Last Easter, the just ended one, was a near perfect break, what with the plans to scale a number of hills within Malawi. On one extreme end I was toying with a plan to hike at least five hills within four days, and on the other end of the pendulum, there was a modest ambition to attempt at least two hills within my home city. When all was said and done, I humbled myself and settled for a hill and a mountain.
I returned to Bunda Hill for the first time this year. This is a small hill on the south west of Lilongwe, the Capital City of Malawi. It is a dynamite in a small package, so to speak. With an elevation gain of a mere 284 metres, it does not boast of any worldly fame. However, this bare rock is not barren at all, and at the summit, it offers a smashing view of the city from a nature’s beauty point of view.
So on Saturday morning, equipped with just a bottle of water, two energy bars and a walking stick I started off to meet my small friend. The bottom of the hill was lush with greenery, mostly from the maize fields from the surrounding villages. Being on the outskirts of the city, the dwellings are informal and belong to the locals. Here and there, dotted across the land are the inroads of modern structures. As one approaches the hill, one is met with a dormant quarry mine. This should be an eye sore, especially with the mining hole that has not been refilled. But on this day, the water that has accumulated at the base of the gaping hole looked serene. Unfortunately, soon this will be a breeding ground, if not already, of the deadly mosquito, the vector that carries the malaria-causing parasite.
On the surface, the pool looked exotic, what with the jagged edges that flanked it on all sides. The hill, serving as a backdrop hinted a bit of color around the areas that are simply bare rock. It was not a bad sight. In fact, I could feel a deep beckoning to continue with my small adventure. The small village at the base of the hill was not active at this time of the day. Small children, who have developed skills as local guides, swarmed and offered to take me to the top. I recognized one or two familiar faces, and noted how the passage of time had transformed them into pre-teens. I politely declined their offers and proceeded to start my hike. Today, it was going to be a solitary effort.
Immediately, I could see I had made a good choice. The hill was in a blossom of a kind, but being economical with rich soil layers, the plants, shrubs and a bit of trees were all diminutive. The flowers were small in stature, but nevertheless, brilliantly displayed. The microscope has shown that beauty does exist even at a tiny scale too small for the naked eye to pick. These flowers were many magnitudes larger than other small natural structures. There was plenty of variations of yellow, and a tiny sprinkling of purple. White was rare except right at the summit. Red came in a rather dull form. The shine had been compromised by dust, and other negative factors. Considering how barren this rock dome is supposed to be, the ensemble of colour on this day was breathtaking.
The hill boasted a presence of little animals too. A curious lizard here, a multi-coloured one there. And one particularly obese lizard near the top caught my attention. At this height I would have expected a reduction in food, yet here was one guy happily imbibing more calories than his shiny body could spend. Abundance, it seems, is nature’s currency even in areas where conditions are expected to be harsh.
At the summit I was greeted by a chorus of people holding charismatic prayers. This is a haven for Christians from all walks of life. Others bring their families here, and it is not uncommon to see mothers with their little tots dotting the land. The temporary rock shelters speak of overnight vigils. Prayer camps for a day or two are a favorite to most dedicated pilgrims. Despite the presence of many people at the top, there was no interference in my quest. No one paid much attention to a grown up man trying to capture photos of a wild fly searching for nectar from a flower with tantalizing petals.
Beyond the summit, the dome recedes into some kind of a saddle, and a second peak emerges beyond that. This second section is less crowded, and it is my personal favorite spot on this hill. At this height the entire campus of LUANAR, the leading agricultural university in Malawi, is visible to the west. The woodlot with a centre full of indigenous trees surrounded by a brim of eucalyptus breaks the view between the campus and the hill. On the opposite end, there lies a grazing ground called dambo in the vernacular, composed mostly of thick clay soil, and short thick grass that stays green throughout the year. Small herds of cattle and donkeys could be seen sprawled across the land, hardly making any visible movement. Docility and tranquility rolled into a harmonious continuum.
My eyes then got drawn to a pair falcons precariously rising in strong winds that had suddenly come from the south. They gingerly balanced themselves, as if being borne by thermal currents coming from the bottom of the hill, oblivious to the pounding forces that were buffeting against their aerodynamic bodies. Then just as they had shown up unexpectedly they darted out of sight, accelerating against the wind like rockets. I knew it was time to take leave of the goodies. Few minutes later I was down at the bottom and just avoided getting drenched by a heavy downpour.
Bunda Hill and I got on the right footing this year. And I will be returning soon, especially when I’m searching for convenience, a quick bite of adventure and a place to say a short prayer within a stone throw distance from home.