It was Independence Day. A holiday, and off from the office where I am supposed to be thinking all the time. My family and I decided to go to the countryside. Our destination was Southern Uganda, where wonderful scenic hills get together in a ‘lovely squeeze dance.’ Get it clearer- it is not Kigezi. Yes, you have guessed it- Rakai. Our jaunt started at the break of dawn. By 7:00am, our Pajero had already crossed the Equator and revved through the desert-like Lwera stretch and its speedometer was already indicating a 125km distance covered.
When we reached Masaka town, we teamed up with Francis Kayitalem, who knew the area of beautiful plateaux like the back of his hand. Kayitale, who works with a catholic NGO, was our guide and driver. We branched off to Bukoba Road and the journey into the unknown continued. Kayitale kept telling us where we had reached and how far we had gone. When we had reached Kyotera Township, we stopped to have breakfast at Motel Highway-a lovely double-storied building with a tiled roof. We then jumped back into our vehicle and set off.
I was thunderstruck when I saw a neat tarmac road I can only compare to Entebbe highway. It looked new with road signs and markings every-where. There was less traffic and you could easily drive at 200kph. This is where the real started. I kept on craning my neck to have a glimpse of the hills that make Rakai District a wonderful place. I kept telling Kayitale to stop so that I do not miss out on anything. “The Kooki hills are lovely and you haven’t seen anything yet,” he said.
Beautiful Area: A traveller on a canoe passes under the famous Bukoola bridge
I could easily spot the rugged chains of hills climbing the sky. I saw some kissing the sky. This is the place where Jesus Christ built tents with three of his apostles, I thought to myself. Infact I had already passed a sign post that read:ToBethlehem.”Kayitale had told us that we would see another village called Nazareth’ township.
As we moved on, the area looked dramatic and impressive. We branched off Bukoba Road to Kanabulemu Road, a well-leveled feeder road. We moved slowly because we did not want to miss the razor-sharp beautiful mountain ridges, the pride of Rakai.
I had expected to meet a poverty-stricken population, but I was surprised to find a developed society of Rakai. I did not see any grass thatched shacks. The houses were moderate and had modest iron sheets. There were even double-storied French gems, one of them belonging to Manuel Pinto, the former area MP. The scenic route to Kasensero, where thousands of the 1994 Rwanda genocide victims were buried, has tragic and beautiful memories. The most fascinating is River Bukoola, which is accessed by a strong green metallic bridge. The locals say the bridge is significant to them. It is said that in the 1990s, Kabaka Ronald Mutebi passed by and was so impressed by the green vegetation that he forgot some of his cultural norms.
Mutebi looked back to have a clear view of the scene from the back of his chauffeured limousine and few days later, the bridge curved in. “Traditionally, the Kabaka is not supposed to look behind. That is why the bridge curved in,” Kayitale said. Other locals said the bridge curved in because the area spirits were so happy that Buganda had finally got a king and therefore their Kamuswaga (kooki county king), would follow suit. They said that since the Kabaka had visited the district; the spirits of the rain blessed the area with waters that left the bridge destroyed.
Pinto, the former Kakuuto MP, found us admiring this natural creation and told us that river Bukuula connects to river Lwizui in Mbarara. “This bridge is a gift from DANIDA, an NGO,” he said. As our pajero waded through the stony stretches, we were ushered into the Tomi nine-mile stretch where small huts belonging to herdsmen graced the scenic expansive natural vegetation. At some point, we could see the flashing waters of; lake Victoria. Some herds of cattle were feasting on the grass. The breeze was wonderful.
The stony rugged glittering Simba hills were part of the stretch. Lovely palm trees added beauty to the extended area. Soon, our vehicle screeched to a halt. A large monument stone stared at us from one side of the road. “This is the mass grave where 2,827 victims of the Rwandan genocide are buried,” Kayitale said. As we moved closer, a fisherman stopped us and warned: “You will be haunted by the ghosts.” “He is lying. I have visited this site on a number of occasions,” kayitale urged. The fisherman then laughed hearty laugh before jumping onto his bicycle. He was overpowered.
Excited: Colleagues inspect Kibuuka river bank where bodies of genocide victims lay We passed through meandering curvy roads with thick green forests up to Kasensero landing site. I was surprised when I saw a DSTV satellite dish at Kasengero Club. The English premiership is popular her. People pay to watch great teams like Man United and the best team in England-Arsenal,” Kayitale says. The villagers stared and waved at us. After going through a sandy road that covered more than three miles, we reached Kibuuku, where bodies of Rwanda genocide victims used to float on the river in 1994. The place is back to normal.
The majority of the residents are involved in the coffee trade-the main economic activity in the area. “These sacks are shipped in from Tanzania’s,” Prince Banda, an elder said. A blue machine lies next to the riverbank. “It helps in the fight against the water weed,” Banda added. We left for Katoro hills. If I had gone with a sleeping bag, I would have stayed here for life. From the top of this hill, we saw river Kagera flowing from Tanzania. When it reaches here, it meanders like a relaxed cobra. We sloped down about half a kilometer to look at the majestic piece of creation.
“This is the source of the Nile. Speke and his group lied. River Nile starts from here,” Prince Joseph Mugenyi, an elder argued. He said the Nile passes through Lake Victoria to Jinja. I was stunned. This spot, if developed, could fetch multiple billions from tourists. “That’s the Kabaka’s Lukunyu palace,” mugenyi said, pointing at big buildings on the hill miles away. We continued with our journey to the Tanzanian boarder. This was my first time in the area. Our journey came to an end. As we sped back to Kampala, the ravine parts of Rakai were lingering in my mind. If anybody wants a place to spend a honeymoon, Rakai is the best, and of course with camping tents.