Sights in Kassala

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Kassala souq is one of the liveliest and most colourful in Sudan, attracting people from all over the surrounding region. Aside from the many stalls selling locally grown fruit and freshly made juices, and of course clothes, local crafts can also be found, including silver jewellery and Beja swords.  At the top end of the souq is the women's market (Souq an-Niswaan), which is the place to buy clay jebbanas (coffee pots) and other coffee-making equipment. Nearby, the Rashaida tribe have their own small market selling their distinctive clothes.

Khatmiya is the oldest part of Kassala, picturesquely located at the foot of the mountains. Visitors can enter the roofless mosque, and may also be invited to enter the tomb of Sayyid Hassan. Locals will tell you that the mosque and tomb were either damaged in a rockfall or were bombed by the British, but because of Sayyid Hassan's holy powers, rain never falls through the hole in the roof. Nearby is a Sufi tariqa belonging to the Burhaniya group, where followers gather on Fridays towards sunset to chant to accompanying drums.

Above Khatmiya, on the lower slopes of Jebel Totil, are several cafes built into the rocks, which are renowned for serving the famous Kassala coffee, spiced with ginger and cinnamon, served in a clay jebbana with incense and popcorn. These cafes are especially popular on Thursday and Friday evenings, and it is not unusual to see wedding parties. Behind the cafes, drink from the well of Totil and locals say you will return to Kassala one day. As the sun sets, the monkeys living in the mountains descend to hunt for food and generally cause havoc.

To reach the top of the mountains, climbers may need ropes and a local guide, but it is possible to reach halfway by scrambling up the rocks behind the cafes. Great views can be had of the city and also behind the mountains looking towards the refugee camp at Wad Sherifei and the mountains of Eritrea.

Running through the city is the Gash River, which for most of the year is a wide expanse of sand. As the sun gets cooler, it becomes a popular place for games of football and karate practice. In the rainy season, the banks of the river are packed with locals who come to eat nuts and watch kids jump off the bridge into the fast running water.

The other side of the river is mainly residential, but an interesting place to walk. Gharb el-Gash, the area past the university, is a predominantly Hausa quarter with a lively food market during the day, and stalls selling Hausa specialities like agashe in the evening. Nearby is the railway quarter called Sikka Hadeed. Trains no longer operate to Kassala, but the grand station building is still there, as are all the British-built brick houses and round huts for railway workers. 

August 25, 2006 new by maykal (4 points)

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