FEEL THE SPIRIT OF THE BUSHMEN
If you are even mildly interested in ancient cultures, spiritual places and rock art then you will find Tsodilo Hills is a magical and moving place.
Lying 25 miles west of the Okavango Panhandle, near Nxamaseri Village - the rock formations are comprised of four outcrops, named the Male, Female, Child and unofficially the fourth is called Grandchild where there are over 4000 rock paintings. The tallest hill rises 400 metres out of the Kalahari bush and is the highest point of Botswana at 1400 metres above sea level. The hills are believed to have been a very significant and spiritual place for the San and Hambukushu Bushmen, that inhabited the area over 100 000 years ago and then more recently by Bantu tribes, who also contributed to the illustrations. Pottery, iron, glass beads, shell beads, carved bone and stone tools date back over 90,000 years.
I undertook the trip from Nxamaseri Island Lodge, which offers Tsodilo as a day trip from the lodge. This required a short boat trip from the lodge and then approximately an hour’s drive on a good gravel road. It was early spring, windy, and a lot of dust was in the air but the hills were visible from quite a distance. Once through the gate you will be connected with a local guide who takes you around the site. Many of the paintings and panels are visible at ground level and accessed by short drives or easy walks around the base of the formations. There are also trails that take you over the hills and to the very peak of the Male hill – where you have fantastic views over the neighbouring formations.
I loved the trails and easy climbs up to some of the rock facades which have some of the best examples of rock art that I have seen in southern Africa. What truly amazed me is just how many paintings there are and how spread out they are, not only at ground level but high up where you least expect them. Evidence that this area was a central point and occupied for millennia. If it weren’t for my local guide I would have overlooked some of them quite easily. The rock formations are wonderful and I marvelled at their shapes and colours and the vegetation surrounding them.
Two of the most famous images are the rhino polychromes and the Eland panel, the latter situated on a soaring cliff overlooking the African wilderness and noted in Sir Laurens van der Post's renown book – The Lost World of the Kalahari. Highly recommended reading! The inaccessibility of the various panels is believed to be linked to their religious significance. There is also a painting of a whale and penguin, proving that the Bushmen were truly nomadic and covered vast distances.
The local San people believe Tsodilo is the birthplace of all life, art there made by the descendants of the first people. Tsodilo's geography, trails and grooves in the earth are known as the trails and footprints of the first animals, making their way to the first watering hole A natural water spring at Tsodilo, near the Female Hill, is used as both a water collection site and a ritual site. It is seen as sacred, and used by countless peoples to cleanse, heal, and protect.
The whole experience is a visual treat and if you take a moment to take it all in you can almost feel the spirit and power of the Bushmen ancestors. It does feel like a vast art gallery and no surprise the hills have been dubbed the ‘Louvre of the Desert’.
It was given World Heritage Site status in 2001 due its religious and spiritual significance to local peoples as well as its unique record of human settlement over millennia.
View our safaris that can include Tsodilo