The Three Niles

When writing my previous post on Egypt, I came to realize the significance of the Great River Nile, and how lucky I am for living in or near its watershed for the last few years. The Nile is the longest river in the world, and carries paramount importance both in history and presence for much of Northeast Africa. Its two main tributaries, the Blue Nile and the While Nile, share a confluence in Khartoum, Sudan. Because of the nature of my work and travel patterns, I had the wonderful opportunities to visit both Lake Tana in Ethiopia, the headwater of the Blue Nile, and Lake Victoria in Uganda, the headwater of the White Nile, as well as Khartoum and Cairo. In a sense, my time in Africa can be defined by this great river!

Map of the Blue Nile and the White Nile. Source: CNN/Maps4News.

The Blue Nile (or Abbay River ጥቁር አባይ, in Amharic) is the shorter tributary among the two. But it carries 80% of the water of the Nile down to Nile proper and Egypt. It originated in Lake Tana, on the Ethiopian Plateau, next to the city of Bahir Dar of the Amhara Region. This region was christened since biblical times. Ancient churches and monasteries scattered across the numerous islands in Lake Tana, which are designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. From there, the Blue Nile travels down the Blue Nile Falls and Blue Nile Gorge, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River, straddled by the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and flows into Sudan. In my previous hometown of Addis Ababa, half of the city is shadowed by the Blue Nile watershed, known as Mount Entoto. I always find it amazing how the three countries, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt are connected, even though they are worldly different. 

Boating on Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, going to visit the ancient churches on its islands.
The Blue Nile Gorge is deeper than the Grand Canyon of Murica. The gorge is over a mile deep. Here, the new and old bridges cross the gorge and the river.
Waterfalls in the Blue Nile Gorge. This was our weekend hiking trip.

The longer White Nile, or Mountain Nile, originates from Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest, bordering Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. The lake is truly a sight to behold, and it feels more like an ocean than a freshwater lake. Water extends to the horizon as far as eyes can reach, and the Lake is the life blood for one of the most densely populated regions in the entire world. 

Sunrise at Lake Victoria in Entebbe, Uganda.

The stories of these two river form a grand new chapter in Khartoum, Sudan, where they meet. I had the privilege to go on a work trip to Khartoum, and enjoyed this charming city wholly despite the seemingly permanent U.S. sanction (Who cares about U.S. sanction when China is your sugar daddy?). Downstream from Khartoum, it is officially known as the Nile, and the rest is history.

The confluence of the Blue Nile (bottom) and White Nile (top) at Khartoum, taken from an Ethiopian Airlines flight.
Sunset in Cairo. The journey of the river is a tale worth telling for many millenniums.

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