Nothing is as exhilarating as the pleasure of exploring a city like Harare, the animated chatter on busy streets, the music, the tantalising aromas from the restaurants and the lively nightlife. However, the surplus of sounds and scenes tend to leave one feeling drained and craving a quiet spot far from the madding crowd. Luckily, one does not have to look far as there are several nature reserves and resorts around the city, from botanical gardens to lakes, parks to woodlands, serving up solitude for a respite from the glaring city lights.
One such spot my colleague and I decided to visit is the Domboshava Hill and Cave monument, located 30 kilometers north-east of the city centre, in the Chinamora Communal Lands. This monument, under the custodianship of the Zimbabwe National Parks, is an ideal spot for a picnic with the family, a sundowner with friends, a self-guided walk with one’s dog or in our case, a mini-hiking experience.
As we drove towards the entrance, marked by the Interpretive Centre and housing the monument’s reception area and analytical information about the monument, the huge mass of towering granite rock came into view and we were awe-inspired by how it dwarfed every other feature in sight.
At the Interpretive Centre, we learnt about the Domboshava Cave and Hill Monument including the fact that the name Domboshava was made up of two nouns, ‘dombo’ and ‘shava.’ Dombo means a hill or stone in Shona, while there are three theories linked to the word shava. The first school of thought suggests that a local spirit medium who lives north of the hill claims that she is possessed by the spirit of the man who settled in this area first. This man had a daughter named Chishava whom he married off to another family that settled in the area after him and from then the area was known as Domboshava. The other school of thought suggests that people who are of the Eland (Shava or Mhofu in Shona) clan reside on the north-western side of the hill and this group argues that the area is called Domboshava, shortened from Dombo revaShava, because of them. The last and more plausible theory suggests that the hill derived its name from the patches of red lichen, which cover most of the granite boulders.
Leaving the Interpretive Centre, after paying a fee of $4 each, we were welcomed by Rambakurimwa Forest, a thick groove of the musasa (brachystegia spiciformis) and muzhanje (uapaca kirkiana) trees, at the base of the hill. The name Rambakurimwa, which means ‘that which cannot be tilled,’ comes from the generation-old folklore about how years ago, people living in this area cut down trees in the groove for farming purposes but their efforts proved futile as a day after the trees had been cut down, they were found upright and healthy in the exact location they had been cut from. The conclusion was that the spirits did not want the area to be tilled.
We followed the yellow arrows that took us past the natural pool. Though the pool was dry when we visited, we learnt from the guides at the Interpretive Centre that during the rainy season, the pool collects water, which adds to the splendour and mysterious air of the place.
Still following the arrows, we went up the steep granite outcrop where an occasional colourful rock lizard or two, sensing us approaching, darted away before the shutters of our cameras could click, seeking refuge in the cracks of the rocks. The arrows eventually took us from the blazing sun to the dark and cool mouth of the cave, protected by an overhanging ledge and fenced off by Zimbabwe National Parks to curb vandalism. It felt like we had stepped back into history, facing an exhibition of ancient rock paintings – created using plant resin, charcoal and animal blood – depicting the men and animals that inhabited this area in history.
Moving away from the cave, we followed the arrows pointing north-east to two hills standing close together, the larger of the two called Chavaroyi meaning ‘for the witches’ in Shona. Like most features of the Domboshava Hill and Cave Monument, the name Chavaroyi is linked to a folklore stating that long ago, suspected witches were brought to the hill for their alleged powers to be erased by walking around the hill.
Eventually, we reached the marked summit of the hill and the breathtaking view of the undulating landscape before our eyes made the soreness in our muscles from climbing the rock all worthwhile. We stood at the summit, listening to the silence punctuated by the howling wind and gazed in wonder at the immense size of the hill, which made us seem like specks of dust. From the summit, we started our descent and still following the arrows, we found ourselves at one of the spectacles of the hill, the famous balancing rock, shaped like a suspended boat. In the shade of the spectacular feature I was moved by the splendour of the setting sun painting the horizon in magical hues.
The fleeting beauty of the sunset was replaced by darkness setting in, with calls of the wild from birds like the Cape turtle dove, the laughing dove and the black-eyed bulbul filling the air, signifying the end of yet another day. With sore limbs, my colleague and I made our way carefully from the rocky outcrop and found ourselves back at the Interpretive Centre where we purchased cold bottled water to quench our thirst after a day in the sun. On our way to that car park, we passed the Curio Centre where various visual art pieces were on display. After exchanging a few pleasantries with the artists who were still busy at work, creating more pieces, we drove back to the hustle and bustle of the city, having gained a new perspective on life and history.