Petite houses, classical structures and ruins facing the breezy bay. Swift roads dotted with cashew, mango and coconut fringes. The anglers sailing on the ocean embracing rich corals and the rarest of sea creatures; this is the signature image of Mikindani. Endowed with the history of the monumental Old Boma connecting to the imperial rule and a famed trading town once upon a time, Mikindani is the lost pride of southern Tanzania.
The real southern region constituting of Mtwara, Lindi and Mikidani may not have tall mountains, vivid greenery or amazing wildlife views. Yet it is one of the very few places, if explored passionately takes us to another world of an equally fascinating experience.
Shwari? (all calm)
Shwari Kabisa (everything is at peace)
In the small town of Mikindani , conversations often begin with appalling short dialogues – a remarkable connotation that peace is all that matters.
Mikindani is close to the Mozambique border on the Ruvuma River. My first journey to southern Tanzania was a result of my father’s persuasion to visit Miki City (Mikindani), a place he loves to refer to, as his hometown. Curiosity set in as he repeatedly narrated to me the simplicity of the life there. He often referred to the natives of varied ethnicity living in unison, our grand wooden yacht importing goods from India and structures that were surreal, each unfolding a historical tale.
Ten years of my father’s intensive Miki City nostalgia and an impatient wait to visit to explore this less known intimate town, I packed my bags for a week to travel to the less known towns pocketed in the quite corner of the country; Mtwara connecting to Mikindani, followed by an hour’s journey to Lindi. With my father as a local guide, little did I know the legendary Mikindani would unfold so truthfully, camouflaging with an intensely reconstructed and simple present. My experience can be likened to an exotic travel treasure unfold in front of a wanderlust.
Mikindani – As it is Today
The mesmerizing Mikindani is about 7-8 kilometers from Mtwara, the big sister town.
As one enters Mikindani (via road from Mtwara, which is is just 7 miles away), uniquely running parallel to the Indian Ocean, it is intricate to give full attention to both the sides. Towards the left are the intimate small houses inhabited by the Makondes, historical ruins that include house of worships and imperial structures. On the right, is the inviting breezy bay with anglers sailing in wooden dhows and a historical déjà vous of the rich status of Mikindani as a trading town during the German rule.
The Historical Old Boma – Over 100 years old
Of particular interest are the ruins and other structures that have undergone recent restoration. The Old Boma is one such building endowed with a historical tale and often tourists pay an inevitable visit to this charming renovated structure that has most of the elements re-built to match the German- Arab architecture with a historical touch to each segment of the hotel.
Situated on a well-constructed elevated hilly path, the Old Boma was built by the Germans in 1895 who ruled East Africa in the late 1880’s. Boma was built as the fort and the southern headquarters of the Germans that overlooked the slave trade market and the ocean that served as an extensive trading route. My father tells me, many people remember Old Boma more as a police station or a prison where the wrong doers were arrested. And yes the quarter in the hotel connotes a court house like appearance. The hotel manager tells me, probably this was the place where the criminals were kept for trial.
As years rolled by, the grand fort was left unnoticed and its construction weakened. In 2000, the UK Charity, Trade Aid took up the reconstruction project and turned The Old Boma into a not for profit community hotel.
The Old Boma today stands as a renovated structure yet it is beautifully constructed as a historical hotel, features resembling to the German fort, while keeping the Arab architecture intact. From the inscription on the building denoting the year of its first construction to the tribute paid to historical personalities and the rooms that extend up to the clock tower, each aspect of the hotel is alluring to discern the past. The pool area is inviting and so is the open-air balcony that overlooks the Mikindani Bay.
Post the Germany’s defeat in World War I, the British took over the reign in Tanganyika, and Mikindani was now the main administrative post. Several Indians took interest in living in Mikindani, particularly for trading and settled there (and this is how my ancestors also arrived here). In 1947, Mikindani lost its status quo as the administration capital and the focus shifted to Mtwara that had the potential to be a larger harbor than Mkindani for the importation of peanuts. Under these unforeseen circumstances, Mikindani was once again a fishing and an agricultural town. Several Arab and Indian settlers also migrated post nationalization and what only remains are houses referred as ruins, some renovated and inhabited by the local Makondes.
Dr. David Livingstone Dwelling in Mikindani
Descending the Old Boma, one’s attention is immediately directed to a standalone house. As you go closer, a plaque reads that the particular dwelling is of Dr. David Livingstone, the famous explorer known for supporting the elimination of slave trade and his travels in South Africa. He arrived in Mikindani in 1866 on a journey to discover the source of Nile and constructed a house that over looked The Ocean. Upon gazing at the Mikindani bay, Dr. Livingstone recorded in his journal that Mikindani as “one of the finest natural harbours on the coast.” His expedition of 1866 is considered to be his last journey and he died in 1873 in a Zambia. The house is now undergoing reconstruction as a hotel for tourists by the UK charity, Trade Aid.
One can literally witness the beauty of the Mikindani harbor from Livingstone’s house. As one turns right, the slave market stands right opposite to his house that was built by the Germans. History connects beautifully as the Grand Old Boma over looks both the structures and the surrounding small building were once the Hindus, Muslims and Arabs lived together.
The Hidden Treasure – Mikindani and Mnazi Ruvuma Estuary Bay
All underwater photos, strictly copyrights : http://eco2tz.com/
Beyond the description of Dr. Livingstone of the Mikindani bay as the finest harbours, ECO2 – the first SCUBA diving marine research and education centre in the region describes the ocean strip in Mikindani as the ‘gateway to Tanzania’s unspoilt water paradise’. Speaking to Isobel Pring, who is a partner to ECO2’s founder and Marin Scientist Martin Guard, she says that the bay is certainly unique from other diving spots and marine life, the main reason being it is unexplored. “In fact, the Mikindani Bay and the Mnazi bay Ruvuma Estuary Park( in Mtwara) are referred to as the Golden Triangle of the Western Indian Ocean. A combination of tropical and cold water attracts a high level of biodiversity, which is so diverse and unique”. She remarks.
While it is said that some of the most exotic species are seen at the Mnazi and Mikindani Bay, divers have witnessed a wide, unique variety including folios coral (cabbage coral), monoliths (huge rocks in the water that make diving an experience like amid the sky scrapers), cryptomania, porcelain crabs, black pyramid butterfly fish and much more. Visitors at Eco2 have often described their diving experience as a heaven for macro photography and a pristine diving site.
It was almost evening; the sun was setting and the fishers drawing back their nets from the fine sandy beaches. The silhouettes of the palms and the bay painted Mikindani in orange and black. My father went on speaking about the greatness of the city, pointing towards the small park, the Hindu temple (now renovated as a yoga centre), the famous mosque and our ancestral house that is almost 80 years old. I stood amidst the ruins admiring these structures that have a bizarre appeal.
The Makondes, the first settlers on the lagoon, waved their hands bidding goodbye. Returning back to Mtwara to board my flight, I glared at the ocean and said to it, I shall dive next time to discover the precious gems inside, and arise in glee to celebrate Mikindani, that will be visited by travelers who will appreciatively immerse in your beauty.