A popular travel guide once said travelling to Loyangalani, “is not only travelling through space but also time, where you gain a brief glimpse of Africa as it might have been hundreds of years ago.”
While that was said a while ago before the winds of change had swept through Loyangalani, a big part of it still rings true today of this beautiful frontier town in Kenya’s north with its harsh winds and unbearable heat (and flies).
It is perhaps its unspoilt beauty and rugged nature that inspired John le Carré’s novel, The Constant Gardener and later on the film by the same title.
Tucked on the eastern shores of Lake Turkana, Loyangalani, which is also called Loiyangalani, provides the best views of Lake Turkana from the East. The other spot is at either Eliye Springs or Kalokol on the western side through Lodwar.
Here, in this oasis fed by fresh spring water, the El Molo tribe has found a home. The El Molo are regarded as the smallest tribe on earth and it is here in Loyangalani that they have lived and practised their ancient culture and earned their livelihood for generations.
Nowadays, interaction with outsiders, mostly tourists, has changed them a bit – they have become more commercialised and aware of their special and rare place in world ethnology so be ready to cough some banknotes if you want a photo op with them. They know it is priceless!
Loyangalani, which in the native Samburu language means ‘the place of trees’, is perhaps, more well known today for the annual Lake Turkana Cultural Festival that has been taking place here since 2008. The colourful festival brings together more than 12 tribes in a week of moving music performances, sports events and art exhibitions.
Tribes from the El Molo, Rendille, Samburu, Turkana, Dassanatch, Gabbra, Burji, Borana, Konso, Sakuye, Garee and Waata come together with one common aim, promoting peace and cultural understanding among the local communities.
While you are immersing yourself in the cultural richness of the place, take some time off to visit Mount Kulal, a grand volcanic mass with a landscape of volcanic rock and scattered boulders near the base. Ascending to the north peak leads you through evergreen forest and lush pastures on the higher levels.
Gatab, a small Samburu settlement nestled high up near the southern peak of Kulal offers panoramic views of the landscape below. Pay a visit to the Loyangalani Desert Museum a few kilometres from here and learn more about the local tribes, ancient rock art found here and many more.
Loyangalani may no longer be as remote as decades ago, now with a tarmac going there from Marsabit, but it still conjures up images of an unpolluted past with a rich heritage that has refused to go away.