I had never heard of Ngobit River, didn’t even know such a river existed. But before we ventured that far from Gilgil, Solomon Gitau from Kipipiri joined us to show where the colobus monkeys from Kipipiri were. Kipipiri is in the fabled ‘Happy Valley’, and the range stretches in front of the taller and longer Aberdares.

Kipipiriri colobus monkeys at Soysambu by Kat Combes (800x600)
Colobus monkeys from Kipipiri in their holding pens at Soysambu. Copyright Kat Combes

It was the setting of the scandalous characters of the Happy Valley. Gitau reels out names of Lady Idina, Lord Errol, Alice de Janze and several others pointing to their once palatial houses. Their lives have featured in several Hollywood movies and novels.

The only colobus we see is in the vast fenced estate for a golf course. The colobus monkeys will soon have to look for a new home.

From Kipipiri, we’re driving up the Aberdares via Nyahururu on the Equator. But after passing two sign posts of the equator less than half a kilometre apart on the same stretch of straight road, l am intrigued. Fishing out the smart phone to find our bearings, both the equator signs are off-mark! The smart phone reads 00.00 meters away.

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Equator at Nyahururu off by a few metres. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Nevertheless it’s a beautiful drive past Thomson’s Falls (on the equator) and the swamp. But like everywhere else, these natural sights are being blocked by buildings planlessly built. Ngobit River remains a mystery as we drive on roads l’ve never been on which adds to the excitement.

Driving around the northern edge of the 150-kilometer range that Joseph Thomson the explorer who first documented it and the outside world heard of, we follow directions with places like Nyanjo, Ndaragwa, Shamarta Gate on Muganada River to Aberdares National Park and Sugoroi on it. A dirt track that’s being paved is the old road from Nyeri to Nyahururu. It that winds its way down an escarpment sandwiched between Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. Golden wheat fields are juxtaposed with the dry acacia grasslands and finally we get to the flow of Ngobit River. The older collapsed bridge has a signpost dated 1951.

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Ngobit River Lodge. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Finally the fishing lodge on Ngobit River appears. It started life as a farm in the 1940s. A few years later it changed hands to morph into a fishing lodge with trout introduced in the cold, clean waters of the river. “It was a circuit for competitive fishing that included Izaac Walton Inn in Embu and Barry’s Hotel (today’s Thomson’s Falls Lodge) on Thomson’s Falls in Nyahururu,” tells Tarsem Singh Sembhi, a local from Nyeri.

The river flows from the Aberdares and into the mighty Ewaso Nyiro to eventually go underground to form the lush Lorian Swamp.

Belly-up Trout

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Trout (images) caught at Ngobit River Lodge. Copyright Rupi Mangat

The story of the trout at Ngobit is that the owner left his caretaker in charge of them. Trout was introduced in Kenya’s cold rivers by the notorious Grogan of the Cape-to-Cairo walk for the love of a woman. That’s the legend.

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The baits used for trout fishing at Ngobit River Lodge. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Amongst many pioneering things, Grogan introduced trout to River Gura in the Aberdares, reputed for being the fastest flowing river in Africa, and the fish took to the cool, clear waters and laid eggs which hatched at 9,500 feet. That was the start of the trout industry in Kenya. The two species were rainbow and brown.

Back to the man in charge of the trout. Some turned belly-up – dead. The panic-stricken caretaker fled never to be heard of again. With no one to take care of the priceless stock, all perished. This time the distraught owner closed the doors of the fishing lodge.

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Colobus cottage at Ngobit River Lodge ideal for families. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Fast forward to many years later. Sembhi’s friend from Ngobit tells him of the owner wanting to sell a small place on the river. At first sight it was so overgrown with bush that the building was invisible. Even the cedar floors were plastered in a layer of black dust. On cleaning it, they found the walls with the original trout images complete with details like the years caught and by the fisher. The bar even has the fisherman’s prayer – ‘God grant me grace to catch a fish so big that l even when telling of it afterwards will have no need to lie.’

The new owners then stocked up the river with 2,500 trout fishlings in the hope of reviving competitive salmon fishing. But as fate would have it, a famer upstream sprayed his vegetables with chemicals with the residue washing down the river, killing the entire stock.

Nevertheless it’s a great evening walk along the one kilometer river frontage in the valley. Lying in bed at night, the sky sparkles with the Milky Way. In the first light of dawn as the sun crawls up, l’m taken by surprise. Mount Kenya towers in the eastern sky.

Fact File

There are three routes to Ngobit River Lodge from Nairobi from where you can drive up to the northern Aberdares recently opened to the public. Otherwise it’s a great place to relax and discover this lonely place in the bush. Solio and Ol Pejeta make for exciting day trips.