Ruhija offers more than gorillas

Sunday November 25 2018


By Eric Ntalumbwa

For users of travel online guides, Ruhija is a mere gorilla group with three families: Oruzogo, Bitukura and Kyaguriro. However, when one sets foot on the southwestern edge of Uganda, there is much more than the gentle giants.

When you visit Ruhija, one savours the breeze in the hilly, forested zone of Bwindi Impenetrable forest, with a crushing experience. The stinging cold has a reason to turn Ruhija into a nightmare, despite the lodge architectural designs aimed at stylish, warm and comfortable accommodation.
After being deprived of sleep, the following night seems better with a hot water bottle with fleece cover offered by the lodge. You place it next to your pillow to keep warm and relax muscles. This ‘magical’ bottle holds heat and maintains temperature until dawn.

Batwa demonstrate firemaking. PHOTOS BY ERIC

Batwa demonstrate firemaking. PHOTOS BY ERIC NTALUMBWA

With a postcard-like view of the forested ridge, is the latest picturesque addition in the hills of eastern Bwindi. Agandi Eco-lodge which offers a perfect blend of relaxation and inspiration. Visitors de-stress in the true wilderness of Rubanda district. The phone signals are clear and high-end lodges offer unlimited WiFi provided through 3G network.

Just 25km, along the scenic drive from Kabale on the Kisoro road, turn right at the turn-off signposted for Ruhija. This journey takes about 1.5 hours. The terrain off the Kisoro road is steep, but offers a stunning panoramic view of the landscape. The road dips and dives over high ridges, with slopes now largely logged out, and deep fertile valleys. The remote area in Southwest Uganda introduces visitors to a charming experience with bucket list activities;

Tracking the great ape
Unlike other sectors in Bwindi, Ruhija is free from congestion and for experienced trackers, one returns earlier as compared to those who track in other areas of Bwindi. With a gorilla permit which costs Shs250,000 for East Africans and $600 (approximately 1.8m) for international guests, one is guaranteed an experience of a lifetime. Trackers are encouraged to have trekking shoes, trousers, dirt-resistant clothes, camera and rain jacket. The lodges also ensure that they pack your lunch or snack. For the physically unfit trekkers, porters are available to carry you on stretchers at a fee.

Panoramic view of Ruhija Trading Centre

Panoramic view of Ruhija Trading Centre

Pygmies stand tall
Ruhija is an opportunity to meet one of the oldest surviving tribes in Africa, the Batwa. The Batwa who welcomed guests look very dapper in polished animal skin, tyre sandals and shorts.
Cultural tours to the pygmies reveals their life prior to the eviction from Bwindi Forest. The pygmies were hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. When the park was established in 1991, they were evicted, hence abandoning their lifestyle.

They often sing and dance for visitors as they used to in the forest. The special group of persons makes useful interpretation on the medicinal values of different herbs, hunting tactics, making fire by rubbing dry sticks against others. The Batwa are now dependant on non-governmental organisations and donors for survival.

Supporting nature based skills
Amidst the various opportunities such as birding, and nature walks, there is an average woman who offers a nature based experience through Change A Life Programme. Tina Katushabe gives visitors an experience in the beekeeping, mushroom growing and handcrafts project.
“Besides creating a delicate balance between the environment, wildlife conservation and sustainable development in Bwindi, I want tourists to appreciate an experiential visit in this popular destination,” Katushabe says.

She adds that visitors have an opportunity to harvest honey or learn about beekeeping and also participate in basket and crafts weaving. The economic rewards are distributed amongst the participating members. Katushabe’s dream is to empower the rural women. The bee keepers are reformed poachers who are living sustainably.
“The nature-based skills experience comprises 20 women, 40 school going children and 10 men who work collectively to support each other to produce quality products from which they can earn an income and be able to access basic needs. This is the benchmark for community tourism in Ruhija,” she says.

Bird watching
Embarking on the search for birds on the large primeval forest situated on the edge of the Albertine Rift is quite rewarding. Ruhija boasts 23 endemics such as white starred robin, yellow streaked Greenbul, and grey bush shrike. No wonder Bwindi is classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) for its global conservation importance. The outdoor activity in Ruhija majorly occurs along Mubwindi Swamp trail.
On our last day, Tina Katushabe hosted us at a sumptuous breakfast and as I sat at the window peering over the canopy of the forest, my travel mate patted my shoulder and said, “ Man, I would not trade my four days in Ruhija for the world.”

About Ruhija
Ruhija is located in the eastern part of Bwindi Impenetrable National park and has three gorilla families which include Bitukura gorilla family, Oruzogo Gorilla group and Kyaguriro group which is for research.

what more you ought to know

All routes require a four wheel drive car as some sections of the road are rough, bumpy, dusty and during rainy seasons, they tend to get muddy. For those interested in flying, there are no direct flights to Ruhija so the only option is to fly via Kihihi (which ideally is on Buhoma’s side) and then drive two hours to Ruhija.

The nature-based skills experience comprises 20 women, 40 schoolgoing children and 10 men who work collectively to support each other to produce quality products from which they can earn an income and to access basic needs. This is the benchmark for community tourism in Ruhija.

Primate walk
The park includes a primate walk where one is given a chance to enjoy a primate walk to spot out the white and black colobus monkeys that play all over the tree branches in this sector.