Some 120 million years ago, Damaras migrated to Namibia from Northern Africa and settled in Northern areas of Namibia, now known as Damaraland. They were the first inhabitants of Namibia. They knew stars, constellations, and seasons. They knew medicinal usage of plants and they used salt for curing meat. Damaras cultivated tobacco and corn. Being curious about all these, we wanted to visit Damaraland region of Namibia hence we planned a short trip with our friends Jaya and John with their cute daughters Jessica and Jannes. Nishant and they both were very enthusiastic about the trip as they were going to see what they learnt during their History and Geography lessons.
Last Thursday, late afternoon we boarded our vehicles and started our journey to Damaraland. After 260km drive northwards we reached Otjiwarongo, a small well-laid out town. We stayed at a Catholic church on the first night. The church tower was standing tall on the backdrop of brightly shining Venus. We had our dinner, chatted endlessly till late night, and went to sleep into our cozy dens.
The next day we got up early. It was a bright sunny day. As soon as we finished our breakfast of croissants and hot chocolate, we headed towards Outjo, a yet another small place on the way to Vingerklip.
Outjo is a neat and laid-back town of a few thousand residents. Most residents are proudly into cattle farming business. When we entered the town, we came across a famous souvenir shop named Images of Africa. The shop caught our eyes for its well-organized and well-stocked appearance. The wooden and stone articles, and jewelry were displayed so nicely that we couldn’t resist shopping there. 🙂 We bought beautiful table cloth weights. Jaya and John picked a graceful pair of wooden giraffe figurines.
Just next to this elegant souvenir shop, there is a famous German bakery that was established in 1947, the independence year of India. It offers a large variety of freshly baked puffs, pastries, pies, cakes, rusks, and cookies. It makes a very good eating joint. We stuffed ourselves with some puffs and pies and then headed towards Vingerklip.
From Outjo, we drove another 100km to reach Vingerklip. The word Vingerklip literally means the Finger Rock. From short distance, we saw a tall and thick boulder with the shape of a thick human finger. It stood on the crest of a debris hill. Yes, the debris; that was brought by the then fast-flowing river Ugab.
It was the time when the super continent Gondwana broke in to separate continents as we know them today. This division of continents gave rise to sea level, new land structures, and the unavoidable erosion of rocks. Around 20 million years back in the history, the mighty river Ugab brought along debris of eroded limestone, quartzite, marble, and soil with it, which was spread on the river banks. Later due to the climate changes Ugab lost quantity of water it carried and its speed too, which made debris layers on its banks. These layers were around 100m thick. Vingerklip, the 2 million years old boulder, is known to be formed naturally due to the mixture of sedimentary debris that contained gravel, pebbles, and the limestone that bound rest everything together.
As we approached near the structure, we could see it clearly. We parked the vehicles at the base and started climbing the debris hill. The more we went near Vingerklip, the more it surprised us about its wonderful balancing position. How stunning it looked! 🙂 It was around 35m tall above the hill. Since millions of years it has been standing there, facing and defeating the strong winds of Namibia. We observed the scenic beauty of mother earth around. It was so serene and quiet up there! We required to proceed to the next place hence we climbed down the debris hill unwillingly.
We boarded our vehicles and drove 70km to Namibian Wildlife Resort (NWR), Khorixas. We got fresh and had a brief lunch that we had brought from home. Then we headed towards the famous Petrified Forest.
It takes a drive of 45km from Khorixas towards west to reach Petrified Forest. Two Damara farmers discovered this place in 1940. Later in 1950, the government of Namibia declared it as a National Heritage Site. When we arrived there, we found the place had nothing to be mentioned as a forest. There were numerous fallen trees, which are made of rock and not wood. Isn’t it surprising? How was it possible??
It was possible because the nature worked to process them from wood to rock. At Petrified Forest we learnt a term in Geology that was completely new to us: Petrification. The obvious question crossed our minds is,
What is Petrification?
It is the process in which an organic material is converted into a fossil. During petrification, the pores and spaces in the original organic material are filled with minerals. The original material is then gradually replaced by the minerals thereby retaining the structure of the original material. We observed petrified tree trunks lying all around, which were partially or completely revealed.
We wondered how did petrification happen to these tall trees? Long ago, a mighty flood came in Damaraland, which brought down those trees. The trees kept lying there for years and accumulated the depositions of fine sand and mud on and around them. The layer of sand and mud was so thick that the trees remained deprived of air. There was no other organic matter either, which could help the tree decay. Thus, these trees remained covered under the sand for a few millions of years and faced Silicification, a yet another term in Geology.
What is Silicification?
It is a process in which an organic material is replaced by minerals which flow through the pores of the material and over its surface due to aquatic activities.
A wonderful structure where each and every cell of wood is gradually replaced by silica over a few million years! That too, without disturbing the original shape of the tree! The sand that surrounded these trees thickened to form sandstone.
We saw numerous plants named Welwitschia Mirabilis, which grow only in Namibia and in some part of Angola where rainfall is minimal. The plants looked like a large flower. It is a wonderful plant that survives on dew drops. Its leaves grow continuously throughout the plant’s life. It is known as the Living Fossil because it can live up to 2000 years. The local people also call it Desert Onion as they cook and eat its thick stem. Rhinos and antelopes eat the leaves of this plant to quench their thirst. There were also some medicinal, fragrant, and extremely poisonous plants around. The guide informed us that the early Bushmen applied the juice of fragrant plants on their skin as a part of beautification. They also dipped the tips of their hunting arrows in the juice of poisonous plants.
We drove about 55km from Petrified Forest to reach Twefelfontein, the famous place for Bushmen’s art; especially for the carving of Lion. It was an evening when we reached there and the Sun rays were rightly tilted to enhance the beauty of the carvings. 🙂 The literal meaning of Twefelfontein is Doubtful Springs. The place acquired this name during the time when people suspected water source after having spotted frequent visits of desert elephants in this area.
Most areas of Twfelfontein are covered with Sandstone. As we entered the terrain, the reddish-brown mountains looked like the pieces of meat sprinkled with salt. 🙂 When we went nearer, we learnt that the mountains were partially covered by the plants named Ash Bush those flaunted very light grey color. This plant is found nearby water source and attracts animals towards water.
There is a long history about Bushmen’s art. Around 8000BC, there lived a wise spiritual person among Bushmen, known as Shaman. He predicted rains, availability of food, fertility of people, possibility of success in game hunt, and nearby water sources. Shaman meditated in caves and was believed to talk to animal spirits. He also knew plants and their accurate usage. Early Bushmen often used to seek Shaman’s guidance during the times of distress or illness. Each group of Bushmen had their own Shaman.
Bushmen honored different animal for different purpose. Shaman was strongly believed to get readings about rains from giraffe’s spirit as giraffe could peek his long neck into the clouds and speak to the Rain God. The picture of giraffe depicted communication with Giraffe spirit and the spots on giraffe’s skin showed raindrops. The antelopes were revered to find out water sources. Similarly, the big cats were honored because they were believed to fight the devils.
On the night of meditation, Shaman used to dance for hours and guide the Bushmen about what all he saw while being in the trance. This spiritual dance used to go on for hours and took a large amount of efforts that sometimes made his nose bleed. Shaman performed this dance to transfer the illness of a Bushman into him and then release it by sweating himself out.
Shamans and his fellow Bushmen carved pictures on the sandstone surfaces. They used sharpened pieces of quartzite stone for marking designs on sandstone. Sandstone provided smoother work surface for carving. In the carvings, concentric circles depict either temporary or permanent water source. Bushmen carved giraffes, elephants, deer, rhinos, hippos, oryxes, leopards, and lions who were inevitable inspiration of their routine life.
While following the White Lady trail, we saw a small animal named Rock Dizzy, who looked like a large squirrel. It wears reddish-brown coat that camouflages effortlessly with the surrounding sandstone color. We always saw it resting because of the warm day.
It was around 6:00pm of the fag winters and sun was setting down. We stopped at Damara Living museum, a template of Damara village. There were many chalets covered with thatched roofs. The chalets displayed a variety of handmade artifacts.
After seeing the jaw-dropping petrified trees and the carvings of Twefelfontein, we returned to the NWR. We were tired and our stomachs were rumbling with hunger. There was a permanent braai stand near the room. The menfolk arranged firewood, lit up fire, and cooked the marinated meat. Braaied meat, wine, and the friends together. It was not lesser than the heaven. 😉
We realized it was late night only after we could separate our own sound of chatting from the sound of somebody chuckling just near the fence where we were cooking and dinning. They were hyenas! 😮 They had arrived there by following the wafting aroma of freshly roasted meat. The children went to sleep and we continued chatting till the pieces of coal left into smoking embers. We soon wrapped up for the next day’s journey.
Next morning we had a lavish breakfast of NWR and started our journey towards Brandberg. The White Lady was waiting for us since long years. 🙂
We drove about 110km from Khorixas towards South-West to reach Brandburg. It is a 30km long and 22km wide mountain range in North Namibia. It is famous for its stock of numerous rock paintings. There are around 50,000 rock paintings all over the mountain. The Bushmen used to inhibit in Brandburg nearly 5000 years back. They created these paintings to depict the activities of hunters and wild animals. Dr. Reinhard Maack, a German explorer discovered these paintings in 1917.
We arrived at the Daureb Mountain reception office and availed us a guide. She was very knowledgeable and friendly. She accompanied us through the rough trail that went along the bank of Tsisab Gorge. After walking, hopping, and jumping over the boulders for about 5km, we arrived at the well-known White Lady painting. It is created in Maack shelter, which is named after the discoverer of the painting.
The painting is done on the inclined surface of overhanging rock. It is a painting of a woman surrounded by a few men, all of them walking leftwards. The woman is painted in white and hence the painting is referred as White Lady. Remaining all figures around her are painted reddish-brown. Some experts say that it is a painting of Shaman dressed like a woman, and the others say it is a woman because in rare some cases, women also followed Shamanism.
The Bushmen powdered various stones to make their painting colors. They used Hematite to acquire red pigment, Coal or Manganese for black, Calcium Carbonate for white, and local ochre for yellow color. They used ash of burnt wood for grey pigment. They mixed urine of Rock Dizzy and eggs to prepare the semi-liquid paint. We were amazed to know how the age-old Bushmen were introduced to higher order needs such as interest in art and meditation.
We boarded our vehicles for return journey to Windhoek. It was pitch dark outside and the stars looked brighter than usual. It was breezing. The vehicles picked up speed and in a couple of hours, we saw city lights of Windhoek sparkling on the horizon. We were contentedly travelling back from an ancient world to the modern world in Namibia. 🙂