Africa: Enugu’s ‘Natural Rollercoaster’

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With its many serpentine curves plus the fact it lies several metres atop a narrow ledge overlooking a deep ravine, a ride through the three-kilometre Milken Hill road can never seem like anything less than an experience for the intrepid. Not even at its best condition has it ever been less so, let alone when pothole-strewn and with neither safety side curbs nor streetlights to illuminate this treacherous stretch at night as had been the case before this road was reconstructed by the Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi administration and reopened for use this week.

Named after the British engineer credited with its painstaking design, the Milken Hill road was built after the discovery of coal in 1909 to ease commuting between the colonial office in Enugu and the newly established mines some of which lay at the foot of the hills. And for decades until the construction of the Enugu – Onitsha highway in the early ’80s, the road served as the only access into Enugu from the Niger Bridge and northern corridor.

It’s unusual for travellers to experience a ride through Milken Hill and not be struck by its awesome splendour and, of course, not hold their hearts in their mouths. It’s not a surprise then this legendary route has over the years spawned many tales that continue to capture the imagination. Never mind that quite a number of these seems rather farfetched, like the one about a commercial luxury bus that got stranded as the driver curiously tried to make a u-turn on the narrow strip and had to be pushed into the valley to make way for other vehicles.

There was also the story of a military truck that veered off the road into the surrounding gorge in the 1970s. According to this gory tale, as the lone occupant clambered out of his lorry now stuck in the valley’s dense vegetation, he was attacked by a large snake and subsequently eaten up. Rescuers were said to have found only the hapless soldier’s boots the next morning and his bloated and largely immobile predator a few metres away as they combed the thicket…

So what’s your Milken Hill memory?
By Laurence Ani

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