“Where the vanquished were stripped”
In the Bara territory, located at 186 miles from Fianarantsoa and 124 from Tuléar, the Isalo designates three islets of massifs, separated by vast areas of grassy savanna, which extend for nearly 62 miles in the north direction South. To protect this chain, whose altitude varies from 1.650 to 3.250 ft, the National Park of Isalo was created in 1962. Today, the development of numerous hotel infrastructures and its ease of access make it one of the parks most visited of Madagascar.
It is at the Ranohira Park office, a small village close to the massif and on the edge of the national park where the visitor can obtain information, rent a guide and finally pay his entrance fee. Indeed, many circuits have been arranged to allow according to the physical level of each one to discover the many facets of the Isalo. Walking offers the best way to thoroughly traverse the canyons and overcome the masses of strange shapes sculpted by winds and waters.
Composed essentially of Jurassic sandstones forming a massively eroded mass, notched with deep canyons, scientists have found an expression to describe this impressive, indescribable morphology: "massive ruiniform". In this dry and arid zone, the Isalo serves as a water reservoir, which offers the environment a great diversity of ecosystems. Life is perpetuated in these oasis where pandanus and palm trees grow and where the frogs emit their nocturnal song. An abundant vegetation of reeds, bamboos and ferns surrounds waterfalls and streams where water flows much of the year.
About ten mammals live in the park, including three species of diurnal lemurs: the "Propitheque de verreaux" or "sifaka" with white coat, well adapted to difficult climatic conditions, the lemur fauve and the lemur catta more familiarly called "maki" to the black and white ringed tail. The latter habitually occupies a forest habitat. In the Isalo, it has adapted to its rocky environment and like the steep cliffs thanks to the hard part of the palms of its hands, which protects it from the thorns of the trees and the roughness of the rocks. It is near the "Canyon of the Monkeys" that observation of groups of lemurs is fairly easy, especially early in the morning. A small walk follows a stream that winds through huge, rounded rock blocks polished by the waters. In the shade of an astonishing vegetation, this very enclosed canyon, with tall walls several tens of feets, allows us to appreciate the benefits of a swimming in its crystal clear waters.
It is also a place of interest for the birdwatchers. 55 species of birds evolve in the park including the Falcon Kestrel which has the particularity of not building a nest. Indeed, it deposits its eggs in the rocky natural cavities on the side of cliff. Rock thrush and coua are frequently encountered.
In this silent landscape, the wind that blows between these evocative forms is full of meaning: perhaps it is the murmur of an ancestor Bara ... The Isalo, it is true, shelters their burials. These are placed at vertiginous heights, to dissuade the looters of graves. According to his imagination, Man has sometimes seen in the natural form of these rock blocks more or less familiar silhouettes: a boot, a wolf, a lion, a crocodile, a window, and the most famous, the Queen of the Isalo, which cut a face profile surmounted by a crown against the light; Here everything is mystery and legend...
Text: Thompson Andriamanoro
Photos Pierre-Yves Babelon