The mystery, intrigue of the Chinhoyi Caves

In the past 10 years, I have visited and revisited Chinhoyi Caves but I cannot resist it. It is a place where each day you enter the caves, you come out fresh and re-thinking about Zimbabwea��s geomorphological splendour. It is difficult to explain the feeling.

Strange isna��t it? Last week, I dropped by the caves, once again and, hey, ita��s a place very discerning tourist should visit.

The Chinhoyi Caves always emit an aura of myth and mystery that would excite and provoke an adrenaline rush in any visitor. Only a few chirping birds give a sign of life to the caves whose dearth of sound is like the innards of a grave!

The silence as one descends into the intricate network of caves, is both eerie and profound, yet the grottos and the huge sleeping pool form a spectacular combination in which reality defies existing tourism hyperbole. It is a geomorphologic spectacle whose grandeur Zimbabwe has done little to market for international tourism recognition.

The caves are grossly under-marketed and they have largely remained an untapped tourist attraction, except for a few people who trickle there.

When climbing down the steep granite steps it is easy for tourists to imagine approaching an abyss of darkness as light suddenly varnishes. The experience is hair-raising.

The caves are a limestone shaft linked by a maze of passages and caves, at the foot of which lies a huge pool whose limpid and translucent gothic water maintains the same level 24 /7.

Inexplicably, the water defies common meteorological logic by remaining at the same temperature of 22 degrees Celsius 24/7 a�� every second, every minute, every hour and indeed everyday.

It is this deep blue pool beneath the sparkling cobalt stone that is known as the a�?Sleeping Poola��a��. Myth and mystery has it that one cannot successfully throw a stone across the seemingly small pool as the sacred spirits that watch over the pool will catch the stone and bestow a curse upon the stone thrower. Oral tradition has it that at the bottom of Sleeping Pool lies immured, the bones of fallen Shona tribe heroes who died after being flung in by Nguni tribe raiders in pre-colonial Zimbabwe.

The story is that it was in this pool that Nguni raiders flung their victims of battle to a�?sleep to eternitya�? when they fought notorious Shona outlaw Nyamakwere, in pre-colonial Zimbabwe.

Prior to the incident Nyamakwere is said to have used the caves as his stronghold from which he killed his victims and threw them in.

Nyamakwere was eventually overthrown by Chief Chinhoyi of the NeMakonde dynasty, hence the name of the city Chinhoyi.

The Nemakonde (bastardised to Lomagundi by white colonial settlers), who resided in the area and often fell victim to Nguni raiders know the pool less euphemistically as a�?Chirorodzivaa�?, the pool of the fallen heroes. Ironically, it is a spitting distance from the caves that the Battle of Chinhoyi a�� the fierce maiden gun battle between the black nationalists and white Rhodesian settlers marked the beginning of Zimbabwea��s protracted liberation struggle.

The caves, situated eight kilometres from the city along the Highway to Kariba and Chirundu, are a fascinating geological splendour.

The main feature is the limestone cavern formed thousands of years back when the ground collapsed into a sink hole.

The Sleeping Pool is believed to be 172 metres deep with the divers who have explored its deepest depth, the United States Navy divers having only managed to go as deep as 135 metres.

About 58 metres down the pool, there is another tunnel and a third tunnel further down, is yet to be explored.

Several underwater passages lead from the Sleeping Pool and explorers have always found these leading them back to the pool.

Its deep clear blue colour makes the pool almost impossible to be photographed successfully.

The colour is not a reflection of the sky because it is the same deep blue colour on a cloudy day.

Another reason is that the portion of the pool visible from the Dark Cave is situated far from the sink holes, yet it exhibits the same colour.

The pool is blue for the same reason the sky is blue with scattering of light. The pool is blue throughout, whether in the shade, sun or deep underground.

Scientifically, this effect can only be achieved if the water is clear. The rocks seen under the water are not a reflection, as the eye might be fooled to believe, but are real rocks underwater.

The other fascination is the Dark Cave, which is artificially lit. Climbing in and out of the Dark Cave is energy sapping. It is not for the weak-kneed.

More often that not, many people come out of the cave panting like fish out of water.

A good one hour is enough to explore Chinhoyi Caves, with onea��s friends or family.

Outside the caves is dense vegetation whose lasting beauty is spiced with melodious songs from an assortment of birds.

The National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has a picnic ground and camping site next to the caves, where you can enjoy a meal or braai for a modest charge at Chinhoyi Caves Motel.

Today, as tourists visit, the caves are still revered by the local people for being the custodians of their ancestral spirits.

With proper marketing, combined national effort and international exposure Zimbabwe could realise serious tourism benefits from the sleeping giant.

There is nothing nearer to this in Zimbabwe so the outstanding geological feature is what the Lord has bestowed upon Zimbabwe.

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