UGANDA, a land gifted with breathtaking sights, is popularly referred to as the Pearl of Africa. It is described as a place gifted by nature, hospitable people with over 40 tribes with distinct cultural attributes, 10 national parks, warm climate and mind-blowing landscapes.
The Rwenzori Mountains â€” snow in the tropics
The splendid world of snow and glaciers on the Rwenzori Mountains in Kasese, 270 kms from Kampala, has been a tourist attraction for hundreds of years. Since its re-opening in 2001, tourist figures have steadily risen.
In 2005, there were 800 visitors. Rwenzori is home to one of four remaining tropical ice fields outside the Andes (the highest mountain range in South America). In 1994, the United Nations Education Scientific Cultural Organisation gazetted it as a world heritage site.
Emerging from the Rift Valley floor to a wintry altitude of 5,109m, the Rwenzoriâ€™s 120km-long ranges (the longest in Africa), support large tracts of evergreen vegetation and bamboo forests. The higher moorland zone is dressed with a unique cover of giant heathers, lobelias and groundsels. Its highest peak, the Margherita (5,109m), is the third highest in Africa and the mountain is considered the highest non-volcanic mountain in Africa.
Sempaya Hot springs â€” field of boiling water
The Sempaya Hot springs in Semiliki National Park in Bundibugyo, about 450km from Kampala, eject a cloud of steam seen as far as two kilometres. According to Uganda Wildlife Authority, Sempayaâ€™s water temperature â€”over 100ÂºCâ€” is above the maximum temperature of most hot springs in the world (about 50ÂºC).
Tourists have been seen boiling eggs, cassava and green bananas in the two geothermal heated springs. The first one is a pool measuring 12 metres in diameter and the second is a field of geysers, both oozing steamy sulphur-scented waters reputed to have healing powers.
The River Nile â€” the worldâ€™s longest river
In 1862, John Speke and Grant discovered the source of the Nile, the worldâ€™s longest river (4,180 miles long) at Jinja, 87km east of Kampala. â€œIt was a sight that attracted one to it for hours â€” the roar of the waters, the thousands of fish leaping at the falls with all their might ... hippos and crocodiles lying sleepily on the water ... as interesting a picture as one could wish to see,â€ Speke described it.
More than 140 years later, the site has changed significantly. The source may have lost its sparkle, but the Nile has given birth to some of the worldâ€™s most breathtaking and powerful rapids and waterfalls.
Bujagali and Itanda in Jinja are considered among the worldâ€™s most spectacular white-water rafting locations and Murchison Falls, because of its deadly ferocity, is unchartered.
This architectural masterpiece, built with wood, thatch, reed, wattle and daub, was used as a palace in 1881 by Kabaka Mutesa I of the Buganda Kingdom. After his death in 1884, the thatched dome at Kasubi Hill in Kampala, was converted into a royal burial ground for three other kings of Buganda â€” Daudi Chwa, Mwanga and Mutesa II.
With a diametre of 31 metres and a height of 12 metres, it has arguably been regarded as the largest mausoleum in Africa.
This colossal cultural monument, a prominent feature on the catalogue of travel agencies and tour operators, sits on 30 hectares. The siteâ€™s main significance is in the spiritual value that the Baganda attach to it.
Nyero Rock Paintings
Widely recognised as some of the finest and most dramatic rock paintings in East Africa, the Nyero Rock paintings in Kumi district (eastern Uganda) are surrounded by intrigue and mystery. No one knows who drew the paintings or why they were drawn.
What is sure is that the geometric paintings in red, white and purple pigments, were drawn about 400 years ago. Some people have put claim to ancient yellow hairy bushmen whom they say once lived in the area.
They are also considered a thread of evidence proving that South African Bantu speakers migrated from Africaâ€™s inter-locustrine region as similar paintings have been sighted down south.
Either way, the paintings are a silent voice seeming to tell us about the life and traditions of our ancestors.
Kabakaâ€™s Lake â€” a â€˜madâ€™ kingâ€™s project
A kingâ€™s unfeasible whims gave birth to a lake said to be the only excavated lake in East Africa and one of the biggest on the continent â€” the Kabakaâ€™s Lake at Ndeeba, Kampala. It covers two square kilometres and is about 200 feet deep.
Kabaka Mwanga II (1884-1888), the architect of this small lake wonder, had a penchant for swimming, canoeing and fishing. Whenever he desired to engage in any of these water sports, he was carried 11kms from his official palace in Mengo to his lakeside palace at Munyonyo.
A story is told that in 1887, during his return from Munyonyo, the king thought that if a lake were to be constructed linking the two palaces, the journey would be more direct and less cumbersome.
The lake would also serve as an escape route in the event of armed conflict with the British or other territorial enemies. It seemed like a wild conception, but with handheld hoes, everyone from chiefs to their subjects, were involved in the intensive labour.
Many died due to hunger, accidents, disease and fatigue. Eleven months after the start of construction, a rebellion by Christian converts in 1888 led to abrupt stoppage of work that had reached Najjanankumbi, two kilometres from Mengo. The lake has continued to exist in more or less the same state since 1888. It contains several species of fish like tilapia and lungfish as well as reptiles.
The Bahai Temple â€” Africaâ€™s mother temple
Built more than 40 years ago, the Bahai Temple is like a crown on the crest of Kikaya Hill, four miles from Kampala, off Gayaza Road. The soaring temple, located on 70 acres of tree-studded gardens, is one of a kind in Africa.
The splendid dome-shaped temple is among nine of the only Bahai temples in the world. Like other Bahai temples, the temple is nine-sided with nine corresponding doors to signify nine religions of the world. It rises 124 feet high and covers a diametre of 44 feet. Its green conical dome is made of tiny glazed mosaic tiles.
Inside, nine big pillars and 27 smaller ones help to support the temple. It took four years of building before it was opened to the public on January 15, 1962. It accommodates up to 800 people.
The mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Lake Bunyonyi (a crater lake) and Queen Elizabeth National Park, all in western Uganda.
Uganda: Of true wonder and beauty