The South-eastern Tourist Route
About the Route
The South-eastern Oromian tourist route includes Arsi, West Arsi and Bale zones. Most areas of these zones are highlands with some lowlands to the south.
One can travel to these zones from Addis in two lines: via Asala and via Shashamane, which join at the town of Dodola. There is also a road that connects to Robe. At Robe, the road that splits to the left leads to one major tourist destinations in Bale Zone: the Sof Umar Cave and the Dire Sheik Husen Shrine.
At the place where the road splits and converges, it is advisable to take one way to go and the other to return. One can travel to these places from Asela and return to Addis via Shashamane, or vice versa. From Robe, one can travel to Sof Umar first, and to Sheik Husen, and then get back to Robe.
Culture and Life Style
The Oromia south-eastern tourist route, which comprises Arsi and Bale zones, is entirely inhabited by the Arsi clan of the Barento Oromo. The Arsi, the broader geographic area, is further divided in to two.
A very great proportion of people in this region live in highland areas which produce wheat and barley from the country. The lowland population of the zone makes their livelihood from cattle breeding being pastoral communities.
The life style of the people in this area reflects their economic activity that goes with the climatic conditions of the places in which they live. The highlanders are sedentary agriculturalists; while the lowlanders are pastoralists who move from place to place in search of pasture and water to sustain the lives of their cattle.
Although Islamic clothing style has great influence on their dressing style, the people have successfully maintained their colorful traditional clothing styles and their production of house- wares. The people in this area are known for their exceptional colorful and decorated clothes worn on hair, neck and arms.
The highlanders of the Arsi and Bale zones are also well known as horse riders. Arsi is the zone where distinguished world athletes like Darartu, Haile, Kenenisa, Tirunesh, and others were born.
Museums in Asala and Arsi–Robe Towns:There are small museums in these towns with historical and cultural heritage collections. There are collections of various types of cultural dressings of the Arsi Oromo, handicrafts, home-made goods, musical instruments and monumental pictures in the museums. The musems, however, are appreciated only for their good start as they have to be developed and improved to higher level of tourism significance centers.
Other Cultural Sites:More than 27 cultural and historical sites are found at various localities of the Arsi zone. Most of these are religious and traditional worshipping sites; while others are sites of customary laws, wars, struggles and others.
Faraqasa is the site of spiritual belief center where eventful ceremony is held every year being attended by thousands of pilgrims coming from all over the country. The Mosque of Asa Usman and rock inscriptions in Arabic language on the mosque reflect Islamic culture and literature to be visited in the Arsi zone.
Anole Martyr’s Monument:This historical place in the Arsi Zone is considered by Oromos a symbol of patriotism to remember Oromo braves who fought against the troops of the invader Menelik II and lost their hands and breasts in their fighting’s for the freedom of the Oromo people.
Controlled Hunting Areas of the Arsi Mountains: Arsi Zone is dominated by highland plateau which covers its 78% area or 23060 square kilometers. Mountain chains of Kaka, Chilalo, Arbagugu and Aluto are among the major peaks in the zone. Arsi highlands extend from the heights of the Arsi massifs in the south-east to the escarpment edge of the Rift Valley depression in the north-west. The Arsi plateaus are favored with high rainfall, water catchments, cool weather, as well as fertile soil to which the Arsi’s intensive agricultural cultivations are attributed.
The mountains are covered by natural vegetation that shelter precious mammals and birds. The scenic beauty and others make the plateau a significant tourist destination for trekking, sightseeing, and safari hunting. Having controlled hunting areas, Arsi is contributing a big share in wildlife resource utilization in Oromia.
Five of the Oromia's designated controlled hunting areas are found in Arsi. These are Arbagugu, Kaka, Galama-Boroluku, Munessa-Kuke and Aluto. Some of the major game animals in these areas are Mountain Nyala, Klipspringer and Menilik’s Bushbuck. Asela, the capital of the Arsi Zone, is situated at the distance of 175 kilometers from Addis Ababa. Accessing hunting blocks from Asalla, however, require four-wheel drive cars on dry weather road, and/or horseback ridings.
Dodola – Adaba Forest:As one approaches the town of Dodola, the first sight of Bale Mountain chain comes to this view. Overlooking the low-lying towns of Adaba and Dodola, this mountain chain can be mentioned as a good reason for why trekking is one of the main purposes for visiting the Bale Mountains.
Being implemented by IFMP and supported by GTZ, trekking in the hills of Adaba and Dodola is probably the best organized Community-Based Eco-Tourism site in Ethiopia. It is inexpensive, but an excellent target for trekkers and hikers. It was established specifically to provide alternative source of income for the people living in the locality, so that they are less dependent on forest products for their livelihoods.
The local people, especially those who dwell in the forest, were organized in different service providing groups such as hut keepers (accommodation, food and beverage service), horse renters and tour guides to participate in tourist serving activities. In this forest area, there is a series of five mountain huts joined by trails so that one can spend from one to five nights. The huts are simple, but fairly equipped with beds, kitchenware’s, water filters, stoves and lanterns etc.
The Scenic Route between Adaba and Dinsho: From Dodola, the road goes to Adaba and then climbs up the Bale Mountains for over 3600m, a height well above that of a tree ascending first through Juniperus/Hagena wood land/. The road, then, descends near Dinsho, a small town where the headquarter of the Bale Mountain National Park is found. Dinsho is situated at the distance of 55 kilometers from Adaba, or at the distance of 400 kilometers from Addis Ababa.
Journey from Adaba to Dinsho is enjoying spectacular sceneries of mountains, gorges, valleys and jagged outcrops of the Sebsibe Washa. On the way, one can also enjoy the dramatic view of valleys and plains to the north where Malka Wakana Dam can be seen from distant.
Bale Mountains National Park: This is a magnificent high altitude plateau with numerous dramatic volcanic plugs, seasonal tiny alpine lakes and cascading mountain streams. Located at about the distance of 400 kilometers from Addis Ababa, the Bale Mountains National Park is stretched over an area of 2000 square kilometers at the altitude that ranges between 1500m to 4377m above sea level. Being the largest Afro Alpine habitat park in Africa, the Bale Mountain National Park offers chances of viewing about 46 mammals, more than 200 bird species, and vegetation of unspoiled wonderland including various tree species and precious endemic mammals; namely, Red Fox, Mountain Nyala, and Menelik’s Bushbuck.
Its climate is mostly very cold with high rainfall and damp cloud with rare sparkling blue sky. The best season of walking, trekking and camping in the park to view the endemic life and enjoy other tourist activities in the astonishing vast alpine areas is the dry season that ranges from November to March. Visitors can also enjoy the habitat at all seasons with warm and weather proof clothing.
The three main divisions of the park include the northern area-Dinsho and Gassay Plain, the central alpine part-Sanate, and the southern forest area-Haranna, which offer distinct features. Dinsho area is the perfect site for viewing Mountain Nyala, Menelik’s Bushbuck, etc. Tourists can also visit the headquarter and the museum of the park at Dinsho, getting lodge services and relevant pieces of information about the park.
Sanate, nick-named as “The Island in the Air”, is the high plateau souring over 4000m on top. It is the second highest peak in Ethiopia, next to Ras Dashen. Tullu Dimtu whose peak is 4377m above sea level is among the many peaks on the plateau. An all weather road from Goba to Dalo Manna passes through this plateau. The seasonal tiny alpine lakes, some rare birds, and above all, the endemic red fox and giant mole rat, are among the top tourist attractions specific to the Bale Mountains National Park.
The southern Haranna area is an area of lower altitude covered with dense moist tropical forest. The road penetrating Sanete and Haranna forest connects Goba to Dalo Manna. Bush pig, African hunting dog, giant forest hog, spotted hyena, lion, leopards, colobus monkey, etc. are abound in the Haranna forest area.
The beautiful rainbow and trout fish stocked in the Park Rivers with fry from Kenya in 1960 may give tourists a fishing opportunity for those who have time.
The lodge at Dinsho provides tourists with 31 beds (room 6) and kitchen equipment for self service. The accommodation is simple, but pleasant. Camping at Dinsho and different sites in the park gives great delight to tourists.
While in the Bale Mountain National Park, there are important specific sites worth visiting. These are:
- Dinsho headquarter site, where you can see Mountain Nyala, Bush Buck, Warthog, Birds, and Museum;
- Gassay Valley where you see Mountain Nyala, Reed buck, Throut fish, Warthog and Birds;
- Sanete where you can see Red Fox, Endemic Molerats on which the fox feeds, Birds, the Peak of Tullu Dimtu, and
- Harana escarpment where you enjoy thick natural forest and camping in complete wilderness to watch lion, bush pig, leopard, hunting dog.
Besides tourism industry, the Bale Mountains National Park is an area of significant importance for nature conservation, scientific research and education. Among the major factors that have contributed to the uniqueness of the park, the following are among the distinctive feature worth mentions.
- The park conserves the largest area of afro alpine habitat on the continent of Africa;
- The Harana Forest, at the south of the area, is the second largest stand of moist tropical forest remaining in Ethiopia;
- The area is a centre of endemicity that conserves stocks of genetic materials, much of which is not just endemic to Ethiopia, but also confined only to these mountains;
- The area contains the largest population of endemic Mountain Nyala and the endangered Red Fox;
- The area contains the entire global population of giant mole rat, etc, and
- The 20km highway stretching on Sanete makes the park the only motorable place at an altitude of 4377masi in African giving one a driving experience above the cloud.
Mada Walabu: This is one of the important places in the history of the Oromo people which is located in southernmost tip of the Bale Zone, on the northern edge of the Genale River basin, at the distance of 227 kilometers from Robe. It can also be reached from Negele town after driving for 72 kilometers. If you are coming from Robe, the road to Mada Walabu turns left at Bidre town. Mada Walabu has been the centre of spiritual, cultural and political system of the Oromo beginning from the mid of the 14th century. It was the place where the prestigious Oromo Gada Governance revived and reformed to full strength, then practiced for years.
It was at Mada Walabu where rules and regulations were reformed through traditional proclamations. It was also the seat of ritual leaders such as ‘Qalu’ and ‘Aba Gada’, and a place where veneration took place by pilgrims coming from all over Oromia to pray and give thanks to God for His favor, protection, health, happiness, etc.
It was a place where power transfer ceremonies took place peacefully from one Gada leader to the other from generation to generation. Thus, it is considered as a sacred place endowed with peace where there are no killings, thefts and allegations. Currently, the Oromia Regional National State is undertaking projects of constructing a cultural conference centre, a museum and a monument in memory of the Oromo history.
Sof Umar Cave: Let us tour to the direction towards to the Mada Walabu and then back to the Robe town. From Robe, there is a place that tourists never want to miss visiting in the area: Sof Umar Cave. The Sof umar Cave is one of the world’s biggest caves in Africa. This marvelous underground world cave is located in Dawe Qachan District of the Bale Zone at the distance of 110 kilometers from the Robe town, or 40 kilometers from the nearest Goro town. The cave’s most attractive features include:
- The cave’s area, which is typically characterized by flat topography and a deep gorge cut by River Web which forms the cave, and its spectacular Ayyo-Mako cliff gate the entrance, is the right spot where visitors start cave expedition; while the Huluqa is the resurgence of both visitors where the river forms the cave;
- The beauty of the cave comes from the untouched and savage aspects of the huge main passages, the very special shape of the sections of the galleries, the white color of the lime stones and the basalt that forms the walls, its 42 entrances, the bewitching noise of the river, labyrinthine morphology of the galleries network and the presence of the many bats, etc, and
- Its total passages distance of 15.6 kilometers and 1.2 kilometers tourist route, which crosses the river seven times and takes visitors for about two hour’s walking.
Sof Umar Cave is a reputed historical Islamic heritage dedicated to the Sufist Sheikh Safiy Ullah Umar (abbreviated as “Sof Umar”) from whom the name of the cave has been derived. The Sheikh was said to be the nephew as well as the disciple of Sheikh Husein. Who lived and worshiped Allah in the cave, and also taught Islam to his followers many centuries ago.
The cave, thus, is one of the venerated monuments of religious history that predate the arrival of Islam in Bale. The present cultural practice of offering prayers and sacrifices by pilgrims twice a year in celebration of religious events and ceremonies gives a good opportunity to tourists to experience Islamic history and culture in the country.
Dire Sheikh Husein (Anajina):Anajina or the site of the Shrine of Sheikh Husein is one of the major sites of culture tourism in Oromia. It is situated on the border of West Hararge and Bale Zones at the southern edge of the Web River. It is 178 kilometers far away from Robe along the all weather road that passes through Jarra and Dallo Sabro towns. Travel to Dirre Sheika Husen can be made directly from Sof Umar via Ginir and Jara towns, or back to Robe and then following the line described earlier.
The Shrine was named after the ancient Muslim Holy Man (Religion leader) known as Sheikh Nur Husein Bin Malka, or Bin Ibrahim who was reputed for his religious teachings, high devotion and remarkable miraculous deeds. According to oral history, the birth of Sheikh Nur Husein, or “Sheikhana Husein” is dated back to the 12th century in the site now called Anajina. Local elders say that he was born 942 years ago from his father Malka or Sheik Ibrahim and his mother Shamsiyya. According to legend, Sheikh Husein lived 250 years of which he spent 50 years in a place called Sakina (in Arsi) in a state of disappearance into spiritual life or devotion, 130 years in various parts of the world, and 70 years at Dirre. The main attraction of the site includes:
- The impressive white colored and conic shaped “Gamo”s or “Qubaa”s (domes of tombs/mosquareues) scatteredly seen in the site;
- More than 900 years old famous cultural site with monuments built under the auspious of a person named Sheikh Muhammad Tilmo 360 years ago. There are over ten such monuments among which the oldest one is the Quba of the Sheikh’s parents. The Sheikh’s Quba, the biggest of all, is separately fenced by stout wall around an area of 10,000 square meters, and
- Pilgrimage visiting to the Dirre made twice a year by tens of thousands of people (pilgrims from all over the Eastern, Southern and Western Oromia and various parts of Ethiopia).
Not all of the legends and their consequential practices, which may be heard of or seen being practiced at the 'Anajina', are Islamic from the view point of the Shari'ah and the Islamic Monotheisin.
However, two main celebrations take place at Dire annually according to the Islamic calendar Hijirah. One of the two occasions is known as "Hajji", which is celebrated in the month "Zul-Hijjah". The peak days of this celebration are 9th and the 10th of Zul-Hijjah, or the world-wide Islamic Holiday "Arafah". The other occasion is known as "Zahra", which is celebrated in the month "Jimadul-Thani" of the same calendar on the 14th and the 15th, marking the peak days of the celebrations.
In both occasions, pilgrims arrive at the Dirre in the afternoon of the first day to enjoy the evening /the night celebration which marks the beginning of the celebration of the second peak day.
Wabe Gorge:From Shashamane to Bale, the road crosses the Wabe River Gorge, which borders the former Arsi and Bale zones. This is the point at which one catches the first sight of the Wabe (Wabe Shablae) River Gorge. Wabe Shebele, the longest river in the south-eastern Ethiopia, credits its source to Arsi – Bale Mountains. In its flow course close to the Dire Sheikh Husen, the Wabe River is seen in a grand gorge featuring spectacular scenery worth visiting. An all weather gravel road in a very good condition leads us to this spectacular gorge from Sheikh Husen.
The best site of the gorge to be visited is, however, near Gasara town, which is at the distance of 60 kilometers from Robe. Here, a visitor can have a magnificent view of the gorge that exhibits many beautiful natural domes and many other attractive features.