Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Rift Valley: Unfolding Cradle of Humanity


When my Kenyan friend announced of our passing through Rift valley on way to Nakuru, he expected me to have some degree of excitement. Seeing my faceless expression, he attempted to explain the historical importance of this valley for both Asia and Africa. I did not understand much but presumed it as another mountain range that we in India are familiar with. However, as we progressed our journey to Nakuru, Nyeri and onwards to Masai Mara – the staggering enormity of Rift Valley started sinking in. Later on, the more I studied about it, I realized my abysmal ignorance of the history of our wonderful planet.

Rift Valley stretches from the Dead Sea in Jordan, extends through Red Sea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and into Mozambique. What I saw in Kenya was only small piece of this gigantic rift. How did this Rift happen? According to Geologists, some 20 million years ago, the earth's crust weakened and tore apart creating this jagged 6,000 km long rift. While it did so, the land on either side of the rift erupted creating nearly 30 active volcanic mountains with innumerable hot springs , while the valley floor gradually sank into a low flat plain with a combination of uninhabitable desert and fertile farmland. Today’s Rift valley in Kenya covers Lakes of Baringo, Bogoria, Nakuru, Elementaita, Naivasha, and Magadi. These lakes are concentrated with high alkalinity from the surrounding volcanic rocks. Steep cliffs of valley ensure that the water is not drained adequately thereby resulting in high content of sodium carbonate due to continuous evaporation. This creates an ideal breeding ground for algae and several species of fish and with that, millions of flamingoes flock from allover. The scenery in the Rift Valley is breathtaking, the journey cruises along the highlands only to bring at the edge of the Rift valley descending it further to a green flatbed of the valley floor.

Of the above places on Kenyan Rift valley , I had an opportunity to visit Nyeri and Nakuru. Nyeri is now dilapidated garrison of colonial days but a busy town with lot of shops. One can see majestic Mount Kenya but I associate this place more with Baden Powell – founder of Scout movement, who is buried here with his wife. Nakuru is the capital of the Rift Valley province, Lake Nakuru offers one of the world's most spectacular sights of brilliant pink flamingos all over the horizon. Imagine two million flamingos stand wings to wings feasting on lake water fish alongwith tens of thousands of other birds. But a slight change in environment , they all move to another lake creating a spectacle for Bird lovers.

The richness of Rift Valley is not just limited to nature but it is a storehouse of Human mankind history. Millions of years have filled the Rift valley from with erosion of highland sediments. This has created a secured place for the preservation of human remanants. Two-and-a-half-million-year-old cranial, tooth remains and various other fossils in Rift Valley reflect Human ape’s ability of walking on legs and using stone tools to strip meat of antelopes and horses. No wonder, Rift valley is known as "cradle of humanity" providing great insight to human evolution.

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