Mutuku Mwangangi @PitzPitah
The mystical Nzambani Rock in Kitui County, a tourist site said to have supernatural powers of changing one’s gender has gotten a new lease of life.
This follows a private investor’s initiative to breathe life to the rock by establishing a restaurant and a campsite at the foot of the giant rock, located 15km from Kitui town.
The 18-acre land next to the imposing rock is owned by the Mwendwas, a well-known family in Kitui, through an entity called Nzambani Rock Development Company. The family has clarified that despite a misconceived narrative that they do not own the rock, but have only leased it for 99 years. The agreement was entered with the defunct Kitui County Council in 2004.
“We thought of coming up with something unique to create a conducive environment for people to fully appreciate the rock without necessarily climbing it. We plan to establish a five-star hotel with fully furnished guest rooms, a swimming pool, a botanical garden for photo shoots and all other recreational facilities,” said Mumo Mwendwa, the manager of the facility.
He said there was a need to provide hospitality to the people who go up the rock and come down tired, thirsty and hungry. Last year, Kitui East Member of Parliament Nimrod Mbai, a constituency that hosts the giant rock, told the county government of Kitui to revoke the 99-year lease of the rock. “This government can manage the site. The lease denies the people of Kitui what is theirs,” said the MP.
For several months, the investor had been working on making the area around the rock conducive for visitors, most of who visit to climb the rock. During a recent tour, we found another manager Winfred Mwende busy at the campsite inspecting tents. “The reception has been good; people like the facility. We are doing everything possible to make their stay here comfortable and memorable,” she said.
A restaurant has been constructed where you can order nyama choma or grilled chicken, among other meals. Guests are also allowed to come with raw foodstuffs to cook for themselves.
A giant tank has been erected to ensure a constant supply of water and a high voltage generator installed for power supply. Next to the tents is an ablution block with fine structured toilets and bathrooms. “We are now open to visitors. This presents a perfect get-away facility for families, couples and other visitors seeking to be away from the bustle and hustle of towns,” said Mwende.
The campsite came in handy during last year’s Rugby Sevens event after guesthouses in Kitui town were fully booked, forcing visitors to seek accommodation at the tented camps.
Inside the tents are two mattresses and a sleeping bag. Visitors are also provided with lanterns for lighting. A shared tent goes for Sh5,500 per night, inclusive of breakfast.
Noting that in the past there was nothing else to do other than climb the rock, Mwende said all they wanted was to add value to the tourist site. A steel ladder has been erected on the rock to ease climbing.
Francis Nyaa, a foreman said the ladder held by thick bolts drilled into the rock is stable and safe. “The ladder is repaired and painted after every two years,” he said.
To climb the rock, one has to part with Sh200. It takes an average of 25 minutes to reach the peak of the 60 feet outcrop. The top offers views of Kitui and Matuu and even Thika town, about 120km away. On clear days, Mt Kilimanjaro is visible.
When Mzee Kimanzi Mutunga, 73 and the caretaker of the site talks about the myth Nzambani Rock, even locals are left awestruck. Exposing his partial toothless gums in a smile, Mutunga swears that if one goes around the rock seven times, their gender automatically changes. However, he takes visitors around the rock only once then leaves them to attempt more hikes.
“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Nzamba who came here with two friends to fetch firewood,” Mutunga starts his narration, his face is enveloped with intimate emotions. “While at it she saw an attractive stone which she collected to take to her father for grinding snuff. But when she placed it on her breast, it stuck to her body and started to grow,” he explains.
When her friends failed to disentangle the poor girl, they fled, leaving a now desperate Nzamba alone in the forest. The next day, people were astonished to find a huge stone standing where Nzamba was. Shockingly, the stone grew daily.
“At the foot of the rock, there is a cave which served as a shrine for Kamba people. During drought, they would bring foodstuffs and slaughter a black goat to appease the gods. Before they could reach home, there would be a heavy downpour,” said Mutunga.