There was excitement as we started for the bus ride which would take us to Murchison Falls national park , the largest national park in Uganda. For most of us it was the first safari and a first experience of the African wildlife. It is about 300 km from Kampala ,taking around 5 hours . The bus drove past interesting villages,markets,farms and at one point we stopped for a spot of breather. The ladies also wanted a place to relieve themselves but the lush green made us hesitant to go behind a tree.Luckily we spotted a number of schoolgirls standing outside a building.It turned out to be a school and two of the girls guided us to a place at the back where a woman's toilet was built.Four walls,an aluminum frame door and a hole in the ground . We started talking to the girls and one of them told us about how she wanted to become a doctor when she grew up. Curiously I glanced through a notebook she was carrying to find the formula for moment,momentum,Laws of Newton smiling back at me ! But sadly when I asked whether she knew where India was,she nodded her head in a no. Maybe her geography lessons are not so good as the Physics one !
At around 2 we reached Masindi a small town about 30 minutes short of the National park. Our lunch was arranged at the Masindi Hotel ,Uganda's oldest hotel set up in 1923. Smiles greeted us as we made our way to this historic hotel.Having once hosted Ernest Hemingway ,it had a lovely old world charm. Predictably they have named the bar Hemingway bar had a lovely feel about it . Llunch was served in an outside patio sort of place and I had a swing at a rope swing on a tree nearby.
But we had to catch the ferry and get across the Nile to the lodge where we would stay and so no lingering in the Masindi hotel and we made our way forward to the national; park. At the entry was a small souvenir shop where we bargained and bought an ebony mask. And then we drove in to the park with almost no traffic to give us company. In the distance we could sometimes imagine we saw the river but it took us a good one hour to reach the place. The bus and vehicles were loaded on to the ferry and we were crossing the river Nile. Its a huge river and one could spot hippos cooling off .
On the other side, the Paraa lodge is a luxurious place ,welcoming all guests with a drink and a wet towel. The whole place has been made to reflect the jungle safari look and we climbed up the stairs to our rooms , overlooking the swimming pool and the river beyond. An evening drink at the Explorer's bar and dinner at the quaintly named Captain's table finished off our first day . But the night was mesmerizing with the river flowing by and standing on the balcony I could imagine the wild cats roaming the forest and grasslands beyond.
Day 2 was scheduled for both the safari and a boat trip . An early breakfast and then off to the bus with the safari guides for the high point of the visit. Murchison falls national park is Uganda's largest protected area. We had our tryst with the Huge African elephant just 2 mins inside the park when a group decided to cross the road just in front of us.The bus stopped to give them the right of way and it took them a good while to lumber across the road. But it is definitely bad manners to pass them by and move to the proximity to these mighty animals and we wisely waited. As we moved ahead the Savannah grasslands and the forests then started revealing their treasures .The sun was hot but I moved forward and sat in the seat next to the drivers'to get a good view. Deer and warthog ,(Pumba,pumba ala the Lion King ...!) ran across the huge expanse . Then came the Giraffe,their necks seemingly touching the sky,comfortably chewing off the top leaves of the tree. At first we were really enthusiastic to have spotted a giraffe,but then there were plenty of them ahead,in groups,mostly lazing around ,some even giving us a pose to click .We would request our guide to stop and let us admire the animals,the bushbucks, reedbuck, duikers, kobs, warthog,oribi ,hartebeest,all introduced to us by the ranger and forgotten soon after . We wanted to photograph,stand ,stare and photograph. He wanted to move forward so that we could catch a glimpse of the most lion before they retreated for the afternoon siesta. He was right because by the time we reached the grasslands with scattered bushes it was almost 10 AM and the mighty beasts had had their breakfast and had found the shade of bush to rest. Our bus went off the track and the guide peered inside each bush to catch a glimpse.Asw e move a little further another returning bus told us the exact location where they had spotted a lion and sure enough we found him there hidden deep inside ,his eyes shining .We were enthralled ,and took a number of photographs ,none of which could catch him as he was well hidden.We were lucky that day , because some time later we were given directions to another bush where a lioness was resting. This time she was not deep inside the bush and we could only stare at her in awe ,the tawny coat and the majestic posture. Disdainfully, she did not pay much attention to us ,now that she was not hungry ! We did not of course dare to get off the bus ,but saw her fascinatingly from the window .
We thought this was the end of the safari,but we moved towards the Lake Albert where the Victoria Nile meets it at the Delta Point and becomes the Albert Nile. There were hippos in the water but we were advised not to wander off ,for crocodiles are found here . It was time to go back and prepare for the next leg ,the most beautiful sight in Uganda of the Murchison falls .