‘VISITING NGAI‘ MADE AFFORDABLE AS MOUNTAIN LODGE OFFERS LOW SEASON RATES
(Posted 18th April 2017)
Mount Kenya, the country’s highest peak, is in folklore of the tribespeople living around the mountain seen as a mystical place, the place where their God of old resides and even though the country’s population has today largely subscribed to the modern day religions are the beliefs of yesteryear not quite gone, certainly not discounted among the populations in Central Kenya and perhaps upon closer inspection even to some degree still practiced.
Batian, the highest peak, stands tall at 5.199 metres and its ‘siblings‘ Nelion (5.188 mtrs) and Lenana (4.985 mtrs) are often seen from as far as Nairobi, especially on the first clear morning after several days of rain, but is definitely the dominating sight from across Laikipia and as far as the northern parks and game reserves beyond Isiolo.
(Mt. Kenya’s peaks seen at the crack of dawn from the rooftop terrace of Serena Mt. Lodge)
‘Ngai‘, a mythical figure perceived as the God of Creation, is at times also called
‘Mwene Nyaga‘ by the local Gikuyu tribe which thought of the mountain peak to be the earthly home of their God and subsequently built their homesteads facing the mountain.
Hence, when last visiting the Serena Mountain Lodge the thought of ‘Nearer My God To Thee‘ kept crossing my mind, if for nothing else to show respect for local customs and beliefs which even in today’s cyber age must not be dismissed or as often seen belittled – lore and saga after all very much still have a place in society and in this part of Kenya remains an integral part of life.
The drive from Nairobi – just under 200 kilometres – was smooth all the way, along the new super highway to Thika – on my first trip over 40 years ago along this road the signage still read ‘Fort Hall‘ – and then via Karatina, Kiganjo and the turnoff from the Nyeri to Nanyuki road towards the mountain, all tarmac right to the parking of the lodge.
Built by African Tours and Hotels in the late 1970’s was the location chosen to be outside the park boundaries to spare guests the entrance fees but today it seems have the park boundaries been moved further down the mountain from its original 3.400 metres level forcing visitors to pay what can only be described as an exorbitant entrance fee, something Kenya Wildlife Service ought to urgently review in order to attract more visitors both to the lodge and into the park itself.
After all, the area was and continues to be a hotspot for birds and mammals, for tropical hard wood trees, medicinal shrubs and orchids.
Eleven endemic bird species are found in the area around the lodge and further up the mountain:
1. Jackson’s francolin.
2. Abyssinian ground thrush
3. Abbott’s starling
4. Sharpe’s starling
5. Kenrick’s starling
6. Montane Orioles-highland forest.
7. Doherty’s bush shrike
8. Scarlet tufted malachite sunbird
9. Hinde’s Barbbler
10. African green ibis
11. White-tailed crested flycatcher.
It was the lodge’s resident naturalist and field guide Benson Maina who compiled the list and then shared some of his impressions when taking tourists around the trails leading from the lodge into the forest as my own hike fell victim to a massive tropical downpour which made venturing out during the available time literally impossible, unless one had a kayak or was wearing a life vest:
‘It’s a two hour guided walk through the thick forest of Mount Kenya (rain forest). Very informative on flora, fauna, birds and history. Bearing in mind Mount Kenya was the home of the freedom fighters the MAU MAU fight for Kenya’s independence. The best experience was when we met a leopard pulling it’s kill of a young Bush buck up a tree. It was so exciting although the guests felt like the leopard would come for them. The very recent one is when we met a buffalo giving birth in the bushes. When doing birding we met a African crowned eagle feeding on a suni on the ground. this is not common at all at all‘.
However, in the morning there was time to go out for some fishing and though no fish was caught were brown trouts seen happily nibbling on my bait and making off with it without ‘biting‘.
At the same spot where I fished, or tried to, does KWS also maintain a trout hatchery with about a dozen different tanks and ‘fingerlings‘ can be bought in case someone wants to release a bucket or two into the stream to spur population growth.
(Rods are available from Serena Mountain Lodge as are the required fishing licences and the transport to the fish nursery and river)
(No amount of concentration helped to pull even one fish … oh well, that day I remained a giver of life rather than a taker of life)
(The fish in the various tanks are fed every day and Benson Maina is seen here providing detailed information about the various stages and requirements to make fish breeding a success)
The lodge can also serve as a springboard for some more extensive hikes into the moorlands higher up the mountain and even climbs proper can be arranged by Serena Hotels with Mountain Lodge serving as a base.
But the lodge is equally offering the tranquility many people seek when they try to escape the hustle and bustle of the city wanting to read a book or just sit in a lounger and let the day go by, so the intrepid explorer has as much a reason to be here as have those who simply need a bit of peace and quiet and find it when the overnight guests have checked out and the new arrivals are still hours away.
All rooms are self contained after Serena moved from communal bathrooms to individual bathrooms, are well equipped including a tea / coffee making set and to crown it do they all have a small balcony to sit out and watch the game parade by the waterhole.
Of course is a lounge with fireplace available, as is an outdoor terrace and blankets are available for those fearing the chill at nearly 2.200 metres high. From the roof top is the view arguably the best and that is where the lodge now has a small meeting room for corporate retreats in a very different setting.
Tea is served all day in the lounge, making sure the inside stays warm and for those keen on Spa treatment, that too is available at the Serena Mountain Lodge.
Food, needless to say, is Serena quality through and through and Lodge Manager Sylvia Mbugua runs a tight ship up on the mountain.
With just 41 rooms is Mountain Lodge comparably smaller than most Serena properties but for sure is this a place with character which only ever allows so many rooms to have before sheer mass would spoil the ambience and unique cabin experience which only very few places can offer to their guests.
Serena being a ‘green‘ company shows in other areas too as the company has since 2001 been engaged in reforestation and guests have the opportunity to plant a tree of their own, or several, while staying at Mountain Lodge.
(The Serena Mountain Lodge tree nursery from which Esther Kimani of the Serena reservations office selected one and planted it under the guidance of Benson Maina as did yours truly)
A visit to Serena Mountain Lodge, possible any day of the week due to the relatively short distance and good roads, can be done on its own but having come that far is an option on the table to add another exciting Serena destination.
After two nights at Mountain Lodge is it a short drive down to the main road and on to Nanyuki from where Ol Pejeta is – almost – within waving distance.
It is there that Serena owns the Sweetwaters Luxury Safari Camp and manages the Ol Pejeta House, formerly owned by Adnan Khashoggi. This gentleman made a fortune in the 70’s as a global wheeler dealer before going bust in the late 1980’s and losing among many other possessions the Ol Pejeta ranch with all its improvements on it and the Mount Kenya Safari Club to Lonrho’s Tiny Rowland who foreclosed on him and took over the land given as securities for loans advanced to Khashoggi.
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy, often described here as Kenya’s most complete wilderness experience just four hours drive from the capital, today is owned by British NGO Flora and Fauna International and sits at the very heart of Kenya’s ‘conservancy region‘ which has become a major tourism resource for the country.
Whether one stays at Sweetwaters or at the Ol Pejeta House, both offer their guests another unique Serena experience with excellent food, 5 star hospitality – Sweetwaters is one of Kenya’s 5 star ranked safari properties – and a wide range of activities.
Game drives during day or night, game walks escorted by rangers and guides, camel rides, meals in the bush, birding experiences, lion tracking and a visit to Kenya’s only sanctuary for chimpanzees are topped by the only three remaining Northern White Rhinos in the wild anywhere in the world. There are many superlatives to this location including the largest number of Eastern Black Rhinos in the entire East Africa in just one place making for regular sightings of the Big Five at this one location.
Ol Pejeta is also the only place where the range of the two predominant zebra species in Kenya overlap, the very rare Northern Grevy’s Zebra and the much more common Burchell’s or plains zebra. Subsequently is this also the only place where hybrids can be seen, a cross between the two species, uniquely special for lovers of rare wildlife sightings.
Now that the annual low season has arrived and will last till the end of June and in some cases until mid July, are rates for locals and residents in Kenya – and East African residents too for that matter – way down from the tariffs charged during the high season. Such affordability is a key for added domestic and regional travel across the Kenyan safari parks and conservancies and the described option to combine Mountain Lodge and its special appeal with the big five on Ol Pejeta is an experience which can be undertaken with a family saloon car – as long as the game drives on Ol Pejeta are done by lodge 4×4’s to avoid getting stuck after a heavy downpour.
Visit www.serenahotels.com for all the information about their resorts, safari lodges and camps and hotels in the region and the special deals available for citizens and residents of East Africa.