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Dhagah Kureh “The Anceint Art-rock”

The art-rock Dhagah-Koure Situated 45km northwest of Hargeisa amid a chain of spectacular granite outcrops (also transliterated as Dagah Kuure, Dagax Gure, and variations thereof) was the most celebrated rock art site in Somaliland prior to the 2002 discovery of Laas Geel.

Dhagah-Koure remains a site of exceptional merit, comprising hundreds of individual bovid, human and other figures spread across at least six different panels on a massive turtleback protuberance.

Tragically, however, several of the paintings  –  which may be more than  5,000  years old  –  were defaced in early 2011, reputedly as a result of a dispute between two local factions over their curatorship.

It remains to be seen whether the damage can be reversed. Although Dhagax Koure is of great interest to rock art enthusiasts, its overall impact doesn’t compare to  Laas geel,  and it should certainly be the second choice for anybody whose resources only stretch to visiting one Somaliland rock art site.

PRACTICALITIES

Dhagax  Khoure lies about  90  minutes’  drive from  Hargeisa, allowing for at least three roadblock stops before you reach the junction.  It is accessible only by private vehicles, and although 4×4 is recommended it’s usually possible to get through in an ordinary saloon car, at least in the dry season. It’s advisable to travel with a  recognized operator,  although you could presumably broker a cheaper deal with one of the taxis that operate between Hargeisa and Tog Wajaale or Borama, assuming the driver knows the way or that you’re prepared to try to direct him. As far as we can ascertain, an SPU escort is technically required to accompany you on a visit Dhagax Khoure, but it seems unlikely that this would be enforced by roadblocks on this side of Hargeisa, since they are already accustomed to travelers without SPU protection heading to the Ethiopian border.

To get to Dhagax Khoure from Hargeisa, follow the surfaced Borama road out past the first roadblock for 27.5km (N 9°39.609, E 43°47.787; if you arrive at the village of Arabsiyo then you’ve gone 4km too far). Here, you must turn right onto an unclear and unmarked sandy track that runs in a broadly northerly direction for 5km, after which the conspicuous ragged outline of the rocky hills surrounding Dhagax Khoure are visible to the left. Depending on which of several crisscrossing tracks you follow from this point, it’s another 12–15km to the car park below the site (N 9°43.695, E 43°51.949). There is no formal entrance gate or signpost to indicate you’ve arrived, and it may take a few minutes to locate the caretaker, who lives nearby and can show you all the key panels,  but will expect a  tip  (around US$5–10 feels about right).

WHAT TO SEE & DO

Two particular panels stand out: the evocatively named Got Libah (‘House of the Lion’), where a montage of superimposed cows is depicted in several different styles, presumably painted over a period of many years, and the more prosaically titled Shelter One, which contains a more stylistically cohesive ensemble of 68 cows and 156 human figures spread over an area of perhaps 10m2. Close to the base of the hill is a mysterious tomb of unknown vintage, which can be entered through a narrow crack at the base of a hollow rock. A moderately tall person can actually stand up inside the tomb.

Antiquities aside,  Dhagax  Khoure lies in a  striking landscape of balancing boulders that recalls the Valley of Marvels (near Jijiga, in eastern Ethiopia), and the area is reputedly earmarked for national park status. It certainly seems to hold a fair amount of wildlife, most visibly gerenuk and dik-dik on the plains, and rock hyraxes and gaudy agama lizards in the hills. It may also be that other lesser-known (or just lesser) rock art sites exist in the surrounding area: indeed, one local source mentioned that more than 35 panels are dotted around nearby.

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