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Zambia’s lesser-known waterfall

Much has been written about the abject poverty, wide spread HIV/AIDS infections and the third worldliness of Zambia; yet very little has been said regarding tourism among other aspects of development in the country.  
As one approaches the Northern Province of Zambia, one can hardly notice the  tourism potential that lies idle for tourists to marvel at. One notable tourist site of national heritage is the Kasama’s magnificent Chishimba Falls.

The Chishimba Falls which are located thirty five kilometres west of Kasama – the provincial capital – on Luombe River are a hidden tourist destination; apart from the fact that the Falls  house the Zambia electricity company (ZESCO) Power Station for the region.
Sadly, it is appalling to note the level of ignorance expressed by most people in Kasama and surrounding districts in the province about the Chishimba Falls, vis-à-vis  tourism – saying they just know it  as  the sole source of their hydro electric power which invariably illuminates their homes.
‘I don’t know… I have never been there before. Is it that place where electricity is generated from?’ wondered a local businessman. However, the few people that have toured the site explore the virtues of its captivating features, calling it is a wonder of God!
I recently took a trip to Chishimba Falls in a hired Toyota land cruiser. It was a dusty bumpy, back breaking jeep trek in the country side of Kasama. The first twenty five kilometres is a tarred road; while the remaining ten kilometres happens to be a gravel road. After dodging a number of potholes, I was right at the Chishimba Falls  barrier, in a matter of forty five minutes.

“WELCOME TO CHISHIMBA FALLS; A PROTECTED HERITAGE SITE’- read the bill board on the barrier. In the nick of time, the care taker of the site opened the gate and allowed me to drive in, and signaled where I had to pack the vehicle.
“May I see your identity card sir? The fees are in two categories; for local and foreign tourists respectively,” said the caretaker. After showing him my national registration card (NRC), the caretaker who is also the cashier asked me to pay two thousand kwacha (well below a dollar) adding that non Zambians paid three dollars per head. 
Just then, I  heard  the spouting and splattering of water in the distance…
Lo and behold! I spotted the gigantic turbines of the hydro power station – overlooking the heritage site. And down beside was the Chishimba Falls; the reason for my trip, the picturesque curtain of falling water! reminiscent of the mighty Victoria Falls in Livingstone. Moreover, the  gentleman took time to explain that there were actually three Falls; the first ones being Mutumuna which have a drop of twenty metres – where they descend into a rocky river bed, and are probably the prettiest of the three. The Kayela are the second and are protected by a weir.
“This has protected a large pool and nearby camping and picnic sites nestled among the natural riparian trees; and the Chishimba Falls are the third,” he said.

He took me through the dambo from the camp site punctuated by a good number of chalets, where I saw a horde of tourists spending their quality time chattering away about the beautiful wonders of the Falls; mesmerised by the captivating scenery …

What was more; the water spout over a huge cliff into a dark cranyon, with a waterfall of thirty meters in height, and the picturesque rainbow took my thoughts as far back as my secondary school lessons in physical geography. But I also noticed that the area retained much of its natural beauty including the thick mist forest which is preserved on the slops of the Chishimba Falls gorge on the west bank of the river.

Then I descended by concrete stairs to the foot of the Falls; I spotted a dark cave adjacent to the Falls. And legend has it that the place was once a dwelling for ancestral spirits adding that it was used as a shrine. However, inhabitants of the surrounding villages still consider the place sacred saying no one should temper with it.

At twelve noon, I climbed the stairs and dashed back to the vehicle, and brought out my packed lunch consisting of: An egg sandwich, a bottle of Fanta and a few bananas. I then joined the rest of the tourists; local and foreign in the chalets.

“This is an unusual place – fine and peaceful. Every summer, hordes of tourists swamp this place. I can’t wait to see a lodge put up around here for people to sleep in and rest,’ said a young lady leaning against the rails. ‘You are right,’ said another. This business of bringing packed meals and only staying up to late afternoon should be a thing of the past.’     

And that comment struck a chord with many tourists who visited the Chishimba Falls at spasmodic intervals. An elderly man cleared his throat and remarked that his experience at the Falls made him feel whisked away to a strange and exotic land full of unusual and intriguing customs.

After lunch I took the second and last leg of my tour and treaded down every dusty foot path, climbing every windswept hilltop; tasting the sun-kissed wild fruits of the hot savannah climate. This made me conjure up a medley of enticing sights and smells, colours and textures of the cultural heritage.

But then, being in the bush, I was constantly haunted by the prospect of having an encounter with a venomous snake…But I never saw any- though oral tradition has it that the only snakes that are likely to be seen are those associated with ancestral spirits adding that they are peaceful, harmless creatures.

Out of curiosity, I threw a stone in the tree, which triggered a flight of chirping birds out of their nests; silhouetting the western sky against the reddish setting sun. I watched them fly away higher and higher as if to meet their maker…

The day was done. The sun was gone; I had to be on my way. Yet even now, the sweet memories of my excursion to Chishimba Falls still linger.

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