Nature’s best at Murchison National Park
THE ferry crossing at Paraa is itself a tourist attraction. Sitting on the ferry early morning as I listened to nature’s songs, I could not help but whistle along, joining the birds in the air. At 6:30am, the vast Victoria Nile which bisects Murchison Falls National Park into two, had turned yellowish, illuminating the colour of the rising sun. Experiencing dawn on the ferry was sacred. I looked at fellow travellers enjoying the gift of nature.
To my right was a white woman who was mesmerised by the beauty of the rising sun and the mighty river. To my left, a man shook his head as he gazed in awe at nature.
As if on cue, hippopotamus, the king of the waters, joined nature’s symphony with a distinct song, only they could understand. When the ferry engine was started, tourists pulled out their cameras. The drivers of the seven vehicles also started their engines and one by one, a Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) ranger allowed the vehicles into the belly of the ferry. Everyone was eager to cross the river into the wild savannah and grassland that is known as the north bank.
Vehicles are accommodated at the belly of the UWA-owned ferry, the only means of transport to cross the Nile at Murchison. Being on the South Bank in Bullisa district in the greater Bunyoro region, I could not help but admire the lush vegetation covering the bank across the river.
As we entered the ferry, my eyes focused on Paraa Lodge, perched on top of the hill as if daring nature to compete with the only man-made feature there.
When the ferry set off across the river, the passengers on board went quiet, but their eyes told the story as they scanned the landscape in the hope of glimpsing hippos or rogue buffaloes at the shores. In less than 20 minutes after setting off, we were at the banks, saying bye to Bunyoro and welcoming Acholi land.
We disembarked the ferry, only to be welcomed by many baboons. A few metres away, warthogs were posing for pictures.
I looked at the groups of tourists crossing over to the north bank; the thing that struck me most is they were all white. The only blacks in the group were either drivers or employees of oil companies in the park.
I feel sad that this beauty cannot be shared by friends in Kampala. Judith Dushimimana, one of the few Ugandans with us and her friend, Jonah Akankunda, note the same thing. “You know, even people who are just a few miles away from here may not have entered the park,” Judith says. I sighed, wondering why Ugandans do not go to the parks.
As if reading my mind, Christine Nakayenze, the warden in charge of tourism at Murchison, said the mentality out there is that parks are expensive places reserved for the rich and foreigners.
So I asked her whether it is affordable for an average Ugandan. Before she answered, a group of pupils in two taxis joined us. Their eager faces told it all — the joy of being in Murchison, Uganda’s biggest park that covers an area of 3,540 square kilometres.
“There is cheap accommodation in the park, that is why even students can afford to come here,” says Nakayenze.
Later, I learnt that UWA has a student centre and provides cheap accommodation for them in hostels.
The camping sites are also relatively cheap. There are also cheap camping tents owned by UWA and other private developers. UWA has a camping site near Lake Albert, a few metres from the Nile Delta.
Red Chilli Camping Site provides one of the cheapest camping facilities at Murchison. With your own equipment, you will part with sh10,000. Tent hire (not inclusive of the camping fee) is sh5,000 per tent.
One can also make use of the furnished twin safari tent which can accommodate two people at a cost of sh25,000. Four people can occupy one furnished tent at sh50,000. Families can also get a good deal at the family bandas.
If you have a car, whether private or public, you need $20 (sh33,000) to pay a tour guide for directions around the park. You can carry your own food and can cook at the students centre or opt for the relatively cheaper meals at Red Chilli. Entry for students is free. At a total cost of about sh200,000, one can enjoy the spectualar scenery at Murchison.