Monday, February 16, 2009

Tanzania Hidden Treasures- Its Seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites

By Karl Heinz

Mount Kilimanjaro National Park is located in Northern Tanzania, near Moshi town, 128 km (80 miles) away from Arusha and approximately one hour's drive from Kilimanjaro airport. Mount Kilimanjaro is known all over the world since it has the highest peak in the continent of Africa making it the tourist destination of choice since 1977. The formation of Mt. Kilimanjaro happened gradually over 1 million years ago due to volcanic activity along the Rift Valley. Three points - Shira, Kibo and Mawenzi came about 750,000 years ago. The highest point is Uhuru Peak on Kibo, which is one of the Seven Summits of the world. The Seven Summits are an exhaustive list of highest mountains on various continents.

Mountain climbing is the major motivation for visiting this park, and getting to the summit of this snow-capped mountain is a great achievement for mountain climbing enthusiasts the world over. The trek up the mountain takes a week or so to complete safely.

The second world heritage site on the list is the mysterious Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It is home to a large number of wild animals, who live in the big, expansive crater of Ngorongoro. Just close by we have other craters like Empakaai, which is filled by a deep lake, and the active volcano of Oldonyo Lenga. In this neighborhood is the Olduvai Gorge, which resulted in the discovery of one the Homo habilis. The Laitoli Site is also found in the vicinity. It catapulted into historical headlines as the main localities of early hominid footprints which were dated 3.6 million years.

Serengeti National Park borders Kenya's Masai Mara Game Park. Its far-reaching plains of endless grass, tinged with the twisted shadows of acacia trees, have made it the quintessential image of a wild and untarnished Africa. Its large stone kopjes are home to rich ecosystems, and the sheer magnitude and scale of life that the plains support is staggering. Large prides of lions laze easily in the long grasses, plentiful families of elephants feed on acacia bark and trump to each other across the plains, and giraffes, gazelles, monkeys, eland, and the whole range of African wildlife is in awe-inspiring numbers.

Serengeti National Park is renowned for the Great Wildebeest Migration when more than a million animals make the seasonal journey to fresh pasture to the north, then the south, after the biannual rains.

The fourth exciting world heritage site is the Konoa Rock Art Site. It is located on the eastern slopes of the Masai escarpment bordering the Great Rift Valley. Here natural rock shelters are found, overhanging slabs of sedimentary rocks fragmented by rift faults, whose vertical planes have been used for rock paintings for at least two centuries. The impressive collection of artistic images from over 150 shelters covering a whooping 2,336 km2, many with high artistic value, displays the progressive development the changing socio-economic base of the area from hunter-gatherer to agro-pastoralist, and the beliefs and ideas associated with the different societies. Some of the shelters are still considered to have ritual significance for the people who live nearby, effectively reflecting their beliefs, rituals and cosmological traditions.

Zanzibar was one of the most prominent Swahili trading towns in the Indian Ocean trade. The Zanzibar Stone Town is found in the cultural heart of Zanzibar. It has remained virtually unchanged over the last 200 years. The narrow streets and winding alleyways are lined with grand houses bespeak Arabic culture. According to UNESCO, Zanzibar had great role to play in the flourishing and suppression of slavery, it was one of the main slave-trading ports along the east African coast in East Africa and also later on was used as the headquarters from which its opponents such as David Livingstone conducted their anti slavery campaign.

Kilwa Kisiwani was in scripted as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981. Kilwa Kisiwani is an archaeological site on an island off the Swahili coast of Tanzania, Kilwa Kisiwani was a huge trade center between about AD 1100-1853, primarily a benefit of its location wedged between the Arabian peninsula, the Far East and the Indian subcontinent.

The last site on this exclusive list is the world re known Selous Game Reserve, gem of the southern safari circuit. The Selous game reserve got its name from Fredrick Courtney Selous, an explorer doubling up as a naturalist. He first came to Africa as a result of the First World War. This is what was known as the scramble of Africa which resulted to the Germans ruling parts of today's Tanzania. The reserve is situated 500 km southwest of Dar es Salaam, the reserve is 55,000 sq km big- larger than the African country of Switzerland. It is the largest reserve in Africa.

The reserve attained the prestigious World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982 as a result of its varied and unique flora and fauna. This expansive stretch of wilderness has a myriad of habitats like savanna woodlands, swamps, open grasslands and forests.

Over 2,100 species of tress and plants have been recorded. The mighty Rufiji River is the lifeblood of the reserve and its numerous tributaries and oxbow lakes are ideal for boat safaris. The wildlife to see here includes buffalo, hippo, black rhino, lion and wild dog. Elephants in particular are numerous and are estimated to number over 60,000.

Other inhabitants of this majestic reserve are bush back, waterbuck, reedbuck, impala, eland, giraffe, baboon, zebra, and greater kudu. Bird lovers cannot simply miss out from this great bird haven. The Seleous has over 420 species are on record. Down to the south one finds the big game sanctuaries - Ruaha and Selous in particular, animals are in plenty and tourists are advised to take their time so as they can have ample time to partake natures finest. Most tourists also pay a visited to the much publicized Stiegler's Gorge, granting them an opportunity to view leopard in their natural environment.

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