|In the spring of 2001, photographer Basil Pao set off to accompany Michael Palin and a BBC film crew on the latest of his famous journeys, this time into the heart of the Sahara Desert. During the next few months, their fascinating route took them through nine countries and an astonishing variety of landscapes and cultures.
The journey began in Gibraltar, where the team crossed the Strait into Morocco. They travelled over the High Atlas and down into the southern tip of Algeria, where they met up with the exiled Polisario Front, and, with their assistance, crossed into Mauritania through the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Across the spectacular sand seas of Chinguetti, they continued south until they reached Dakar in Senegal, where a train took them east to Bamako in Mali.
From there, the arduous journey into the centre of the great desert began. After a visit to the Dogon people up in the Bandiagara escarpment, where they had a taste of the incredible heat and hardship that awaited them, the crew travelled to the legendary city of Timbuktu along the great River Niger. In central Niger, below the Aïr Mountains, they followed a Wodaabe group to the Cure Salée, the famous Salt Cure festival for all the different tribes of migratory nomads of the Sahara. Continuing on the salt trail, they joined a camel train on its way to the mines in the hear of the Ténéré desert, which led them north towards the Algerian border.
They ventured due north from there, over the Hoggar Mountains into the gas and oil fields of Algeria. From Tobruk in Libya, where they attended the 60th anniversary memorial service for the Desert Rats, they travelled west along the Mediterranean coast, through Tunisia, Algeria and finally back to the northern tip of Morocco, ending their journey in Gibraltar, where it had begun.
Despite travelling in some of the most hostile conditions known to man, Basil Pao has succeeded in capturing, in his inimitable style, the awe-inspiring beauty of this region, the vitality and rich diversity
Inside Sahara is a collection of some of Basil Pao's best images from the journey.