One thing that continually mesmerises me about Kenya is its beautiful scenery. Just when you thought you had seen it all, you discover something else. Take these five breathtaking sacred mountains that grace the Kenyan landscape, for instance. Apart from being awe-inspiring, they hold a significant spiritual value among the local people. If you have been considering a bucket list tour of the Kenyan mountains, here it is.
It is only befitting to start this list with the highest mountain in Kenya. Mount Kenya continues to play a vital role in the existence of the country and its history. Formerly known as Mount Kirinyaga, Mount Kenya is home to several ethnic groups including the Kikuyu, Embu, Meru and Maasai. Although they might have disagreements in other areas, these communities seem to agree on the holiness and sacredness of the mountain.
The Kikuyu, for example, believe that Mount Kenya is the earthly throne of God when he descends from the sky. They, therefore, made their prayers facing the mountain, with the belief that God, ‘Mwene Nyaga’ would hear them best. The Embu and Meru, closely related to the Kikuyu, also shared similar sentiments and worshipped the God of the great mountain. Mount Kenya boasts beautiful ice caps and bountiful wildlife and it is the source of two of Kenya’s largest rivers – Tana and Ewaso Nyiro.
Mount Ololokwe, also known as Ol Donyo Sabache, is a beautiful rocky mountain that suddenly rises from the vast plains that surround the Isiolo-Marsabit route. It is indeed a sight for sore eyes, and anyone travelling that route for the first time cannot help but stop and soak it all in. The mountain is sacred to the Samburu people who live here. As a nomadic and pastoral community, they place great value on their livestock. They consider Mount Ololokwe sacred because it provides food and water for their livestock. They also use the mountain for prayers during drought seasons. Visiting and hiking this mountain will let you see the beauty it carries, as well as appreciate its sanctity.
Mount Marsabit fits every definition of sacredness. For starters, it is an oasis of teeming vegetation, an abundance of water, and life that is surrounded by a desert. In fact, in the 1970s, the Marsabit National Park was home to the biggest tusker in Kenya named Ahmed. Ahmed was so beloved that the then president ordered a five-bodyguard escort to protect him around the clock. Ahmed lived long and died a natural death, and has a monument in his honour at the Nairobi National Museums. A volcanic mountain, Mount Marsabit is home to three crater lakes, including Lake Paradise, which houses abundant birdlife.
Of all the sacred mountains in Kenya, Menengai Crater is perhaps the most famous for many reasons. It is among the biggest craters in the world and a site for geothermal power exploration in the Rift Valley. Menengai also carries with it a lot of tales and superstitions. The local inhabitants believe the mountain harbours evil spirits that lure people and animals to their death. Some people claim that the spirits are so strong that if you pass a certain point of the mountain, you will fall into a trance. These events and stories earned the mountain the alias, ‘Kirima Kia Ngoma‘, which means ‘the mountain of demons.’
The Maasai seem to agree on the haunted nature of the mountain. They, however, trace this ill luck to an inter-community war they had during the precolonial era. Two Maasai clans were fighting for the rights to the mountain pastures. One group won by throwing the others over the cliff of the mountain into the crater. The Maasai thus say that the rising hot steam that you can see on the mountain’s top are the spirits of these dead morans trying to make their way up to heaven. However, some Christians defy the scary stories the mountain holds and instead use the mountain for prayers and religious pilgrimage.
Mount Elgon is the second oldest extinct volcano in East Africa. It supposedly dates to over 24 million years ago. I find Mount Elgon to be highly downplayed compared to the other prominent mountains in Kenya. However, nature seems to appreciate the value of this age-old mountain, and it uses it accordingly. Apart from being a source of grand rivers, including tributaries of River Nzoia, it is also home to a significant wildlife population.
The mountain earns its badge as one of Kenya’s sacred mountains because of its maternity wards. Yes, you read that right. Mount Elgon has several caves which offer a safe and conducive environment for female elephants to give birth to their calves. They travel over 30 kilometres from the surrounding forests to give new life and also to feed on the salt which supplements their regular diet. There is no other mountain in Kenya where this unique phenomenon occurs. If that does not make it sacred, I do not know what does.
Kenya’s sacred mountains are a priceless treasure trove that should not miss on any traveller’s Kenyan bucket list. Make sure you have visited at least one if not all.