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[Video] Sudan's forgotten pyramids

By Jenni Marsh | CNN

What if there was a place where you could camp beside ancient pyramids from a forgotten civilization without another tourist in sight?

What if that place was Sudan?

Besmirched in modern history by two rounds of civil war, and a battle for independence in what is now South Sudan, the east African country has never had the same tourist footfall as its neighbors Kenya, Egypt or Ethiopia.

But while the south-west of the country is still mired in conflict, the Nile Valley area is largely peaceful.

One British tour operator this year started organizing Sudan trips: Dylan Harris, from Wigan, England, founded Lupine Travel in 2007, with the aim of running safe tours to unusual destinations, including Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

CNN talks to Dubai-based Scot Michael Lawson who recently traveled to Sudan for six days with Harris.

What's the travel scene like in Sudan?

You don't see tourists anywhere. You'll see the seldom NGO aid worker on their long weekend, a few businessmen, but it's not like going to Egypt where you get bused in and bused out and people are trying to sell you things. No one tried to sell us anything.

They don't seem to have the concept of tourism. The government doesn't want tourists, really. But actually Sudan is full of hidden treasures. For example, one day we were at the Temple of Amun, a 12th century UNESCO heritage site. We went inside and a team of local and Italian researchers were doing excavation works there.

There's so much left to be found and that's what really strikes you in Sudan.

Your first stop was Khartoum. What did you do there?

Well, I went for high tea at the Gaddafi hotel (nicknamed Gaddafi's Egg, for its unusual shape). It's a five-star hotel where the Blue Nile meets the White Nile, right on the confluence. The Gadaffi hotel was built with his money back in the day (the Libyan government spent more than 80 million euros on the project in the 2000s). Today, it's called the Corinthia Hotel.

Khartoum, in general, has this feeling of a city on the up. Obviously, you've got sanctions in place from the United States, which stunts growth. But it's vibrant. Like any Arab city, its heart is the souk, a winding market where you can buy everything from a wheelbarrow to carrots.

So what about these pyramids?

It takes about an hour to drive out of Khartoum. Then you all of a sudden you take a turn off the main road and go onto sandy flat plains. You see guys in the desert walking their goats, local villagers, mud brick houses. Everyone wants to wave to you and say hello. I took pens and gave them to the kids. They really enjoyed that.

Then you drive in your jeep between temple complexes, pyramids, ancient cities.

I kept wondering: "Why build temples in the middle of the desert? You'd build them close to water?" But it's because of the change in climate and the desertification -- a temple complex built right on the water 300 years ago is 5km from the Nile today.

You can really explore, you can go right inside the pyramids. They're much smaller then the ones in Egypt. There aren't queues everywhere and it's in the middle of nowhere. That's what is quite exciting about it. The pyramid cemetery at Meroe is the largest, they're all black pyramids, dozens of them. We camped there.

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