Located between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer, the
Republic of the Sudan is the largest country in Africa
(tenth largest in the world), covering approximately 2.5 mn
square kilometers from Egypt in the north to Uganda in the
south. It shares over 11,000 km of borders with nine
countries. Positioned in the heart of Africa, it became a
natural zone of interaction between the Hamitic Arabs and
the black Africans. Throughout the centuries, groups of
people and whole tribes crossed freely into the Sudan, where
they culturally blended and intermingled with native
2. This racial intermixture of over 500 tribes
speaking about 115 languages from the Nubians along the Nile
and the nomadic Beja of the east to the Nuba from central
Sudan and the proud Shelluk, Nuer and Dinka from the South
has produced Sudan’s different ethnic groups and unique
cultures (sometimes the country is called a microcosm of
Africa). Although Arabic is the official language, English
is widely spoken in the South and indigenous languages are
well and alive.
The Sudan that straddles various ecological zones, extending
from barren and arid desert regions in the north to tropical
rain forests in the extreme south is a land of delightful
contrast, boasting desert caravans, lush river valleys and
more pyramids than Egypt itself. There is overwhelming
diversity in natural resources, livelihoods and human
Long known for civil war, famine and radical Islam, Sudan is
in reality a much warmer place. Its history is dominated by
the interplay between its northern and southern parts. At
different times the North, with its riverine culture along
the Nile has represented the interests of Pharaonic Egypt,
the indigenous civilization of Kush and the Arab culture of
Islam. The South, with its African heritage, has stood for
the natural wealth of the continent and has provided many of
the resources that allowed the north to prosper. For
centuries this north-south tension has provided the motor
for cultural exchange, trade, exploitation and war.
Discovery of Paleolithic tools is evidence of an Old Stone
Age community in Sudan, probably in the fifth-fourth
millenniums BC. Trade relations, inaugurating the routes
(especially for human cargo) that have sustained Sudanese
commerce for centuries, followed Egyptian incursions around
2,800 BC. The ancient Egyptians first knew Nubia, the land
south of the first Cataract at Aswan as Ta-Seti or “land of
the Bow” due to the fighting prowess of its inhabitants,
they later called it Kush or “the wretched”. Gold and copper
were mined and stone quarried and shipped to the north.
Remains of strategically located forts along the Nile
suggest an elaborate system of defence and communication.
strong Sudanese kingdom (Kush) arose in 750 BC at Napata
(near modern Meroe) and repaid the compliment by conquering
Egypt, feverishly copying Egyptian culture. As the keepers
of the Temple of Amun at Jebel Barkal, the Kushites saw
themselves as the true guardians of Egyptian religion and
tradition. The Romans came around 23 BC but eventually sued
for peace, unable to control the rebellious Kushites. Nero
sent an expedition to trace the source of the Nile; it was
stuck in the Sadd, the vast swamp of papyrus and marshes in
the south. A period of uncertainty led to the arrival of
Christianity in the 6th century. Kush declined, and
Christian monarchs ruled Nubia. The division of Sudan into a
northern kingdom (Muqarra) and a southern one (Alawa)
continues to reverberate today.
Islam came in the 7th century through Egypt, but the Nubians
stopped the Arab armies. The peace treaty or baqt (the
world’s first treaty between states) lasted 600 years with
Nubia offering slaves (often obtained from Darfur) in return
for crops. Trade relations were established and a border
drawn up just south of Aswan. Small pockets of Christian
influence survived until 1500.
Rapid Islamization began with the Turkish Mameluke rulers of
Sudan in the 14th century leading to the emergence of the
Funj Kingdom based in Sinnar (the famous Black Sultans),
during which Shendi became a major commercial centre for
sending slaves to Cairo’s markets. Christian missionaries
entered southern Sudan around 1850. In 1821, the Turkish
Pasha of Egypt Mohammed Ali decided to solve the Sudanese
question, and get slaves, ivory and gold by annexing it.
Thus began the Turquiya (or Turkish-Egyptian) period in
Sudan’s history when its human and natural resources were
plundered to the hilt.
The Sudanese are warm hearted, generous and caring to a
fault. Their politeness and hospitality are legendary.
Foreigners (colloquially referred to as “khwaja”) are
treated with kindness and consideration. The system is laid
back and relaxed. A common joke is Sudan’s philosophy of IBM
(not the Information Technology giant) but Inshallah (God
willing) Bukra (tomorrow) Maalesh (sorry).
Interaction between India and Sudan goes back at least 5,000
years with evidence of trade between the Indus Valley
Civilization and the Nile Valley Civilization. The ancient
Kush kingdom of Sudan, just south of the first Nile cataract
(modern Aswan), reached its apogee some 2,000 years ago. Its
pre-eminent deity Apedemak, associated with war, is depicted
in the famous temples of Naqa (30 km east of the Nile) as a
triple headed god emerging from a lotus. Some archaeologists
confidently claim Indian influence through the ancient Red
Sea port of Adulis!
By 1699, Sennar, the capital of the Black Funj Sultanate,
traded extensively with India through Suakin Port, and many
rich women in the court could be seen wearing silk, silver
rings and ringlets and heavy kohl make up. In the 18th
century, Indian merchants regularly visited the major market
town of Shendi (infamous as the centre of the slave trade)
northeast of Khartoum to buy the leather, gold, wood and
animals (camels and horses) of the south and sell spices,
sandalwood (still hugely popular in Sudan) and medicines.
The pastoral Beja, some 5% of Sudan’s population, are a
Hamitic people, one of Sudan’s oldest groups. Immortalized
for their martial spirit by Rudyard Kipling as the “fuzzy
wuzzies” for their shock of curly hair, the Bejas claim
origin from India. Their language, spoken from the chest
(heart) rather than from the lips, could be related to
India enjoys a special place in the heart of every Sudanese,
reinforced by India’s responsiveness to Sudan’s
developmental needs and of course Indian films. Sudan has
not forgotten India’s contribution to its independence
movement and to the presence of Indian experts and teachers
in the early years of freedom. At the 1955 Bandung
Conference, the delegation from a still not independent
Sudan did not have a flag to mark its place. Taking out his
handkerchief, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote Sudan on it and put it
on a chair, thus reserving a place for Sudan in the
Thousands of Sudanese have studied in India either with
Indian Government funding or as self-financing students.
Many Sudanese merchants made India their second home. Indian
films are hugely popular, and without dubbing or subtitling
dominate local cinema halls. India is everywhere in Sudan
through the ubiquitous Tata buses and Bajaj auto-rickshaws
(and since 2006 Maruti cars), found in all towns and cities.
Indians would feel at home in this beautiful country.
The settled Indian community, some 160 years old, now
numbers close to 1,500 and lives chiefly in Khartoum, Port
Sudan, Omdurman, Kassala and Gedaref. In addition, there are
almost 3,000 Indian professionals (growing by the month).
There are at least three decent Indian restaurants (and one
Indian hotel) in Khartoum.
Surprisingly, Sudanese music is neither Arab nor African but
distinctively Sudanese. Some claim it resembles Chinese
music in scale while retaining some African and Arab
rhythms. The tamboor (a kind of chordophone-like musical
instrument) is found all over the country. Nihas and other
drums are used in celebrations. Dancing is a way of life for
every Sudanese tribe and reflects traditional life including
farming, rain, hunting, heroism, chivalry and religion.
Typical examples include the kambala of the Nuba Mountains,
the “leap dance” of the Dinka, nuggurah of the Miseiryah,
the sword dance of the Beja, barabrah of the Halfa and the
eponymous Shaiqiyah of its tribe.
Even though Western clothes are much in vogue, traditional
Sudanese dress retains its hold. The jalabiya, a loose
cotton gown, is widely used by men and the wrap-around tobe
by women. Lower lip tattooing (daq al-shalufah) is common
among women as is use of henna. Zar is a fascinating rite in
which women become possessed seeking relief from illness or
other problems. Visitors to Sudan, especially women, are
advised to dress modestly. Woolens are never required in
Those fortunate to be invited to a traditional Sudanese
wedding (in North or South) would be fascinated by the
unique rituals including the jertik that is really an
exchange of messages of faith and hope between the bride and
groom. There are a few Indian women married to Sudanese men
and vice versa.
Northern Sudanese cuisine is relatively uncomplicated with
wheat flour as the staple, underlying the claim that the
ancient Nubians were the first to discover wheat. The
circular wheat-based gourassa is served with stew or mullah,
the most famous stew being a mixture of dried okra and meat
(um rigaya). In the east, the staple is moukhbaza made of
banana paste. In the pastoral west, milk and dairy products
predominate, while a distinctive cereal called dukhun is
sued to make porridge (aseedat dukhun). With its abundance
of rivers, swamps and lakes, the South depends on fish. The
popular fish stew kajaik is served with sorghum-flour
Laid out by its colonial rulers in the form of the Union
Jack, Khartoum is hot and dusty for most of the year, but
there are tourist attractions for those with a taste for
adventure including desert camping. Sudan is a land of
delightful contrast, boasting deserts, lush river valleys
and more pyramids than Egypt itself. The confluence of the
two Niles (mougran) near Khartoum is a breathtaking
spectacle. Other institutions that must be visited include
the Ethnographical Museum, Sudan National Museum, Natural
History Museum, the unique Camel Market (especially busy on
Fridays), Nuba wrestling tournaments, Omdurman handicrafts
market, Islands on the Nile, Omdurman’s dancing and whirling
dervishes, Hamad El-Nil Tomb, Commonwealth War Cemetery,
Omdurman Boat Yard, Saydat El Bushara Chruch (estd. 1800),
Farouk’s Mosque etc.
Remember that since 1983 Sudan is under sharia law so
alcoholic beverages are liable to be confiscated at the
airport. The South is exempt from sharia since January 2005.
Sudan has more land-based big mammals that any other
country. Game reserves have been in existence since the
1930s. At least 34 species of antelope have been identified,
while there are plenty of gazelle, addax, duiker, sitatunga,
buffalo, chimpanzees, giant forest hogs and Nile Lechwe.
Owing to US sanctions, credit cards are not acceptable, so
prepare to deal in cash. Sudanese Pounds (SDG) are the most
acceptable currency although some shops will accept dollars.
The Dinar replaced the Sudanese pound in the mid 1990s to
curb inflation, and the new Pound replaced the Dinar in
January 2007, and if you can figure that out, good luck.
Many people still quote prices in old pounds. One new pound
is equivalent to one thousand (old) pounds so a quoted price
of 5,000 might actually mean 5 new pounds.
In African terms, shops in Sudan are generally well stocked
and visitors will find a general store, pharmacy, or other
shop stocking what they need in most towns. In the cities,
it is also possible to buy a good selection of hi-tech goods
at unimaginably high prices.
For the handicraft shopper, Sudan has much to offer. The
mother of all markets is the sprawling Omdurman souq, across
the Nile from Khartoum, where almost everything is on sale,
including huge wicker baskets for you to carry it all home
Carved wood and painted leather goods are prolific.
Sudanese attire also makes for good souvenirs, from white jallabiyas for men to bright tobes for women. Jewellery is
popular and one can sometimes find the chunky silver
jewellery worn by Rashaida women; delicate gold bracelets
are more favoured by the Nubians. Kassala is the best place
for knives; some Beja men may even try to sell you a sword.
There are some animal products on sale in Sudan that would
upset conservationists. Dried crocodile heads and stuffed
lizards and snakes crop up frequently, as do ivory pieces.
Like most of the developing world, Sudan has taken the
mobile phone to its heart. Be prepared to have your
interlocutor stop mid-sentence to answer his mobile and keep
you waiting while he chats away without batting an eyelid!
The quality and coverage are still evolving. International
calls can cost up to US$ 1 per minute. India helped set up Sudani, the first CDMA service in Sudan. It works well.
Phone connections in South Sudan need improvement.
The public transport system in Khartoum and other big cities
is cheap. Buses or the local Boksi (a kind of open pickup)
are fun and crowded. Many taxi drivers do not speak English
and there is no system of meters, so do fix the fare in
advance. Roads (Sudan has less than 8,000 KM of paved
roads)) are slowly improving. Driving in Sudan is to the
right hand of the road. Petrol and diesel are easily
available, relatively cheap and sometimes adulterated.
Khartoum has generally remained peaceful despite civil war
and military rule. With the signing of a comprehensive
Peace Agreement between the Government and SPLM/A in January
2005 the security situation in the country improved,
although the situation in Darfur remains unstable. The death
of former First Vice President John Garang (also President
of the Government of Southern Sudan) in a helicopter crash
in July 2005 provoked serious riots in Khartoum and other
daring attack on Omdurman-Khartoum by Darfur rebels in May
2008 shocked everybody. Despite strong feelings, there was
no trouble in Khartoum in July 2008 when the Chief
Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court asked for an
arrest warrant against the President of Sudan.
Khartoum is a safe place, as is most of Sudan.
The Sudanese health system is one of the best in Africa
despite the drain of the civil war that compelled many
doctors to migrate. Medical facilities in Sudan are
improving. A new well-equipped hospital, Sahiroon, has
Indian visitors are welcome to contact the Embassy for
advice, assistance and information. We work Sunday through Thursday 0830-1700 hours
We shall do our best to make your
stay enjoyable and memorable.
Embassy of India
Phone: + 249 1 8357 4001/2/3
Fax: + 249 1 8357 4050/51
OUTSIDE OFFICE HOURS: 0922458005