Discover West Pokot County
Brief Overview of West Pokot County
West Pokot County set along Kenya’s western boundary with Uganda has great variation in its topographic features. The southern region is situated within the splendid Cherangani Hills Forest Reserve and its northeastern region stretches towards the plains of Turkana. In between these two extremes from 3,000 ft asl in the south to just 900 ft nearby the parched plains of Turkana are spectacular escarpments, mountains ranges, flat floodplains, and wide rivers flowing along the taper deep valleys. Formerly inaccessible owing to dismal roads penetrating the county, successive Governments have brought substantial improvements to its network of roads, and good roads now link its major towns. Because of these gainful changes, West Pokot County is now opened up for tourists, and tourism.
West Pokot County is blessed with many outstanding wonders rarely captured in travel books. So much so, it has been christened the land of hidden treasures, a title justified by unprecedented breathtaking scenery seen across the county. North to south, West Pokot stretches 132 km and aside from the contrasting scenery seen in the north and south, to the east, rises the legendary mountains and several epic ranges which carry a fantastic and unique scenery with superb ranges like Cherangani, Chemerongit and Sekerr. The twin towns of Makutano and Kapenguria where its economic and political life is centered largely remain quiet, despite being connected by a good tarmac road to the busier Kitale Town.
From Kitale Town, the journey to Kapenguria en-route Lodwar passes through Chepareria, its second urban centre. It’s a wildly scenic drive often underrated. Furthest west, the region is naturally bounded by the striking escarpments that continue into Uganda. Unlike other rangy areas in Kenya, the chains of hillocks and ranges in West Pokot could almost be said to hold the unrivaled element of surprise. Very few of its ranges have been fully explored. It has an abundance of hillocks which have not been touched by the hiker. Due to the huge differences in altitude and poor accessibility in remote West Pokot, these ranges have but remained lonesome despite their tourism potential, and the roads less travelled.
Salient Features of West Pokot County
- County Number 24
- Area – 9169 km2
- Altitude – 4921 ft
- Major Towns – Kapenguria, Makutano
- Borders – Turkana, Trans Nzoia, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo
Brief History of West Pokot County
Before independence West Pokot was hitherto dubbed West Suk District. Kara Suk (later Karapokot) was the area to north and west of Suam River, and East Suk, later East Pokot, the northern part of Baringo District. Large tracts of land to the south of Kapenguria Town, in the present day Trans Nzoia County, had to be abandoned when the Pokot People were forced to make room for European settlement since the 1920’s. This period is still known to the Pokot elders as the time of “Konyi Kwenda” or the “Period of Kwenda”, which is Kiswahili for “Go”.
Places of Interest in West Pokot County
1. Kaisagat Viewpoint
The brisky 40 kms excursion from Kitale to Kapenguria commences with a pass over the emblematic corn fields of Kitale before it takes on the only steep climb along this stretch close to Makutano-Kapenguria Junction. Generally speaking, the gradient through West Pokot is a slope, where one loses 4,600 ft. in altitude from Kitale to Lodwar. Just 9 kms before Makutano, there’s a unique attraction, nearby the Sokomoko Centre. Kaisagat Viewpoint widely staring-on the craggy escarpment, with Muruny River snaking its course, offers a great roadside vista to appreciate the fine landscapes and ecological gamut of the county. For here, the belt of semi-arid county stretches north-east to meet the scenically-splendid hillocks seen in the background. Kaisagat, although little-known, may be on the breathtaking panoramic vistas seen around the southwest region of West Pokot.
2. Chewoyet High School
On reaching Makutano-Kapenguria Junction, it would be of interest to take a quick detour to Kapenguria Town to visit some notable historic sites often sold short, that remain underrated pearls of West Pokot. Situated 4.6 kms from the Lutheran Church Bendera (on Kapenguria-Lodwar Road) sits Chewoyet High School at one time utilised as an ‘African Court’ in the colonial times. The aging classrooms to the left of the main entrance were used as the courtroom at the trials of the Kapenguria Six, where they were tried on April 8, 1953. Chewoyet High School is also notable as one of two premier government high schools in the North Rift Region in company with Kapsabet High School (Nandi County). Originally known as Rift Valley Junior School, Chewoyet High School, which sits on 400 acres, was originally erected as an agricultural college in the 1940’s.
The court room in Kapenguria Town was too small to accommodate the trial, a school room currently Chewoyet Secondary High School, which was then an Agricultural Training Institute was used instead. They were tried here and sentenced for seven years imprisonment with hard labour for managing the unlawful Mau Mau movement.
3. Kapenguria Museum
Despite the fact that a reasonable number of locals were tried and sentenced at Kapenguria ‘African Court’, it is the trial of the Kapenguria Six (Bildad Kaggia, Kungu Karumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei and Achieng Oneko) that shed light upon it. The Kapenguria Six had been arrested on the night of October 21st, 1952, side by side with dozens of other perceived Mau Mau and KAU veterans; in an operation dubbed Jock Scott. The intention was never to give the six a fair trial, but more to keep them away from the escalating social unrest taking roots countrywide. On that account, the trials dragged-on for as long as possible, before they were sentenced to seven years with hard labour. The next stop for the Kapenguria Six was Kapenguria Cells, which would later be refurbished as Kapenguria Museum. Situated within Kapenguria Town, the Museum was opened to the public in 1993 and displays a memorial library in honour of all heroes who participated in the struggle for independence known as Uhuru Memorial Library. Then, there’s the Pokot ethnographic gallery which houses artefacts and a photographic collections on the Pokot Tribe, the Pokot Cultural Homestead, and the Cherangany-Sengwer Gallery. Although all the Kapenguria Six have all passed on their legacies are perpetuated at Kapenguria.
4. Tartar Falls
If, instead of doubling back into Kapenguria from Chewoyet High School, one swings west through Sakas-Kacheliba Road, they will find themselves, after 11 kms, at a miniature paradise. And as the stretch from Kapenguria to Nasolot National Reserve entails crossing the 103 kms stretch on which one can fail to absorb the sights and sound of West Pokot akin to persevering a remote patch, a visit to Tartar Falls is antidotal. The little-known charming Tartar Falls, which is set in the pretty backwoods of Tartar in a scenic and steep canyon seen from far and wide, is safe to explore and photograph, hiking from bottom to top. The overall landscape is calmly photogenic. Tartar Falls Resort located near the falls in a restful jumping-off place. It is located just 10 kms east of Kapenguria Town.
Look where you may but scarcely any rural constituency of Kenya holds a more fascinating history than that of Kacheliba – a name derived from the Kiswahili idiom “Hajalipa”, translating to as unpaid. As the name suggests, Kacheliba is historically famous as the village where tax defaulters were detained. In 1915, Kacheliba was named as the headquarters for West Suk (West Pokot District), in spite of the hard fact that it was part of Uganda’s Naivasha Province. In 1921, Kacheliba became part of Kerio Province, which was at the time part of Turkana District. Kacheliba Constituency, which is roughly demarcated as the area north of River Suam was formerly known as Karasuk, up until independence in 1963.
6. Holy Cross Church, Kacheliba
From Kapenguria-Makutano Junction, along the A1 Kitale-Lodwar Road, there is a choice of two roads that form a perfect ‘V’ shape as they move part. If you follow the first, running eastwards through Kacheliba, you cross an untravelled countryside with fantastic scenery before arriving at the esteemed Holy Cross Church of Kacheliba, 35 kms from the turnoff. The Anglican Church of Kenya under Bible Churchman Mission Society (BCMS) was the first denomination to introduce Christianity in West Pokot, in 1931. Christian missionaries had three main objectives in their mission to West Pokot, as with all of Kenya. Their first objective was to proclaim the modern gospel; with both Protestant and Catholic missionaries. The second was to civilize the targeted groups of people. Thirdly, it was a means to foster their economic lives. The Holy Cross Church raised in 1971 by Father P. Endie is the most notable edifice in Kacheliba and Kapengura.
7. Alale Gold Mines
River Muruni, which is best-known for its seasonal flash floods caused by a high run-off and poor depository, is during the drier seasons a sightly and bizarrely contoured riverbed that makes for an amusing walk. 100 kms north of the Holy Cross Church Kacheliba, at Alale, Muruni River serves a more immediate and enriching purpose. West Pokot County has limited gold deposits, along Muruni River and Sekerr Range, and traditional gold mining is extensive around Alale.
8. Suam River
Locally christened “the peoples beach”, Suam River originating in Mount Elgon is the local retreat. Backdropped by the pretty Mount Kacheliba, this wide and shallow river offers respire and relieve from the torrid heat where men, women and children often enjoy joyful swims here. Suam River is one of four perennial-streams that course in West Pokot along the side of Muruny, Weiwei, and Kerio.
9. Kamatira Forest
10 kms from Kapenguria-Makutano along the A1 Kitale-Lodwar Road one may also be interested in making a quick detour for a look-see of the surprisingly unfamiliar Kamatira Forest that’s the only planted forest found in West Pokot County. Resembling an arrow head from the air, the 60 km2 Kamatira Forest was planted by the prisoners who were detained at Kapenguria over the 1950’s, during Kenya’s struggle for self-governance. One of the appropriate reasons for holding prisoners at Kapenguria was to de-link them from Nairobi, and from all associations with their close family and supporters because West Pokot District during the 1940’s to 1960’s was a “no-go-frontier” that required special passes. From Kapenguria Town en-route Kainuk through Ortum, the A1 travels north west through an unfamiliar horizon varying from splendid mountain ranges to plains, with the magnificent Cherangani Hills rising sharply in the background before arriving at Kainuk, 94 kms away. From Kainuk, the road takes due north, through a much more arid and hot country to Nasolot N. Reserve, 15 kms away.
The historical battles between Pokot and Maasai tribes are etched in stone, and in many of the oral traditions and songs for both tribes. Traditional songs and fables wherein the heroes are praised and battlefield uttered are still popular, especially among the Pokot who were the victors. These two fierce tribes fought and clashed hard in the 19th-Century and several places have been named after these struggles, to include Lounon Village; where the Uas Nkishu Maasai were heavily defeated by the Pokots in the 1850’s. Ole Lounon, military leader of the Maasai, was killed in Lounon Village at Kamitira and where his grave is located.
11. Cherangani Hills
West Pokot picks up the lofty Cherangani Hills from the northern boundary of Elgeyo Marakwet County extending them northerly towards Uganda. All in all, the Cherangani Hills Forest Reserve covers about 1,140 km2 which falls within four counties in the North Rift: West Pokot, Trans Nzoia, Elgeyo Marakwet and Uasin Gichu. It is comprised of twelve unique forests – Kapollet, Chemurkkoi, Cheboyit, Embobut, Kaisungor, Kipkunur, Kiptaberr, Kapkanyar, Sogotio, Toropket, Kerer and Lelan. The expansive Cherangani Hills and its associated sub-tropical forests are one of the magnificent heritages of this region. These Hills are typified by heavily gullied and forested tops which in several sections become sheer cliff walls. The route from Kitale to Kapenguria and onwards to Lodwar offers some of the best roadside views of the bosting Cherangani Hills, specially at Marich Pass, Tamkal Valley and Sekerr Hills. Two of the main rivers in West Pokot (Weiwei and Muruni) have their headwaters at Cherangani Hills.
12. Marich Pass
The steep descent from 6,110 ft in Kitale to 1,500 ft at Lokichar Plains loops and bends on a rocky cleft carved where Muruny River emerges from Cheranganis’. 43 kms from Kapenguria, at Ortum, the excitement with many motorists eager for a memorable drive and superb scenery is almost palpable. Ortum marks the beginning of the wondrous joyride of sometimes sheer drops running through the Cheranganis’ along wholesome hairpin bends and along lusty escarpments. On the map, the road appears to go straight as an arrow through the hills, yet, nowhere is the loss in altitude from 6,110 ft in Kitale to 1,500 ft at Kainuk better demonstrated. From Ortum, the road begins to loop and bend on a rocky cleft carved where the Muruny River emerges from the Cheranganis, simply known as Marich Pass. The hair-raising drive down Marich Pass cuts the Cherangani Hills from the Sekerr Ranges, passing past the abrupt peaks of Morobus Hill, to its north, and the Samor Hills, to its south, which mark the unofficial gateposts of the superb Marich Pass. It’s a heart-stopping and memorable 41 kms joyride.
13. Marich Pass Field Center
Named after the spectacular Marich Pass and located 2 kms downstream from the Pass, the Marich Pass Field Centre set-up on a 30-acres property in a forest clearing along the east flanks of Muruny River is dedicated to preserving and perpetuating the traditions of the Pokot. The Centre has been constructed in a simple but distinctly native attributes. The buildings are of fired brick (made on site) with grass and palm frond thatch for roofing. The whole centre has been designed to contrast with the landscape of mixed acacia forest and grasslands, hills and valleys, and to offer wide views of the River Muruny and the towering Cheranganis. Only 10 acres of the 30 acre site has been used for building; the rest being kept intact as virgin forest. Aside from the useful insights about the native Pokot Community, the center provides plenty of opportunities for game viewing, birding and walking tours. From here, the views of the Cheranganis, Sekerr, Tamkal Valley and Mount Koh are also pleasurable. It has 19 modest African-style bandas and a camping site. It is found 20 kms from Ortum Centre.
14. Weiwei Irrigation Scheme
Close to the Marich Pass Field Center and where the Marich Pass finally levels-out, splits off the second key junction along A1 Kitale-Kapenguria-Lodwar Road onto the B4 Sigor-Nakuru Road. It’s a hard afternoon’s drive of about 170 kms along the B4 through Sigor and Loruk to Lake Baringo. A drive down this road, although unexpectedly beautiful, is a trip through the heart of jerkwater Kenya which should be planned in good weather. There are, however, a few places of interest along the B4 Sigor-Nakuru Road that are within striking distance of Marich Pass Field Center to include the Weiwei Irrigation Project. It is located just 9 kms from Marich Pass Field Center, at Weiwei, and along River Weiwei. “The Weiwei Scheme was begun many centuries ago (exact date unknown) by the locals inhabitants (the Pokot), who tap water from the gorge of the Wei Wei River and lead it through contour canals, to irrigate their fields on the alluvial fanland.” This farming innovation is thought to be a localised adaptation of the Marakwet Irrigation Furrows in Elgeyo Marakwet, that exhibit a considerable level of ingenuity in their methods of irrigation. The traditional Weiwei model was improved and mechanized in 1987 with the establishment of a pilot farm of 50 hectares. Over the decades, these canals and spillways have taken beautifully to the lay of the land, to create a landscape that illustrates human ingenuity and a respect for nature. Withal, Cherangani Hills stand sentinel in the background.
A total of 300ha out of a target of 700ha of badly degraded land were being reclaimed. 225 plots on the on the valley floor were allocated to farmers. Each plot had a hydrant fed from an underground pipe network and equipped with galvanised steel irrigation laterals, raisers and sprinklers. The plots were levelled at a slight slope to allow adequate drainage into the natural channels on the valley’s floor.
15. Tamkal Valley
For millennia the locals living around Sigor and Sekerr locations have practiced agriculture although their land seems far too rough for tillage. The agricultural farmlands of the valley were achieved through innovative traditional irrigation and terracing. The origins of these irrigation furrows are largely unknown but might be related to the Sirikwa Traditions, as the Pokot have claimed that many of these furrows were extant when they settled in these locations. The ancient hillside terracing can be sighted around Mwino about 27 kms from Marich Pass.
16. Mount Koh
The view of Mount Koh from Sigor converts an amateurs frame into a painting. Mount Koh is an isolated massif of Cherangani Hills which lies in the Tamkal Valley, and which from the Marich Pass Field Centre is easily recognized by its unique thimble-like peak. Koh in the local Pokot language loosely translates as the “cow’s hump”. From Marich Pass Field, it is a short but spine-rattling 8 kms trip to the base of Mount Koh; just before arriving at Wei Wei. This makes for a pleasant day of hiking, either from Marich Pass or from Chesta Guest House or KVDA Guest House in Lomut. Make sure to carry food and drinks and attempt to start as early as possible. With a days notice a local guide can be arranged to help hikers navigate through these unbeaten paths to some little known vantage points, at a small fee. Also found near Mount Koh is the Lomut Cultural Centre.
17. Sekerr Range
The more ardent explorer from Mount Koh may wish to continue their hiking expedition at the Sekerr Range, which would round up a perfect hiking tour of West Pokot. Sekerr Range is about 5 kms from Marich Pass Field Centre along A1 Kitale-Kainuk-Lodwar Road, and both these hillocks can be attempted from the comfort of this restful base. If the objective of the trip is to hike only Sekerr Range, then the Mtelo View Lodge set at the base of Sekerr Range is a suitable alternative. It can be reached using a motorable road which goes past Chetinon, Mariny and Mungat trading centres before arriving at the lodge. Sekerr Range, also known as Mount Mtelo, is the highest point in West Pokot at 3,336 ms and the 5th highest mountain range in Kenya following Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon, Aberdare and the Cherangani Hills. Its moderate incline makes for a relatively comfortable hike through a land that carries exemplary views. It is also revered as a holy mountain and as a popular pilgrimage shrine. On average, it takes two days to hike to the summit and back. Potters and guides are available on notice.
18. Nasolot National Reserve
As you cross the peripheral region between Marich Pass and Kainuk Town, the bulk of the Cherangani Hills form fine views fading away to the west as the road gradually deeps towards the vast semi-arid lowlands. Past the exit to the Sekerr Range, the drive to Nasolot Reserve and Kainuk is fascinating as the mountains suddenly give way to unvarying shrubland. At Kainuk-Turkwel Junction, just 15 kms from Marich Pass Center, the road to the left leads to Nasolot and the other proceeds to Kainuk. On the short 10 kms stretch from Kainuk-Turkwel Junction to Nasolot National Reserve the road runs parallel to the Turkwel River. The 92 km2 Nasolot National Reserve is typified by sweeping bush and shrubland with only the high-reaches of the Nasolot Hill spotting a wooded floral profile. From Nasolot Hill one can catch fine views of Sekerr Range, to the south. Gazetted in 1979, near the Turkwel Gorge, Nasolot National Reserve is famed for its prolific but shy wildlife. It harbours a big elephant population estimated at 510 in 2010.
19. Turkwel Dam
Completed in 1991, the 150 ms long and 160 ms wide double-curvature arch of Turkwel Dam forged along the Turkwel River is the largest man-made dam in Kenya. It supplies 151 MW to the national grid. The mind-blowing views of the Turkwel-Sekerr Gorge, Riting Hills and Nasolot Hill are exceptional along the dam’s walkway. Turkwel Dam is situated 5 kms from Nasolot National Reserve.
20. Turkwel Escarpment
Also known as the Turkwel-Sekerr Gorge, the jaw-droppingly splendid bonza of the Turkwel Escarpment is best seen from the crest (walkway) of Turkwel Dam, which to the delight of many adventure-makers is worth every trouble of getting here. The wide and yawning gap of the Turkwel Escarpment stretching about 10 kms, in these eerie silent backwoods, is moving almost to the blink of fear. Its fronting view is, of course, the picturesque Turkwel Dam with the Riting Hills forming a picture-postcard backdrop to its straight out of a fantasy scene. Those planning a visit here should get in touch with Turkwel KenGen Co., beforehand.
21. Former State Lodge
If you have fancied up setting foot in a state lodge, this eye-catching abandoned lodge near Turkwel will assuredly get you a feel of the affairs albeit not in the modish condition afforded to its peers. Daniel Moi was the last president who patronized the lodge (alongside many high level officials) before it was let go about 25 years ago. This multi-million residence, once a heavily guarded home, is now slowly fading away. Kenya now has 8 working state lodges at: Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Kakamega Cherangani, Nakuru, Sagana and Rumuruti Lodge.
Geography of West Pokot County
West Pokot County is marked by a variety of topographic features. To its north and northeastern are the dry plains, with an altitude of less than 900 ms above sea level. On its southeastern part are the Cherangani Hills with an altitude of 3,370 ms. Landscapes associated with this range of altitude include spectacular escarpments of more than 700 ms. The high altitude regions have agricultural potentials while medium altitude areas, between 1,500 ms and 2,100 ms, which receive low rainfall, are mostly pastoral rangeland. Its low altitude areas include Alale, Kacheliba, Kongelai, Masol and parts of Sigor, all prone to flash flooding.
Land Use in West Pokot County
The population in West Pokot County is predominantly rural and dependent on pastoralism as their main source of livelihood. Subsistence crop production is also undertaken in the arable areas. Land in West Pokot is largely communally-owned and the cases of landlessness are minimal with most of the land being used communally. In most parts of Pokot Central and all of Pokot’s north Sub-counties the land is communally owned. The total acreage put under food crops and cash crops is 220 km2. This is consisted of 170 km2 under food crops and 50 km2 under cash crop tillage. Its main cash crops are coffee and pyrethrum. Coffee is cultivated in West Pokot while pyrethrum is cultivated in Pokot South.
Highlights in West Pokot County
Touring locations in West Pokot remain largely unexploited. Some examples of tourist attraction sites in the county include: its scenic places (Nasolot Game Reserve); its escarpments (Marich Pass, Kaisagat Viewpoint, Mount Mtelo and Mount Koh); ecotourism sites (Turkwel Dam): remain untapped. Other areas of interest include Pokot Culture and Centre in Kapenguria Museum, curio shops and wildlife. Apart from these, West Pokot is home to the Kapenguria Six’ Cells.
Population in West Pokot County
The population of West Pokot County was estimated at 631,231 persons as per 2013 projections. The county’s inter-censal growth rate is 5.2% which is higher than the national average of 3.0%. Based on that growth trend, West Pokot’s population was expected to expand to 700,414 and 771,180 in 2015 and 2017 respectively. It’s also worth a mention that the youth (aged 15-34 years), who’s population estimate is 196,830, form about 31% of West Pokot’s total populace. Population distribution is influenced by climatic conditions and socio-economic development. The urban areas and high potential agricultural areas have high population distribution and density. The population density was expected to increase from 69 in 2013 to 76 and to 85 people / km2 km in 2015 and in 2017.
Airports in West Pokot County
West Pokot has no airports or airstrips.
Roads in West Pokot County
The road network in West Pokot is primarily of earth and gravel surface, which makes up 87% of the road network. The gravel surface roads cover 349 kms while the earth surface roads cover 697 kms. Bitumen roads cover only 151 kms.
Climate in West Pokot County
The long rains in West Pokot County fall between April and August while the short rains fall between October and February. West Pokot surely experiences great variations in temperature with the lowlands experiencing temperatures of up to 33 Degrees C, and highlands experiencing moderate temperatures of 15 C.
National Monuments in West Pokot County
There are no designated national monuments in West Pokot County