Every Friday at 9am, a train departs from Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, heading northeast to Nanyuki, a town at the foot of Mount Kenya. The old locomotive sounds its horn as expected before exiting Central Station.
Just to be clear: if you want to get there quickly, the Nanyuki train is not for you. Crawling along the tracks, the train needs a good seven and a half hours to cover the 180 km distance. A bus will take you to town in three. Still, the longer train ride is worth it.
Tickets are sold directly on the platform or on board the train. “That’s why we encourage passengers to check in at least one hour before the train’s departure time,” advises the railway’s website.
However, the opinion hardly seems necessary. At the start, the five cars are barely full.
From factories to farmland
The train soon leaves Nairobi’s high-rise buildings and rolls slowly through outlying neighborhoods, passing factories, residential areas and piles of rubbish. Dust and stench get inside the wagon. But after a while, the industrial areas give way to corn, bean and cabbage fields. And the train begins to fill up.
“For many people in the villages, the train is cheaper,” explains the locomotive driver. A second-class ticket costs 200 Kenyan shillings, or about 1.65 USD (7.70 RM). Men, women and children are seated crammed into two rows facing each other, like in a subway train. All around are handbags, assorted items and provisions for the trip.
Taking the Nanyuki train is a good way to slow down. The closer he gets to his destination, the greener and hillier the landscape becomes. On its narrow single track, the train looks almost like an amusement park ride, with children in school uniforms waving to passing cars and adults snapping photos with their smartphones along the tracks.
Off the beaten track
The train arrives right on time at Nanyuki. The city of around 50,000 inhabitants is relatively unknown to tourists. For a small Kenyan town, Nanyuki is surprisingly quiet and relaxed. On the horizon, beyond the city, rises Mount Kenya with its 5,199m high Batian peak. In the afternoon, it’s mostly shrouded in thick clouds.
Mount Kenya is the second highest mountain range in Africa after the legendary Kilimanjaro. A climbing excursion lasts from two to six days depending on the many peaks you choose, the route taken and the experience level of the climbers.
But even a day trip is rewarding. For example, there is the Sirimon road which starts a few kilometers northeast of Nanyuki. The circuit departs from Camp Moses, at 3,300m. The temperature is 13°C and a strong wind is blowing, but the sun is shining from a cloudless sky and illuminating the peaks of the mountain range. Perfect hiking weather.
“There are elephants, zebras, baboons and even leopards here in the national park,” explains our guide, Desmond. But either they don’t live here at this altitude, or the animals know how to hide. We only hear a marmot howling in the distance.
One day adventure
The trail crosses a mountainous area of grasses, cliffs and different types of lobelia which give the landscape the appearance of the steppes of Mexico – except at an altitude of 3,500 m. The route is neither particularly steep nor particularly difficult except for distance and elevation. The circular route covers 21km and leads up to 4,100m, with the rocky peak of Mount Kenya always in view.
The busiest months for tourism in Mount Kenya are August and September, or else December, Desmond says. That’s when there can be a lot of people.
“Sometimes there are 350 people here in a single day. Plus guides and porters.
The last white rhinos
But the region around Nanyuki has more to offer than Mount Kenya. One of the attractions is the Ol Pejeta Reserve. The park is home to the last three surviving northern white rhinos as well as over 140 equally endangered black rhinos. The park is also home to zebras, elephants, giraffes and chimpanzees.
Meanwhile, the Ngare Ndare Forest offers natural pools and waterfalls for relaxation, as well as a treetop trail for thrills. And of course many other animals. Also, especially in the northern part of Nanyuki, there are many other private wildlife protection areas to visit. But it will still cost you: For most things in Kenya, you need an entrance ticket, a guide and a car. A day pass for Mount Kenya alone costs US$52 (RM242).
If you want to see lots of animals for little money and without a guide, you should visit the Mount Kenya Animal Orphanage, a haven for animals that otherwise couldn’t survive in the wild. The entrance fee is 2,000 shillings (16.50 USD/76.70 RM), with all of the money going towards the upkeep of the orphanage.
The Nanyuki train returns to Nairobi on Sunday, leaving at 9am. Those wishing to stay longer can also return by bus or taxi. While it’s more than twice as fast as taking the train, it’s also definitely half as scenic. – dpa