Zimbabwe, Zambia

Kariba & Middle Zambezi

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Serene birthplace of Yambezhi

Serene birthplace of Yambezhi

The writer takes a self potrait at the source of the Zambezi River
The writer takes a self potrait at the source of the Zambezi River
Mana Meadows

 

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Website: www.zambiatourism.com/

The source of the Zambezi River is a spring in a tranquil forest in northern Zambia. Mana Meadows enjoyed the journey as much as the spiritual site itself.

For anyone with a soft spot for trees (or the creatures great and small which they support), the drive through this remote and sparsely settled corner of northwestern Zambia is a bittersweet one. After witnessing the deforested desolation of Zambia’s Great North Road, the sheer expanse of the dominant miombo woodland here is sweetly consoling.

Staring into that green sea of vegetation, I could imagine the landscape which Frederick Stanley Arnot must have encountered back in 1884 when he discovered the source of the Zambezi. Here man’s carbon footprint is still small, his relationship to nature close. But this part of the world has not escaped the pervasive charcoal trade, and soon these ancient forests will also be threatened.

As the road climbed higher, allowing brief panoramas of the thousands of kilometres of miombo woodland that engulfed us, occasionally golden dambos punctuated the greenery. These mini-prairies are actually shallow, seasonally inundated, wetlands.

The most impressive dambo of the day had a name: Chitunta Plains, an ‘Important Bird Area’, as described by BirdLife, well known for sightings of Grimwood’s longclaw and also quite near the source. Rosy-breasted longclaw (which we spotted) and Fulleborn’s longclaw, Angola lark, blue quail, and black-rumped buttonquail are also on the menu.

Cattle and cattle egrets peppered the horizon, and a group of Lunda women carried giant fishing baskets on their heads. The image was a beautiful, if otherworldly one: their top-heavy profiles were stark against a pregnant blue sky, the bright green grass they traversed was pockmarked by hundreds of silver anthills: a lunar landscape.

The Zambezi’s source is located in the greater Zambezi Source Forest, which is one of 50 botanical reserves selected as the best-preserved examples of the major vegetation types of Zambia. The forest has been declared a National Monument for its rare and endemic plants, and to preserve the stream flow of the Zambezi River.

The source emerges as a spring from beneath a stilt root. Optimists might call it a serene puddle; pessimists may be unkind. I found myself most impressed by the lush breathing jungle surrounding the spring. Known officially as ‘riparian forest’, the vegetation is characterised by herbaceous plants, mosses, lichens, dewy ferns and an enchanted miniature forest of various bright mushrooms reminiscent of a European fairy tale.

The vegetation acts as a sponge, trapping water which surfaces at the source and later resurfaces as a gentle brook. In the heady quiet of the forest, it is breathtaking to comprehend that this unassuming spring, mutely bubbling up from the beneath the roots of a fallen tree, gathers might and potency, later becoming, to many millions of people and creatures in its 2,574km journey to the sea, Yambezhi – Lunda for ‘the heart of everything’.