Just the name of the place was inspiring enough, Timbuktu, this was the first name of a foreign city that I learned and perhaps most of us learnt in our childhood, and that time we did not even know where it was actually located. It was that city of gold that has always fascinated the Europeans, and they kept on exploring the Saharan desert in search of it until they found it in 18th century. Well they were disappointed to say the least as the city was not built out of gold’s bricks as the legend stated but still at that time it was one of the richest cities of Africa as it sit right on the lucrative Saharan trade route.
Now Located in the country of Mali, the city was once the part of the richest and strongest empire of Africa and was a center of not only trade and commerce but also of Islamic teachings and theology. Today it’s nothing more than an impoverished Saharan town that is in real danger of extinction because of the sand storms that are constantly pouring more and more sand in to the city.
The UNESCO has made it a part of the world heritage sites and a special effort is being put to protect this ancient city for the next generations. For most of the tourists the name itself is the main attraction of the place but for others it’s the historical importance of the place and the monuments like mosques and palaces of Timbuktu that attracts them.
Although the city has its own airport but there are not much international flights that fly directly to Timbuktu, instead try to find your self a cheap flight to Bamako and then book a local flight to Timbuktu. Another way of getting to the city and a rather more romantic one will be to travel from Mopti in a local Pinsaaes boat that will take around 3 days for taking you to Timbuktu. The fare is quite cheap for the most part of the year but in the high season try to tag along another group who is planning to go to Timbuktu to save some cash. The tourist traffic has really decreased in the past few years so you will find the accommodation here quite cheap. You can start your tour of the city by paying a visit to three 14th century mosques which are considered to be the oldest of all the western Africa’s mosques. They are not as stunning in view as say the Dejene mosque in another city of Mali but they are quite impressive and are a lot older than the mosque in Dejene.
Grand Marche, a two storey building that acts as a market place for the city is well worth visiting, for one reason that it provides some awesome views of the city and the desert from its top floor and secondly you can buy the local souvenirs like daggers for taking back home. One tip for shopping in Timbuktu, try to bargain and insist on paying third of the price that is quoted to you by the shop keeper, they expect you to do this so you will be quoted quite a higher price in the beginning.