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UNDER MERU’S SPELL

Although often omitted from the northern circuit, Arusha National Park is an accessible, varied and exciting place to spend a few days. Stuart Butler describes his experience in this small park with big appeal
Arusha National Park is home to some fairytale forests, halfway up the slopes of Mount Meru, which can be explored on foot.
The sun sets over Meru.
STUART BUTLER (2)

Somewhere up high, where the air is cold enough to sting the back of the throat and butterflies lie dead and frozen on a bed of volcanic ash as black as a graveyard, is a gnarled and stumpy old tree festooned in dripping curtains of Old Man’s Beard.

The tree sits all alone, the last of its kind, in the middle of a bleak bowl hidden in a crease on the mountain slope. Despite its loneliness, it looks like a tree of significance and you get the sense it knows secrets that we do not. When I asked about it, my guide waved a hand dismissively and said, “Once upon a time, that tree was an important holy site for the Meru people who lived here.” Today, though, new gods have taken over and this grand old tree stands alone and largely forgotten. I was in Arusha National Park, in northern Tanzania, and the forgotten holy tree could be seen as something of a metaphor for this overlooked and underrated park itself.

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