The Drive across the Rift Valley


Update for week ended July 5, 2013

The long drive from Kisumu to Nairobi was a journey that I looked forward to. This was a journey that we undertook on holidays, which are pleasant memories, and along the way, there were sights and sounds that are etched in my memory till date. The last time I did this journey was 35 years ago and I do hope that the romance of that trip stays with me for as long as I can remember it. The flat plains around Kisumu were ideal cotton and rice growing areas. So, large tracts of farms or plantations would greet us as we left the small town behind. It was ironic how rice could grow alongside the generally dry condition preferring cotton – but I guess it was the soil that helped the farmers take that decision – dark clay in what could have been left behind on the extended shores of the Lake Victoria or basins of long lost rivers that emptied here. The journey would get interesting as we would near Kericho where the mountains would show off their best greens. Dressed like a velvet carpet on the sloping hills, was one of the finest tea estates of Kenya. The greens were only interspersed with little pink houses in neat patterned clusters (houses of the plantation workers). This out of the world picture postcard scenery would get enhanced with the drive past and into the forests that stood at the edge of the Rift Valley. The ancient valley that was created when the great Ice Age ended or perhaps before that, as the land parted way in the middle and revealed its beauties from within. This valley today houses one of the most diverse fauna and flora that mankind has seen and in such profusion that one can see it all pervasive. And this is where we encounter those gentle elegant creatures that lazily cross our road – the tall giraffes. The playful baboons are not far behind and they too try to get our attention – but the mesmerizing gaze of the giraffe is one that simply cannot be erased from my mind. They would stop if you whipped out your camera – and give you that pose you would cherish in your colour photographs. And then would come the scary drive along the escarpment – the edge precipice of the valley – as the road skirted the edge of the mountain before starting its descent onto the valley floor. Prayers in the car would not go to waste as the driver drove like he did across the Kano plains near Kisumu as he had to reach within the 2.5 hour time given to him to get to Nakuru, the capital of the rift Valley Provice. Nakuru was a laid back town in those days – not unlike Kisumu and the customary break point of our journey where we could either have our soda at the Stag Hotel or drive into one of the lanes abutting the highway to have our taste of freshly fried, crispy samosas and drink it down with Vimto – a purplish red drink with the tang of the blackcurrant. And after the replenishments – including an aircheck on the car tyres, and petrol filling, we would start on the rest of the journey that would take us past the pinkish lake Nakuru (pink from a distance as it was inhabited by millions and millions o fthe greater flamingo). And then the ascent would begin – and the weather would start getting cooler as we left the valley behind and one last glance at the pinkish blue lake as we went past Gil Gil and then onto Naivasha and as it got even cooler and the skies got brighter as we neared the outskirts of Nairobi.

 

The D Street Boyz had some Kenya returned members – as they reminisced their days of the Kisumu to Nairobi drive through the rift valley. And that was how they treated their SENSEX chart this week – and whilst they kept the SENSEX at lofty heights in the beginning of the week, they drove it scarily down the escarpment slopes – almost vertically down on Wednesday and kept it at the low valley floor level on Thursday before taking it back up the other side of the escarpment leaving behind the reds of their own Vimto drink and Pink laced lakes. And ended the week at cool and pleasantly welcome heights of 19495 – up from its previous close of 19395.

 

One part that forgot mentioning above were the lovely pears and plums that were sold along the escarpment forest drive. In a way, I felt that the vendors and the giraffes had a pact. The vendors would always be near the giraffe crossings and so whenever the cars and buses would slow down for the gentle creatures, many would also stop by the wayside to let their occupants get a bargain for the paperbags full of fresh fruit. My first tryst with the pear sand plums were on these drives….

Tell me of your childhood travels and trips – in trains or by car or any other modes of transport. I am looking forward to your travel stories. Do not disappoint.

 

Have a great week, cheers….

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3 thoughts on “The Drive across the Rift Valley

  1. Exactly two years back I had attempted to chart my locus around the world via this post (http://kaushalmahajan.com/2010/07/27/pathways-of-fate/) – two years on, hardly anything new lines have been added to that visualization except for a trip to chikmanglur and one to melbourne. My most perspiring and persisting memory from my days in shorts was our annual sojourn to the homebase of my ilk – Jalgaon in Mahrashtra. Even mundane experiences turn special in their sepia tinted warmth – dad teaching my brother and I about this and that. The common theme was about the agonizing delays of the Gitanjali (superfast) Express, either waiting for our age’s reinterpreatation of Tagore’s poetry to arrive at a station or sitting in it, in cramped II Sleeper compartments either stranded in the middle of rolling and arid cotton farms or just dry Deccan black soil. Not much paddy along the Tropic of Cancer in India. And now, after so many decades i am still waiting – for the markets to turn, the rate senstitives to perk up and to stop losing money like a weary travelling getting out of breath ever so often.
    Later on, with the shorts discarded for good and in jeans, I remember a trip to Auli and Joshimath a decade ago with friends. we’d bounded down the slopes down to the Alaknanda but remember the ascent to be excruciatingly difficult. A dozen rotis with piping hot aloo subzi were wolfed down in no time. Similarly at Auli, the slide down the snow laden slopes was over in a flash but the climb (we students didnt have money for the ski lift I think) was very painful, feet by feet we’d dug in our fingers in the snow and hauled ourselves up. Crashes are over in a flash, but building anthing – reputation, character, expertise or wealth, is a slow process. It need not be painful, but the soul needs an analgesic or to for now.
    Googled for photos of Kisumu, Rift Valley, Gil Gil and even the paddy fields you mention – truly spectacular vistas, but google also reports of grave incidents of ethnic violence that are tearing the Rift Valley apart…

  2. Here is another journey experienced by Purusp Pavri, an avid reader, traveller and chronicler of travels.
    Hello Narayan,
    You not only write well, but you make me transport myself back to those good old childhood days ! As a family, and this includes not only me and my parents, but also my aunt, uncle and 3 cousins – we used to travel to one place in India once every year (in my school days).

    The one experience i will never forget is a trip to Cochin, Thekkady, Kodaikanal and back in 1987 or 1988 December (I think). If you recollect, in those years, there was no Konkan railway, so the journey was by Netravati Express from VT (not CST ) to Ernakulam station starting around 8.30 pm. A very long journey, lasting 36 hours and that too in a Non-AC train coach (I wasn’t working with Citi or Westpac back then 🙂 ). Now, I LOVE travelling by train and together with 3 of my cousins (1 older to me and 2 younger to me), we as kids were all set to have a blast ! We had carried with us comics to read aloud, books with those join-the-dots puzzles, lots of snacks to eat and fruits ! When the journey started, it was night, so not much of stuff to do except gorge on dinner and go off to sleep.

    But the real fun started next day morning. We woke up to some hot tea at a station called Gulbarga. Long before Laloo Prasad Yadav introduced chai in an earthen cup called Kullad, we had that chai 25 years back at Gulbarga station – the sizes being so small, that even as kids, I remember asking for 2 cups of chai – a business idea which our modern day MNCs have also adopted – reduced quantity at the same “price point” :). It was then time for breakfast and we were slowly getting those hunger pangs but our parents told us to wait – and we were confused, not knowing why. While waiting for the appropriate station for breakfast, I remember a station called Shahbad where enroute we saw different coloured stones – thats where the famous Black “Shahbad” stones come from – which adorn many a middle-class home kitchen platform in Mumbai. Just when we were going to complain again about breakfast, we arrived at a station called “Wadi Junction” and as the train entered the platform, we were convinced that our wait was worth it. Imaging your train pulling into a platform and you suddenly get an amazing aroma of egg omelettes — till today (its been 25 years since that journey), I have NEVER had an omelette sandwich (outside of home) which tasted better!. There was 1 mobile omelette stall per 2 train coaches, and they would make piping hot omelettes for travellers at break-neck speed – the train would stop only for 5 minutes – more efforts for those who set shop outside the “unreserved” compartments, since you would have more people queueing up for the awesome stuff dished out ! Believe me, even today, these omelette stalls exist at Wadi Junction – and if you wish to “time” your arrival there for the omelettes, catch the Coimbatore Express at 10:35 pm from Kurla Terminus (as I did in the Year 2010 on my way to Ooty) and you would reach Wadi around 10 am next morning.

    Moving on, as we started doing our “time-pass”, we saw stations whiz past while we were engrossed in our puzzles and stories, with the occasional munching on fruit. It was then time to have lunch and the station that we halted was Guntakal in Andhra Pradesh. Now, this station is very famous for its biryani – and you get both Veg and Non-Veg Chicken biryani. Again – awesome stuff and we gorged on it like kids coming from a famine-stricken area. While the elders slept after lunch, we were in no mood for that – so we just looked out the window and were amazed to see something. After a station called Gooty, the train started “climbing” on an incline. Not only that, it also curved sharply to the right. Imagine our glee when as kids, we got excited to see the “entire train” from the window – something which I enjoy seeing even today !

    The most unexpected part of the journey was yet to come. Around 9-9:30 pm, our train halted at a station called Jolarpettai and we had our dinner there. After a longish halt of around 45 mins, our train started to move – but in the Opposite direction ! Imagine our surprise – kids and parents being amused by what was happening. My uncle and father went out to the door and saw that the train’s engine had switched sides ! So, our coach, which was around 8th coach from the engine side when we left Bombay, now became the 8th coach from the end. Still confused and not knowing why this was happening, we went off to sleep – my youngest cousin even asking us as to whether we are going back to Bombay – since the train was travelling in an “ultaa” direction 🙂

    More confusion awaited us when we woke up next morning. Around breakfast time, we reached a station called “Shoranur Junction”. A couple of minutes after we arrived, we could feel a slight tug. My dad and my uncle went out to see what happened, and came back with the news that the engine was disconnected from the train. Well, nothing wrong with that (we thought), since this could be a routine change of the engine, but what we saw next was pure disbelief – the train was “split into two” and there were 2 engines – 1 each at each end of the train ! When we enquired with some regular travellers, they told us that half the train would travel to Mangalore and half the train (our half) would travel to Ernakulam. Unprecedented, disbelieving, fascinating, wow – whatever adjectives you could conjure of, was applicable for that moment ! After this, our half of the train then went on its journey and we reached Ernakulam a few hours later.

    Well, thats it from me for this particular fascinating journey and when we were returning to Bombay, we were very excited and eager to experience this all over again !

    Sorry for the longish tale, but this is one travel I will never forget – 36 hours of pure fun and unexpected excitement – something which we may experience rarely now in our lives 🙂

    Regards,
    Pourusp

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