She climbed up a tree as a Princess and got down as Queen Elizabeth. I was at the same venue in June 2010
The Safaricom Marathon in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya, was to be held on 26th June 2010. A couple of days earlier, we went sight-seeing to stay at Treetops Lodge. After going there, I realised, what a lucky brush I was in for! A brush with Royalty!
5 February 1952: "For the first time in the history of mankind, a young Princess climbed up a tree one day, and after having described as her most thrilling experience, climbed down the next day a Queen" (as recorded by Jim Corbett about Queen Elizabeth - II).
28 June 2010: I was there at the same resort, doing the same thing: Photographing animals coming to lick salt in front of the Treetops Lodge.
The original TreeTops Lodge where Elizabeth climbed
The burnt stump now left, post the Mau Mau Uprising
TreeTops Lodge now
View from the Lodge
In the forests, there are some open areas called 'salt licks,' where trees do not grow because of heavy salt deposits in the soil. Animals come to these salt licks to imbibe salt and balance the sodium content in their blood, as neither carnivorous nor herbivorous food contains salt. Usually there is also a water hole nearby where they quench thirst. For animal watchers, salt licks are favourite joints. Elephants and bison come in large numbers. Deer too share the space. Leopards come prowling to feast on deer.
Treetops Lodge is such a resort hotel in the Aberdare National Park in Kenya near the township of Nyeri. Perched at 1,966 m (6,450 ft) above sea level, it affords a clear view of Mount Kenya. A large lake and a salt lick lie adjacent to the Lodge. From the various perches, balconies and glass widows, guests watch the wildlife. Sitting within the safe confines of the huge glass windows, it I possible to comfortably photo and video graph elephants passing just a hand span away.
We arrived at this lodge late in the evening. From the verandah, several animals could be seen salt-grazing. Once night fell and it started getting cold, we took up positions near huge glass windows inside the Lodge. The lick was illuminated with powerful search lights. Few fancied trading such a post for a warm cozy bed. Those who did, were alerted of any new sightings by a buzzer. Animals sighted were elephants, bison, deer, mongoose and warthogs. It was curious to see the elephants scoop up saltful’s from the ground with their trunks. Every new herd marching in loudly trumpeting its arrival heralded much commotion within and outside the Lodge. The newcomers were greeted by others with mud showers.
Treetops has a chequered history. In 1932, Eric Walker built a machan and log house replete with 4 bedrooms, a dining hall et al on a huge banyan tree. This offered guests a close view of the local wildlife in complete safety. Walker hit pay dirt on the 5th February 1952. Princess Elizabeth and Duke Philip climbed up the tree in the evening, and spent the night excitedly photographing wild animals. On the 5/6 night, her father King George VI died in England. When she got down from the tree on 6th, she was Queen Elizabeth.
This event had elite travelers world over trooping into Treetops (not all of them were coronated next day, anyway). Notable visitors included hunter-conservationist Jim Corbett, Baron Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts movement), comedian Charlie Chaplin, American actress Joan Crawford and Lord Mountbatten.
During the Mau Mau Uprising, which began as a protest against British dominance and discrimination in the Kikuyu homeland in 1951, the original Treetops was burnt down to black charcoal. But animals still continued to visit the salt lick.
Treetops was rebuilt in 1957 and now has 50 rooms with ample viewing galleries. Visitors are allowed to bring only one overnight bag and there's a ban on hard-soled footwear due to the hearing sensitivity of many animals. A diligent daily log of animals sighted is maintained at the Lodge by the staff.
We had come here before the marathon in Lewa Downs. That was my first brush with Royalty - to have stayed where Royalty stayed - a marathoner's privilege!