Sunday, December 25, 2011

On a Rainbow Trail

Sarova Salt Lick in Taita country is an exquisite lodge on stilts by a watering hole (and a salt lick, obviously) that acts as a magnet for huge herds of elephants and buffaloes. Unlike in other resorts where tourists go on a game drive, here they come to witness game from the luxury of their windows or terraces. This idle idyll is not ours to wallow in, today, as this is a mere base camp from where we embark on a battlefield tour of Taita-Taveta country.

We are on the last lap of the battlefield tour of East African Theatres of World War I. Rife with imagination of the gruesome battle and slaughter of Allied Forces at Salaita Hill, we head to Taveta town on Tanzania border. The ochre soil, dry scrub of acacia, birds of prey, and the majestic panorama of Mount Kilimanjaro with rivulets of snow dripping from the caldera redeem the hot and tiresome road journey. The road to Taveta is dusty and bumpy winding through Maasai hamlets with their rondavels. In their patent red and black checkered shukas, bead necklaces, armlets and anklets – their everyday garb, the Maasai cattle-herders envliven the landscape. Apart from the umbrella acacias with their spreading canopy and wait-a-bit-thorn tree, there are the giant bulbous baobabs, Africa's quintessence.

In the distance, we can trace the silhouette of  a white mansion incongruous with the earthy countryside; this is the Grogan’s Castle, informs Donart, our battlefield guide for today. Grogan’s is an intriguing tale of valour and romance. He set out on foot to traverse the African continent from South to North - from Cape (town) to Cairo - to win over his lady love, an achievement that earned him the title, “Cape to Cairo Grogan”. Donart gives his own twist to the tale saying that after all this Grogan was spurned by the lady who thought nothing of his gimmicks! But the truth, in this case, is more pedestrian than Donart’s flight of fancy. Grogan did achieve his goal and eventually married his lady love for whom he built this castle. On the horizon, Lake Jipe looms large contrasting with the aridity around.

Lake Chala - a volcanic crater lake at the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Lake Chala Safari Lodge 
But all this is a distraction; a mere sideshow to what lies ahead. We are heading to Lake Chala, a freshwater lake straddling the divide between Kenya and Tanzania, at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Standing at 3000 ft, this lake is not a prominent blip on tourist radar but for the persevering tourist willing to brave the dusty, infrastructure-bereft path, it is the proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Even before we get down to see the lake, there is a sense of déjà vu as the façade of Lake Challa Safari Lodge greets us. But wait a minute, its grand scale and opulence would have been obscene if it were not in shambles. The log-house ruins add to the aura of the place fallen off the map. Donart informs that this hotel project was abandoned when its owner died and the lodge had been left to its own fate subsequently. Built overlooking the lake, it affords a spectacular view of the turquoise blue waters fed exclusively by underground streams from Kilimanjaro. Lake Chala, in turn feeds Lake Jipe, which we encountered en route earlier. Reflecting upon the serene waters of the secret lake, Thomas Gray's lines from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" come to mind.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

On the way, we stop at another Commonwealth cemetery built to honour WWI heroes, the Taveta Indian Cemetery. After a long and exhausting ride back to the lodge, we are in time for sunset. In the failing light of dusk, herds of buffaloes and elephants troop towards the watering hole, a landscape awash with the golden glow of the setting sun. If the lake was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, we had come home to the rainbow, a double rainbow, if you please.

Also read Battlefield Tour: East African Theatres of WWI:

1 comment:

  1. Dearest Rafiki,
    It's a wonderful setting, beautiful pictures and slick narration. You must have had a fantastic time on these trips. Keep it coming.

    Best Wishes,
    The same AJEET