The statue of a steer with impressive, but now broken horns basking in the middle of a roundabout branded with Airtel designs is Mbarara’s most Instagram-worthy spot. According to the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time for Everything-It is time for Mbarara.
Time for first impression
As we drive into the land of milk and honey to complete about 260 kilometres from Uganda’s capital to Mbarara, there is no doubt that the town is lively and continues to attract visitors interested in getaways from the hustles and bustles of Kampala.
The town is a crossroads for tourists heading to Lake Mburo, Bwindi in the southwest, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Rwenzori Mountains.
Along the Mbarara-Masaka highway, we were able to notice the Agip motel parking with numerous four-wheel tourist vehicles and notice the beautiful Banyankole people. The stereotype will become a fact sooner than later.
Time to check in
There is a wide choice of places to stay, from budget to luxury facilities. Considering the time and budget, I made a call to Daphne, a village girl from Kashari with the map of Mbarara at the back of her palm. She gladly directed us to shoestring guesthouses along Kakoba road. For Ugx 30,000 a night, we checked into VIP guesthouse. The facility offers a basic bed popularly known as double bed, and ensuite bathroom. The rooms are clean, though the surroundings cannot cater for business and pleasure.
Time to party
There was need to enjoy the beauty of Mbarara at night. The only two options were either to get a drink or go dancing, but since it was a Saturday night, the guest house manager Agaba recommended Ice lounge for a wild night. The town fizzes with life most evenings. Cars are parked on pavements as drunken revelers hang out at pubs, bars and meat joints. Just like Wandegeya, the rolex joints are equally busy, but fewer.
Situated on Easy View Complex, Mbaguta Street, Ice Lounge is a bar and grill that strives to combine music and junk food. It boasts a good audio system in an acoustically treated room. This bar is proof that dance floors can get crowded in Mbarara. The late-night party goers were mostly youthful owing to the genres of music and rhythmic movements.
“The atmosphere is electric and tense,” whispered our driver Andrew Mulwanyi. The biggest highlight was when the pleasure seekers fell and the four of us stayed upright. They were sober; it was King Monada’s Malwedhe challenge!
Time for safari
For us to enjoy all the sights and sounds that Ankole’s capital has to offer, we used the convenience of our ATM cards. “If the branch of your bank is missing, then you do not have a bank account,” joked Patrick Wasajja. The financial institutions range from credit unions, to banks. We drove out of Mbarara, 47 Kilometres east to Lake Mburo National Park in neighbouring Kiruhura District. The landscape is of open plains, acacia grasslands and marshes. The Impalas, zebras, buffaloes, warthogs and Rothschild giraffes were a sight to behold during our two-hour-game drive.
Our Uganda Wildlife Ranger revealed that for many years, there has been a dispute for the use of the park which was declared to be hunting ground for the Ankole royals. After the 1960s, it became a game reserve and in the early 1983, it was finally gazette as a national park. In order to establish the park, it was necessary to resettle large numbers of people and their herds of cattle, and this is still a controversial issue that is sustainably managed.
Time for the past
The magnificent Biharwe eclipse monument, so legend tells, was built to commemorate a victory for Ankole Kingdom more than 500 years ago, following an eclipse that saw the invading King of Bunyoro Olimi I Rwitamahanga Kalimbi Rukidi retreat in fear and never return. He was frightened as day turned into sudden darkness. The eclipse appeared at Biharwe on Olimi’s return from a cattle raid in Rwanda and Mpororo.
The three pillars of the monument in Mbarara represent the three kings; Nakibinge of Buganda, Ntare 1 Nyabugarobwera of Ankole and Olimi 1 of Bunyoro who were great friends. Now restored to its glory by Igongo Culture Centre and Hotel, the unique establishment boats of history, an additional experience in Mbarara where the past meets the present.
Mbarara was action-packed though I did not get an opportunity to meet my longtime friend Jacklene, but as I travelled back to Kampala, all I could text her was Turebane bwanyima (see you later)!
Mbarara District is located in Western Uganda. It borders
the Masaka and Sembabule to the East, Bushenyi and Ntungamo to the West, Kabarole to the North and the Republic of Tanzania to the South. The district has a population of about 1,089,000 people.
What to do in Mbarara
Lake Mburo national park
Lake Mburo National Park is located about 300 kilometres southwest of Kampala, 30 kilometers east of Mbarara town. The park is famous for birding and viewing of zebras, Impala, buffaloes and waterbucks. Lake Mburo, which occupies 20 per cent of the park, has potential for development of a number of water sports such as angling, boat cruises and canoeing.
Nkokonjeru tombs in Kakiika, Mbarara they contain the tombs of the last two Kings of Ankole, Omugabe Edward Solomon Kahaya II, who died in 1944, and Omugabe Sir Charles Godfrey Rutahaba Gasyonga II who died in 1982 after ruling for 23 years. The tombs are inside a lone colonial style house and are two concrete slabs. Outside the house, there are about 8 graves of fallen kings.
Sanga cultural village
This is a cultural centre for the Hima tribe, located at the Sanga junction leading to the Lake Mburo National Park. Traditional ornaments and regalia of the tribe are also found at the centre. Upon payment of a small token fee, it is possible to learn about the cultural ways, particularly of the Hima women.