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Exploring the charms of West Antananarivo: a comprehensive guide

Exploring the charms of West Antananarivo: a comprehensive guide

After leaving Antananarivo, the RN1 road goes over an old bridge and then passes through areas with brickmaking businesses. It weaves between hilly grasslands, deep gullies, and valleys where rice, cassava, and corn are grown or tapia bushes are found. These bushes have tangy fruits and refreshing leaves used to feed local silkworms.

The road runs alongside the volcanic lands of Itasy before reaching Tsiroanomandidy, a hub for cattle farming in the western part of Imerina. This journey is quite long and can be challenging due to the road conditions but has many interesting stops along the way.

IMERINTSIATOSIKA

Visitors to the bustling town, situated 28 km from Antananarivo, can enjoy small sweet or savory pancakes from the Imerina region at the local market. Additionally, they have the opportunity to explore a workshop where traditional carts are crafted and painted in red, gold, blue, and black.

ANTONGONA (5 km north of Imerintsiatosika on a laterite track that is passable in all seasons)

Perched on a rocky hilltop at 1,500 meters above sea level, this ancient fortified village offers a stunning panoramic view. A trail leading from Imerintsiatosika to Mandrosoa follows the rice field embankments before climbing the hillside to reach the dry stone walls and trenches that once defended Antongona. At the top of the site lies the resting place of King Andriambaoka from the 17th century. The adjacent royal huts display weapons, as well as protective necklaces and bracelets belonging to the sovereign. On Sundays and holidays, thousands of villagers from nearby areas gather at his tomb for reflection and enjoy food stalls set up along the trail for the occasion.

MANDROSOA (11 Km north of Imerintsiatosika)

Perched on a hilltop, this village showcases the typical architecture of the Highlands with its protective moats and tall walls. As part of a pilot program for Tourism and Development, visitors can witness the construction of adobe houses, rice and cassava cultivation, as well as the crafting of fishing rods and mats.

Mandrosoa is also renowned for its hira gasy troupe, where rehearsals for Malagasy theater can be observed. These rural artists deliver grand performances from June to September during the famadihana ceremonies at the lakeside, showcasing traditional culture.

AMBATONANDRIANA (40 min walk from Mandrosoa)

From the “Lords’ Rock,” you can see Ankaratra to the south and the Bongolava mountain range to the west. From the 17th century to the 19th century, those who lived in this high-up spot controlled the “rice granary of the valleys” located 500m below. This archaeological site has many tombs, and it’s believed that a king is buried there in a golden canoe.

AMBOAMAHERY (north-east of Ambatonandriana)

The king of Ambohitsara, a fortified village in the valley, and his rival preferred settling their dispute over rivers with a dog fight rather than a deadly war. The victorious dog was buried at Amboamahery (the “strong dog”).

ITASY Lake

The Itasy Lake is part of a large volcanic complex in Madagascar, covering an area of 400 square kilometers. Situated between the Bongolava and Ankaratra mountain ranges, it was formed by the waters of the Matiandrano, a tributary of the Sakay river. The lake spans 45 square kilometers and is surrounded by barren domes of extinct volcanoes before flowing into the Lily river.

This lake is abundant in fish such as eels, carp, and tilapias, while also being a nesting ground for numerous aquatic birds. To reach Itasy Lake from Antananarivo, one can take the RN1 to Analavory and then follow the RN 43 towards Ampefy for approximately 120 kilometers before heading south for another 11 kilometers.

AMPEFY

The lush riverside town of Itasy depends on fishing and tourism. You can take boat rides and go canoe fishing to get close to Ambohitrimanjaka or visit the islet with a 5.50 m tall statue of the Virgin Mary.

ARIVONIMAMO (47 km to the west of Antananarivo)

The Menalamba rebellion broke out in Arivonimamo on November 22, 1895. It was the first resistance movement against colonialism and started on the Fandroana, or Queen’s Bath, celebration day. The “Red Shawls” attacked the local outpost of the London Missionary Society and killed its British occupants. This event is commemorated by a memorial stone.

Arivonimamo is a bustling town, especially on Fridays when the market day brings vibrancy to the streets. Local weavers are known for producing high-quality and beautiful shrouds that are famous throughout the country for their durability and craftsmanship.

TSIROANOMANDIDY

Tsiroanomandidy got its name from a historical event involving the king Radama Ier. The town is known for having the largest zebu market in Madagascar, attracting different ethnic groups who come to negotiate and trade thousands of cattle. It is also notorious for being a haven for cattle thieves, known as dahalo, making it one of the biggest bandit hideouts on the island.

In addition to its reputation as a hub for cattle trading and crime, Tsiroanomandidy is also a gathering place for gold prospectors who explore the rivers up to Kiranomena and Maevatanàna. After leaving Tsiroanomandidy, travelers will transition from paved roads to rough dirt tracks heading towards Maintirano.

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