If you want to know much of Zambia in a few hours, I guess your best bet is a road trip from Lusaka to Ndola on the 320-kilometre route up the Great North Road. From Lusaka, the road takes you through small villages, big sky, mostly flat land and gentle, rolling hills. You’ll find markets, houses and people whose activities show you how daily life unfolds is the country.
If you do a self-drive, you’ll have the chance to explore the scenery at your pace. However, there are bus services using the route. On one of my trips to Ndola, I boarded one such bus in downtown Lusaka around the Post Office. The shared-buses take about 40 people, charging about 70 Kwacha (less than $15), and the trip is less than 5 hours on a traffic-free day.
The Great North Road is Zambia’s section of Cecil John Rhodes’ Cape to Cairo route. The Chinese upgraded the road a couple of years ago and one can see the imposing 60,000 audience capacity National Heroes Stadium they also built near the Mandevu junction as one journeys down to Ndola.
On my first trip on this route, I easily noticed the big billboards that line the roadsides; they display adverts of various companies operating in Zambia. As we drove further down, we saw scattered settlements—a few brick houses here, a few mud houses with thatched roofs there. Then there were farmland and markets along the road, as well as plenty of parched land dotted with thickets and scrubs.
Two hours down the road and almost halfway through the journey, we arrived at Kabwa. I understand it was called Broke Hill until the authorities decided to shed colonial names. We had a stopover here for a brief refreshment. Kabwe is quite developed; it has several institutions, numerous lodges and is a key rail base in the country.
From Kabwe, the landscape was green. While some commuters had alighted from the bus, I was still seated fascinated by the greens. I guess only two of us were awake—the driver and I, though our foci were different: the driver’s attention was on the road and he seemed happy peddling the throttle on the free road, while my gaze was fixed on the scenery. I saw river valleys trade places with thickets, interposed by clustered settlements.
We soon got to Kapiri Mposhi where Tazara railway, built by the Chinese, starts its journey to Tanzania. A call came in here and quite distracted me from taking in as much as I could of the life that lined the route from here.
I regained consciousness at the break off to Luanshya, a mining outpost close to Ndola. By this time, I could see the beautiful sunset coasting home. It’s been well over 4 hours on the road already, and I could smell the Friendly City’s air.
We didn’t have to drive another long hour before Ndola showed up on the radar. A signpost beaming: WELCOME TO NDOLA THE FRIENDLY CITY greeted us as we entered the city. Though the signpost also did tell us Ndola was the Copperbelt Commercial, industrial and distributive centre, Ndola needed no such extra introduction; its air already announced it.
Ndola is a major industrial and financial city that attracts many people seeking to make ends meet. I was particularly impressed that, amidst the hustling in the city, the people have not lost their warm and hospitable character. A local, Alfred, helped me to one of the affordable guesthouses in town. He ended up being my first friend, and we later toured the city together.
Have you been to Ndola or any Zambia city? Why not share your experience with us in the comment.