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Bujagali Falls 13,000 BC to Nov 2011
Bujagali is a culturally and spiritually significant site for the Busoga Kingdom (Land of the Soga and made up of 11 principalities) It remains important to the Basoga People and is a scenically beautiful tourist destination along the River Nile. It is located about 6km downstream from Jinja (by the 'Source of the Victoria Nile'), in S.E. Uganda. The site is less than half a degree of longitude from the Equator, in the 'warm heart of Africa'.
At 1130 meters above sea level, with an average temperature of 23°C and relative humidity of 71% throughout the year, the climate is ideal for outdoor activities. At its starting point, the River Nile has a flow rate of around 1 million liters per second and water temperature year round of 27°C, an ideal area to develop tourism and recreational activities in Uganda.
About 12,000 year BP, regional uplifting of areas along the Western Rift Valley created a new outlet for Lake Victoria. Gradually soil deposits were washed off the granite base and the flow carved out the shape of the current river; surging and roaring over a series of rocky cascades starting at the Ripon Falls which formed a natural barrier to the waters of Lake Victoria (submerged since 1953 by the Owens Falls Dam), down several small rapids and over Bujagali Falls, a set of white-water rapids which were formed by a 4 meter granite outcrop, interspersed with lush green, tree covered islands. For detailed information about the forming of the Nile and other geographical features in Uganda, see Andrew Roberts book 'Uganda's Great Rift Valley' (2006).
From oral tradition, Kitara was a kingdom which, at the height of its power in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, included much of Uganda , northern Tanzania and eastern Congo (DRC), ruled by a dynasty known as the Bachwezi. It is said that these falls were named after the Bachwezi spiritual leader called Mandwa Budhagali. This place has long been held as sacred by the local community. There is a River spirit(s) called Budhagali which has manifested itself in over 30 generations of spiritual leaders. Whoever claimed to be the new spiritual leader of this place was given a task of "drifting along these falls and rapids on a piece of backcloth", to demonstrate his magical powers.
The current spiritual leader, Nabamba Budhagali, came to this area in the early '60s and the Spirit(s) chose him to succeed. He is over 70 years old and still holds his status as an important spiritual leader. He is renown as a traditional healer and witch doctor and has shrines at his home nearby, where he can be consulted. These days there are many churches and mosques in the area but some people still visit the witchdoctor for advice, herbal medicines and regarding spiritual matters.
Bujagali Falls are submerged, Uganda now has Bujagali Lake.
Bujagali Lake has formed with the construction of the 'Bujagali' Dam which was filled to its new level of 2011 meters above sea level in November 2011. Several sets of cascades including Bujagali and the Grade 5 rapids at Kyabirwa (Total Gunga) and Namizi (Big Brother / Silverback) have been inundated. The raging power along the first 8km of the Victoria Nile has been diverted through the hydro-electric turbines of the new dam. Uganda now has a beautiful, small lake at the center for East Africa's center for adventure.
Bujagali Falls - 2006
Bujagali Lake - 2012
The First European Visitors
For centuries, travelers had argued about where the River Nile began. Julius Caesar said that the one thing he most wanted to know about the world was 'where was the source of the Nile?'. In the 19th century it became an international obsession involving such legendary explorers as Richard Burton, John Hanning Speke, David Livingston and Henry Morton Stanley. In 1857-8 Burton and Speke traveled west from Zanzibar but did not reach Uganda. Once great friends and traveling companions they famously disagreed, Speke correctly envisaging the outlet at the north of Lake Victoria, while the more eloquent Burton - translator of The Kama Sutra and author of The Perfumed Garden - believed the Nile flowed from Lake Tanganyika and that the Victoria Nyanza was seasonal.
In 1860 Speke left Zanzibar again and on 28st July 1862 he became the first European to reach the upper Nile. ' After a long struggling march, plodding through huge grasses and jungle, we reached a district which I cannot otherwise describe than by calling it a 'Church Estate'. It is dedicated in some mysterious manner to Lubari (Almighty), and although the king appeared to have authority over some of the inhabitants of it, yet others had apparently a sacred character, exempting them from the civil power, and he had no right to dispose of the land itself. In this territory there are small villages only at every fifth mile, for there is no road, and the lands run high again, whilst, from want of a guide, we often lost the track.' [and he surely wasn't the last person to loose the track around here!]
Is Speke describing Bujagali Falls? The description above may well have been made from the west bank, Bujagali being 'the Church Estate', as later in the day (28 July 1864) he was able to travel further upstream to Ripon Falls and identify there as the start of the river that Herodotus, the Greek 'Father of History' - 5th century BCE, wrote of as Egypt's Gift. Speke was aware that this was not the ultimate source and previously correctly identified the Kagera River, which is fed from the Virunga Mountain Range in Burundi (southernmost) and Rwanda (furthest source), as the major inflow to Lake Victoria.
From here, Speke traveled back down stream to rejoin Captain Grant (his traveling companion) and continued north for another 6,500km to the Mediterranean Sea and back to Britain. The Royal Geographical Society organized "the Nile duel" in London between the two explorers set for September 16, 1864. But on the before day of their much debate, Speke was killed in a mysterious shotgun accident. Tragic accident or suicide? An inquest ruled his death was accidental but it added further intrigue to the geographical mystery.
It took another 13 years (4th April 1875) before Henry Morton Stanley's epic circumnavigation of Lake Victoria finally proved Speke had been correct.
In 1910 Winston Churchill passed Bujagali on his epic journey down the Nile, after which he forcefully advocated the need for a dam to harness the power of the Nile and help Uganda develop as a leading economy in East Africa.
Completion of the Owens Falls Dam in 1954 inundated Ripon Falls and Jinja grew as an industrial town. Over the years many sightseers and picnickers traveled out from Jinja, Kampala and elsewhere in East Africa to enjoy the natural splendor and roar of the river down through Bujagali Falls. A wrought iron archway dating from the 1960's, welcomes visitors and designates the entrance as Chillington Gate.
Times have changed and Uganda is becoming a much more favoured tourist destination in East Africa. Bujagali Lake is, or should be, part of the wonderful packages that we can offer visitors to this lovely part of Africa. Great places to stay and even more activities for visitors make powerful arguments for why you should choose to come and enjoy the area.
From Kamapala, take the main Kenya highway 80 km east via Mukono, Lugazi, Mabira Forest and across the River Nile at the Owens Falls Dam. Turn left at the first roundabout (instead of right into Jinja or straight ahead towards Kenya). There is a signpost to Bujagali.
Follow the road northwest for 7 km, straight ahead past the turnoff to the Jinja Nile Resort and Adrift Campsite. Watch out for unmarked speed bumps, bicycles and school children. If at driving in the dark, beware of cycles and other vehicles without lights.
A round trip from Entebbe or Kampala (perhaps including a visit to the 'Source of the Nile' in Jinja) can take several hours - depending particularly on traffic conditions getting through Kampala.
An alternate route with sealed road can be taken by turning left in the middle of Mukono and driving towards Kayunga, eventually turning right and south towards Owens Falls Dam. This route is considerably further but has much less traffic.
The WEST BANK is serviced by tar-sealed road. Turn left before the Dam, opposite Nile Breweries (Kayunga Rd.). Side roads may need 4WD during rainy seasons.
On the EAST BANK, the first 3km of road is poorly sealed with unmarked speed bumps opposite the Airfield. Turn left to Adrift at sign or straight ahead to Bujagali. The next 4km is unsealed road. There is considerable bicycle & pedestrian traffic, especially after dark, so extra care must be taken. Until much needed repairs and upgrading of the road is undertaken, your adventure begins when you turn left at the Ambercourt Roundabout!
All rafting companies offer return-transfers for white water rafting from Kampala and Nile River Explorers offer free transfers on their shuttle for anyone who has booked any adventure activities at Bujagali.
Boda-Boda motorcycle taxis and special hire car taxis are always available from the roundabouts on the east and west banks. Take care choosing a ride as many riders do not have a licence. Note that riding 3-up significantly increases the possibility of having an accident. If the road is wet it is very slippery and we strongly advise travelling on 4 wheels!!