It would be Paradise
By Tobias Strahl. They came early in the morning. Garba was torn from sleep by the sound of gunfire. Rushing out of his mud hut he recognized about half a dozen men armed with AK-47 assault rifles and heavy machine guns, martially dressed in pieces of uniform wearing ammunition belts over their chests. Firing in the air, shouting commands and beating up people, they were creating panic amongst the villagers who fled to all directions. About an hour later it was over as sudden as it had started. The men disappeared with two dozen cows and Garba and his brother from one minute to another had changed status from aspiring stockbreeders to disillusioned day laborers as they had been some months before when they first bought the cattle on credit. The local police never showed up neither during nor after the incident and when a radio emission was aired some weeks later announcing the arrest of some cattle rustlers near Abuja and calling damaged stock farmers to identify and reclaim their cattle Garba was able to take at least one cow back to his home in Kajuru, Kaduna State, Nigeria.
Garba, a native Fulani from Kajuru, once farmer, cattle breeder and day loaner is working now as a facility manager and tour guide at Kajuru Castle.
We are hiking the south of Kaduna State throughout Easter weekend and Garba, the small but wiry Fulani is our tour guide. Three years have passed since the day he lost his stock to cattle rustlers and now the man who is not entirely sure about his accurate age works at a place that probably represents the top of all the bizarre places of Nigeria – Kajuru Castle. Erected between 1985 and 1989 as Burg Heinrichswalde by the German entrepreneur Gerhard Huebner Kajuru Castle is a weird combination of Romanesque and Gothic architectural elements formed out of concrete and local granite which thrones – a strange and foreign element – above the rocky Savannah of Nigeria’s Southern Middle Belt.
Formation of rocks on one of the many trails around Kajuru Castle.
Arranging elements unfamiliar to and with each other gives exactly the scenery dreams are made of. Kajuru Castle, once an exclusive place for the hermetic hunting society of the eccentric Gerhard Huebner has opened up since Béla Becker, an ethnic Hungarian of Serbia’s Northern Region Vojvodina brought in his inclusive dream four years ago. According to that, Becker who is acting on behalf of the owner of the castle meanwhile provides a livelihood for more than a dozen of local employees and their families and has invested a good sum in structure and maintenance of the place. Nevertheless, who is expecting a five star luxury resort aiming on Nigeria’s rich and famous will find himself betrayed by own prejudice. Of course, maintaining a pool in the middle of a hot and dusty nowhere could be interpreted as kind of luxurious. However, it is charming to take a dive after long and exhausting hikes in the sunburnt Savannah and the pool in fact is the only flamboyant detail Kajuru Castle features. Its other facilities are actually rather basic and more or less of the sort average European youth hostels provide. That does not imply that anything needed (five double bedrooms, mosquito nets, fully equipped kitchen, barbecue etc.) is missing. The luxury of Kajuru Castle is of another kind and quality. It is of listening only to the sound of nature, of being out there, of being unbothered without missing the amenities of a decent accomodation. The facilities of the place are just and even to Becker’s dream on developing a touristic destination for quality-conscious people interested in Nigeria’s beautiful countryside and traditional ways of living while at the same time creating an income for the local community. A venture serving only the Nigerian high society would clearly miss that aim by favouring only a few.
Kajuru Castle and its water resevoir seen from the South.
And Becker’s vision makes sense. Incidents as Garba’s loss of cattle are common not only in Kaduna State where bloody battles between farmers and nomadic herdsmen together with other criminal ventures reaching from stealing of even small amounts of food over armed robberies to clashes of Christian and Muslim communities form a constant security threat and destabilize a whole region. Becker, who resides in Nigeria for nearly two decades, knows the place and is free of any romantic illusion some newcomers alien to the land might develop. He is aware of the massive deforestation caused by a rapidly growing population in order to farm for livelihood and gather firewood. As we climb Ludu Mountain, with 811 meters the highest rock in Kaduna State, even our tour guide Garba shows signs of uncertainty and alarm, admitting that the majestic and impressive trees of the landscape of his childhood have vanished almost completely. Béla Becker knows that a solution to the manifold problems the region encounters is determined to fail if it focuses only on a small minority and short term profits. A proper solution he knows would have to include and serve the local population as well, providing income, security and participation.
A vicious circle: rapid deforestation is one of the major problems Kaduna State faces not only in the area around Kajuru Castle. The soil cleared of trees dries out faster and after two years all its nutrients are exhausted.
Following the trails around Kajuru Castle for three days, Becker’s dream becomes transparent. What if the area around the castle was declared a natural reserve? Traditional farming would be allowed and reforestation programs preventing the soil from drying out implemented. Hiking trails could be prepared and marked for tourists coming from Kaduna, Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt to enjoy the breath-taking nature and visit the traditional villages. Some species of the once typical wildlife of the region as monkeys, birds and reptiles perhaps would return after some years. Small cabins as well as fixed-rope routes to the spectacular heights of some of the many impressive rocks could be installed. The local population would have a steady resource of income from maintaining trails and cabins in the reserve, working at the castle, offering guided tours and selling their own products to tourists. Of course it would take some time and efforts and the reserve would never be a source of unlimited wealth for a few individuals only. But it would serve the local population. The Kajuru Nature and Ethno Reserve with Kajuru Castle as its very centre would be a commercial enterprise, a nature conservation measure and an educational project at the same time. It would be paradise.
Find necessary information on how to book and reach Kajuru Castle at its Facebook page: Kajuru Castle
All Images © Sibylle Haase / Tobias Strahl / hinundfort