"Walk, Climb ... the Sacred hills of Northern Tana" Faritanin' Antananarivo Travelogue by Norali

Faritanin' Antananarivo Travel Guide: 405 reviews and 1,128 photos

No... I don't do running !

Walking has been always a physical activity I use to enjoy. To stroll the urban arteries of Brussels, Paris, Antwerp, Brugge, Koeln, Luxembourg, La haute area in Tana... to walk the countrysides dams & dirth paths mostly in Belgium's Brabants & in Northern Antananarivo area, so far. All of that use to enjoy me.

Once in a while, I used to walk daily to get fit... but those were the times I started following a program to only drop it after some time. For instance, walking daily for 2 months in 98 & 2000... then nothing serious afterwards ! LOL

Now, since Jan 2006, I'm following a "well-being program" to get rid of my extra weight for good. Started the year in a very tonic way. Since then, I use to walk daily. Started out as a short daily walk of 15 min. Then, we (the MD & I, as a MD uses to check whether Heart Rate, Blood pressure are correct) were gradually increasing duration & frequency to make it to 2 daily 1h-walks plus rope skipping/ bouncer. All of that effort to lose weight, get fit, improve heart rate, to feel good & to maintain myself in the "natural high" state I am bathing in. More important, I want to be able to play against five-setters (in tennis) so I am in the process of improving my physical conditions. Haven't ever told you tennis is a passion ? Now, you know!

As months unfolded, and after some serious training, my MD told I could & should climb to get better results. The heart rate had greatly improved so to stand the climbing. That was July 2006. Since then, I regularly include climbing in my walks.

Now, I won't talk further about the program (boring! let's leave it to me & the MD), rather about walking-climbing experiences & exciting discoveries through samples of pictures. I put the travelogue in this page as I mostly walk within my area, in the Northern part of Tana. If this could help someone out there to plan hikes & find hiking trails for their stay in Tana, I'd be happy.

Why the North of Tana ? Mainly because it's where I live. Would say it is the natural & immediate way, for me. The air is still pure, that is most important to enjoy walks in my books.
Landscape, Northern Tana has it, esp. if you past the suburbs. Of ricefields, of plains, of hills, of waters, of picturesque villages.
History, it has it too. To say the least, it is home of some of the 12 most known of Imerina sacred hills. Sacred as historical, as recognized as such by the kings (King Andrianampoinimerina was the first to recognize officially 12 of them as most important, others will be added to & removed from the list by his sucessors afterwards ) & pilgrimers, as (most often) having played key roles in the building of the then Merina kingdom. Those in my immediate surroundings: Ambohimanga, Ambohidrabiby, Namehana, Ilafy, Amboatany, Merimandroso, Kaloy. The two latter I haven't visited yet.

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The Northern Tana sacred hills, Ambohimanga incl.

Hill climbing is not YET a passion but is very addictive. I'm addicted to the adrenaline rush that occurs while climbing, to the inner peace when atop a hill, to feeling proud to have achieved this & that again, to the stunning views and the fresh air ! It's very peaceful over there, as you're hoisting yourself up, you don't hear the noise of the villages at the foot of the hill anymore. You hear the birds instead. You hear the cracks of the pinewood barks when they peel off the tree. You don't smell the village nor the people anymore. Instead, the blend of eucalyptus tree, pinewood and some fragrant herbs and shrubs caress your nostrils. This is mostly what happens when I climb the Eastern face of Mangabe massif, the very one looking onto Ambohimanga. This part of Mangabe is not that sparse, has grass, shrubs, pinetrees & eucalyptus trees covering it.

That day, lucky me, Ambohimanga was in bloom. Purple flowers on jacaranda trees. Seen from Mangabe, one cannot think of any cradle of the Merina kingdom being so "small". Still, this UNESCO World Heritage listed, the Ambohimanga Royal Hill, has history behind it. As evidence, the abundance of pilgrimage stations nestled around the hill itself. Name Mangabe, name Ambatondradama hill, name Amboatany (Western face of Mangabe massif), name Ankazomalaza (a location at the foot of Mangabe massif), they all shelter pilgrimage stations where pilgrimers ask for blessings, worship ancestors & esp. kings & some well-known specialists in those ancient times. For instance, a renouned officer of King Andrianampoinimerina has his station in Ambatondradama, so does one lady who used to serve as midwife ...

On Mangabe, King Nampoina's much trusted astrologer, Andriatsivongo, is worshipped. He not only has his pilgrimage station there but, from what I understood, is buried there as well.

Click here to check my Ambohimanga page.

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Once ancient kingdom capital, modest Ambohidrabiby

Ambohimanga hill- that I know since childhood- put aside, Ambohidrabiby is the first hill I discovered in my area. I have vivid memories of that day as it was a day I'd be a first-timer in many aspects.

First time I wore walking boots was that day.

First time I rode a bus in Madagascar was that day. There might have been one ride in Tana center but that was in my childhood. I had some time to stand at the bus stop, worrying about how clean public transportation here could be. Aaah! there is a time in life you have to experience such things if you really want to get ot of the normal life, i.e, with a chauffeur driving & fetching me wherever I want. Luckily, the bus ride went well. I meaningly took a seat near the window so, I thought, I could open it whenever necessary... lol It was open all along the ride but didn't have to since the bus was half empty.

Now the boots... once in Ambohidrabiby, I was testing them on cobblestoned slope, on dirth path, on rocks... had fun with them!

Ambohidrabiby itself... lesser known than Ambohimanga. Still.... Founded by Habib (reigning 16th cent., who took the Malagasy name of Rabiby)- a King of Arabic backgrounds- Ambohidrabiby used to have some importance as once a capital of the kingdom of Ralambo, Habib's stepson. The latter was known for many doings, such as the King who introduced beef eating in Merina area, setting the beginning of then calendar (i.e, Malagasy calendar) to his date of birth. Zébus had been here long before altough he was the first to domesticate them & order zébu meat consumption. Then, Ambohidrabiby was one of the two capitals of the Merina kingdom at some point in history. For Ralambo being the son of a King from Alasora (South of Merina area), married to the daughter of Rabiby (ruling a Northern city), both Alasora & Ambohidrabiby were capitals of the small kingdom: Ambohidrabiby for the North & Alasora for the South.

Later, Ambohimanga (that can be seen from Ambohidrabiby) emerged as a new power after that the Merina kingdom had been divided in 4 (as King Andriamasinavalona, reign 1675-1710, wanted to entitle 4 of his sons an area to rule). Antananarivo, Ambohimanga, Ambohidrabiby, Ambohidratrimo were then involved into fratricid wars. Ambohidrabiby ruler was defeated by his bro of Ambohimanga. Their territories were then merged. From then, Rabiby city (as it should be translated) used to decline in importance although very historical...

I enjoyed the day spent there as it is quite sparse, calm, not touristic at all. Great views from many posts of the hill. Great climb & interesting trails. Silk weaving workshop in the vicinity. A pity it doesn't attract that many visitors, apart from us, the *ahem*... geeks. lol I even think one can go here for some new kind of tourism, to live with inhabitants for a closer & better interaction with them... such authentic thing to do as it hasn't been altered by tourism. Was told by a local whom I could talk with for some time that the very Ambohidrabiby village counted 70 persons. Talk about a village...

Check my humble page of Ambohidrabiby: click here

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Pilgrims & Kung Fu Fighters in Ambatondradama

Ambatondradama was the second hill I discovered. For some time, while visiting Ambohimanga, I've longed to see this place as, for it lying North of Blue hill, I used to see Ambatondradama from afar. Then, one day, I made up my mind. Took a bus ride to Ambohimanga and hit Ambatondradama from there. Hahaha... a bus ride... public transportation is not my favourite transportation here although it's way convenient for daytrips around Tana. Especially if it is only about a 15-minute-ride forth in the wee morning & another 15-minute back in late afternoon, you'd not want your chauffeur to tag along. Stepping down at Ambohimanga (the end station), a 40 min-walk will do to reach it.

My last visit there... it was hot, dry, fun, interesting.. worth the barefoot climb. Made it to the highest I could, passed the previous "highest" on that hill. Climbed barefoot as, having experienced another barefoot climbing here, this seemed the best way to climb those stairs. Without walking boots, it was less tiring as lighter. Plus, the stairs were not that large & one sometimes had to watch out for how to put one's long feet on them. lol Unbeknownst to me then, I was visiting during the month of the Malagasy New year (NOv. 22- end Dec.). Things going on, more visitors, more pilgrimers observing the fandroana rituals. This is about the traditional (royal) baths the Kings & the ancients used to have to get rid of the bad things of the ending year & to welcome the New Year in a "proper" way. For that, you'll be intersting to read about my first visit there & my experience of a tiny cultural "clash".

Aaah! this time, could also talk to the senior guide at one pilgrim station- locally known as a doany- the one dedicated to King Andriamisara. This station was the highest of them all. He explained to some of us visitors there about pilgrimers, their belief system: the one our ancestors were used to. Also, where I stayed to chat up the guide, it was on his turf where he'd receive pilgrims to "connect" them to the aforementioned King.

Strangely enough, this doany is quite special as it also used to serve as a Kung-fu training spot when this discipline was banned by our ancient dictator in the 80s. I was a child when those peculiar demonstrations involving kung-fu students & civilians were tamed by the then government. The movement was partly led by a kung-fu master named Piera Be (Big/Great Peter). This was the "Kung Fu Gate" none doesn't hear about anymore although it made the coverage of dailies for some time a while ago. The dictator saw a threat in those people practising kung-fu so it was banned. Here is where the kung-fu masters would clandestinely teach their art to youngsters. I was shown some rocks around the Andriamisara station on which the guys used to train. Was also explained that for the station delivering the purest water of the hill (as the highest doany), it got the favor of the kung-fu fighters for its fresh water & that it happened they'd send cars here to fetch barrils of fresh water. Well, I was skeptical about those explanations, thinking he was hyping up the facts to get publicity of his place, of his hill. My doubts all vannished while crossing youngs coming to visit their site. Now that kung fu is no longer banned & that they don't do clandestine trainings anymore, kung-fu fighters still go there to "see the site"...

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Seems it's so famous amongst them. One couple arrived at the site a further later than me & stayed there to chat up the guide too. I felt like a spectator. The guide was one guy who saw things & probably hid clandestine trainers whilst the young couple, prolly to reminisce & pay hommage to the master. Piera Be was reported "disappeared" although insiders would talk about him still alive... Not a pilgrim at all, I was quite glad to be able to witness such conversation, to see those youngs getting excited telling their fellows about this rock, that place where they used to train...
When it was about time to leave- in fact when I saw people who seemed to be pilgrims reaching the station & that would require the guide's "services"- I thanked him for the chat. Gave that little something for the good time. It's customary to give some amount (10-20 USD/Euro cents) for such exchange. Mind you, I was there for more than an hour, soaking up the ambience, asking all types of info, taking pictures, requiring all his attention. I did all I wanted provided I observed respect for the sacred place. Although I was not one to consider this as sacred, as a guest which was- this time- welcomed, I took at heart to be respectful of their belief, rituals. Such behaviour is easy to observe when well-explained.

Afterwards, I took a way to descent the slope. It was a path I, of course, hadn't seen yet as it had to pass by three pilgrim stations at the same level as the King Andriamisara's. Strolling there, I mostly wandered barefoot too as, I noticed, I had to take off my boots too often. So, I hung them over my shoulders & proceeded the descent. Other than Kings stations, I saw the station of one army officer in the time of King Nampoina (his fiercest officer), another where to asking for blessings from a lady who was in charge of preparing women for their deliveries. I guess women who want children go there (?).

I ended up passing by the very first station (at the lowest level). NO specific king to worship there but from my understanding, it was where everybody could have a shower from a cascade. This little white station boasted with crowds & accents from all corners of Madagascar. In fact, they all start their pilgrimming here, to get clean then will ask for blessing either at this station (blessing from ancestors in general), either climb it up to stations dedicated to specific Kings & officials.
This time, I could see the "backyard" of the little house, the one I couldn't see from my first visit. It sheltered the shower area for the women. There I saw tens of them, combing their hair, scrubing, splashing buckets of water, getting clean... the fandroana! A perfect vision for the kung fu guy who, up there, took the same path as mine. Very probably was he new to the place as he panicked while seeing those women around, both of them not expecting such encountering. Some half-naked, others fully naked. He, blushing, hastening his descent while moaning a "Sorry, sisters!". Funny! I was behind him, recomforted by his experience. If he, as a guy, didn't have trouble passing by them, I believed I shouldn't have either... Indeed, smooth sailing it was. I apologized though to pass by where I shouldn't walk through. To my apologies, some replied. All in a kind way. Changed me much from the guys I encountered while climbing the first day. Soon I walked nearby the front yard, the very one I was banned from while starting my climb the first day in Ambatondradama. Said goodbye to folks there. Cleansed my feet & left the area to catch a bus in Ambohimanga. Aaah! a nice day, it was, this time !

Yet, my first visit to Ambatondradama hadn't been that fun. You could click here to read about my *ahem* unforgettable experience on a sacred pilgrim-station soil. Unforgettable because it would shape my attitude while tackling culture differences. Thinking back of this experience used to remind me of the importance of "no-nonsense"...

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be sure to come back later... work in progress

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be sure to come back later... work in progress

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  • Page Updated Aug 2, 2007
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