Mystical, magical mountain

A quaint little lodge and all the fresh air, flora and fauna you could want are key features of this mountain area. PHOTO| RUPI MANGAT

What you need to know:

  • It’s the cold that gets us walking into the forest after a hearty breakfast the following morning.
  • We’re shrouded in mist. Joseph Munene, our jovial guide cum chef at the lodge, accompanies us. Munene points to a hyena’s spoor on a muddy patch – it’s the Spotted, the most numerous of the three species in Kenya.

We’re deep in Kirinyaga County when the tarmac road comes to an abrupt end at the gate of Kenya Forest Service’s Castle Forest Lodge. 20 minutes up the murram road, we step into the cold mountain air of Kirinyaga. The contrast between the flat green carpet of tea fields and the natural forest on Mount Kenya’s eastern slopes is sudden. Tall trees compete for sunlight. Vines climb the sturdy branches while shrubs fill the gaps.

The timber lodge is quaint – simple but in the most beautiful surroundings. It’s where the British queen, now 91, is said to have spent some days as a young woman.

Lounging on the verandah of my cottage, a guide passing by whispers to alert me of a herd of six elephant metres away licking the salt silently in the valley. For the world’s largest land animal, the elephant can be as silent as a mouse.

It’s the cold that gets us walking into the forest after a hearty breakfast the following morning. We’re shrouded in mist. Joseph Munene, our jovial guide cum chef at the lodge, accompanies us. Munene points to a hyena’s spoor on a muddy patch – it’s the Spotted, the most numerous of the three species in Kenya.

A few metres on a high slope against the white clouded sky the twin granite peaks of Kirinyaga’s Batian and Nelion on appear. “I climbed twice to the Lenana from here,” says Munene, “and that’s enough.” Munene keeps up the banter, pointing to the eucalyptus and pine plantations that are being harvested. Our man is also a birder and imitates more than 20 species of birds that we hear in the forest. There are 140 species recorded on this side of the mountain.

A Great sparrow hawk flies across the path. On the ground, a furry little mole minus its head has clearly been a snack for some other predator. We stop on the wooden-plank bridge over River Karote to look out for Rainbow trout; they were introduced into the mountain streams in the early 1900s by the eccentric Grogan of Grogan’s Castle. “It’s a very tasty fish, you only need to cook it lightly,” Munene says.

The water is crystal clear. A man harvests the mountain grass for his cattle and another group check on the beehives hanging in the trees. Wispy lichens dangle from branches full of moss. In the silence of the upper vales, a troop of Colobus monkeys feed high in the trees and leap through the jungle with their white-tufted tails giving them away. The mountain air is heady – fresh and pure.

Four hours later we’re back to the quaint old lodge and served with hot lunch and coffee on the verandah. A middle aged man touches the stone wall of the lodge. “My grandmother carried the stones from the river that were used to build this lodge in 1910,” he says. Before I can badger him with more questions, he leaves.

Strolling after lunch, a steep path leads to the two waterfalls along Karote River. They thunder down, weaving their way through the valley filled with towering tree ferns and massive old trees to reach the Tana, Kenya’s longest river that drains into the Indian Ocean.

www.rupitheafricantrotter.wordpress.com

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.