Views, yes. 360°, check. Aerial, check.
"King of the world feeling", check.
But first, the climb. Short & steep. Great. Silent. Scary. Not dangerous, just risky to climb the pinetree frest underwood there as a solo female. Haven't encountered any danger, any threatening behaviour. Surprising. Busy climbing the steep slope, I came across a woman carrying a basket of vegs on her head. She said Hi, to which I replied. She was as shy as I was surprised. Who would guess people would actually live there & would grow vegs to sell at some markets down there ? In fact, Mangabe inhabitants are family members of the doany guide up there. That , for me, makes it a still authentic place to see, not rushed in as was the Ambatondradama hill with those many doany. Here, there is only one doany with polite locals.
Now, the views... what can I say ? Just click on the set of pictures & you'll get some samples.
To reach Mangabe, step down at Ambohimanga bus station. Retrace your steps to pass the discus gate, descent the slope the bus has just ridden. Turn right to follow the road skirting the primary forest. Ask around to find Andakana, a village on a little slope at your right. In Andakana, follow the small path skirting the main villa (Mahandrihono is the name, I think). Soon, you'll hit the foot of Mangabe hill.
I must have a special connection with this hill.
The first hill ever (Ambohimanga apart) I managed to reach the summit although the highest I climbed.
The first doany area where I had a feeling to not be set apart due to my status (I don't believe in the efficiency of pilgriming & asking for blessings at those doany, that pilgrims seemed to not appreciate in Ambatondradama).
The first doany area where I had a feeling not to be pressurized to bring on the money before getting info (such was the case of the lady in Amboatany to whom I asked which King was buried there & which she replied "I need money to take care of the site"...lol). The real doany experience to have is here. Must have spent hours chatting up the guide here, except when he was busy working (: receiving pilgrims & "intermediating" between the latter & Andriantsivongo- the astrologer of King Nampoina who is buried & worshipped on top of Mangabe). Must have spent hours on my first day there & never was I pressured to give bucks. We- he, some of his sons & I- sat in the yard, enjoying the view Northwards & chatted about pilgrims, influent locals (I know some by name for being part of Ambohimanga municipality), politics (it was presidential elections campaign time). He explained about different corners of the doany, the rituals, where & when the zébus to be sacrificed were put to death, which animal to not sacrifice... all kind of info I wanted.
When it was time to leave for some hike on the crest (Mangabe is both the name of the crest & the western part of the crest), he showed me where it was better to walk for me (the beaten path in the high grass). Thanked him for the effort, the kindness, the respect. Given the poor conditions peasants use to live in (those small thatched roofed huts on Pic#4), any bank note is always welcome.
Of course, when I talked about a doany experience to have, it wasn't about practising the rituals there, rather getting insight about them. To practise rituals, one has to believe in them, that I do not.
A shame that the royal compound uses to be the only spot locals & most tourists visit. As a local living just 3 miles from Blue Hill, I used to consider the place as one that was always there, that I would be able to visit anytime. Indeed, it is.. but it took me years, guiding my Belgian friends who visited Madagascar in 1995 to see the compound again... Then, in 2005 - only 10 years later despite my several returnings to Madagascar between 1995 and 2005 -, I returned there ... to visit the compound! As a result, I don't know of the Ambohimanga hill that much, only the royal fort... and the primary forest I visited end 80s, as it was study "trip" organized by my biology teacher.
So, browse the whole area, go meet the locals in the plains, working the ricefields, harvesting rice, in the villages, probably gathered around a soccer ground (more chances to see a game on week-ends) since Ambohimanga is reported to have a team and a ground...
I've never seen the pond that was for the kings & queens only (the water from there was used during some fandroana rituals). For sure, there are still things I should know or at least visit in the area, apart from the fort.
Hmm.. this should make up for some nice walks. I know there are cycling clubs that use to cycle in the area. But an independent tour or a few friends can organize the walk too.
[July. 2007, has been a year since I started browsing Ambohimanga area, alone & on regular basis. Gosh! it boasts activities to fill days, be it to climb hills & picnic there in Ambatondradama & Mangabe; to learn about culture (& cultural shocks there will be at those Ambatondradama & Mangabe doany!); to bond with lemurs in Soavinandrimanitra; to nurture adrenaline fix (climbing, biking the hills, quading)...]
Below are tales of experiences around Ambohimanga: Ambatondradama, Soavinandrimanitra, Mangabe, Ankazomalaza... Also, check travelogues in this page]
Ambatondradama is lying North of Ambohimanga. 40-min. walk from its bus station.
It is home of many doany (pilgrim stations where to "worship" particular kings, officials). Many pilgrims flocking in esp. on good days (days when it's better to "talk" with ancestors & ask for blessings from them), as opposed to bad/ forbidden days (think Tuesday is a bad day) & during the whole month of fandroana. Fandroana is the ritual of the traditional (royal) baths the Kings & the ancients used to observe to get rid of the bad things of the ending year & to welcome the New Year "cleaner" & anew. In 2006, New Year month was Nov. 22- end Dec.. Our traditional calendar differing from the common calendar we use nowadays, still have to check for the 2007 Fandroana month.
Also, Ambatondradama is well-known within the Kung Fu fighters circle. I was a child when peculiar demonstrations occured. Big coverage back then. The movement was partly led by a Kung-Fu master named Piera Be (Big/Great Peter). The dictator saw a threat in Kung-Fu, so it was banned. Then, the Kung-Fu master would clandestinely teach his art to youngs here. I was shown some rocks around the Andriamisara doany on which they'd to train. Was also explained that, as the highest doany, it delivers the purest water of the hill. It got their favor & that, even nowadays, they'd send cars here to fetch barrils of fresh water. Piera Be was reported "disappeared". Insiders would talk about him still alive... Anyway, I was quite glad witnessing Kung Fu trainers chatting up the guide, the latter reminiscing older days whilst the young couple prolly to pay homage to the master.
More about my experience(s) there, click below:
Part I was about my first cultural clash I ever observed in my own country !!!
Part II, a much more pleasant day chatting up locals and guides & actually learning about our traditional rituals the smoother way !!!
The climb is interesting for many aspects.
Those views over the plains at my feet as I proceeded the climbing.
Those multiple shades of green. The lush ginger plants, the green of pinetrees, another green on those rockplants.
It was dry winter when I visited Ambatondradama, dry grass, dusty roads. Made this unusual sight of lush ginger plants set against the Southern Hemisphere blue sky a reminder of summer. Lush green, sky blue, sea aqua or a lake in the nearby... As it was a sight I had on the very first instant of the climb, I felt it was like a "Welcome to Ambatondradama" colour combination. Picture 2
Exercise-wise, steep flanks then milder slopes to climb on. What else can I say ? Climb those steps... barefoot.
Have to mention that it is not required to climb barefoot (uncontrary to my misunderstanding on my first day here). Yet, barefooting is way convenient here as one has to climb stairs. Those are, at times, small stairs. On my second day here, I had to be cautious climbing with my walking boots, that I eventually took off. Must say the barefooting granted me a better connection with the environment & a fuller experience. I'm this type who enjoy the variety of walking on grass, sand, firm mud. In one climb, I had to walk on dusty clay stairs (this typical fine dust!), on pine streaks (the smell as I crushed them under my feet), on rocks (hot pipping as I walked on them, the sun was at its nadir position!).
Also, should you want to climb on a rock or two to enjoy certain views... or to stage for pictures you'd show back home :-), stiff walking boots may not be convenient. Well, the endeavor not really being what I'd class as speleogy, you'd not want to be heavy bringing another pair of shoes, would you? Then, climb them barefoot.
NB: to walk within pilgrim stations (the yard & the interior), one must take off shoes. To enter houses to ask for blessings, I even think one has to be "clean". For that, have a cascade shower at the stations.
Travelling with kids? After visiting the UNESCO Royal Ambohimanga complex, you should reward their patience with a close contact with lemurs & cute critters in the nearby. This private park is located within the very enclosure walls of Soavinandriamanitra village. Being about 1-2 km from the royal hill- a 30-min walk in typical Merina countryside- Soavinandriamanitra used to serve as a regular refuge to the great Nampoina (18th cent. Ambohimanga & then Tana King) when fleeing from enemies. Later on, the village served as a munitions storage of the Merina Kingdom.
Now, four moats form the park, in concentric circles. The beasts are in the centre where the guided visit started. Gradually, the walk evolved into outer moats where flora (orchids, some endemic species) is being grown.
The fauna, mainly East coast critters: lemurs (sifaka & fulvus & microcebus); frogs of incredible colours (blue-green-yellow; orange); big snake, chamilions, butterflies (still in larvae state when I was there), endemic jar species.
And there I was, bonding with lemurs, feeling privileged to be so near them & able to observe; feeling weird & a bit scared touching this muscular corpse of a manditra snake. Not afraid of muscles ;-), rather of any poisonous bite. Yet, only scorpions are reported poisonous on my island. A fun visit, that day. Not a jungle, still, it has tall fruit & eucalyptus trees where lemurs use to hide & play.
Only in 2000 the area within the moats & walls became a private park. Although not fully operational yet (gatherings still being collected & plants, not blooming yet), I applaud the incentive: nestling a park of primary forest critters within Merina 19th cent. Tamboho Gasy (High plateau enclosure walls). I see the project as of educational purpose. Can also be cultural. After all, Tamboho gasy have history to tell and those in Soavinandriamanitra especially.
I had a knowledgeable guide & yet the feeling the park needs backing. Yours!
Phone number below is Hotel Karthala's whom the park belongs to.
Visiting both forts of Mahandry (well, this one in Ambohimanga) and Manjakamiadana (in Tana), you would notice the same building, rather minimalistic, very simple of darken wood: this is Andrianampoinimerina dwelling. Very simple, basic amenities.. in real contrast with buildings his successors had had fit in those compounds. Still, he is considered as the Greatest of Merina Kings. He initiated union of Merina kingdoms to counter the danger of fratricidal wars, to conquer more territory and unify the whole island (see Things to do tips also regarding the Nampoina's conquests and their underlying motives).
For him having died young (in his 60, i've read), it was his son, Radama I, first king to bear the title of "King of Madagascar" (UK was the first to recognize his status as the King of Madagascar), who managed to unify the island through conquests, alliances, marriages..
In fact, one uses to name it "Nampoina's Hut".
It's this modesty that I find unusual.
Centuries ago, this enclosure wall was made from clay and egg whisk then painted with chalk. It still stands.
I once had the explanation that eggs served as taxes. They were then collected to allow royal constructions.
To celebrate Malagasy (traditional) New Year (for 2005, it was on March 11 whislt in 2001, it was in November - changing according our lunar calendar), Merina and Sakalava people used to take part in Fandroana festivals. Check Local customs section for more details.
What i found unusual is that water in Andrianampoinimerina's pool was reported to be changed everyday by virgin maidens though he only used it for his annual royal baths, to celebrate the New Year.
Off course, nowadays, it is not changed as frequently as in the past anymore.
I also heard it was used as fishpool, even in Nampoina's time...