It goes without much emphasis that Uganda is a beautiful country. All you need to do is to stand outside the house and watch the sun rise from yester sleep as it bursts out of its round orange coating into a spectrum of bright colours that come running down in rays that warm up the blood beneath your skin. This is just one of the many natural features that we experience on a daily yet we never stop to be grateful for.
The potential of the tourism industry in Uganda has, as argued by many, not yet been fully exploited. From the beautiful attractions of Mother Nature, to lifestyle and culture and the vast flora and fauna kingdoms that claim the largest part of the country, you would easily get everyone served to their own satisfaction.
The word Murchison, in Uganda, commands a lot of respect and attention in the tourism industry. Murchison is not one of those names you will find on the street carried by a Ugandan. No. It does not feature on the very long list of the second name neither does it pass on the short list that is the pool of many of the first name. When the missionaries were distributing names, someone did not consider Murchison. It was that easy to forget a name. But not to Samuel Baker. In his exploration of the might River Nile, Sir Samuel Baker came across the most powerful falls his eyes had ever seen and probably the falls fell with a bouncing and pouncing hard sound his ears had ever heard. To date, they are the most powerful falls you will ever find anywhere in the world. Baker who was on an exploration mission to find out the source of the Nile. When he reached the bottom of the Victoria Nile, he realised there were falls that he found to be so distinct. In utmost awe backed by the presence of his wife, Florence, he named the falls Murchison after the then head of the Royal Geographical Society who had assigned him the task.
Unlike other places like Entebbe where the white man’s name of Port Alice never stuck, Murchison did. It was quickly taken up and the place became known as the Murchison Falls. Some sources add that Baker was equally astounded of the small gap between the falls yet very powerful that he attempted to build a bridge passing above only to be washed away by the falls. Other sources, however, refute this claim.
Bunyoro Kingdom had its boundary at the Nile and that it is where it parted ways with the north. The mighty warrior of Bunyoro, Omukama Kabalega is argued to have been the one who attempted to construct the bridge. The same route (bridge) he used while fleeing from the white man invasion of his kingdom.
The Acholi who are the inhibitors of the upper side of the Nile also hold that the same bridge existed before and it was crossed by the (Banyoro) descendants of Gipir and Labong after the split of the two brothers. And that at the time, it was a foot bridge.
All the above schools of thought have one particular thing in common; that the bridge was in existence for a very long time. The backup arguments can always be contested and counter argued.
Such arguments are some of the key factors as to why Murchison Falls is a big stakeholder in the tourism industry in Uganda.
Murchison Falls is not very far away from Kampala. It is a journey of 5-6 hours’ drive depending on one’s speed and the route one uses. The falls can be accessed via Budongo forest for one coming through Masindi or via Tangi gate for one coming through Karuma falls en-route Pakwach.
Through both gates, the delivery is the same. There is no disappointment in sight at the Murchison’s. Through Budongo forest, one can have a stopover to a chimpanzee tracking before they can continue with the rest of the trip into Murchison. Murchison Falls has two main activities that one should always consider as they plan their trip there. They include; a boat cruise to the falls and a game drive through the park.
Murchison Falls Park sits on 4000km2 of land and is divided into two parts; the northern and southern parts. However, most of the activities take place in the northern part. The entire place is manned by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) which provides maximum protection of the wildlife therein. UWA is also in charge of providing the park permits which is advised to get them at the Kampala UWA office before one travels off.
Between Budongo and the crossover point are a number of wildlife species that catch one’s attention. These include the diverse families of the monkeys jumping from one side of the forest to another. There are butterflies that wriggle their colourful wings into the wide openings of the land perching their light bodies on the ground and on the green leaves. As you drive through the forest, you are assured of an endless playlist of birds singing their hearts out in the execution of their daily duties. It is such a heavenly symphony that plays out in a natural dolby atmos cinema auditorium that arrests your attention without your permission.
Depending on one’s time of travel, the plan is to spend a night in the park. In case you drive by in the afternoon, like we did, the afternoon boat cruise is the best at 2 pm. UWA, Paraa and WildLife Frontiers run boat cruises to the mighty Murchison, an activity which takes 2 hours to go and one coming back. This is the first gateway to seeing the wildlife that inhabits this part of the Nile. Our first sight of the big five was here at the boat. The buffalo and elephant are easily seen by the banks of the river as they stop by to feed. This is coupled with the tribe of the humongous aquatic mammals, the hippopotamus, assembled in their school as they take off time to sleep and rest. Hippos are busier during the night when they are out to feed. During the day, they are in a chiller mode.
The crocodile is another attractive sight that one cannot easily miss as they cool off under the sausage trees listening to the tweeting and chirping of the various bird species. Uganda is home to over 1000 species of birds with half of Africa’s birds all found here. A good pair of binoculars and a camera are a recommended must have on this trip especially as you look at the fault scarp where most the birds nest.
As the falls come into sight, there is a docking spot for the boat in case one would like to do a hike to reach the top of the falls. If not there is a common stop-over to see the falls but it is so far away and the fun can easily be missed out.
Together with my friends, we found the fun in taking the one hour long hike up the rocks to the top most cover of the falls. It is along the hike that one can get to take detailed shots of the falls and see the leisure running of the waters of the Victoria Nile as it runs north to meet the Albert Nile. The Nile flows northwards and it is steeper in the south. As you ascend, you get to see the second falls which are a diversion of man in the pursuit to construct the bridge.
Hiking up the Murchison squeezes the adrenaline out of you as you burn the calories. It validates the extra UGX 10,000 (or USD 15 for foreigners) that is paid for the hike. However, there is no turning back since the boat leaves immediately after dropping you off the hiking point and one only finds a pick up at the exit found at the top of the peak of the falls.
There are various spots that paint the beautiful picture of the river and the falls in the background. The hiking is made easier by the various resting slots that have been provided by UWA. The same spots are good points for taking photos. It is at one of these points that you find the writing of Sir Samuel Baker in regards to naming the falls. This year (2019) marks 105 years since he died.
At the top of the falls is the bridge and a stunning viewing point of the falls as they tumble and fall, rise, rattle and rustle at a very high speed giving off a steam bath to those daring to look at them. It is that one shower-of-life that hits you from either side of the body evenly spread washing off the beads of sweat that came up during the hike and refreshing you. The good thing no one rushes you to leave the spot. You can stay as long as you wish. The falls freely fall following the same pattern as they did before and sill will always do. And every time they do, a rainbow is formed. A spectacle so deserving to the eye.
You can always carry a fruit to snack on as you congratulate yourself on making it to the most beautiful place hard to abandon. A pineapple has always been a good idea. In the course, you can recuperate by taking the Uganda styled photo-shoots called jumpees then leave at leisure.
(To be continued…)