Nature in Nakfa
Nature in Nakfa
An essay on Nakfa, historic village in Eritrea, North Africa
If Nakfa is not beautiful, what is beauty? Perched atop 1,780 metres above the sea level, this little African village is rich in history and scenic beauty. Nakfa is the remotest village of Eritrea but at the same time the most sought after place too for any casual tourist from Italy or China. This was the place where the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front or the E.P.L.F. fought bravely for nearly 30 years before getting liberation for Eritea from the rule of the Ethiopian government. For this reason the currency of Eritrea is also named ‘Nakfa’.
Nakfa is a nice place to go but it is not easy to reach there. Eritrea itself is a difficult country to arrive. Lufthansa operates good flights to Asmara once in every blue moon but they insist that you reach Frankfurt first. The other option was from Dubai where you had the official Eritrean carrier ‘Red Sea Airlines’ flying twice a week to Asmara direct. It was a small Russian aircraft and the entrance was through the open back; you had to sit crammed alongwith 30 or 40 other passengers. But it appears the ‘Red’ airlines has already stopped flying due to operational losses. Right now the only way to reach Asmara is through Egypt, Yemen or Sudan.
Every tourist in Asmara wants to visit Nakfa as it is a well known historic spot and very exotic too. But alas! There are no bus services and taxi drivers simply refuse to go there. You have to take a bus to Keren town where a village van going to Afabet can be arranged on the next day. You have to accommodate yourself with cattle and carry bags but you will reach Afabet within a few hours of comfortless travel. Afabet is the place where you have to show your patience. Transport to Nakfa is certainly available but you have to wait for one or two days. You want to sleep in a lodge? Yes there are ‘lodges’ here but they don’t have rooms, roofs, water or electricity. You pay six nakfa (Rs.30/-) and you will just be given a coat in the open courtyard. But the food is sumptuous. For ten Nakfa, you can have ‘injira’ and ‘zigni’ which is something like dosai and mutton curry in Indian terms.
The road from Afabet to Nakfa is winding like all the other roads in this country. But in this sector it is so narrow and the village van is so bulging that you end up paying offering to all the temples back home in India. When you finally reach atop the Nakfa ridge after some four hours and if your visit is between November and March the place looks very nice with European weather, fogs and all. The people here are all tribal Muslims and they live in small stone huts without plastering. But don’t worry about accommodation. One rich Nakfian working abroad in the Saudi Arabian royal palace has decorated his village with a small six room ‘star hotel’ with good bedrooms, presentable bathrooms and a dish antenna but not a restaurant. More important is the generator which is essential as this village has no electricity. This mountain-lodge is called “Hotel Nakfa Apollo!”. Even a telephone is available in the village but it works on sunny days only as the power source is solar. You can’t dial home directly either as it is a link system and it takes quite some time to connect to Asmara. But the telephone booth looks ‘crowded’ all the day as those who come in the morning wait the whole day to get connected. Once connected you can talk aloud but there is no gurantee of your message reaching the other end as the signals are often very weak.
Nakfa is beautiful because of the undulating nature of the Sahel mountain range in this area. You don’t see a single mountain but hundreds and hundreds of small hills rolling to all the four sides of your observation point. Nakfa is one of the few villages in Africa where shifting cultivation and nomadic herding is still in practice. The tribal population shifts from mountain to mountain in search of better pastures. The milkmaid who used to supply me milk every day suddenly wound up her services as they were ‘shifting’. It was a difficult excecise to close her accounts as she followed a slightly different methodology of ‘weekly settlement’.
Many village communities in India build their homes as near to each other as possible but this is not the case in Nakfa. Each tribal house is built on a separate hillock. The house is only one room made of stones and the roof is made up of corrugated sheets these days. There is a small enclosure outside every house which is used as a bathhouse. The entire chore of the home is done outside. In the evening all the cattle is simply put outside the hut without employing ropes, fences or identity tags. Water is not plenty but there are some tanks and streams where the animals crowd to quench their thirst. But they all dry up in summer and the big camel population here depends upon cactus stalks for their water requirements. It is real fun to see the camel eating the cactus without harming itself with the very sharp thorn.
The people of Nakfa live in harmony with nature. They eat what they cultivate and drink what their cattle provides them. Coco Cola comes only once in month to the top of the hill and then there is real celebration around the truck. Everybody insist on finishing the whole load within the next few hours. You are reminded of the commercials of Coco Cola on the television. But then Eritrea is one country where the fanciful and the real meet each other. When you travel the spiral path down the plateau of Asmara, you can see the long Coco Cola truck climbing up the hairpin bends, just like their magazine ads. Massawa road itself is an exotic experience where you ‘pass through three different climates’. You start from Asmara with three layers of jackets and remove two of them in Nefasit and Ginda and finally walk around in your T-shirt when you finally reach the port city of Massawa on the red sea. The climate of Massawa rises upto 45 degrees whereas in Nakfa it tends to go below zero degrees at least in the month of January.