African Retreat Tours & Travels Ltd
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Ol Donyo Sabuk (in Kikuyu, Kilimambogo, Kilima Mbogo) is a mountain and an adjacent small town in central Kenya. The peak, height 2,145 metres (7,037 ft), was named by Maasai pastoralists, meaning big mountain. The Swahili name, Kilima Mbogo, means Buffalo Hill or Mountain. The town stands at the border Machakos District and Thika District. Lord Macmillan was the first man to settle here, and everything else that has happened since is largely attributed to him (see below: Lord William Northrop Macmillan). The town is quite dusty, due to deforestation and loose ground cover, compounded by occasional rainfall. However, the area is adorned with lots of untamed beauty.
The town is located about 18.5 km (11.5 mi) east-southeast of Thika, along the Thika-Garissa road (A3 road). Driving on Garissa Road from Thika town, there are pineapple plantations on both sides, accentuated by little pockets of blooming eucalyptus. About 18 kilometres (11 mi) east of Thika, there is a junction going south, with Kenya Wildlife Service markings. It will be a 3-kilometre (1.9 mi) drive from here to the famous Fourteen Falls, described as one of Kenya's most spectacular landmarks. By the river is Kilimambogo Teachers College, and Immaculate Heart of Mary mission hospital. Donyo Sabuk town is a kilometre (half-mile) away from Fourteen Falls, just across the Athi River, with a junction leading to the game park, and the other to the great house of Donyo Sabuk.
Down past the 7,037 ft (2,145-metre) mountain base sits Donyo Sabuk town, a town that has retained many things that Lord Macmillan bequeathed the area. Here, partying goes on well into the night, and there are a number of "boys’ bands", where the box guitar is still in vogue. This musical town is the hometown of the late Kamba musician Kakai Kilonzo, late legendary Sila of Kilunda fame, and the still-active Gä'thika boys band.
Near the peak is the grave of Lord Macmillan, his wife and their dog. Also, there is an extra grave of one Louise, who started working for the Macmillan's when she was age 13 until her death.
In what was once one of the biggest ranches in Kenya, there are five towns inside the former Juja Ranch. The rural area is a multi-ethnic community in farms owned by people who were former squatters and his farm labourers. The mountain peak is inside a game park, and the rest is partially owned by the Kenyatta family.
Lord William Northrop Macmillan (1872-1925) was a decorated American soldier and knighted by the King of England, even though he was not British. He was a huge Scot raised in St. Louis, Missouri, United States. He arrived in Kenya in 1901 for big game hunting, playing host to former US President Theodore Roosevelt, during his famous 1911 safari at their ranch, Juja Farm (later a popular location for film crews). He and his wife were great philanthropists. They established the MacMillan Library in central Nairobi.
His poor grasp of plain reality was more than compensated for by his exaggerated ambitions and legendary eccentricities. But not until travelling from where Juja town stands today, through open distance all the way around and past Mount Kilimambogo, can someone begin to understand how the unlikely dreams of one man shaped the future of an entire community.
If the facial image retained inside Macmillan Memorial Library, in Nairobi, which has immortalised him, is anything to go by, the man was a serious-looking gentleman. Indeed, he was serious enough to want to own the whole mountain, which, together with the Aberdares (Nyandarua Ranges), was regarded by the Kikuyu and Kamba as God's subsidiary home after Mount Kenya. This is Mount Kilimambogo, which today falls in the middle of Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park, another enduring legacy of Lord Macmillan's exploits. Macmillan's farming pursuits stretched from horizon to horizon. The anguish of his crushing failures to father children is equalled only by the indomitable spirit in which he took on one farming failure after the other. But the American stayed on, a craving that he seemed to have passed on to many people who followed in his footsteps.
The name of this park established in 1967, Ol Donyo Sabuk, means large mountain in Maasai language. It is situated 65 km (40 mi) north of Nairobi and has an excellent and clear view of Nairobi and other lowland areas. Wildlife species that can be spotted here include buffalo, colobus monkeys, baboons, bushbuck, impala, duiker, and abundant birdlife.
Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park is a common one-day trip out of Nairobi, only 65 km (40 mi) away. The mountain is the highest peak in the park, covering 20.7 km2 (8.0 sq mi). It is particularly attractive for hikers or families wanting some freedom and exercise, outside their vehicles. One approach to the park is via the Fourteen Falls on the Athi River. The park's attraction is its beauty and views of both Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro. It teems with game including baboon, colobus, bushbuck, impala, duiker and many birds. While the name "Ol Donyo Sabuk" is Maasai for 'large mountain', the word Sabuk was mistakenly thought by many writers to mean "buffalo" whereas in actual fact Maasai call buffalo Olosowan. Today, some 250 buffalos roam the slopes. Kikuyu traditionalists also call the mountain by Kea-Njahe, known as the 'Mountain of the Big Rain', one of Ngai's lesser homes.
The solitary mountain rises to 2,145 m (7,037 ft) from an otherwise flat area. The steep ascent requires a 4WD (4X4) vehicle. Near the summit lie the graves of Sir William Northrup McMillan (1872-1925) and his wife Lady Lucie.
It was here in 1930, that one of Kenya's most colourful politicians, Tom Mboya, was born and brought up, when his father worked in the farm as a labourer. Though the setting is not in a valley, this circuit comprised a prime chip of the famed Happy Valley set.
It was 1960, when she arrived in the ranch, from Kinyui. She had bundled up her few possessions, which included a then-coveted linen business, making a hallmark grand entry, and influencing what would turn Ol-Donyo into a famous trading centre. Given its existing large labour population, she saw enormous business opportunity that had characterised the town until the end of the 90s. Locals honoured her by naming the adjacent trading centre after her. But after the fall of Muka Mukuu farmer's cooperative, the area was dismayed. The Ol-Donyo Sabuk status is a direct portrayal of the locals' state of financial affairs.
Further east of Ol-Donyo, the building that was Macmillan's home, a fort by any definition, sits in splendour. More than three-quarters of the house is under key and lock. A part of it houses the Muka Mukuu Co-operative Society, a local failed outfit, managed by elderly locals.
Covering a ground enough for three basketball pitches, the villagers have spent more than a century wondering why a couple that had no children put up such a huge dwelling place. So large is the building that Lord Macmillan and his wife would spend one year in one wing of the house, then migrate to the other in the second half of the year. The locals are yet to figure out how they can benefit from such an obvious tourist attraction site.
It was in this house that Macmillan housed his friend and former American President Theodore Roosevelt, as he wrote his biography. In fact, it was not the first time Roosevelt was spending time there. He had been there before he became president while on a series of hunting trips. Thanks to the ribald gang he joined on the way, his conduct during his stay at Donyo Sabuk almost cost him his presidency. The other prominent person who had stayed in the house was the wartime British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. The house also served as a jailhouse during the Second World War. It is also one of Kenya's most famous film crew jaunts.
Macmillan's house is a museum now.
The early notorieties of the ranch captured the imagination of many people during the First World War, when the castle served as a military hospital for British officers. The wild parties held in the castle, where the notorious colonial maverick Colonel Ewart Grogan led the wine-tossing and supervised wife-sharing orgies, only spiced the sideshows that attracted international media. Hence the castle was baptised "Kilavu" by the locals, meaning Club house.
After a party at the house, Roosevelt one day decided to accompany Lord Macmillan to another party at Chiromo in Nairobi, and decided to make a detour to Khoja Mosque, where they provoked a major outcry in the fledging Indian community. It was an event that was later hyped up in America.
The Fourteen Falls area is protected and equipped with a picnic site. It has historical and religious importance both to the residents and Asian immigrants. The Asians use the site for recreation and spiritual rites, disposing of cremated ash in the river in the belief that it will go all the way to India through the Indian Ocean, hence acting as a shrine. Others come for recreation, retaining the Happy Valley theme that was first introduced by Lord Macmillan. Like Lord Macmillan, the adjacent community, some of whom are descendants of the people the adventurer brought here, still farm the land.