travelling & touring:with Burzil Dube
My stay in the coal mining town of Hwange has been rather a blessing in disguise. The excursion continues to leave a few tongues wagging especially from my “imbibing cabinet” who constantly accuse me of infatuation with anything related to Nambya cultural norms and values.
The cabinet did not take it lightly and appealed for inclusion of other dynasties scattered all over the country. Valid observation indeed but the only hindrance is the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic as travelling is currently restricted.
Other locals were of the opinion that I could have been a latent beneficiary of a vast tract of prime farming land courtesy of Nambya traditional chiefs.
On the contrary, players in the hospitality sector from distant places such as Kariba, Nyanga and Binga have extended yours truly invitations as they seek to revive the sectors from Covid-19 extinction jaws.
Of particular interest was an invitation from some tourist resort in Kariba where I was advised that the shortest and most adventurous route was via Zambezi River aboard a ferry.
Upon using this particular route, I was advised that there was an option to bring my vehicle and it would be treated as part of my baggage aboard the ferry enroute to Kariba through Africa’s fourth largest river.
As you are aware, this river gave birth to Lake Kariba, which is currently considered to be the world’s largest man-made lake as well as water reservoir by volume.
Talking of the largest tourist attraction facilities, I was meant to have a chat with Nyasha Maravanyika, the National Railways of Zimbabwe spokesperson, to try and have his views over some “folklore” concerning what is said to be the longest train tunnel in Zimbabwe. The tunnel is situated in Hwange. It is a well-known feature in the coal mining town and passes underneath a mountain. Its validation had to be done the other way round.
However, as fate would have it, I came across the revered tunnel during a recent jogging session on the outskirts of the coal mining town.
Before going into the nitty-gritties of this man-made wonder, yours truly came across three fresh cattle carcasses, which on this particular day were probably hit by a goods train.
There is utmost need to intensify educational campaigns among rural communities on hazards associated with leaving livestock unattended along railway lines.
Some of the meat from such accident-killed animals ends up being sold to unsuspecting customers at give-away prices.
Back to my voyage to the “forgotten” tunnel. The amount of handiwork on the railway tunnel was certainly done with precision and is a marvel to see.
This particular railway line tunnel literally goes under a medium-sized mountain for close to 300m and emerges forming a spectacular meander on both sides of the foothill.
Those of a nervous disposition might not dare to enter as the entire interior is pitch-black and a witch would not dare enter the passageway.
It is believed that this is the only place in the country’s rail history and geography where such a long tunnel goes under a mountain.
The place used to be a favourite spot among foreign steam train enthusiasts aboard leased passenger trains hauled by a Garratt steam engine.
These special breed of tourists seem to enjoy the rapid emission of thick black smoke from the steam engine that would be interchanged with heavy snow white steam much to their delight.
The heavy smoke would be much more marvellous and delightful to watch as the steam engine meanders the snaking 5km railway line en route to and from Thomson Junction, a marshalling yard. It is situated about 10km northwest of Hwange.
However, this pastime activity died the proverbial natural death due to a dearth of steam engine spare parts as they are no longer readily available. The engine’s maintenance was also proving to be rather cumbersome.
There are plans by a locally-based tour operator to look at ways on how this particular mountain that is atop the railway tunnel can be turned into a picnic site. While yours truly is not a fundi on issues related to landscaping, the proposed project might be among the best on this side of the provincial divide.
The steam train enthusiasts in the past also used to have their picnic on the site’s tunnel as part of their adventurous escapades with cameras clicking all over for archiving purposes. Pastime interests come in various forms indeed!
This particular project may prove to be handy to some Hwange residents, who fancy outdoor activities as the town seems to have a drought of picnic places.
There is need to enhance domestic tourism through maximum utilisation of the country’s natural resources and man-made features, which in turn put such places on the hospitality map.
Recently, Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu challenged players in the sector to promote domestic tourism as part of efforts of reviving the hospitality sector post-coronavirus containment.
Hwange will rise to the occasion and the dream may soon become a reality.
If the architects managed to come up with the longest railway tunnel ever seen in Zimbabwe, nothing can stop this ambitious vision from being realised.
Before signing off, I would like to implore people to try by all means to ensure that livestock do not graze anywhere near the railway line. Forewarned is forearmed.
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