Now that the Road from Kampala to Fort Portal is almost complete, tourists can reach Fort Portal and the Kingdom of Tooro within about four hours.
The first stop for tourists is the Tooro Royal Palace, completed last year, with a palace official to show tourists round.
First, take a tour of the town. Note the rising new hotels; a re-shaped Mountains of the Moon Hotel due to open next year and a brave new extension to the to Rwenzori Travellersâ€™ Inn. Fort Portal is stirring, like a princess awakening after a long sleep.
Even before you get to the town, travellers, since the Duke of Abruzziâ€™s expedition in 1906, have been visiting the area to see the full sweep of the Rwenzori Mountains from Butime hill that appears â€” magnificent in the early morning sunshine. Early in the day, you have a better chance of seeing the snow-clad peaks, unobscured by their usual mantling of cloud that gathers later on.
Walks around Fort Portal and in the Rwenzori foothills have yet to be designed to meet the interests of different people. For everyone, the landscape is delightful, the climate gentle.
At the centre of the town is a statue of the far from naÃ¯ve Gerald Portal who helped the British Empire establish colonial rule in this part of Uganda in the 1890s. Portal gave his name to the town, and to the Portal Peaks.
The peaks are a gateway to the Rwenzori Mountains central circuit up the Bujuku River Valley. Also noteworthy from the outside is the Ishmaeli Temple for its singular architectural style â€“â€“ what you might call Khoja Baroque.
At the top end of the town is the Muchwa, seat of Kabarole District Government, and of the Kingdomâ€™s regents (people who help rule on behalf of King Oyo who is still a minor). The Muchwa is a fine building in a somewhat austere regency style.
Other buildings in Fort Portal are unremarkable. None I saw are likely to be listed for posterity by Ugandaâ€™s Historic Buildings Conservation Group, but the Municipal Council has yet to mount a detailed survey.
In Fort Portal, it is the royal presence that will allure tourists.
At the newly-completed palace, Charles Muhanga a Kabale, introduces British tourists to Tooro history. He points to a fine photo array mounted for this very purpose as he explains.
â€œHere you see, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with the Tooro King, George Rukidi III. That photo was taken on April 30, 1954, here in Fort
Portal at the old palace.â€
The old palace was destroyed during the 1972-1986 troubles.
â€œAnd here,â€ Muhanga continues excitedly, â€œis a photo of Queen Best, the Queen Mother in Libya with President Moammar Gaddafi. She is giving him Ugandan crafts. That was on July 14, 2001. president Gaddafi paid for the new palace, as well as the new mosque in Old Kampala. We do not say how much it cost.
â€œAnd here, do you know who this is?â€ Muhanga asks. â€œIt is Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of Tooro! She was a Cambridge graduate lawyer then and became a leading model, and roving ambassador for Idi Amin. Now, she has been appointed to represent Uganda again, this time in Berlin, Gernany. That picture was taken at the coronation of Kmg Oyo on September 12, 1995.â€
The photo display graphically illustrates the lustrous and more recent history of the kingdom. To cap his account, Muhanga then takes his visitors to the Karambi tombs, 5kms along the road to Kasese in the west.
There, in a grove of trees, the tourists are shown three tomb-houses, rather dilapidated, with the last one accommodating behind a bark cloth screen under a leaking roof the tomb of King Oyoâ€™s father, the late Omukama of Tooro, Patrick Kabongo Olimi III. â€œDo you know,â€ exclaims one of the tourists, â€œI used to drink with the late Patrick at the bar of the old Mountains of the Moon Hotel! That was on my last visit to Fort Portal in 1989, before the kingdoms were restored. May his spirit rest in Peace!â€
He then gave Muhanga and the tomb-house curator a tip for old timesâ€™ sake, and for the sake of many happy tourists to Fort Portal in the future.
The writer works with Tricontinental Development, Kampala.