[By Funmilayo Ajala]
Location and setup
Kajuru Castle is a private property owned by Gerhard Heubrer, a German who lived in Kaduna in the 1970s. Built in the 1980s, its setting and ambience offers a ‘Home away from Home’ experience for visitors who need the sort of serenity to refresh, to reflect or simply to get away from a busy schedule.
Kajuru itself is a town situated in a local government of the same name in Kaduna State in Nigeria’s North-West region. It was previously part of the Chikun Local Government before it was carved out during the military regime of the 1990s.
The castle’s design is typically European and similar to what you may have seen on Western TV or publications. Surrounded on all sides by mountains and hills, the castle is built with stones patterned in shades of grey, making it look almost like a crocodile’s skin.
The rooms are spread across the castle’s three floors, inside the structure to the left, which is the one that has the turrets at the top. On the right is the cylindrical castle building, also with its own apartments and rooms. These include four dungeon-like bedrooms, a master suite (referred to as the Landlord’s residence) and a baronial hall with a complement of armour, to which almost everyone went for a selfie.
On the rooftop, there is a set of tables and chairs that can sit no less than 10 guests at a time. There is also a garden but the most attractive part of the facility is the open courtyard with the large pool and pool chairs, plus a barbecue area complete with an outdoor oven. (There are other facilities, but only provided if paid for. On the day we visit, we spent our time mostly in the courtyard.)
Guests can visit or book into the castle under any of the following options: (1) a one-hour guided tour; (2) a daytime package (which is what our group opted for); (3) a 24-hour package; and (4) a weekend package. Arrival for all packages is 10:00am and departure for a daytime visit is 5pm.
All the packages are self-catering. Guests either bring or plan for their meals or ask the management to make arrangement with food service providers in town, who will make deliveries at an extra cost. However, guests can choose to use the castle’s sufficiently equipped kitchen, its outdoor barbeque spot or pizza oven to make their own meals. The castle management will only provide drinking and cooking water.
For the 24-hour or weekend packages, the maximum number of guests that can be accommodated per time is five couples or 12 individuals, a function of the limited number of rooms. Once there are 10 or 12 people on the guest list, the castle is locked down for the period of their stay and no other guests can be admitted until the occupants leave.
To get to Kajuru Castle, I signed up for a tour organised by Globe Jaunters Nigeria. Being based in Lagos, I had to make the trip up country to the take-off point, which is the Idu train station in Abuja.
Idu is less well known compared to the Kubwa station. I’m impressed with the terminus—it is spacious and clean and reminded me much of the train platform at the San Francisco Airport. Once inside the train, I’m equally impressed by the train’s inviting interiors: the seats, covered in velvety colours, are well cushioned; the coaches are kept cool by the air-conditioners. TV screens light up films and TV series.
The train left Idu at 7:30am, stopping at Kubwa to pick up more passengers. It is obvious that Abuja residents and workers love taking the train to Kaduna; it is cheaper and seeming more convenient than going by road.
As is common with all train journeys, we passed by long stretches of mountains and vegetation and villages. I noticed some road constructions ongoing in the hinterland as well.
Our final station was Rijana, which is midway between Dutse and Gidan, according to the sign at the platform. The terminus here again is a delight. The Nigeria Railway Corporation has upped its games, I must say.
As a child I rode the train with my parents to Zaria on holidays in the first-class cabin section; and as someone who takes the train whenever I am outside the country, I am pleased by my time on the Abuja-Kaduna train trip. The country needs to improve on the rail system, though, but the fact that there is a service like the Abuja-Kaduna route is a step in the right direction, no doubt.
There were Chinese nationals on both legs of our journey, monitoring the drivers and the cleaners who ensured that the coaches were cleared of litter within five minutes at every stop. I wondered if there is a plan written in the contract for the transfer of technical knowledge to Nigerians and if there is sustainability plan.
The tour company had made arrangements for buses to pick us to Kajuru castle from Rijana, a one-hour road trip that takes us past the Kaduna refinery and pockets of rural communities.
Vehicles on automatic transmission can go up the steep hill to the castle. Otherwise, cars are parked at the foot of the hill, where space is provided. Then visitors have to climb up for about five minutes to the castle’s entrance.
Our group went hiking to the nearest mountain which overlooks the castle and from where you can get a clear side view of the castle. We returned to play different games in and by the pool, made use of the outdoor barbeque accompanied by lots of dancing.
We left Kajuru Castle around 4:30pm in order to get to the train station on time. The train leaves the station at 6:30pm.
We were all exhausted but the journey had been worth all the time and stress. The challenging aspect of using the Idu terminus is transportation to and fro. It would be good if the Nigerian Railway Corporation could operate a shuttle service to take people to the nearest taxi stop, especially for travellers using the train at night.
All said, I look forward to coming back to spend a whole weekend at the castle.