Exploring farm life as a creative tourism attraction
Unexplored sceneries and agritourism are not only offering recreational activities to tourists who visit Kirinyaga county, but are also helping preserve and display intangible and tangible historic and agricultural heritage.
Harriet James @harriet86jim
When Johann Ludwig Krapf, an explorer and missionary from Germany came to Kenya, one of his guides who was a celebrated Kamba trader, Chief Kivoi from Kitui, mentioned to him of a great mountain in Kikuyu land referred to as Kiima Kiinya.
He pronounced it with the Kamba accent while the actual traditional kikuyu name was Kirima Kiri Nyaga.
The Embu people, who also lived on the slopes of the mountain, called it Kirenyaa.
All these three names have the same meaning, which is believed to be linked to the mountain’s black rock and white snow that resembled the feathers of an ostrich.
Krapf would later on record this as Kenia and the name stuck to Mount Kenia.
The country became a British East Africa Protectorate until 1929 when it was renamed Kenya.
This little history shows how Kirinyaga county is significant to Kenya’s heritage as the name of our beloved country was born of the county.
My trip to this historic region was an eye opener as I learnt more about the area and its tourist destinations.
Last year, it is said that the county’s hotels earned a total of Sh300 million just from tourism, and plans are underway to revamp sports, culture, the hospitality industry, wildlife as well as scenery to boost its revenues since most of its attractions are unexploited.
There are also reports of plans to construct a Sh19 billion five-star hotel around Thiba Dam to boost tourism.
Friendlier climbing route
In addition, the county has also developed strategic paper, Mountain Rising Blueprint 2032, to market a shorter and friendlier climbing route to the Mt Kenya through Kamweti route, suitable for hikers and mountain climbers enthusiasts.
I visited some of the attractions with Clement Waigwa, the travel experience manager of Virgin Explorers, who is passionate about seeing Kenyans break the norm from the usual coastal or Mara destinations and experience life in the farm.
It took me three hours to get to Kerugoya, the capital of the county arriving at around lunch time and we began the tour right away heading towards Ndaraca Ya Ngai (Bridge of God), which is said to be a historic hide away joint for maumau fighters during the colonial period.
What made it a safe haven was the fact that the British never discovered the place.
The area also served as a shrine where elders sought divine intervention. “It is a breath taking imagery understands how it came to existence.
It straddles River Nyamindi hidden amidst the scenic view of the mountain.
It is just a drive away from the Nairobi – Embu highway at a place called Mururi,” explains Waigwa.
Kirinyaga has several attractive waterfalls and we managed to tour five.
First fall was the Grand falls and next we travelled to Thiba falls, which is where River Roger Kiringa and Thiba meets, forming a huge fall and natural pool for swimming.
A 40 metre high and one kilometre wide dam is being built in this river and will be capable of holding 15 million cubic metres of water.
It will be equipped with a spillway that will prevent flooding during the rainy season.
“Strabag, an Austarlian costruction firm, which has been contracted to build the dam will install water intakes, which, through pipes, will convey the water to irrigation systems.
The Kenyan government estimates that this will double the area under rice production, an additional 140,000 tonnes per year.
Farmers in central Kenya will thus be able to produce 280,000 tonnes of rice per year,” he explains.
We met young boys swimming in this natural pool, which remindeded me of my adventurous childhood.
Later, we drove to Gicheru falls, where we also found young boys diving from the top of the fall swimming and sun bathing at the banks that looked like a sand bank.
Finally, we went to see Kathiri, a fall, which according to Waigwa, has gravity effects and creates rainbow on sunny days.
Besides, this fall was a water drinking point known as Ngungu where one can take carbonated water.
The taste was that of a soda and even produced gas bubbles when placed in a bottle.
“The carbonation process gives water slight acidity. Interestingly, a carbonated drink may even enhance digestion by improving swallowing ability and reducing constipation,” Waigwa poses.
Another activity that I loved about the county as agrotourism. Because of the proximity to Mt Kenya, most people have tea farms and you would see them early in the morning plucking tea leaves and carrying them in baskets to the factory.
Waigwa tells me that the cool mountain air allows the sun’s powerful rays to penetrate the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant (purple tea), the plant from which all varieties of tea are cultivated.
Waigwa says he opted to do such farm tours for his clients as he desires to teach more about the farm life particularly to international guests or city residents who have never been to the farm.
For him, this season has not been challenging as more people are booking for such tours and are happy to create great memories of their experience.
“We provide farm and village experience in their pure state and the experience is far beyond just seeing and listening.
Here we give experiential deals where a client becomes part of the tour, thus creating memorable experiences for a lifetime.
For instance, we do cooking tours where we exchange ideas on cooking methods and farm practices,” he says in conclusion.