hills in which ancient dwellings and places of worship are continually being discovered. Either natural caves or buildings hewn from the rock, these remnants of bygone civilizations, offer a challenge to the explorer.

Washa Mikael rock church is located on the hill rising behind the British Embassy. It is carved from rock as well the Lalibela churches, and was used during the Italian occupation to harbor the tabot of St. Michael which was later returned to the new church of St. Michael on the Dessie road.

A low tunnel leads into the courtyard and you can then see the still-standing double entrance gate. Although the ceiling has long since fallen in, the remains of windows and other architectural details are discernable.

It is possible to approach fairly close to the church in a four wheel drive vehicle up the track between the British embassy and new St. Michael’s. But riding or walking is often preferable allow two or three hours for the trip to give yourself time to enjoy the marvelous views over the city and countryside.

Leaving the city by the Dessie road, one of the first places of interest is the dam on the Legedadi River, supplying Addis Ababa with most of its water. Turning to the right at 20 km. out of town, a long gravel road runs down to the lake created by the damming of the river. Already, since 1970 when construction   was completed, myriads of water birds have made the lake their home.

After Legedadi the main road continues to Debre Birhan. There are many picturesque spots for picnicking along the way as the road gets nearer to the edge of the escarpment. At about 50 km., just past sendaffa, the deep gorge of the Kesem river is visible to right and can be reached by a track suitable for most cars during the dry season.

market debrebirhanDebre Birhan
The town is the centre of a rich sheep breeding area where the animals are raised both for their meat and for their wool. The modern wollen goods factory in Debre Birhan is  on the right of the road at the beginning of the town.

Here are woven the thick blankets for the Addis Ababa market. Traditional wollen goods are also in abundance, little woolly hats on the shepherd boys and the famous black, white and brown Debre Birhan carpets in traditional designs of lions and birds.

Market day is on Saturday. Hotel accommodation is adequate for an overnight stay in route to Debre Sina or Ankober.

Although modern comforts are not available, passable food and a clean bed can be expected. As the town is only one and a half hour’s drive (130km.) many people prefer to forgo an overnight stop.

The turning is to the right just at the far end of Debre Birhan. The road reaches the edge of the escarpment through a terraced landscape of fields with small villages dotted about.

At about twelve kilometres after the turnoff, it is worth stopping and climbing to the top of the rise on the left. This is the edge of the escarpment from which one looks down over the great rift valley across the desert to Awash and beyond to the mountains of Haragrge.

Montane flora of great beauty and variety and troops of gelada baboons sporting on the cliff edges makes this one of the more lovely walks.

Ankober, is founded by sahle sillassie and was Menilik’s capital before he moved to Entoto at the beginning of the nineteenth century. On a small conical hill are the remains of Menilik’s palace and at its foot tow churches both containing interesting murals.

Tarmaber Pass
As you climb towards the pass, there is an interesting side trip along the edge of the escarpment.  Look out for a turning on the right gelada baboons ethiopiawhich leads up and over one of the tunnels on the main road and thence along the edge overlooking what must be some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

The road continues to Guassa and Mehal Meda but there is no need for the casual visitor to go that far. Even on the main road the views from the various vantage points are awe-inspiring.

Here also live large troops of gelada baboons endemic to Ethiopia with the dramatic lions mane of the adult males blowing in the wind.

The air is chilly so a wind breaker is recommended. You can buy a woolen hat with a baboon hair tassel from the local shepherded boys. After passing through a series of tunnels, the road emerges on the far side of the pass and begins its descent to the market town of Debre Sina.

Robit Valley
As the road descends through Debre Sina, a market town of comparatively little interest except for its dazzling setting. The weather becomes rapidly warmer until 4000ft. below the pass and 30km. further on, you are passing through semi-desert scrub with euphorbia and acacia trees the main vegetation.

Here the altitude is only 1,538mt and irrigation and cultivation of citrus, coffee and other crops is extensive.

The little town of Robit boasts a reasonable hotel and a mission station. Every town of in Ethiopia has its market day whereas Robit’s is on Tuesdays. The people come from as far away as fifty kilometers to sell painted hides, honey, sandals, and agricultural produce of various kinds.

The leather clothed karayu people with elaborate hairstyles, with their cattle, sheep and goats, and leather and basketwork containers are picturesque.

It is polite to ask before you photograph in order to avoid offense. Although this market does not really compare with the famous Monday market at Bati, where highlanders and desert people meet to exchange and barter their goods, it provides something of the some atmosphere a little closer to home.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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