By David Mugabe
Down, in the south-western region of Uganda, a new tourism circuit is opening. The circuit captures another incredible aspect of Uganda-the people and their way of life.
This region is known for its rolling hills sometimes described as the “true illustration of the hand of God” and the world famous mountain gorillas.
But the addition of a carefully created authentic cultural trail adds to the incredibly rich and diverse tourism offering of this country once described by Winston Churchill as the “Pearl of Africa.”
The trail now referred to as the Gorilla Highlands encapsulates a thrilling five day adventure which involves canoeing, hill trekking, meals at the home of locals, Batwa trail and a ride along the numerous hills.
The Batwa community of Rwamahano who have since been relocated from the forests say they miss their forest life
Sylvia Kalembe, Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) officer in charge of products development says the creation and support of the trail is part of efforts to break up the country into clusters and diversify the tourism product offerings.
“Undoubtedly, this makes more diversity and the tourist can see more and stay longer (thus more revenue for the country),” notes Kalembe.
Anne-Maria Makela, marketing specialist with World Tourism Organization who supported the trip say it will enrich overall Ugandan experience.
Adrine Rwamukwengye, proprietor of Toro Pride, a tour firm says as tour operators, they will be adding this to their packages because it is a fresh offering especially the attributes around Lake Bunyonyi-a rare peaceful Lake whose levels keep rising surrounded by 29 highlands among them the historic “Punishment Island’ where non- virgins were isolated and left to die.
In the background is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
In one of the highlands, Habukomi on Lake Bunyonyi, a greying but energetic old man, called Tom Karemire hosts residents at his home to experience the typical domestic Bakiga homestay.
The facilities are ordinary with tourists sleeping in a tent and using pit latrines. But they are also treated to the sounding waves of the Lake at night, feast on the fresh and unique crayfish that is captured from the Lake and a bonfire barbeque from rabbit and chicken crowns the night.
Silver, a 41 year old school teacher has built budget bandas at the foot of Bwindi Impenetrable forest from which 30% of the revenue goes to supporting the community and paying teachers.
There also exists community walks, craft shops, schools.
The Bakiga way of life is condensed in the Kabale arts Centre- a small two roomed space museum with highlights of how virgins were rewarded (or punished), and cultural extremities of how a woman was a clan property and the Bakiga resisted early incursions of the Germans, Belgians and English colonialist.
But there is more. Current technological advancements like the elevator, the sliding door and the children’s potty actually have their roots in the ingenuous inventions of Ugandan forefathers.
A lot of facilities are coming up with top class resorts like the Lake Mutanda resort, newly established Gorilla Valley Lodge and the uniquely designed Chameleon Hill among others.
The Igongo cultural centre just by the road side before Mbarara town is almost a five star facility with fine hotel rooms and a well-researched museum that captures the Ankole history.
The Rwenjeru campsite opposite the Igongo cultural centre is a demonstration of how the Bachwezi in Ankole took care of and fed the much adored white non-spotted cow.
Cattle feeding from a water source with special anthill nutrients
But some perching of the products is needed including lowering the price of some of the new products at this early stage.
Also, the local and central governments need to do more to fix the road network.
The interlinking roads beyond the highways linking Kabale and Kisoro are still very poor killing hours of the tourists’ adventure time.
Also, the guides need to be empowered more. John Kanusu, the Batwa guide still wears a cap emblazoned with “Welcome to South Africa” yet he is marketing indigenous Batwa life in the remote forests in south western Uganda.
Uganda is a country drooling with potential in all aspects.
From the natural resources like oil, gas and minerals and a rich agriculture base to tourism.
More than half of the surviving mountain gorillas are in Uganda, but the surrounding areas around the gorilla habitat is being curved out, professionally designed to create a fresh tourism trail.
Besides the relatively more publicized safari of the national parks and game reserves, Uganda is truly still largely undiscovered.
There is truly a gem out there waiting to be discovered alongside the nature offerings and ways of the people.