Friday, 29 March 2013
Birding, the latest growing trend in the tourism industry, birding safaris is one of those activates that sound alien until you experience it yourself. The writer is now converted and vows to plant fruit trees in his compound to attract them.
It was one of those Saturday’s, when I failed to sleep in-late and decided to leave bed early. I was tired of doing the usual, I mean going to the lake side beaches. This time round I went birding. A term used to refer to going bird watching.
A friend of mine in the UK linked me to a bunch of his English friends who are coming to Uganda to go birding. He asked me to be their local guide, but, I had no idea what the heck birding is. To acquaint myself with the necessary knowledge, I ventured into the activity, just so when they arrive, I am at least knowledgeable about what I’m doing. Finding a birdingspot in Uganda is not difficult, it being a birding Eden with over a thousand bird species.
After a quick shower, then a light breakfast, I jumped into a Lugazi bound taxi, but disembarked at Mbarara and took a rough road to Kasenge Forest Resort beach about three kilometers from the main Kampala – Jinja highway. Tucked away in a valley is the forest resort. I was welcomed by the scent of freshness, not the usual stuffy air in Kampala.
Being that I had gotten there very early at 6 am, I was received by melodies from a variety of singers. Not our usual artists though, but birds. I fished out my binoculars from the bag and started on my new experience of birding. First in my focus was a giant King fisher, as Herbert Byaruhanga, my guide for the day, pointed out.
Despite the cold, the dew and a bit of mist, my group had paid the Shs10, 000 entry free into the forest and entered to embark on the task ahead. I was also able to see the crested crane which is our national emblem, the beautiful blue egrets, fish eagle, shoe bill stork, the lovely white egret and blue Turaco.
And that was just the beginning. At Kasenge Forest Resort Beach, which has a pond, there are over 135 bird species. They reminded me of Winston Churchill’s description of Uganda as the pearl of Africa. A land where birds are as colorful as the butterflies and the butterflies are as big as the birds.
Though I was hesitant and skeptical about going to view birds, I enjoyed the whole experience. The only problem we encountered were the red ants (ensanafu) which gave some ladies a hard time when they climbed and “tortured” them.
Where I grew up from in Soroti, birds were not a thing to find pleasure in, as we grew up shooting them for sport with catapults, and hunting them as a source of proteins.
A new convert
We left the forest in the evening, but not before the insects, birds and frogs in the “lake” all sought for our attention with their new releases and I think remix of their own version of music. As we left, I realized I was a new convert and follower of birding and promised to plant fruit trees in my compound in order to attract the birds and also protect them.
I am now a full birder (a person who goes birding). As I jumped into the car to leave, Byaruhanga gave me an insight into the birds’ love life.
Unlike humans, it is female birds which run after the males and the males only wake up to groom themselves for the females to make a pick. I wish I were a bird.
Wednesday, 27 March 2013
The Murchison falls is a breathtaking wonder that you and your family can visit this Easter season
The Easter season is upon us and this means family time. The four-day holiday will see families celebrate either at home or outside the home. If you subscribe to the latter and want to treat your family to entertainment and a bit of adventure, right here in your backyard, there is a lot to offer.
Easter traditions vary. But in Uganda, the season revolves around religious rites, crowned by a family meal or outing. For the family that considers a day out as the proper way to celebrate, Uganda has a variety of interesting destinations that you can explore during the four-day holiday.
UGANDA WILDLIFE CENTRE
Children hold a snake during their visit at the Uganda Wildlife Centre. A visit to places as these can be educative
During Easter, Entebbe residents, visitors and travelers, can enjoy a variety of entertainment and adventure at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC).
“Visitors can learn how to feed chimpanzees, giraffes and a baby elephant. They can also enjoy a snake show and performances by various artistes,” says UWEC public relations officer Belinda Atim. The entry fee is sh10, 000 for adults, sh5, 000 for children and sh30, 000 for foreigners.
There will be an animal show involving a behind-the-scenes action, which includes feeding and caring for the animals under guidance of their keepers. Also in store for the eyes to feast on are vervet monkeys and a troop of DeBraza monkeys in the UWEC hillside mini-jungle. As if that is not enough entertainment, there are more than 120 bird species singing in the woods. Expect to see the elegant African Fish eagle, the great blue Turaco, hammer kops, giant kingfisher and numerous little sunbirds.
“This is a window into the plants, birds and reptiles in the country,” says Jakes Goldberg, a widely travelled tourist in transit to South Africa. “This is destined to become the most important showcase for wildlife on the African continent,” he adds.
To make your trip memorable, the centre has curio shops stocked with African shirts, wooden spoons, batik pieces, earrings, leather sandals and toys to take away as souvenirs.
Dating as far back as the 1950s, UWEC still accommodates confiscated and injured wildlife. This is in addition to orphaned animals, reptiles or birds rescued from poachers and extinction endangered rhinos.
“UWEC is not a zoo in the conventional sense and neither is it a safari park,” says Rita Najemba, a businesswoman. “It is a centre where wildlife education is combined with leisure,” she says.
If you are interested in Botany, you will also find live collections of traditional medicinal plants, herbal love potions and beauty boosters.
BOTANICAL GARDENS AND MORE
Elsewhere in Entebbe, one can have fun at The Botanical Gardens, Aero Beach, Banga Beach or Protea Hotel.
For club-hoppers, the action is at Trap, Nicky’s and Four Turkeys, where the expatriate community likes to converge and make merry. There is a lot of food too.
Protea manager Cymon Charley says: “We boast of a panoramic garden and Lake Victoria shore views. The food here is a mixture of continental and local cuisines at affordable rates.”
While there, expect birds to land and clean the table of the crumbs.
This Easter, guests who want to visit Kigungu, the landing site where the first missionaries to Uganda landed, will be transported there for between sh2, 000 and sh5, 000 by bicycle boda boda.
You can take your family to watch African traditional dances such as the Kiganda dance pictured
In Kampala this Easter, Ndere Centre is going to be a melting pot for cultures across the world, kicking off with fireside performances on Easter Friday. The executive director, Stephen Rwangyezi, says the Easter theme this time is “Equality for Humanity.”
Ugandans will pay an entry fee of sh25, 000, foreigner’s sh50, 000 and children sh10, 000. Besides being treated to music, dance and drama, there will be a buffet with a price tag of sh30, 000. The entertainment package comprises traditional performances from the great lakes region.
“In Africa, people love to be entertained as they drink and eat. Those interested will take to the dance floor or play an instrument of their choice,”
The beach is one great place you can take your family this Easter
RAIN FOREST LODGE, MABIRA
I f you are moving East, a must visit place is the Rainforest Lodge in the heart of Mabira Forest, a few minutes off the Jinja/Kampala highway.
Besides the creative eco-friendly architecture, there are lots of other attractions there.
“This time round, Rain Forest Lodge is offering children’s activities. They include: the Easter egg hunt, children’s movies (in the evening), egg painting, play time board games like Twister and Giant Jenga),” says the marketing manager, Rachel Landman.
Adults will be treated to special Good Friday and Easter Sunday menus and movies after the kids have gone to bed. A forest walk is also on the cards for nature lovers.
Jinja has quickly become the adventure destination of Uganda. The to-do list comprises bungee jumping, white-water rafting, quad bike rides, water sports, bird watching and walking trails.
One of the popular getaways is Nile Resort, where the food is sumptuous. A plate is about sh40, 000 per person. Accommodation ranges between sh250, 000 and sh350, 000, depending on the room.
This Easter, children under five years of age and sharing the bedroom with their parents will not pay a fee. Those between five and 12 years will be charged sh25, 000 per night.
Southwards, we have the ever-surprising islands of LakeVictoria with white sand beaches, water sports and modern amenities set up for couples, groups and family parties. The islands in Kalangala are the most active and they are accessed by ferry from specific landing sites like Nakiwogo in Entebbe and Luzira Port in Kampala.
ACROSS THE EQUATOR
Going west across the famous equator line crossing at Kayabwe and into the vast savannah, many tourists and families can head to the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Expect magnificent views of the Rift Valley floor, the big five (lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo and hippopotamuses), birds, reptiles and rare tree climbing lions.
According to Uganda Wildlife Authority spokesperson, Lillian Nsubuga, the most acceptable reason as to why lions climb trees is to enjoy the cool breeze and maybe run away from tsetse flies.
In the whole of Africa, they are only found in Uganda’s Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth and in Tanzania. Bird watching safaris are another fun adventure. Uganda has over 1,050 bird species. Queen Elizabeth National Park has about 612 species of birds, according to Hassan Mutebi, a bird guide. He cites examples like the pink-backed pelicans, papyrus canary, shoebill stork, martial eagle, black-rumped buttonquail and flamingos.
For accommodation while at the national park, one can take their pick from Mweya Safari Lodge, Jacana Safari Lodge, and Simba Safari Lodge or opt for Ishasha Wilderness Camp or Kitandara Hippo Hill Camp. There is a lot to photograph and write home about.
ACROSS THE NILE
Going northwest, the Nile again offers its bounty, with beauty to be found at Murchison Falls National Park. “Right on the peak of the Murchison Falls, the Nile water gushes through a small slit within the rocks,” says Dr. Andrew Seguya, Uganda Wildlife Authority Executive Director.
“It is seven metres wide and splashes 43 metres down with such a thunderous roar. There is a beautiful permanent rainbow. This view is breathtaking as the river meanders to Lake Albert. “By the way, your visit to Murchison Park will be added to other guests of international repute like former UK Premier Winston Churchill who also had the chance to enjoy a boat cruise, hike, cycle and dine there. On his heels came the Queen Mother in 1959 and wordsmith Ernest Hemingway in 1954,” says Seguya.
Recently, the park’s latest attraction, Sir Samuel Baker’s Trail was launched to retrace the footsteps of the 18th Century explorer. Do not leave your camera, hat, climbing boots, torch and appetite behind.
Thursday, 21 March 2013
Gorillas in Bwindi impenetrable forest
Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, RwenzoriMountains National Park, and Kasubi Tombs are part of a globe –trotting tour of all the 962 UNESCO heritage sites that will cost you a whooping £1m.
The snow-capped peak on Mt. Rwenzori
The UK’s Daily Mail reports that “the unique journey, offered by Veryfirstto.com, will visit breathtaking spectacles all over the world…”
It further reports that the sites are “deemed to have outstanding universal cultural and natural value by the World Heritage Committee.”
Tourists in Bwindi impenetrable forest
Last year the National Geographic named Uganda safaris among the top 20 global tourism destinations in 2013 while the lonely planet named Uganda as the best travel destination for 2012.
The National Geographic is an international travel channel affiliated to the National Geographic Society.
During the Magical Kenya Travel Expo 2012 held at Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi last year, the Kenya ministry of tourism, Dr. Nelson Githinji said Uganda was ranked top in tourism industry growth in Africa at 25% in 2011.
A WB report published last year reported tourists visiting Uganda close to 1m. Serenity of Lake Kyaninga and Kidepo one of the best national parks in Africa
Wednesday, 20 March 2013
The Itanda Falls is known to kayakers and rafters’, including Prince William of Great Britain, this stretch of the Nile is easily one of the most hidden jewels of Uganda. Few traveler guidebooks mention this spectacular set of rapids, waterfalls and the hillsides around it. Even fewer know how to get there over land.
A magnificent view of the Itanda falls
Our group had some luck, however. The first visit of the day was Bujagali Falls. At the entrance, we were warned by the groundskeeper that there was little to see because the dam upstream in Jinja had raised the water level and reduced Bujagali to a mere pittance of its former self.
Not believing, we paid the admission fee and headed down the road to see for ourselves. Bujagali was as described, and there was little beyond a few gurgles of white water where there had once been spectacular scenery.
“If you want to see falls,” he said, “you need to go to Itanda.” The road to Itanda is not well marked, and we got lost several times along the way. It’s best navigated by asking locals for directions. And not everyone along these pot-holed, dusty red dirt roads is aware of Itanda. So you may have to ask for help more than once.
Without getting lost, the trip is 30km from Jinja or about 45 minutes.
Coming in on the east side of the Nile, you drive through a small forest that had no roads until the 1990s. The pathway was carved after many of the locals saw a white man for the first time in their lives and wondered what he was doing in the neighborhood.
He was surveying, they said, for a location for a rafting business on the Nile. Itanda has three levels of rapids, including Grade 6, the most difficult, Grade 5 and Grade 4. It is a spectacular and dangerous place.
Local fishermen have died here, slipping on the moss that grows on the rocks just above the falls and tumbling headlong into the water that is estimated by locals at 100 meters deep. Whirlpools can drag one down 50 metres, according to journals kept by rafters, before letting go. Sharp rocks and the rocket-like current can trap even the most experienced.
On the red hillside overlooking Itanda, we met Matia Lukungu, the gatekeeper. In the month of July, he has registered about 130 visitors with few from other places outside of Uganda.
Those that visited from elsewhere– Ireland, India, USA, Canada – were with locals that had shown them the way. There are not many entries of foreign tourists on the list, but Matia is very proud that people are now coming.
This site, he said, was carved out because forest families were afraid that outsiders would take all of the revenue away from the area with their rafting businesses. They saw a need to tell the story around the falls and to provide a place to sell local goods.
Indeed, you can see the thatched huts of a hotel on the west side of the river from a wooden tower constructed at the foot of the entrance.
On Matia’s side of the river, there are small stands where local businesses sell souvenirs. Drummers and dancers entertain, and the weekends can be festive.
You can also get a real sense of the geography of the Nile. At this juncture, the river splits into two, dividing Central and Eastern Uganda. On the east side, the majority of the water plummets through Itanda. On the west, a shallow yet fast route goes around a large, densely forested island.
There are monkeys and baboons on the island, Matia notes they share the place with swimming birds, vultures and bats. The forest is so deep there that it would take days to clear even a small patch with a machete.
It gives a sense of what the eastern shore must have looked like about 20 years ago, before the people cut the trees, cleared the brush and chased away the animals.
Matia offers to guide us down the hillside to the falls. You can stand within a few feet of the crashing water at the first, most dangerous level. Water tumbles at you like it is coming from the highest waves of an ocean storm and then crashes within inches of your feet.
“The forest people had heard the falls for a long time,” Matia says. “But it was not until the 1980s that fishermen discovered them.” Further down the pathway beyond the top of the falls, there is a small fishing village carved out of the forest. Four huts—made of mud, sticks, metal and wood—shelter fishermen during the night as they await the early morning hours to cast their nets for Nile Perch and tilapia.
Not far from the huts, there is a walkway to a tree that overlooks the falls. At the tree’s base, the deep brown roots form a kneeling ground. It is a spot where locals come, says Matia, to ask God to heal them: “They call this ‘Blessed Place.’”
In the rafting journals, most of the writers talk about the thrills of Itanda after a day on the Nile. Many talk of overturning and close calls. Others talk about Murchison Falls, which is further down the Nile.
But for non-rafters, this is a sacred space in an old and sometimes forgotten part of the world. Once only a thunderous sound in the forest, Itanda is now a place that even children are talking about.
From Jinja: Go 13 kilometers north from the Amber Courts round about. The paved road will soon turn to a red dirt highway. Be careful of the potholes. Take a left on Budondo Road and go 14 kilometers. Take a left on Kabowa and go three kilometers, Take a left into the park on Buwala. If you get lost, stop and ask one of the friendly people along the road.
Saturday, 16 March 2013
The Rwandan Students’ Association in Pune, India, organized a cultural extravaganza which depicted the country’s rich cultural heritage.
The event was organized at the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture and was well attended by the international student community as well as businesspersons from Pune.
The two sets of graceful cultural dances drew a loud applause from the audience. A documentary highlighted the enormous progress made by the country over the last 19 years.
It captured all that there is to see in Rwanda, right from the clean capital city of Kigali to the world famous mountain gorillas.
A hip-hop dance and an impressive fashion show of a variety of ethnic costumes and garments added to the flavour of a fun filled evening.
In his speech, Clarence Fernandez, the India representative of the Rwanda Development Board, invited those who had not yet visited Rwanda to plan a visit as part of “India Week 2013” scheduled to take place in Kigali in May, 2013. A solo performance by David, a Rwandan student, lifted up the spirits of the guests.
Joane Kayibanda, the president Rwanda Students’ Association in Pune, thanked the guests for sparing time to come and discover the Rwandanculture, and the participants for putting together the event which adds value to the country.
She said, “Our culture is among the best things we have in the country and it should be promoted from generation to generation.”