By Richard Wetaya
Sir Winston Churchill who baptised Uganda the Pearl of Africa did not visit Mbale, but if he had, he would definitely have said something about the grandeur of Mt. Wanale.
Every visitor to Mbale district has gazed upon the imposing beauty from a distance. But a real visit up close with Wanale reveals just how much Uganda is gifted by nature.
If you are into mountain climbing or trekking, Wanale should be a great attraction. The ascent to its peak is exhilarating. Wanale or Nkokonjeru Mountain, as some people call it, is an impressive mountain replete with precipices, escarpments, deep valleys, water streaked cliffs, caves and rocks.
Standing at a height of 6,864 ft, Wanale can be viewed from all areas in Mbale and neighbouring districts. It covers a huge portion of Bugisu’s land surface.
Mbale town literally lies at its foot. From town, one can discern three splendid looking waterfalls which all originate from the mountain top.
“Wanale is Bugisu’s temple of nature. From the days of old, many visitors were awed at the sight of this mountain. The waters that flow from Mt. Wanale spread to every river in Uganda,” States 86 year old Francis Muyesa, an elder in Mukhuwa village.
Named after one of the sons of Masaba, the patriarch of the Bagisu, Mt. Wanale is believed to be the place where Nabarwa, the Kalenjin woman who prevailed upon Masaba to get circumcised before they got married, came from, on her way from Kenya.
“The Nkokonjeru name that Semei Kakungulu’s people used to refer to that mountain came from the legend that Wanale, son of Masaba, reared only white chicken.
"Wanale lived on top of the mountain. Friends from Bugisu called him Singokho or someone who likes chicken. The Baganda chose to name the mountain Nkokonjeru because of the many white chicken Wanale reared,” narrates Moses Wakitonyi, an elder in Mbale.true
Wakitonyi says many of the mountain’s earliest inhabitants lived in caves.
“There are many caves on the mountain, though people know only one. The early Bamasaba who called Wanale home dwelt in these caves. Wanale has four hills. Few people know about this too.
"A hike through a trail at the western end of the ridge will lead one to Khaukha cave, which is the most prominent cave of them all,” Wakitonyi says.
Legend has it that Khaukha cave which has calligraphic inscriptions on its walls, has an ill-fated water stream. Wakitonyi says the tale told of the stream is true.
“Many people thought it was an illusion until four men became lame when they crossed the stream. Nobody could explain how that happened. It was and is still a mystery,” Wakitonyi explains.
The other wonders that Wanale offers are its many cascading waterfalls. Namatsyo waterfall, for example, drops two miles down from the mountain top and makes deep tunnels in the rocky bottom.
“The waterfall disappears down in the rocks under. It is completely obscured and immersed. The water re-emerges and hits the surface from its underground pathway in villages like Bumboi and Mooni,” Wakitonyi states.
How to get there
From Mbale town, one can walk approximately 18 miles to Wanale’s base. By taxi or personal car, it is a 30-40 minute ride. Take a left turn after the Mbale High Court and follow the road that goes down to Busamaga Primary School. From here you take a right turn onto Bumboi road for 15-20 minutes.
Wanale: Bugisu''s temple of nature