From a local tourism point of view, northern Uganda still largely remains uncharted territory.
For the most part, awareness about the region’s best tourist gems such as the Murchison national park, Aruu falls, Fort Patiko, Solar Eclipse monument in Nyamuriya, Delta camping site, etc remains low; yet, to all appearances, they are some of the most attractive and pristine tourist sites in Uganda.
Riding on the Uganda Wildlife Authority bus with the rest of the Tulambule Northern Uganda team, a week and a half ago; brought me to that-low awareness-realization.
From the conversations, I caught wind of, on the bus; I arrived at the deduction that, just a handful of guys we traveled with, had hitherto, ever heard of the sites, we were slated to visit such as Aruu falls in Pader or Fort Patiko in Gulu.
It is quite an indictment that people from abroad [foreign tourists] know more about Uganda's premier tourist gems than many of us.
Now that is not supposition; its truth.
But again, the foreign tourists have the wherewithal to spend; unlike many Ugandans.
There is hope; however, that the Tulambule local tourism campaign will bring about a change in that status quo.
The campaign, which is in its fifth edition, was launched in 2016 and aims at encouraging more Ugandans to tour attractions in their country.
And while it is safe to say, local tourism has grown steadily through the years [Uganda Tourism Board declared 2018 as the best year for local tourism], there is still leeway to be made up.
Looked at in perspective, the 20-year-old civil war in the North put a huge blot on its tourist sector, and regrettably, it is narratives about the war and its evil protagonist-Kony-that, have, to some degree, still taken precedence over discussions about its tourist potential.
Fast forward to 2019 and thus far, some leeway has been made up; that is from the perspective of the Tulambule Northern tour, at least.
The three-day awareness-raising tour, organised by the House of DJs; cast a bright light on some select tourist sites in the North of U.G.
The expedition was eventful in every sense of the word.
The only anticlimax was that first day tours to some select places-listed on the itinerary [like Kafu river-a short stop, Karuma falls-photo opportunity, and Delta camp] were put off because the expedition team left Kampala, late, midday, to be exact, yet set-off time had been set for nine in the morning.
In the end, the tour team missed out on what was to be the first day’s highlight-a waterfall boat cruise on the Nile River.
The level of excitement as we left Kampala was palpable and it reached fever pitch, when the tour team, led by high profile names such as Golola Moses, Godfrey Kiwanda-the flamboyant State Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Gaetano Kaggwa, Fabiola, Marcus Kwikiriza, Salvado, Miss Uganda UK-Penny Wampamba, etc made its first stop at Luwero market.
The idea of using high profile Ugandans to promote local tourism is presumably one that will open new horizons for the local tourism sector.
With time, it could just be draw-card or that grain of mustard that brings grist to Uganda’s tourist mill.
Back at Luwero market, vendors struggled to have a word and to catch a glimpse of Kiwanda, Golola, and the posse of dressed to the nines-socialites like Fabiola who disembarked to buy some bites.
Beyond Kafu River; it’s beautiful open country to every end of the North.
After getting lost several times, the tour team, at length, got to the scenic Pakuba Safari lodge; which is nestled on the eastern bank of the Albert Nile, in Murchison falls national park in Nwoya district.
Before camping for the night, the tour team was advised to play for safety as they were camping right in the middle of wildlife habitat.
Just the thought of a wild animal such as a lion creeping up in the camp petrified many, but luckily, the team slept safe and sound, till the crack of morning.
The next day is when it felt like the real tour experience in the park had begun.
The 3,480 sq km park was gazetted as a game reserve in 1926 and is home to over 76 different mammal and 451 bird species.
A traveler without observation is like a bird without wings, so it’s said.
Bearing in mind that, most of the tour team, who had never caught glimpses of wild animals, waited with bated breath.
And so at the crack of dawn, the tour team embarked on the game drive, where they caught sight of several of the park’s animals such as Kobs, warthogs, antelopes, giraffes, buffalos, and elephants.
The park’s 189kg-129cms Lions and 35-36kg Leopards were hard to come by, however.
According to Henry Buzo, a tour guide at the Park, lions were not easy to come by at that time of day because of their nocturnal routine.
“At day time and when it’s hot, they are mostly in shades. The best time to sight them, just like the Leopards, is late in the evening,” Buzo told Masaabachronicle.
It was worthwhile riding through the park; which is according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, tour handbook, the largest and oldest conservation area in the country.
In Murchison falls park, depending on your budget, you can also enjoy spectacular views of the Nile cascading over 23kms breathtaking rapids.
The area, for good measure, is perfect for water rafting.
You can also enjoy other activities such as hiking and nature walks, birding [Avi-tourism], sport fishing, launch trips, etc.
Buzo says the number of Ugandans visiting the park has been on the ascendant in recent years.
“There is an increasing number of daily visitors. In a day, we can host over 300 visitors and of those, 30-60 are Ugandans.”
"The beauty of Northern Uganda tells its own tale. Granted, some things take the shine off Uganda, but none of those is related to our beautiful countryside. The tourism experience, Uganda offers is second to none,” Joselyn Kayima, a royal princess from Buganda, told Masaabachronicle.
Later in the evening, the tour team headed for the Para ferry landing site, still in Nwoya district.
The landing site is where the River Nile cascades into Lake Albert.
Its ferry connects both sides of the park.
The tour team was welcomed at the site by the Mubaku musical team, who to their credit gave a good account of themselves with their music.
The irresistible sound from their traditional instruments drew forth smiles and dances from the socialites on the tour team.
The real icing on the cake for the tour team, however, were the visits to Aruu falls and Fort Patiko in Pader district.
The splendid Aruu waterfalls are a scenic charm.
The waterfalls cascade splendidly from their crest, through rough cliffs and escarpments, into river Aswa, also in Pader.
For hikers and waterfall enthusiasts, the sight, spray, and sound of this awe-inspiring waterfall was something to behold and experience; therapeutic to some, though the experience, would have been much more worthwhile if the team had visited during the rainy season.
“That is when the waterfalls are awe-inspiring,” Lazarus Obbo, L.C, 3 Chairperson of Angagura sub-county in Pader, told Masaabachronicle.
The tour team made hay, playing in the waterfalls and swimming in the wide water catchment area, just below the huge rocks that the falls cascade into.
It was most definitely the tour’s highlight.
After the swim, the tours high profile names got into the Apirr, Bola, and Adyere dances, solemnized by the Otto clan, at the Aruu Falls campsite.
Golola and Gaetano were the highlights, here; as they cracked up most of the local dancers and villagers, by colorfully and at times, comically imitating their elaborate dance moves.
Camping at the site is only sh25, 000, so go for it, if you have time on your hands.
Fort Patiko was the last stop on the tour.
Many guys on the tour had admittedly only heard about it in their history lessons.
Here is the interesting kicker, however; the fort’s relics still look sturdy.
Built-in 1872 by Sir Samuel Baker, the Fort was gazetted as a national monument in 1972 and was ostensibly built to stop Slave trade in the Equatorial Province.
The team visited the vestiges of the Fort’s grain stores and took time to climb the numerous boulders adjacent to the Fort.