Timket (Ethiopian Epiphany)

Date: January 20, 2020

Location: Addis Ababa

January 19 or 20 on leap. Timket is celebrated for the commemoration of the baptism of Jesus Christ in Jordan River. It is celebrated on January 19 or 20 on leap. One day before the celebration the tabot, i.e. the tablet of wood or stone that consists of the Ten Commandments of God, which is the replica of the Ark of the Covenant, is taken out from the church and carried to the baptism site. The tabot is covered by embroidered cloth and carried on the head by the priest. On 19th early in the morning, the head of the churches bless the water in side pool and then sprinkle to the mass of people. Later on with chanting and more ceremonies, the tabots are turned back to each of their churches.

Day 01 (Jan.14): Arrive Addis Ababa around 07:00 and transfer to Jupiter Hotel (B & B, Lunch and dinner not included).

After lunch we will embark on our city tour. First we drive north up to Mount Entoto. In 1881 Emperor Menelik II made his permanent camp there, after remains of an old town (believed to have been the capital of 16th century monarch LebnaDengel) were discovered, which Menelik took was a divine and auspicious sign. Addis Ababa at between 2300 – 2500 meters is the third highest capital in the world and Entoto is a few hundred meters higher – as we drive up the hill there is an appreciable drop in temperature and the air is filled with the scent of the Eucalyptus trees which line the road.

From the top, there is a panoramic view of the capital and surrounding countryside. Our guide will point out the city’s major landmarks. Entoto is an important watershed; to the north, water flows to the Blue Nile and the Mediterranean Sea, to the south, to the Awash River and on to Djibouti. Your guide will point out the important landmarks of the city.

Entoto was soon abandoned as a site for the capital – it was cold, difficult to provision and there was a shortage of wood. Empress Taytu was said to have led the move down to the plain of Finfine, and to have named the new capital Addis Ababa, or New Flower. However, two important structures remain within the old imperial compound on Entoto, the churches of Mariam and the Archangel Raguel. It was in the church of Mariam that Menelik was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia in 1889, and in the small museum in the compound there are various clothes, court and household implements and weapons dating from the period. The church of Raguel is unusual in that it is octagonal, rather than round. There is a first story balustrade around which Menelik liked to stroll.

Leaving the churches we descend to Addis Ababa, stopping off at the NationalArchaeologicalMuseum. Here visitors can see exhibits ranging from the 3.5 million-year-old bones of Lucy, from the Axumite and Gondarene periods through to the period of the monarchs Tewodros and Menelik II.

We now return to our hotel. After a long flight and with an early start the next day, visitors will probably feel like taking an early night. o/n Jupiter Hotel.

Day 02(Jan.15): Transfer to the airport for the flight to Axum on ET 122 to Axum at 1010, arriving at 1140 in Axum airport. Transfer to Sabean Hotel.
From around 200 BC to 700 AD, Axum was the seat of an Empire which extended across the Red Sea to Arabia, traded with India and China, minted its own coinage, had its own alphabet and notational system, constructed great engineering works and dams and which was reckoned by the 4th century Persian historian Mani to be one of the four great powers of the ancient world, alongside Persia, China and Rome. Today the visitor can see stelae (the largest single pieces of stone erected anywhere on the world, it is still not understood how they were transported from the quarry 4 km away and erected), the tombs and castles of kings, Axum Museum and Mariamtsion Church, built on the site of Ethiopia’s first church. A chapel within the church compound is believed by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians to house the Ark of the Covenant, or the original tablets of Moses on which are inscribed the 10 Commandments (see Graham Hancock’s The Sign and the Seal).

On arrival we transfer to the Sabean Hotel. After check in and a break for refreshments, we can start our tour with a visit to the newly constructed museum, immediately behind the stellae, and then the stellae themselves.
We could break here for lunch, and continue our tour, ascending the hill to the east to see the castle and tomb of King Kalab, passing on the way Mai Shum (or the bath of the Queen of Sheba), and also the stone on which is carved exploits of the Axumite kings in three languages, Ge’ez, Himyar (from Yemen) and Greek.
Coming back into town we will see the tomb of King Basen, whom Orthodox Ethiopians believe was one of the three Magi who brought presents to the infant Jesus.
We then proceed to the grounds of Mariam Tsion Church, we can see the ruins of the old church, and the stone seats of judges.
Inside the grounds we will visit the small museum (women are not allowed inside, nor into the 17th century church built by Emperor Fasilides, but the priests usually bring out some crowns of kings for women visitors to see), and end the day with a visit to the site known locally as Queen Sheba’s Palace, although in fact it is of a later date, the villa of an Axumite notable from around the 1st century AD. o/n Sabean Hotel. (B,L& D included).

Day 03 (Jan.16): Transfer to the airport for the flight on ET 122 to Lalibela at 1100, arriving at 1015) in Lalibela. (B,L& D included).

At the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th centuries King Lalibela of the Zaghwe dynasty built a series of rock hewn churches – the New Jerusalem as he called it – now rightly acknowledged to be one of the wonders of the world. There are 11 churches in the town named after him, with others in the surrounding countryside. All are still in use today. (The churches are divided into two groups, the division being the River Yordanos or River Jordan.)
It is estimated that the churches took 25 years to construct – for the Kingdom based on Roha (later renamed Lalibela) to have kept a large work force engaged in economically unproductive labour for such a long period means that it disposed of a large economic surplus and was very wealthy. The area then was clearly fertile and agriculturally productive, whereas now deforestation and population pressures on the land have reduced its productivity.

We check into the Mezena Lodge and can start our tour of the first group of churches before lunch (churches are closed 1200-1400), continuing in the afternoon. Visit the rock hewn churches. Today is Saturday; we can visit the market place as well. The market day in Lalibela is every Saturday. o/n Mezena Lodge.

Day 04 (Jan.17): After breakfast we set off on mule or on foot to the church of Ashetun Mariam, about 4 hours’ round trip (NB-We can also drive by car). We pass small villages on the way up and there are wonderful views of the surrounding countryside from the top of the mountain where the church is located. Those of our visitors who do not feel up to a hike or mule ride can go a shorter distance by car to the cave church of Neakuto Leab.

After lunch we set off by car to the cave church of Yemrehane Christos, built by the king of the same name before the reign of King Lalibela. The church is constructed inside a cave, in Axumite style, similar to the 7th century monastery at Debre Damo in Tigray, with alternating levels of wood and stone. A 40 km trip from Lalibela followed by a 10 minute hike brings you to this beautiful church, the finest example of its kind in Ethiopia. (The road is bumpy and dusty, but most visitors feel it is well worth it.) o/n Mezena Lodge. (B,L& D included).

Day 05(Jan.18) – Lalibela to Gondar – Timket Celebrations
This morning you will be transferred to the airport to catch your flight to Gondar. You will check-in to your hotel where you can freshen up before the afternoon’s excitement of witnessing the pre-Timket festivities called ’ketera’. These are just as exciting as the actual festival day. Tonight is the eve of Timket – the biggest religious festival in Ethiopia marking the Epiphany (or baptism of Christ). Local priests carry tabots (replicas of the Ark of the Covenant) from their churches to Fasiladas’ Bath in Gondar where they are guarded overnight. The baths, empty for the rest of the year, have been filled with water for the occasion. The parade of tabots is brilliantly colourful and we will dedicate the afternoon to watching all the action. (B,D).Overnight at Goha Hotel.

Day 06 (Jan.19) – Timket Festival
Today is the main celebration day for the Timket Festival and is marked by a public holiday. It is a very early start this morning (around 5:00am) with a transfer to Fasiladas’ Bath where priests and faithful Christians have spent an all night vigil watching over the tabots (replicas of the Ark of the Covenant). Crowds gather at the Bath in the morning where the water is blessed and splashed over the tabots. You will witness the whole baptism ceremony where religious vows are renewed before the tabots are paraded back to church accompanied by a furor of singing and dancing. The spectacle of thousands of white-robed faithful following a procession of colourful and elaborately dressed priests is truly incredible. It is impossible not to get caught up in the fever of excitement associated with this celebration. In the afternoon when the parade has finished, you will visit the church of Debre Berham Selassie (Light of the Trinity), a UNESCO heritage site, its walls and ceilings decorated with scenes of Biblical lore and medieval history shows the religious art of the Gondarian period. The interior is decorated with beautiful frescoes. (B,D).Overnight at Goha Hotel.
Day 07 (Jan.20)– After early breakfast we leave for Siemen Mountains National Park (SMNP) and drive approximately 2 hours to Debark, the entrance to the Simien Mountains National Park, where you pick up your game scout. The Simien Mountains is “The Roof of Africa”, with peaks rising up to 4620m, the fourth highest in Africa. Arrive at Simeon Lodge and check-in and have an early lunch. Then head deeper into the park, for marvellous views and plenty of Gelada baboons. Continue on driving to Buhait, to try and spot the endemic Walia ibex. Overnight at Siemen Lodge.
Day 08(Jan.21)– Drive to Chenek – Start early at first light to see wildlife – drive to Chenek where there is opportunity to see Baboons and Ethiopian wolves. After this, look for endemic Walia ibex and birds. Take a packed lunch.After a full day of wildlife viewing, drive back to Buhit Ras and then to the Lodge. Drive back to Gondar. Overnight at Goha Hotel.

Day 09(Jan.22) – Gondar to Addis
After breakfast you will be transferred to the airport to catch your flight to Addis. In the afternoon you will have time to explore more of the capital and maybe do some shopping. In the evening, there is a farewell traditional dinner where you will experience live cultural music and dance. Your tour concludes by being dropped to Bole International Airport to meet your flight to your onward destination. (B,L,D)