Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mount Kenya - Part I

Other Gods

They saw the mound
of black and white plumes
hunched back of a giant ostrich
kirinyaga, said the Kikuyus
kii’nyaa, said the Kambas
two tongues, two tribes, One Faith!

Blending with the skies
veiled from prying eyes
Unmanifest, it stood there
somewhere, above the treeline
at daybreak, when the clouds parted
as sheers peeled by temple priest
marbled Idols were revealed
in a rare darshan to believers – all

The vision:
of snow-clad peaks on dark massif
rising from the Equator floor -
of Day and Night
of Light and Darkness
in that one sight!

The resting place:
Of Creator Ngai, Lord of Nature
Revered and feared…
The houses they built facing the Mount
lore they wove round the slopes
Farms they laid at His feet, crops at the altar
An offering –
without disturbing His creed.

Cedar, oak, bamboo, redwood
Elephant, buffalo, antelope, turaco
Gladioli, violets, orchids, and ferns
Embellishments, they preserved in piety.

Centre of Universe, it was
for the First Man
baptized, bastardized by Outsiders
seeking to conquer, demystify
Mount Kenya – it became
yet another peak to be scaled
that lent their land its foreign name!

Born of the Great Rift
Of juices spewed from Earth’s womb
Rising from the Ashes…
Once tallest of them all
Towering above Kilimanjaro, Everest even
Since then, weathered, eroded
Grand, it stands, nonetheless –
Nemesis of the mountaineer clan

To the subjects, still
the sacred ‘Mountain of Brightness
to be worshipped –
this Abode of God

The Almighty African Himalayas!

When men and mountain meet

During the day, as I looked above the treeline on the opposite edge of the salt lick, from my balcony, I wouldn’t have suspected that the grey-blue sky speckled with clouds could hide a massive secret. But at daybreak, as one rubbed the sleep off ones eyes, dream-like an apparition of snow-draped mountains loomed in the near distance. In a rare gesture, Mount Kenya, the Mountain of God for the local inhabitants – the Kikuyus and Kambas, revealed itself, in benediction. Watching the magnificence moulded of million years, rear its head thus made me size my insignificance, and yet, somewhere, I felt the connection of both of us being Earth’s children, blessed in that moment of meeting of man and mountain. 

Mount Kenya - Part II

Rendezvous at the Equator

Yet another year gone by, yet another ‘birthday’…this day we decided to spend ‘family time’ tucked away  in the foothills of Mount Kenya far from civilization. The journey, itself, was a fantastic curtain-raiser to the weekend ahead…

Lush leafy abundance of coffee plantations punctuated by silver oak, eucalyptus and orchards of mangoes and bananas lining the snaking deserted roads rushed past in a mosaic that might have been from another lifetime. I forgot that I was heading out of Nairobi and felt that I was traveling the Coonoor-Ooty hill-road back in the Nilgiris. Few vignettes like the famed flame trees (African tulip with its red tubular flowers) of Thika (immortalized by Elspeth Huxley in an eponymous book ) nudged me to my true bearings. School children in red, the colour of the peoples of Kenya, would suddenly burst on the scene, waving and chattering, enlivening the still landscape. The drizzle, the nip and the light mist hovering around made me feel that we were leaving the earth and flying, rising to meet the clouds.

Like the Pippa’s Song, I couldn’t but feel that ‘all was well with the world’ and this feeling persisted even as we passed somnolent Karatina, a Mungiki (a criminal sect that terrorizes and holds citizens ransom from time to time) hotbed. Two and a half hours later with Kenny Rogers, “Coward of the county’ ringing in our ears, we crossed the equator line at Nanyuki and turned the bend to meet the mountains. Signposts with the map of Africa showing the equator line bisecting the continent, and even the country, reminded us that we were indeed at the centre of the earth. The sparse population there with children playing around the shanties seemed, to me, privileged for having their home at this enviable address, though nothing about them seemed even remotely to evoke envy!

As we gradually climbed up, the air became cooler, fresher, greener! At the gates of Mount Kenya National Park, the sky opened and poured its heart out. The forest looked dark and dank and with the already existing saturated tropical vegetation I wondered how we could venture out. The Mountain Lodge at the foothills of Mount Kenya was more like an extended tree house that proffered an indulgent view of the watering hole bordering a tropical jungle, discouraging any outings in the first place. Our room, as also the lobby balcony was to be the viewing gallery, a modern-day machaan from where we would unobtrusively spy on the shenanigans of the forest denizens.

The Buffalo in Me

It was a day to laze around, of simply sitting by the gallery overlooking the watering hole - watching and waiting, waiting and watching. Before long, a herd of buffaloes trooped out of the thicket, one by one, with a sense of urgency and made towards the water. There were all kinds -  thickset with tough thickened horns, indicating they were older males, brownish juveniles and of course, the matriarchs. As few males fanned out in different directions, keeping watch, the rest of the herd settled down contentedly chewing cud. In the case of buffaloes, with little action on the part of the players, languor seeps into the atmosphere and the scene becomes static save the hypnotic motion of the jaws, a sole reminder to the observer, of passage of time.

Like the buffaloes, I gave in completely to ruminating, doing nothing. I was just happy to be alive. Gazing at the grazing buffaloes, after a while, I became one among them, letting my mind roam free. I let it glide over the forests and wander among the trees. I listened to murmuring leaves and perked my ears at creaking twigs in anticipation and thrill. Languidly, I watched the interplay between the female and male bushbucks and the waterbucks that came to drink at the hole. I heard the Egyptian goose croak and followed it as it took wing, circling the skies, meeting with its mate before flying off to an unknown destination. I listened to the silence of the forest air and let myself slip into oblivion. The action of the buffaloes’ chewing cud became the breath of my body. The morning segued into somnolent afternoon and eventually, dusk, and all that happened in that space of time was the slow march of the sun and in the play of light and shade, a change in the tableau of trees.

Common waterbuck

Dangerously close... the African Cape Buffalo!

Also read Mount Kenya - Part I