On the afternoon of my 28th birthday I decided to take a little road trip from Bahir Dar to Gondar the historic city to the North of Bahir Dar.
Much to my surprise, Gondar was nothing like what I had imagined. Chaotic streets, crowded shops, plentiful of restaurants and debunked the image that I had painted of a laid back city, something more like Bahir Dar.
Gondar (also spelt as Gonder) is the fourth largest city in Ethiopia, people often stop by for a night or two to take a tour of the renowned Fasilides Castle and other historic buildings before heading to Debark for Simien Tours.
As my four hours of nerve shattering journey from Bahir Dar came to an end, I decided to look for a place to stay by getting a first hand impression than browsing through other’s reviews. I walked with my backpack lugged through my shoulders towards the center of the city, Meskel Square where the Fasilides Castle is located.
There are just a handful of hotels like Central Gondar where you can find WIFI connectivity.
I checked in to one of the local backpackers what Ethiopians refer to as penision. Though, most rooms have shared toilets and shower, it seemed like an ideal place to spend my 2 nights in the city for 50 ETB per night.
I started my day with a visit to the Felasha Village. Felasha Village locally called as Wolleka, is a home to Beit Israel the jewish tribe in Ethiopia. Five kilometers from the center of Gondar City a one way ride on a bajaj (tuk-tuk) costed 25ETB. Once the home to a thriving Jewish population their numbers started deteriorating since 1980s and are none today. My first stop out of the three major points of interest was at the pottery for which Felashas were once famous for. Project Ploughshare Women’s Crafts Training Center is helping the disadvantaged women to rekindle this art to support there needs. There are various outlets from pottery to silk weaving to arts and articrafts. The embassy of Japan and United States have shown there support by donating a couple of machines to enhance the work.
Just across the street sits the charming village of Felashas where the houses made of muds and grass have an interesting artwork on their fronts and the small synagogue. The villagers charge a 10ETB to walk you through their houses.
A little off the village across a dried river bed, is the third point of interest,the ancient Jewish cemetry which is no longer active.
My next stop was the renowned Fasilides Castle. Built in 1640 as the home of King Fasilides for which the city is known for. There is an entrance fess of 200 ETB and though not mandatory its recommended to walk through the castle with a guide which would cost another 200 ETB.
The ticket to castle includes entrance to Fasilides bath. Once served as the bath for King Fasilides. Today it is used as a baptismal during Timket (is the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. It is celebrated on the 19th of January every year.
I saved my second and the last day in the city to get to my last stop in Gondar was the Debre Birhan Selassie Church which was a short walk from the center of Gondar city through the cobble stoned streets of the shanty neighbourhood. I was quite intimidated with the place initially , but it was totally safe and villagers did their best to guide me to the church with their broken English and my few words of Amharic.
Debre Birhan Selassie Church was built in the end of the 17th century. There are twelve towers guarding this church, each representing one of the twelve apostles.The ceiling of the church is painted with Angels while the walls have several religious images. There is an 100 ETB fees charged to visit the ancient church.
Gondar is certainly not a place to be missed while traveling in Ethiopia, as the city sat prominently as the rich and powerful capital of Ethiopia from 1636 to the 18th Century.