Backpackers Tokyo

By Edgar R. Batte

The boat regatta on Lake Saaka quenched the adventurers' spirit. Fit and agile riders cycled from Kampala to Fort Portal, travellers went on a royal tour then artistes- traditional and contemporary, entertained audiences, while fashion models flaunted some trendy outfits.

The weekend was different in Fort Portal City. It was the inaugural edition of the Ekyooto Ha Mpango Cultural Festival. As His Royal Majesty, Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV put it, Uganda is the Pearl of Africa and Tooro is the jewel of the Pearl.

"Fort Portal, the heart and capital of Tooro Kingdom, lies on the foothills of the famous Rwenzori ranges. For every hill, there is a valley, and in that valley, there is water forming the numerous crater lakes that dot most of the areas," the king remarked. The festival repositions Tooro Kingdom as a premium cultural tourism destination and inspires tourism and travel during and post Covid-19 pandemic, not only to the Tooro region, but Ugandan at large.

And as Owekitinisa Joan Else Adyeri Kantu, minister of tourism in the kingdom explained, the festival is an initiative that has been designed to be at the forefront of lobbying for commercialisation of the Batooro culture and all other Ugandan cultures 'by advocating for our cultures to be embedded in our day-to-day activities in both the corporate and informal settings.

The king launched the festival with a ceremonial lighting of ekyooto - a fireplace that was made by Ndejje Univesity. Prior to this, he went around the Mucwa Chamber grounds, visiting business stalls and taking time to listen to the different exhibitors and innovators. He was in the company of the Queen-mother, Dr Best Olimi Kemigisha, along with their guards.

The king, as a head promoter of the cultural festival, introduced the royal tour, where he experienced the spectacular Sempaya Hot Springs in Semliki National Park. Here, he was mesmerized by the boiling eggs with the high-temperature waters, thanks to geothermal heat.

The hot springs are located at the edge of the great Ituri forest, which borders Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), close to the ranges of Mountain Rwenzori n Bundibujjo District.

The tour also saw him journey through the Kibaale National Park and tropical forest, listening to hooting chimpanzees, perhaps their form of welcoming gesture for having the Omukama visit their jungle environs.

If Kibaale is on your must-visit list, be sure to be treated to sights of the black and white Columbus monkey, L'hoest monkey, Thomas Galago, Red-tailed monkey, Vervet monkey, Olive baboons, blue monkeys, Uganda or grey-cheeked mangabey, Demidoff galago, Marchies, the Potto and Dwarf.

Besides the places visited during the royal tour, a tourist might want to visit and learn about Tooro Golf Club, which was founded in 1914 and recognised as part of 450 national sites and monuments in Uganda.

A visit to the Karuzika, the Royal Palace on Kabarole Hill is something you should not miss out on. Built in 1964, it has rich history and heritage. Also, visits to Kabahango built in 1928 and Rwengoma built in 1909, are palaces, recommended as part of an educational tour.

The Virika Cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake in 1966 and rebuilt. It is here that the first Catholic presence in the city was felt. When you visit Amabeere ga nyina mwiru, also visit Nyakasura School which was founded in 1926 by Ernest Calwell, a retired Scottish army officer.

Activities

Part of the documentation indicates that the school was the first to produce electricity, thanks to a small dam built there in 1930. The Mucwa Chambers- Tooro's Parliament houses Tooro kingdom offices.

They were opened in 1966, shortly after the kingdom was abolished. For a lover of history, the Karambi tombs are another place to visit. Part of the weekend's programme, included the queen mother gracing the dinner do, where fashion models wowed the audience in their creative outfits made by fashion designer, Sheilah Kasami. She launched her haute couture collection.

Sylvia Namutebi-Alibhai, the crown holder of the Mrs Uganda and 2011 Miss Uganda, was one of the stand-out models in a beautiful white wedding gown.

Nnalongo Judith Heard, who is also crown holder of the Miss Elite pageant crown, thrilled the audience as she stepped up in a glimmering gold dress.

Another highlight at the dinner, was the screening of a documentary about hiking the Rwenzori where the chief executive officer of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Lilly Ajarova recounted the challenging expedition that was equally fulfilling. Thanks to the beauty of vegetation zones, unique animals like the three-horned chameleon, hyrax, deer, bird species, snow, waterfalls, beautiful sunrises, all of which would make for ideal film sets.

The icing on the cake was the music concert on Saturday night, which was graced by the king. The line-up had homebred and Kampala-based artistes.

Aziz Azion was one of the night's highlights, thanks to audience favourites such as Nkumila Omukwano, Oxygen and a session in which he got hold of the guitar from Aloysius Migadde, and passionately plucked the strings, inviting loud ululation from fans and music lovers.

His performance was preceded by an electrifying stage showcase by Janzi Band, who sang and proved their worth as musicians, each satisfactorily playing their instruments. You could say that there is no dull moment with Golola Moses in the house. The celebrated kick-boxer joined artiste Spice Diana on stage and besides his comical dance moves, he went on to do a 180 stretch and more with the artiste.

And as he went about his funny gimmicks, fans were in bouts of laughter. The night's emcee, comedian Salvador (Patrick Idringi) was in character and his jokes did not spare the king, who behind the 'shield' of the mask could be seen having hearty laughter at the humour.

Beenie Gunter also had a good stage presence as he engaged the audience with his groovy songs that got fans off their site and onto their twos to dance and sing-along to tunes such as 'Seckle Down'.

Some folks went on to join him on stage just like they had done with Aziz Azion, when he resoundingly played the electric guitar and hit the codes on a high. It was a cultural festival and Fort Portal's Tooro Cultural Research and Development Organisation left nothing to imagination as they energetically danced and sang, with pride of their motherland Tooro.

Muzamil Kisembo Ayesiga made a perfect rejoinder with culturally themed music that amplified the geographical endowments of the kingdom and thus the need to conserve them and preserve the culture and language of the 200-old kingdom.

Talking of which, King Oyo used the festival as a platform to launch celebrations to mark 200 years of Tooro existence. According to literature, in 1822, a prince of the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom who was on official duty on behalf of his father, the King of Bunyoro, fell in love with the southern part of his father's empire.

He found that the place had the most beautiful people he had ever seen. It has stunning hills and mountain ranges, fertile soils and well-maintained gardens and farms.

He instantly fell in love with the warmth with which the beautiful people welcomed him and also noticed the gap between these people and their king. He developed a strong desire to break away from his father, and rule this part of the kingdom, as the king.

He started planning the breakaway, creating his following and fighters. The year 1822 marked the beginning of a struggle to break away. And the first-ever king of Tooro was enthroned in 1830 after a struggle between father and son. With the rich heritage, culture, sports and travel enticement, those who attended the festival think that it is a destination worth giving attention. "This festival should be marketed as part of the calendar of the year and tourists should be paying to come for these activities. It would generate revenue for the communities.

Value of tourism

Look at how many hotels have been filled. Beyond that, we need to assess; how many eggs, onions were eaten, how many boda boda riders made a killing during this festival, how many fuel stations served fuel, and more. If you go down to those details, you will know the value of tourism," says Amos Wekesa, director of Great Lakes Safaris, and a participant in the boat regatta and mini-marathon.

"There is a lot of potential. Activities are the key driver to tourism. It does not matter how beautiful our hotels and lodges are, if I can come to a beautiful place like Lake Saaka, say from Europe, North America and Kampala, and only sleep, the purpose is defeated.

In the interest of Ekyooto Ha Mpango, it has opened our eyes to the gold we are seated on," Justus Kojo, director of Ultimate Cycling Uganda, which runs a business clinic with young local tour operators that own the tourism and travel spaces in Tooro.

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It did not occur to Kojo, before Ekyooto, that Kasese and Fort Portal are well-situated with national parks, water bodies, the spectacular Mountains of the Moon.

He adds: "A destination with prime weather and endowments should make it a favourite on the African continent." Some of the attractions in Kabarole and Kasese districts to look out for include Kibale National Park which is dubbed 'the primate capital of the world' because it is home to 13 primates, including the chimpanzees.

Queen Elizabeth National Park is also situated in the same tourism belt and with more than 50 crater lakes, Sempaya Hot Springs, Mountain Rwenzori, Amabere Ga Nyina Mwiru in Nyakasura, Top of the World, and more.

Green City in the offing

King Oyo adds, "The people of Tooro are calm, warm and welcoming to all visitors, which is one of the reasons Fort Portal was earmarked and eventually named the country's tourism city, a befitting designation. Fort Portal is centrally located to Rwenzori, Kibale and Queen Elizabeth national parks, lakes; George, Albert and Edward, and is home to some of the country's most beautiful nature-friendly accommodation facilities."

The Member of Parliament for Fort Portal City, Alex Ruhunda observes that they are determined to make it one of the greenest cities in the world and ensure that the modernisation of the city, guarantees clean energy and sustainable environment.

Key

The highlight at the dinner, was the screening of a documentary about hiking the Rwenzori where the chief executive officer of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Lilly Ajarova recounted the challenging expedition that was equally fulfilling. Thanks to the beauty of vegetation zones, unique animals like the three-horned chameleon, hyrax, deer, bird species, snow, waterfalls, beautiful sunrises, all of which would make for ideal film sets.

The icing on the cake was the music concert on Saturday night, which was graced by the king. The line-up had homebred and Kampala-based artistes.