By Moses Nampala
It stands out from a distance as you take the highway from Mbale to the districts of Sironko, Bulambuli, Kapchorwa and Moroto. The apparent white patch running down the side of the rock outshines a luscious green backdrop covering this section of the Elgon mountains. Those who have followed their curiosity and come close enough discover that what looks like a white sheet draped over the mountain is a waterfall known as Sisiyi falls in Buyaga sub-county, Bulambuli district.
Many visitors to the site confess that they discovered it while travelling on the route. After seeing it from a distance, over time, you feel indebted to arrange a visit there.
One Saturday, I set out for the site that lies 38km east of Mbale town. “The transport fare for the 5km journey to Sisiyi Falls is only sh5,000,” Yusuf Wambedde, a boda boda cyclist at Buyaga trading centre announced as I got out of the taxi.
From the trading centre to the site where the Elgon begins to ascend into the sky like a pyramid, it is all but a flat terrain. This terrain promoted good visibility. As I approached the site, I begin to savour the object of my adventure.
The access road leading to the site seemed to have been graded recently, though some sections around the wetlands had deteriorated into muddy stretches.
“Can you imagine it is hardly two days since the district road machinery ploughed through this road, but it is impassable because they did not bother to fix a layer of murrum on it?” complained Wambedde as the bike skidded before coming to a sudden halt.
Homesteads dotted along the route constituted of predominantly semi-permanent shacks made out of mud and wattle. Yet occasionally, we came across bungalows ringed by lavish hedges.
Halfway towards the site, we were beginning to feel the vibrations as the roaring waterfall became audible. The roar gets louder and more intense as you draw closer, and by the time you reach the site, you are compelled to shout when speaking to someone next to you.
The site was siting on a 10-acre private piece of land. It was magnificent. The fresh freezing breeze was unexpected, but pleasant.
The artificial forest of eucalyptus trees, offered a cooling canopy above and expansive trimmed lawns suitable for picnics and camping for over 200 people. The space looked sufficient for relaxing outdoor activities and energetic games.
Until Isaac Webusa, an S3 student, offered to guide me to the waterfall itself, I was lost in admiration for the rich, natural design.
Following my guide, it became clear for the first time that the towering eucalyptus trees on the edge of the lawn obstructed the falls. As the waterfall came into full view, my heart suddenly skipped a beat. It was indescribable! There was a huge volume of water, in a single giant mass that plunged to a depth of about 300 metres. It constantly, generated a loud roar and sent my entire body into a tremor.
As the water drifted down the granite rock, clouds of spray formed and thickened as it splattered against the shallow bed rock, then glided over innumerable rocks. This degenerated into gaggling noises, which died as soon as the water touched the two huge rocks at the bottom and turned to a tame stream. By this time I was completely drenched by the mist.
Magaret Maleza, 60, the caretaker of the place, said many visitors who go there are tourists, mainly Asian, European and occasionally a few local tourists.
“When I was a little girl, these falls were probably as huge as the Bujagali Fall in Busoga. All the surrounding area was once part of the falls,” Maleza recalls.
She says over time, increased human habitation on the slopes of the Elgon Mountains gradually caused the volume of the water of the Sisiyi river to dwindle.
The Bamasaba (Bagisu) are a farming community and their land endowed with rich volcanic soils. For decades, they have earned a living from farming as they have always used water from the river to irrigate their crops during the dry season.
“This explains why the neighbouring communities have heavily relied on us to supply them with food because people here do not grow crops just seasonally,” Muleza explained.
Mzee Khalid Wetaka, 75, says Sisiyi has been a source of clean and safe water, in addition to irrigation. However, unlike in most sites around central Uganda, where unusual physical features automatically gain spiritual significance, there is no cultural religious attachment to Sisiyi falls.
“I do not ever remember the Bamasaba referring to it as a shrine of any cultural ritual. Not even the male circumcision rituals of Imbalu have been performed near the waterfalls,” Wetaka said.
Wetaka said though that many of the Asians who visit the site believe it is capable of curing emotional ailments, like mending broken marriages.
“Some consider the shallow bottom of the falls a place for ablution that cleanses them of misfortune as well as delivering a vision for the future,” Wetaka said
The site has got cottages for visitors that go for sh40,000 a night
HOW TO GET THERE
Mbale is about three hours drive from Kampala. A taxi from the Old Taxi park will charge you sh15,000 to Mbale Town. One can get a car to the turn off for about sh10,000 and then a further sh5000 for the boda boda to the falls. You will part with shs30,000 to spend a night in a tent and shs40,000 in the modest cottages.
KIBAALE PARK IS A NATURAL PARADISE
By Titus Kakembo
You will not miss seeing primates like these at Kibaale National park
Kibaale National Park (KNP) is a backpacker’s dream come true, a bird watcher’s paradise and a primate lover’s adventure come to life. This forested park has pocket friendly rates, down to earth accommodation facilities and affords a rustic experience to visitors. The fresh attractions and wonderful scenery is the perfect setting for a variety of activities that have developed here.
“You are more likely to see chimpanzees at 7:30am and 3:00pm,” promises a guide. He adds that in case you miss the chimp sightings, you can interest yourself in other wonders of nature during this expedition.
The prime attraction in store is habituated chimp tracking. It is spiced with the greatest number of 13 primate species not found anywhere else in East Africa.
Then there are the 30 crater lakes that are prime destinations for panoramic views. Some wildlife that can be spotted here include a short and hairy species of elephants, as well as hippos, warthogs, sitatunga and the bush buck.
There is a campsite at Kanyanchu Visitor Centre which doubles as a starting point for nature walks. Then there is Magombe Swamp, which offers a four-hour bird watchers trail where guides will enable one see or track down calls of more than 30 species of the feathered beauties in a few hours.
Butterflies are also abundant and there are people who come here just for research and sightings of butterflies. To top it all, KNP boasts of experienced and world class guides to turn even the most ordinary safari into a thrilling experience.
As Uganda bags $820m worth of revenue from the tourism industry, people sharing the natural resources have benefited from community eco-friendly projects like the Magombe Swamp Walk and Lake Nkuruba Nature Reserve.
Kibaale National Park has one of the loveliest and most varied tracts of tropical forest in Uganda. It has forest cover with patches of grassland and swamp. This is home to a total of 70 mammal species.
Kibaale adjoins Queen Elizabeth National Park to the south to create a 180km-long corridor for wildlife between Ishasha and Sebitoli in the north.
The Kibaale-Fort Portal area is one of Uganda’s most rewarding destinations to explore. The park lies close to the tranquil Ndali-Kasenda crater area and within half a day’s drive of the Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains and Semliki National Parks, as well as the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve.
KNP has a variety of butterflies
How to get there
Visitors linked to a tour operator will have all the transport logistics discussed and arranged. For those going solo, KNP is 360km from Kampala in western Uganda. It is 22km southeast of Fort Portal town. It is just a short distance from Fort Portal where it merges with Queen Elizabeth National Park.
To get there, travellers always follow the Lugard Road for one kilometre then turn right before the bridge crossing River Mpanga.
Other tourists approach it using Kamwenge Road. This involves driving for 12km, then there is a main junction where Rwetera Tourism Society is located.