3.1. My 1972 travel through the Sahara and to the Tassili n’Ajjer Plateau

In January 1972, I joined a group of people with similar interests in Sahara travel through Minitrek. This organization made available to us two skilled desert drivers and two Land Rover four-wheel drive vehicles especially reinforced, still required in 1972 for travel on the Sahara tracks. We started our trip in Algiers, which trip would cover about
4500 km by car through the Sahara and about 100 km trekking on foot on the Tassili plateau visiting the prehistoric rock paintings.

In 1972, the road from Algiers to Ghardaia, some 600 km south of Algiers was already paved. The trip from Ghardaia to Tamanrassat and from there to Djanet and back to Ghardadia was on unpaved tracks through the Sahara. Sometimes the track was on flat and hard terrain, allowing speeds of up to 80 km per hour, while at other times the track was very rugged with many rocks, climbing or descending steep rocky hills. Other parts of the track lead through very soft sand dunes and speed was reduced to 10-15 km per hour, whereby the vehicles frequently got stuck in the sand and had to be dug out, using metal sand ladders. In spite of the very poor condition of the tracks, the heavy load of the vehicles: six passengers, luggage, equipment, food, and ten 20 liter jerry cans with water and petrol for each vehicle, no major repairs were needed during our trip, apart from changing occasionally sets of springs on both vehicles. At night we slept in our sleeping bags in the open air, enjoying the beautiful clear sky and watching many stars which one never sees in town. The food was simple but adequate: cvsalg060-066. We enjoyed the fantastic desert landscapes through which we traveled. As my images show, the Sahara landscape has many fascinating features: impressive rock formations, impressive mountain ranges, sand dunes and huge flat areas. There is a wide variety of colors ranging from the dark purple color of some rock formations to the vivid orange colored sand dunes: cvsalg077-109

Our travel route
The first stop of our trip was in Ghardaia, a colorful oasis town about 600 kilometers due south of Algers in the Mzab Valley. Ghardaia is the capital of the Mozabites region. It has a very colorful market. The lightskinned Mozabites, are a very orthodox Muslim sect, known as the puritans of the desert. The city was founded in the 11th century by the Kharijites, a special Muslim sect, which fled from the north coast of Algeria to avoid persecution from main stream Muslim sects. The Mozabites dug over    4000 wells in the Mzab Valley, created date palm oases and built five towns which are united in a confideration. Ghardaia was built round a cave inhabited by the female Saint Daia, hence the name Ghar Daia or cave of Daia.  The present population of the Mozabites area is estimated at 100 000: cvsalg028-036

The next stop after Ghardaia was the oasis of El Golea, where we visited a foggara, a system of partly underground canals in a depression. Water is lead through these canals to irrigation basins in which vegetables, fodder and tomatoes are grown. Tree crops of this farming system include date palms, almonds and peaches.cvsals041-054 After El Golea we next stopped in In Salah, a similar oasis as El Golea.
Some 150 kilometers south of In Salah we visited the guelta Tiguelguemine.
cvsalg069.  A guelta is a low laying depression from where water is permanently submerging to the surface. Surprisingly even in the middle of the Sahara one find these gueltas.
After Tiguelquemine we passed Arak gorge, a small oasis located in a very impressive gorge with massive rocks resembling huge castles: cvsalg070-073.  We also visited former French foreign legion forts Mirabel: cvsalg 055-056. Polignac and Gardel.
The following stop was Tamanrasset, the capital of the Tuareg tribes, while Berbers are the other main group of inhabitants. The town is located in the Hoggar Mountains, at 1400 m elevation and 2000 km south of Algers: cvsalg077. It is the main trade centre for the central Sahara and produces citrus, peach, apricot, dates, almonds, figs, cereals and maize in its irrigated fields. Camels and goats are the main livestock, while donkeys are used to carry goods.
After visiting Tamanrasset we continued our travel through the Hoggar, a mountainous plateau in southern Algeria. The highest peak, Tahat Mountain, is at 3003 meters elevation. The landscape is rocky and arid with only occasional vegetation, at those locations, where some seasonal rivers cut through the landscape. Our first stop on the Hoggar plateau was at the refuge of Pére Foucauld, a French hermit and student of the Tuaregs, who was killed in 1916 by a Tuareg. The refuge is located at an elevation of 2200 m at the foot of the impressive landscape around mount Assekrem with an elevation of 2700 m: cvsalg074-076  
After Assekrem we crossed the Hoggar mountain plateau via Ideles- Herlafak and Fort Flatterscvsalg099. The Hoggar plateau landscape is characterized by fantastic rock formations interspersed by very huge empty stretches of desert: cvsalg077-098. Yet within all this emptiness one day we met a fully loaded truck with passengers and goods traveling from Libya to Niger: cvsalg096. After crossing the Hoggar plateau we arrived in Djanet: cvsalg101-103. Djanet is an oases town south west of the Tassili plateau, inhabited by the Kel Ajjer Tuaregs and is the base from where trips to the Tassili n’Ajjer area usually start.Map:tas002

Trekking on the Tassili plateau
Starting from Djanet, we made a five day walking trip on the Tassili plateau to study the rock paintings created by the prehistoric pastoralists. Our guide was Sermi, a Tuareg: cvsalg155. With him we climbed the plateau via the three passes from Akba Tafilet: cvsalg 110-117 and stayed the first night in Tamrit, while our camping gear and luggage was carried up on donkeys: cvsalg121-133. After visiting the rock paintings in Tamrit we saw the rock paintings in Tin Aboteka, Tin Tazarift and Tin Itinen on our way to Sefar where we stayed the night. The next day we used the entire day to study the many beautiful paintings in Sefar:cvsalg138-142
The day after this we walked from Sefar to Jabbaren which also has a large collection of wonderful paintings. We stayed the night in Jabbaran and returned the next day from Jabbaran via Akba Aroum to Djanet where our vehicles were parked, after a walk of about a 100 kilometer.
The landscape was very beautiful: cvsalg134-152 with very rugged rock formations and deep caves in which we found the rock paintings. Map: tas003

A special note on Jabbaran:
The Jabbaran area, with contains one of the largest collections of rock paintings of the Tassili area, has the form of a large town square closed off with rock walls in which the caves are located. They were probably used as dwellings in prehistoric times. The Jabbaran “town square” measured some 600 by 600 meters. In Jabbaren we visited a large collection of beautiful rock paintings. Many pieces of pottery, grinding stones, arrow piles and other stone tools were found in these caves. The C14 radio- carbon dating analyses, of the campfire remains, indicates that this area was inhabited between 4000 BC and 2000 BC.  See map of the Tamrit- Sefar- Jabbaren area: tas003

Continuation of our travel by car through the Sahara
After our visit to the Tassili plateau we traveled north to return to Algiers. Our first stop was the Iherir oasis. This oasis is located in a magnificent landscape bordered by an impressive massive rock wall. Nearby Iherir flows the Wadi Iherir, the only river in the center of the Sahara. Iherirs’ inhabitants own livestock and grow vegetables. They were hospitable people, who offered us tea: cvsalg160-171.  
We concluded our trip by crossing the Grand Erg Oriental, one of the Sahara’s largest sand dunes areas: cvsalg104-109. and returned via Fort Flatters, Quargla and Ghardaia to Algers for the flight back to Europe.    

The main route taken by Charles and his friends in early 1972
By car:
-Algiers- Ghardaia paved road – 600 km
-Ghardaia – Tamanrassat: 1400 km unpaved desert track
-Ghardaia –El Golea
-El Golea -Fort Miribel- In Salah- Guelta Tiquelquemenia
-In Salah- Gorge Arak- Tamanrassat
-Tamanrassat-Assekrem- Refuge Ermitage du Pere de Foucault-
-Hoggar Plateau-Ideles- Herlafak-
-Herlafak- Fort Gardel – Djanet
On foot: at the Tassili plateau to visit the rock paintings: 100 kms  
-Djanet- Tassili N Ajjer plateau
-Akba Tafilalet- Tamrit
-Tamrit- Tan Zoumaitek- Tin Tazarift- Tin Aboteka-Tan Itinen
-Tin Aboteka -Sefar
-Sefar- Jabbaran
-Jabbaran - Tamrit
-Tamrit- Djanet
By car:
Djanet – Iherir
Iherir – Tiguentourine- In Amenas-Grand erg Oriental  
Hassi Messaoud-Quargla -Ghardaia- Algiers