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City Park: An island of peace in the heart of urban jungle

Sunday August 23 2015

A young girl admires a monkey as it feeds at City Park in Nairobi. The playful Sykes’ monkey is synonymous with the park and mingles freely with humans. FILE PHOTO

A young girl admires a monkey as it feeds at City Park in Nairobi. The playful Sykes’ monkey is synonymous with the park and mingles freely with humans. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

It all started at the Kenya National Archives, precisely at the Joseph Murumbi Gallery, which occupies the better part of the ground floor of this iconic building in the city.

And it was curiosity that first got me here... curiosity that killed the cat. With over 800 collection of rare books dating back to before 1900, and African prehistoric artefacts, Murumbi must have been, and remains, the most prolific art collector Kenya has had.

Then there is the love story between him and Pio Gama Pinto, the socialist post-independence politician who was assassinated in 1965. Theirs was a love story that never broke even in their graves.

An afternoon light winter shower had barely abated when I took a drive to City Park, where their remains are interred. Within a few minutes, I am at the main gate of the park, which is opposite the Aga Khan University Hospital in Parklands.

The park, which was established in 1921 as a zoological garden and declared a park four years later, must be the oldest in Kenya. Its rich biodiversity that includes a wide range of fauna and flora makes the park the best of its kind around the city.

The playful Sykes’ monkey is synonymous with the park, which initially covered 90 acres but currently sits on 60 acres, thanks to encroachment by private developers.

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Near the gate, there is open grassy space that is ideal for picnics.

The indigenous forest rises to form a canopy that spreads over the thick undergrowth into which a labyrinth of nature trails has been cut.

Then there is the Murumbi Peace Memorial Garden, tucked a few metres from the main gate.

It’s more of a sculpture garden with the graves of Murumbi and his lovely wife Sheila near the main cemetery.

One can sit on stone benches nearby and enjoy the serene environment, punctuated only by the singing of weaver birds, high above the giant fig trees.

Among the sculptures is "The Woman at the Gate" metal piece crafted by Francis Nnagenda. There is also the awesome "Birds of Peace" sculpture by Elkana Ongesa.

Do you know of a place that captures the beauty, warmth and the distilled essence of our country? Can you write crisply and take captivating pictures? Send your write-up and pictures to [email protected]