Bahirdar cityBahirdar has recently been voted one among three promising cities in Africa; a good news for its residents and for the whole nation.

The city is as pleasant as you’ll find for relaxing and viewing Lake Tana and the weather is probably the best in Ethiopia.

Mango Park by the Dashen roundabout is the best place do view pelicans and have a juice in the afternoon and serves decent cheap fasting food.

For farenji (western) food there are some good new places in the town.

The friendship cafe and Obama’s opposite Dashen bank both have first floor balconies and decent meat.

They are also becoming increasingly popular with locals. Rendezvous (head south to the Papyrus hotel and turn left for 100 yards) serves the best pizza in town.

Bahirdar, an Amharic word meaning shore seems to derive its name from Lake Tana. A serene province of water and source of the Blue Nile.

There are some thirty seven islands are situated on the lake. And on the islands there are pastures on which farmers labor using agricultural methods dating from the earliest times.

In the island monasteries, orthodox monks pray, meditate, study; and stand guard over great treasures of historical and religious artifacts.

Many of Ethiopian monarchs came here on the pilgrimages or to be buried. Their crosses, crowns and old manuscripts can be seen by visitors today.

Islands and Churches
There are thirty seven of them scattered on the Lake and some twenty of them shelter churches and monasteries that  Lake Tana Islands  offer immense historical and cultural interest for a visitor.

Most of them have beautiful mural paintings, kings crosses, house crowns and clothes of former kings.

An interesting way to get to these islands would be tankwas or reed boats. However a power ferry is better for time saving and safety than the tankwas.

The islands are most conveniently reached by boat from Bahirdar on the southern side of the Lake though boats can also be obtained at Gorgora on the northern shore.

Among the many interesting and historic locations on or around the lake some are on the islands of Birgida Maryam, Dega Estifanos, Dek, Narga, Tana Cherkos, Mitsele Fasiledes, Kebran, and Debre Maryam, as well as the Gorgora, Mandaba.

All have fine churches. Though founded much earlier, most of the actual buildings date from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth centuries.

Access to the churches is for the most part closed to women. They are allowed to land on the banks of the islands but not permitted to proceed any further.

The clergy sometimes agree to bring some of their treasures to the water’s edge for women visitors to inspect. Women are, however, permitted to visit churches on the Zege peninsula, the near by church of Ura Kidane Mehret, and Narga Sellasie.

Zege and Ura Kidane Mihret
Zege is the main tourist attraction in the region, and the monasteries merit a good half day at least – boats can be arranged privately or with any hotel.

Ura Kidane Mihret is the largest and most impressive monastery on the peninsula, while nearby Azwa Maryam is situated near one of the prettiest and most secluded inlets in the area.

Located on the Zeghe peninsula, the monastery is an integral part of the local community with the added advantage that women are allowed inside.

Some travellers find the amount of attention from children irritating, but the local guides are friendly.

They genuinely appreciate the chance to show their home to visitors; don’t underestimate the importance of the tourism industry for the local industry.

This is one place where you can be sure that money you spend – on guides or souvenirs – will be of direct benefit to local residents.

If you feel like traveling a little further field, the two monasteries at Mehal Zege have some really interesting restoration and the local village is truly gorgeous.

It’s worth taking the walk between monasteries, rather than only hopping around in a boat, as it’s one of the few indigenous coffee forests in Northern Ethiopia.

As well as giving some insight into a way of life you won’t see anywhere else the people of Zege are quite proud of their uniqueness.

The forest paths are straight-out gorgeous, and you’re more than likely to see vervet monkeys and hornbills on the way.

There’s calmness to the place, and if you stop in at the museums at Azwa, Ura or Mehal Zege, you get an impression of just how far back Christianity goes in this region.

Kebran Gabriel and Dega Estefanos
Kebran Gabriel the nearest monastery to Bahirdar and it is a very attractive and important tourist attraction in the area.

Established in the fourteen century and rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Iyasu I (1682-1706), it is an unassuming but nevertheless impressive building with a distinct cathedral atmosphere.

The church design dates from the same time as that of the Kebran Gabriel church, but it is a more decorative building, with colorful frescoes depicting biblical scenes from biblical lore and the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Another great attraction is Dega Estefanos, which is also closed to women. Although farther away from Bahirdar it is well worth visiting. A steep trek up a winding path leading towards the monastery on the summit.

Some 90 meters (300feet) above lake’s surface are low, round, thatched-roof buildings that house the monks.

Also nearby an arch set into a high stone wall leads to a grassy clearing.

At the center of which stands the church of St Stephanos, a relatively new building erected about a century ago after the original structure had burned down in a grass fire.

The real historic interest in Dega Estefanos, however, lies in its treasury. Here, together with numerous piles of brightly colored ceremonial robes, are coffins containing the mummified remains of several former emperors.

Few among those emperors are Yekuno Amlak, who restored the Solomonic dynasty in 1270; Dawit, late fourteenth century; ZaraYakob, fifteenth century; Za Dengel, early seventeenth century.

I like Bahirdar very much and I always have great time there.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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