Kharga’s purpose-built capital is the administrative headquarters of the New Valley Governorate and home to over 70,000 Egyptians, many having relocated here from the crowded Nile Valley. At first glance it appears as a tidy but uninspiring congregation of ugly buildings, low-rise apartments, and ramshackle shops. With a little exploring, however, the streets of Al-Kharga reveal the strong rural flavor of the city’s tight-knit agrarian community.
Orientation is simple: Al-Kharga’s three main streets form a triangle whose base roughly marks the boundary between the modern city and its original mud-brick settlement. Government offices, banks, and police stations line Shar‘a Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasir; small shops and food stands cluster around Maydan Basateen; and service taxis and cheap eats can be found at Maydan Showla.
The old town, west of Maydan Showla is behind the bustling market that leads to the Darb al-Sindadyah, a dark and sinuous medieval passage that once ran 4 km (2½ miles), but is now reduced to ruins. Houses in this area are wonderfully decorated with Hajj paintings depicting their owners’ journeys to Mecca. If you stop to chat, you will inevitably be invited in for tea.
Al-Kharga’s city transport is fairly extensive, and buses and service taxis cover all the main routes. Unmetered taxis are also plentiful. The intercity bus station is located about 100 yards south of Maydan Basateen, while its tiny airport lies just north of town on the road to Asyut. A once-weekly train used to run from a station 5 km (3 miles) south of the city to Luxor, but was not in service at the time of writing. Should it resume, the trip usually takes 7–12 hours depending on how much sand must be cleared from the track. Alternatively, a private taxi can be hired for about £E400–£E500 to drive the newly built direct road to Luxor. The trip takes just two hours and requires prior police clearance.