Zomba Plateau and Town

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3/5

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Date of travel

September, 2017

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Zomba was Malawi’s original capital until it was replaced by Lilongwe in 1975, as the latter had a more central location. We stayed at “Zomba Forest Lodge”:https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/accommodation/177107-review-zomba-forest-lodge for a few days, situated on a remote hill-side spot between the plateau and town.

The Plateau

Zomba plateau is great for hiking, but as I’d fallen a few days earlier at “Chintheche Inn”:https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review?id=177115, my ankle was painful and so we set off on a drive with our guide, Everlasting, pointing out various trees and birds. We were dismayed to see so much deforestation. The Malawian’s use huge amounts of wood for cooking and heating and trees were being felled at a rate of knots by large gangs, living on the mountain side in tents made from black plastic with wooden props. The cut wood is loaded onto lorries, which often blocked the narrow track, or women carried it down the hillside with huge bundles, up to 12-foot long, on their heads (often with a baby strapped to their back).

At Mulunguzi Dam and waterfalls, owned by the water board, Everlasting was jittery about us taking photographs: this turned out to be a recurring theme during our time in Zomba. A sign ‘trail 4’ guided us on foot, down a short track to Mandala Waterfalls where a picnic lunch sat on the surrounding large smooth stones would have been lovely, if we’d just not had a big breakfast. We continued driving upwards past horse stables and the now non-operational Kuchean trout farm, before another walk led us to William’s Waterfalls.

Next followed three view-points: Queen’s View (the Queen Mother visited in 1967); Emperor’s View (Haile Selassie visited in 1965), and Songani Lookout. Unfortunately, the views of Zomba town were shrouded in haze, a mixture of heat, dust and smoke. At all the viewing points, young boys sold quartz and bric-a-brac displayed on rickety wooden stalls, which we studiously ignored.

A long drive on the continuing narrow, rutted track took us up to 2000m and Chingwe’s Hole, a small bottomless hole surrounded by trees, which is reputedly where chiefs in the old days threw their enemies down (others say Dr Hastings Banda continued this practise in more recent times).

Zomba Town

On arrival in the old part of Zomba town, off a narrow road, we could just see large houses up short paths which had been the homes of old Colonial types and were now the homes of wealthy Malawians. At Hotel Masongola, the oldest building in town, we walked through the grounds before viewing the old parliament building, now a court house, where we saw a man in handcuffs being led across the road to sit on the pavement awaiting his fate. Across the road was the Government Press Office and we were told quite clearly by Everlasting ‘cameras had to be put away’.

After driving through the University Campus, we stopped to walk round the market starting with the fruit and vegetable section. It was more orderly and less frenetic than many we’d been to and I tried to take a photograph of an artistically arranged pile of potatoes but was told I needed to ask permission as ‘the owner might be drunk or not like having his potatoes photographed’. We walked through various other sections with hardware and kitchen goods, meat and fish and a row full of barbers where Roy had a much-needed hair cut for £1.

Back in the car, we drove to the War Memorial, dedicated to the Kings African Rifles, where we weren’t even allowed out of the car, let along take photographs close up (although I got a sneaky one from the car window). Next to the war memorial was Mikyu Prison were during the Banda years, over 3,000 political prisoners were incarcerated.
We’d been told by Tom and Petal at the lodge, not to have great expectations at the National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens which was good advice as all we found was grassy rolling hills with trees (which according to Bradt should have all been labelled. We left wondering whether we’d seen everything.

Helen Jackson

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