Seven of us climb up a hill in South Kaduna in search of a castle we have heard of but are yet to see. The doors swing open and we walk in as if in a trance. Uncertainty melts into glee deeply sketched on our faces.
I can choose to talk about the castle’s structure. Its 12-inch thick stone walls hewn from natural rock formations in the Kajuru area. Or the dungeon styled rooms equipped with furniture reminiscent of the medieval age. Even the 5 feet 5 inches deep stainless pool with its modernity is worthy of mention. But, no that is not what this Castle is about.
It is true that The Castle was completed in 1989 by German, Gerhard Huebner who no longer lives in Nigeria. It is also true that in the last four years, the castle has undergone major renovations spearheaded by Hungarian national, Béla Becker. While Ben, a Kaduna native in his role as manager, holds the keys to the castle for guests staying the night, it is a rather inconspicuous man that knows what this Castle is really about.
It is an early Monday morning when I sit down to have a chat with Garba. I am first introduced to this friendly older man when Ben struggles to call out George, the crocodile, which doubles as the dragon of the castle. With each swish of the stick against the nearly opaque pond, George burrows deeper in the water. Until Garba shows up. With his words and cackles, the crocodile crawls out of his abode, a terrifying creature paying respect to a tenacious man.
In the years during which the castle was abandoned, Garba attended to the grounds.This would not be the first time. He shows me pictures of The Castle’s location before it was built. The trees in his pictures are blooming with bright red apples. When Garba takes us on a hike in the surrounding rocks, mango trees are more abundant. We strike branches with brittle sticks, accepting with relish the rewards of delicious yellow pulp.
“Mr. Huebner taught me how to garden and keep these grounds beautiful”, Garba says. It is apparent that he has done a remarkable job. The variants of pretty purple flowers, bushes of lemon grass, and potted green plants give evidence. The South of Kaduna showed us some lively green trees as we journeyed, but their arrangement in the castle is an act of deliberate conservation. And so, it is not Kajuru Castle’s grandness that makes it outstanding. Rather, it is its environment
Before Mr. Huebner’s sudden exit from the country, he had communicated his vision to Garba. Kajuru Castle will be the vortex as the surrounding villages supply the needs of its visitors and subsist from expenditures. We come upon a Fulani herdsman and cattle roaming the brown flatlands in our view from the high rocks. Garba beckons at the young boy leading them, rocks carry his voice far. He tells us that the mother cow in the lead is in a hurry to go home and feed her baby calves. How he knows, we can’t say. Even though, things have not turned out the exact way the German entrepreneur intended, we relish the opportunity to observe nature, undisturbed.
There is something serene about watching the animals at Kajuru Castle roam free. Even the peacock’s obnoxiously loud calls do not deter the feeling. The peahen perches unbothered, high up one of the castle’s ledges. Ben brings us around to observe the newest animal to the castle. “I saw it move in one of the nearby bushes as I was driving. I almost ran over it, before I stopped. I was afraid it would run, so I nudged it into this black hat and placed it in the backseat. When I arrived at the castle, it was completely black.” The creature is a chameleon. Now green, it tenses in the makeshift home Ben has provided. Through this transparent box with its skewed lid, I am reminded of how much by way of nature, visitors can observe at Kajuru Castle.
For the first time in my life, I witness a hailstorm. We hear the thunder and will the rushed winds against the bushes to be still. Despite the comfort of the spacious living room adjacent to the wooded dining area, we have chosen to sit outside. There are discussions and food, none of which rival the calmness that accompanies the cool breeze coaxing us to stay outdoors against better judgement.
In a split second, the clouds break and the rain starts. Forceful raindrops fall haphazardly, before a strange sensation of pain shoots up from my thigh. I think I have been struck by a burning charcoal from the barbecue pit, but that would not be the case. We run, blindly through the storm seeking the castle doors, only to be pelted more. The culprits, huge lumps of ice blocks litter the corridors. Not even being drenched can dampen the joy of being here. We giggle and shiver, awed by the phenomenon of ice falling from the sky.
Not for a second, do we stop to think about the animals. Where did the Castle Cat run off to? Is George okay in the storm? Is Peahen still by the window? Did Peacock gather up his gorgeous feathers and make it to a safe location at the nick of time? We did not ask. The animals in the environment know how to sort themselves. Self-preservation. Still, there are little things we can do to better preserve the beauty of nature around us.
“Treat this place as you would your home”, Ben said after he had shown us the castle’s grounds. He did not have to spell it out, but we knew the details. No littering, pick up after yourself, and do not walk on the manicured grass. In our short stay at Kajuru Castle, we would not be planting trees. The rocks around are already formed and explore them we did. Set back in its remote location, the animals are welcome companions. And so in its own little ways, Kajuru Castle reminds us that even in spaces with intricate details, what makes a place home are the conscious efforts we take to preserve our immediate environment.