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Cox & Kings client Nigel Purse joined our group tour Ethiopian Odyssey, which travels around the northern historical circuit of Ethiopia. Visits are made to some of the country’s most fascinating religious sites with scenic stops en route in the Simien Mountains and Blue Nile Falls. Nigel travelled on a tour departure that coincided with the Timkat Festival in Bahir Dar, the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. Here he shares some of his stunning photographs depicting some of the most memorable moments of the trip.

Portraits of locals

Early in our tour we passed through Adwa, where we stopped for lunch and a coffee ceremony, so popular in Ethiopia. Our driver, at the behest of Dawit, our guide, went in search of some unscheduled entertainment. He returned and took us to a dusty lane on the edge of the town. Outside an unobtrusive micro-brewery a red flag was flying – a sign to the locals that the beer was on.

Inside there sat a group of men, young and old, all enjoying the golden ale. Amongst them was a man whose face told a story all of its own. The leathery wrinkles and prematurely grey, curly hair bore vivid testimony to the harshness of everyday life in Ethiopia while the slightly far-away look in his eyes (presumably a consequence of drinking the beer) evoked a sense of kindly humanity which was so redolent of the folk we met throughout our tour.

Another portrait of a local man who I saw standing at a roadside market in Tigray province. Once again, the contrast of the yearning in his eyes against his weathered face and rough hands, battered as they were by the dust storm which was blowing across the stalls, caught my notice.

Churches of Lalibela and Gondar

Ethiopia is unusual for its Orthodox Christian heritage. We visited several unique churches. This is a photo of perhaps Ethiopia's most celebrated church. The Bet Giyorgis is one of the 11 rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, built by King Lalibela in the 12th century.

After visiting Lalibela we flew on to the imperial city of Gondar at the foot of the Simien Mountains. This is a photo of the beautiful interior of Debre Berhan Selassie church. The walls and ceiling are covered in colourful frescoes with 135 angels looking down from above.

Simien Mountains

Standing amongst a troop of gelada monkeys in the Simien Mountains was just one of several truly moving moments on the trip. Sometimes life really spoils you.

Timkat Festival, Bahir Dar

The following photos are of the Timkat Festival, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church's service of Epiphany when the faithful renew their baptismal promises. It involves the parading of what is called a Tabot (a replica of the Ark of the Covenant) in a very colourful procession.

A number of church services take place as well as the spraying of the faithful with holy water (in this case, en masse from a hosepipe wielded by a rather enthusiastic priest). It is all most compelling, on a grand scale and involves a considerable degree of fervent faith.

Mihilila, Axum

We also attended an Ethiopian Orthodox Church thanksgiving service called Mihilila in the holy city of Axum (where Ethiopians believe the Ark of the Covenant is kept). It takes place pre-dawn and this is a photo of the congregation, holding tapers as lights. It was very atmospheric.

Portraits of priests

I took numerous photos of priests in various locations, dressed up in all their finery.

Thank you…

Cox and Kings were, as ever, terrific. Once again you have given us a truly outstanding holiday. A special mention should also go to our tour manager and guide, Dawit Anbessie. An expert in Ethiopian churches (and much else besides) he was beyond excellent and we were extremely fortunate and privileged to have had him. Please pass on to him our supreme thanks.

Nigel travelled with Cox & Kings on the January departure (coinciding with the Timkat Festival) of our group tour Ethiopian Odyssey, which can also be taken as a private tour. Alternatively, if you are interested in a tailor-made holiday to Ethiopia, please either call one of our specialist travel consultants or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.