It all started as a thought, about making my journey by TAZARA from Kapiri Mponshi to Nakonde. Yes, when December drew near, it became clear that the journey was on.
You see, I’ve been planning on going to Nakonde by train, the Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority.
So I had picked December and fixed a day that would coincide with the New Year’s festivities when I got to the border town, Nakonde. By the way, Nakonde is a town on the Tanzania-Zambia border.
It didn’t take me long to find out about the TAZARA train schedule. Being a Luanshya resident, where TAZARA line is absent, I decided to enquire at Zambia railways, which had offices in Luanshya. And I was told TAZARA departs at New Kapiri Mposhi on Tuesdays and Fridays (express train), Mondays and Saturdays (ordinary train). I decided to take the Tuesday express.
The night before my journey seemed long. I packed and unpacked my bag three times before I could hear sounds of life outside. The birds were singing, but I didn’t know what their song was, so I started whistling my own favourite song and went for a shower.
I left the quiet mining town of Luanshya very early and was in Kapiri Mposhi just before noon.
I bought my ticket for first class and I was told departure time was 16:00 hrs. Plenty of time. And my legs couldn’t resist the temptation of a tour of Kapiri Mponshi town, and I happily obliged.
Kapiri Mponshi town is stretched along the main road. All major businesses are found here. Walking from one end to another and you have seen the whole town centre. Even its growth is concentrated along this very road. Being at the junction of roads and railways, it’s a busy little town.
And travelling from Kapiri Mposhi to any destination is easy. It’s 64km from Kabwe, the nearest town. Transport is available day and night. Kapiri Mposhi is an agricultural area as I found out at the market, situated just off the main road behind the shops. The main agricultural products are maize, tobacco and livestock.
After my quick tour of the town, I felt tired and hungry. That’s how I found myself at Malila Restaurant, along the main road near the bus station. (Across the road is Unity Motel, very popular with travellers.) The restaurant was efficient and this was partly due to its location, and the fact that most of its customers are travellers, or people on the move.
Nshima with fish restored my energy. And I went outside to have a fresh look at the town and its people. Everyone had some business with everyone, I concluded. To crown it all, almost everyone looked busy. I decided to head back to TAZARA station.
The station was full of people, signalling that the train was about to go. I retrieved my bag from the luggage office and waited for a few minutes before boarding. I managed to find my coach number and my compartment and I settled myself. The train slowly started off, right on time.
I watched the world go by as the train gained momentum. I was joined by a fellow passenger who introduced himself as Juma. He turned out to be a seasoned traveller with his knowledge about TAZARA and areas along it. On this particular journey, he was going home to Dar es Salaam.
Commissioned in 1975, the railway line was built by the Chinese in the 70s.The rail line runs 1,859 km from Kapiri Mposhi (Zambia) to Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).
We had been going for some time now and I decided to go and have a look at the facilities on the train. The train had three classes, first, second and third. There was also a coach known as the sleeper. It had conformable seats with plenty of legroom, and a TV showing local and western movies. There was a dining car and a bar.
The meals in the dining car are relatively cheap. I bought some food and settled myself in the bar, which was well stocked. I watched as the country side went by, enjoying my food and sipping on my lemonade. The guy at the counter was fluent in Swahili, and it’s not a Zambian language, so I asked him about it.
He explained that TAZARA runs two express trains; the Kilimanjaro express, which is from Tanzania, (as well as the staff) and the Mukuba express from Zambia. So I figured out that because of the language being used by the staff, Swahili, I was on the Kilimanjaro.
Along the way, we passed several villages. At every village we passed, I would see kids rushing towards the train to wave at the travellers. It was very infectious that I started waving back. We had passed through a number of stations before we made our first stop at Mkushi.
The station was crowded with vendors selling all sorts of food and beverages. There was roasted chicken, meat, sausage, fried fish, boiled eggs, soft drinks (including coke and fanta), fruits and mineral water. I bought myself two oranges.
TAZARA stations have become easy trading areas for these vendors. I was busy enjoying the jostling outside when somebody asked if he could join me at the table, I told him to go ahead. He sat down and opened a small box full of cooked ‘Tute’, (Cooked Cassava) which he shared with me. The gesture was very touching and humbling that I was forced to accept. You see, this was truly Zambian culture, giving to a total stranger. Well, I thanked him and excused myself. I went back to my compartment to check on Juma.
I found Juma with someone who has just boarded the train, and from the look of things, the two had already introduced themselves. Juma was holding the floor, telling the new passenger, who was going to Nakonde, about his exploits at the border town. Since I was going to the same place, I just sat down and listened attentively. Despite the differences in culture, the journey somehow brought us together like a family. Juma was from (Dar es Salaam) Tanzania, the new guy was from Mkushi (Zambia), and I was from luanshya (Zambia).
It was getting dark and the atmosphere quite interesting. Just sitting and listening to the noise of the train and Juma telling us stories about his various journeys.
Sometime later, we rolled into Serenje. There was a bit of vibrancy around the place. As usual, the food vendors had taken over the station.
Juma bought himself a half chicken and two softies. I decided to go for a bottle of mineral water and some bananas. Compared to Mkushi, Serenje had a lot more people getting on. The population was more than that of Mkushi and its location just near the junction with the main road leading to Luapula province was another factor.
The journey fascinated me with the transition of languages as the train passed through various stations. The woman from whom I had bought the bananas was ‘lala’ tribe, her language had betrayed her. I told Juma, who had already done half of the chicken, about my observations and he added his own views on tribal fragmentation. It was very interesting to know that Juma was fluent in 5 of the Zambian languages. Not a mean achievement, taking into account that he was a foreigner in a land with close to 73 languages!
Another train, a goods train, had just entered the station going in the opposite direction. I asked Juma how the system works when trains are passing each other since it is a single rail meant for one train at a time. I was told that there’s a siding (station) after every 13km allowing the passing of trains. Along the way, we had come across trains at various stations waiting for us to pass. TAZARA express train stops at major and selected stations only. From Kapiri Mposhi to Nakonde, major stations are Mkushi, Serenje, Mpika, Kasama and Chozi.
At about 23:50 hrs we hit Mpika. The atmosphere at Mpika was very lively. We found another passenger train facing towards Kapiri Mposhi. It happened to be an ordinary train, which stops at all stations. It’s advisable to use this kind of train only when you’ve got plenty of time at your disposal. This time around, I decided to go outside the train and have a feel of Mpika. The station looked bigger than I had seen it from inside the train. And it managed to accommodate passengers from both trains. Mpika is the regional headquarters for TAZARA in Zambia.
Our train started off earlier than the other one and we headed northwards. We left civilization behind so quickly and were swallowed up by darkness the moment we left the station. I had dozed off soon after and Juma woke me up sometime later.
We had arrived in Kasama. I decided to buy something to eat. It occurred to me that the quality and price of food stuffs varied from one station to another, the bigger stations having better standards, and higher prices than the smaller stations.
Kasama looked a bit disorganized, with people rushing to and from the train. However, care over your luggage should be taken; Kasama is one station where a petty thief can ruin your journey. There were a lot of passengers though, and two gentlemen got into our compartment, another pair of ears for Juma, who quickly got to the business of introductions.
Being the provincial capital of the Northern Province and a get way to most parts of the area, Kasama is a mixture of people from different tribal affiliations. Bemba is the dominant tribe and language of the area. (Kasama is located in Bemba land).
We started our way towards Chozi, leaving Kasama town with its lights glowing in the dark, barely visible in the background. The railway station is situated some distance from the town centre.
En route to Chozi, we had a brief stopover at Makasa, which surprisingly, was full of people at this time of the night. The train itself was quiet as people were trying to get some sleep. Time was indicating 02:00hrs. Only two or three people boarded and less than a dozen got off.
Chozi is a rural settlement with an urban feeling about it. The vendors were already up although the sun was barely up. It is good to see excited faces of children who always take delight at seeing the train. There were two goods trains with their engines running. The whole place looked busy with everyone trying to find their way in or out of the station. We left Chozi for Nakonde after about 20 minutes. The journey was very refreshing at this time of the day, with fresh air hitting your face.
It was evident that we were nearing Nakonde. People started organizing their luggage even before the station was visible. It was evident that the majority were not going beyond the border into Tanzania. I just realized that I had to say bye to Juma. I picked up my bag, shook hands with him and headed for the exit without saying anything. It was not easy parting, I hoped Juma understood. My TAZARA sojourn had come to an end…
The place I wanted was Lwambazi inn; Juma had mentioned something about it and given me directions. I found it and got settled in a clean, thatched roundavel which had open sides and a bar, stocking Tanzanian and Zambian brands, ideal for travellers. Down the street, across the road I could see Twiza lodge and the other side (north east), as you go towards the border post, was Nkumbi guest house. Nakonde had plenty of Bed and Breakfast joints within or near the shops. The visitor has a lot to choose from…
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