Chalbi desert: The ‘bare and salty’ gem in the north

Desert is believed to have been a lake that dried up a thousand years ago.

Tuesday February 23 2016

A local tourist walks to his van in Chalbi desert. The magical desert is one of the hottest and most arid places in Kenya. PHOTO | KEN BETT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A local tourist walks to his van in Chalbi desert. The magical desert is one of the hottest and most arid places in Kenya. PHOTO | KEN BETT | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By KEN BETT 
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By IRENE MURITHI
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For those fond of Mother Nature in her diversity, Chalbi desert, located in Marsabit County is a real gem.

Located East of the famous Lake Turkana and spreading to the Ethiopian border, the magical desert is one of the hottest and most arid places in Kenya and covers an area of about 100,000 kilometre square.

While storms are the most conspicuous sightings that greet you on reaching its fringes, Chalbi desert, itself is a bleached stretch of coarse sand spiced up with pure rocks and immense clay. There are also ash-gray ridges and broken clusters of tiny huts.

The desert is believed to have been a lake that dried up a thousand years ago therefore the name Chalbi, which means ‘bare and salty’ in the Gabbra dialect.

There are pans of salt in the desert which many pastoralists pick and use as a natural animals’ saltlick.

The desert is also surrounded by volcanic hills, creating a magical panorama, with only selected animal and vegetation that can withstand hostile climates in the entire Sub-Saharan regions.

The southern part of the desert is home to the Rendille while the eastern part towards the Ethiopian border is home to the Gabbra people.

'OCEAN' OF HOT AND DRY SAND

Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in Kenya, is part of Chalbi desert.

The desert is an ‘ocean’ of hot and dry volcanic sand, stretching from one horizon to the other with an oasis in Kalacha.

At Kalacha springs, locals, tourists and camels come to quench their thirst. Pastoralists value the never drying Kalacha springs as a source of water for their livestock.

Those touring the region have had to come with tents if they spent days since the traditional huts have been worn out due to strong winds in the region.

However, according to the county assistant tourism Director Abdullahi Ibrahim the county government was currently putting up modern huts for accommodation in the oasis in bid to attract more tourists.

“Tourists who flock here are forced to come with their own overland trucks but we have thought of putting up two modern huts as a means of retaining them for a longer period,’’ Mr Ibrahim told the Nation.

Chalbi desert is a perfect place for motorsports, camel derbies and caravans, safaris, filming and nature-treks, among other adventures.

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