north of addisA half day drive from Addis offers something for everyone.

Photographers, hikers, historians, geologists, naturalists and business people can be sure of finding something of interest near at hand.

Five main roads branch out from the capital to different parts of the country each leading to interesting but different attractions to the visitor.

1. The road to the north
This route the historic route, claims the marvelous heritages of northern Ethiopia. Two roads branch out from Addis Ababa and direct northwards-one heading to Bahirdar and another one to Dessie. The road to Bahirdar passes through the beautiful flat land of Shewa.

At 103 km from Addis, there is a church and monastery called Debre Libanos. It was established by a 13 century Ethiopian saint, Abuna Tekle Haimanot. Near the monastery an imposing new church was built and from the mountain walls above it a number of springs bubble out.

The springs are believed to have miraculous curative properties. Therefore people come from all parts of the country to bath in them. After returning to the main road and driving on a rocky track on the opposite side there is a 16th century bridge.

The bridge was said to be built by a Portuguese engineer. The ‘Portuguese bridge’, as it is called, is still in use by the local people. The drive forward on the main road brings the Blue Nile gorges to site.

The scenery is truly stunning and overwhelming. It offers an experience to be cherished in a lifetime. At the bottom the modern bridge spans over the mighty Blue Nile River.

The road to Dessie is also endowed with beautiful geographical scenery and some significant historic places. On departure, the visitor may be interested in an abandoned rock hewn church called Washa Michael.

It is found on Entoto mountain range and only some distance away behind the British embassy.  Washa Michael (Michael of the cave) as known to the Ethiopians was once harbored the ‘tabot’ (Ark) which is now placed in Yeka Michael Church.

Some 145km on this road, lies Ankober, which can be reached after an arduous climb to the top of the hill on  the left. This commending height brings the rift valley and Hararge Mountains to the site. A further reward is the view of the troop of gelada baboons (endemic to Ethiopia) which are sporting on the cliff edges.

2. Road to the west
A breathtaking scenery, the Wonchi crater lake is 32km lying between Ambo and Woliso. The lake covers an area of 560 hectares and the scenic beauty and alpine nature of the surrounding area make the visit worthwhile.

The highest peak around the lake is 2900m high and dramatic, beautiful scenery of islands and secluded peninsulas can be viewed from it. The green surrounding area, the crystal clear water, colorful aquatic birds, colubus monkeys and a small monastery in the middle of the island add to this fascinating view.

The hot spring that gushes out near the foot of the hill is called Welli Elaltu Spa. It is known for its curative effects and it is frequented by people suffering from diseases such as rheumatism, skin disease and back pain.

Wonchi is reputed to have been visited by several important dignitaries. The small monastery on the island, St. Kirkos Church, is said to have been built on the order of Emperor Zara Yakob in the 15th Century.

Later on Emperor Fasiledas of Gonder arrived and donated a bell, complete with a Geez inscription.  Visitors to Wonchi can also enjoy sun bathing, swimming, hiking, boat rides and water skiing.

3. The road to the south west
About 60km from Addis lies a rock hewn church of Adadi Mariam (St. Mary of Adadi). The church lies in the ground with steps descending to the main entrances. There are ten gates and fourteen small windows to let the sunlight in.

A trench around the church provides drainage. Adadi Mariam differs from the Lalibea rock churches in two main ways, it is round in shape and is unfinished probably because the rock from which it is carved is too soft.

Another attraction on the main road is the town of Tiya, some80km from the capital. Here there are 36 Stella or Obelisks. Thirty one of these decorated with carvings and the highest is 3.7m.

The history of these stellae is not yet clear. It is thought they were carved sometime between the 12th and 15th century AD and that they were meant for tomb stones. They are registered in the list of World Heritage Sites.

4. To the south and the south east
Along this road are found the vibrant towns of Debrezeit and Nazareth; the weekend resort of Langano, the Awash National Park, the Koka Dam, and four of the seven rift valley lakes; Ziway, Langano, Abyata and Shala.

Debrezeit  is a small town known by the Oromo people as Bishoftu. This attractive town just 50km from Addis is surrounded by 5 crater lakes and beautified by bougainvilllaea and palm trees. Refreshing drinks of papaya, orange, strawberry and grape juice can be bought at the lake side hotels.

The largest of the 5 crater lakes is Hora, on the northern edge of the town. There is a good view of the lake from the hotel and an enthusiastic bird watcher can see many different species of birds including cormorants and storks.

The other lakes are equally beautiful and are all within a 5km radius of Hora, Babogaya, Green, Kuriftu and Bishoftu.

A few kilometers further to the east, there is a beautiful resort called Sodore lies where volcanic mineral springs gush out the surface at the bank of the Awash River and is popular with weekenders because of its warm climate and the therapeutic effects of the springs.

The comfortable green surroundings and the shady trees over the swimming pools are shared by playful velvet monkeys and baboons.

Numerous birds such as African fish eagle, vultures and yellow weavers are found by the river and crocodiles and hippopotamus can often be seen in the water. Some of the nests make amazing sights.

This article will continue on the second part.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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