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Astro tourism stars in Baringo
By Caroline Chebet
Tumbili Cliff Lodge manager operating the Celestron 14 that he uses to spy on the universe. [Kipsang Joseph]
Tumbili Cliff Lodge manager operating the Celestron 14 telescope that he uses to spy on the universe. [Kipsang Joseph]

Have you ever wanted to explore the wonders of the universe without the light-years of travel and gravity sickness?

Well, you do not have to be content with simply imagining it thanks to a unique safari of the sky that promises to transport you into another realm. Tumbili Cliff lodge on the shores of the stunning Lake Bogoria hosts this starry immersion at one of the very few local observatory sites known as Nyota Observatory Site.  Here, a telescope known as Celestron 14, is stimulating the art of stargazing while giving rise to a different king of safari.

Vintage engraving showing the Great Equatorial Telescope, Greenwich Observatory 1878
Vintage engraving showing the Great Equatorial Telescope, Greenwich Observatory 1878. [Courtesy]

Stargazing or astronomy is one of the oldest is the oldest of the natural sciences tracing back to antiquity when it guided travellers and inspired calendars. Before the advent of telescopes, astronomers observed the sky with the ‘naked eye’ from wherever they could find a dark-sky site. In most cases, mountaintops did just fine, lifting them up above the distracting surrounding landscapes and cities.

To travel into the sky, guidelines dictate that it should be pitch-dark, devoid of light to allow easy sighting of the stars.

“Star gazing is an amazing art. Tourists get to watch all they have always read and dreamed of up-close. The darkest hour on a clear, cloudless night guarantees the best experience,” Titus Chepkangor, Tumbili Cliff Lodge manager explained to this writer.

The unique telescope mounted high up on raised ground, and operated by remote control, enables curious visitors, and experts alike, to scour the skies for highlights like nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies.

“Kenya is among few counties where the equator passes making it a unique destination for visitors from across the world to watch the sky both in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Moreover, there are seasons when the skies are clearer and one can see innumerable stars. January through to March during less cloudy days and from September through to December are the favoured months,” Chepkangor said.

A clear night sky can offer a display of fascinating objects including the stars, bright planets, the moon constellations and even special events like meteor showers. The challenges that might disrupt a solemn night under the African sky is light pollution.

According to Lake Baringo Chief Warden, Jackson Komen, Nyota Observatory has since 2015 been the cathedra of stargazing in the Rift, offering visitors a unique activity to engage in when they visit the region. The location of the observatory, near the equator, he says, is a preferred the site because of it offers many astronomical observations.

Tumbili Cliff Lodge at shores of Lake Baringo. [Kipsang Joseph]
Tumbili Cliff Lodge at shores of Lake Baringo. [Kipsang Joseph]

Throughout the year, Komen says, almost constantly, the astronomical night lasts about ten hours. Astronomers from across the world especially visit Nyota Observatory to contemplate and study the southern constellations invisible from some countries and observe some of the interesting boreal constellations. From the site, they say, the sky is rich in celestial objects with ideal conditions and one can see Hair of Berenice — a faraway cluster of stars only visible in dark skies, the Virgin, the Scorpion, Orion among many others. From exploring earth’s nearest celestial neighbour, the moon gliding over stars to being awed by mysterious Saturn and its hugging ring to discovering the brightest of stars, Sirius, the night sky up-close can never be any better than on this generous countryside.

For Sh1,000 an hour, you will buy into a dream magical safari on the equator, under the under the mystic African sky dotted with magnificent stars. While at it, lose yourself to the calming tedium of the tides rising and falling, skip a beat when you spot a crocodile thrashing away at the waters or simply watch the seven majestic islands within it fade into the stillness of a solemn night.

Tumbili Cliff Lodge at shores of Lake Baringo. [Kipsang Joseph]
Tumbili Cliff Lodge at shores of Lake Baringo. [Kipsang Joseph]
Tumbili Cliff Lodge at shores of Lake Baringo. [Kipsang Joseph]
Tumbili Cliff Lodge at shores of Lake Baringo. [Kipsang Joseph]