Cam Mcleay, a New Zealand adventurer led the first expedition to travel up the Nile to its source. Mcleay and his wife founded Adrift Company in 1992.
They both ran rafting operations on River Zambezi, the Blue Nile and other rivers in Ethiopia, Turkey, Nepal and South America.
However, in their 30 years of rafting and kayaking (a kayak is canoe-like boat in which the paddler sits facing forward, legs in front, using a double-bladed paddle to pull front-to-back on one side and then the other in rotation) around the globe, they had never seen anything like the Nile in Uganda.
He says: “There were rapids on a scale I had never seen before. Bigger, safer and more exciting than the mighty Zambezi. When we ran the first commercial rafting trips on the Nile in August 1996, I knew that the rapids in the gorges below Victoria Falls which had earned the reputation as the most exciting, one day raft trip in the world were no match.
Mcleay adds: “Not only does the Nile offer mighty rapids, but big slow moving pools between the rapids allow for recovery time when the rafts flip or passengers fall overboard.”
He describes the Nile as a safe haven with heavily forested islands, and prolific vegetation, which make it home to hundreds of remarkable bird species, monitor lizards, large colonies of bats and numerous species of unusual fish.
Mcleay, ceased to be the owner of Adrift. Ninety per cent of his staff then were Ugandans and most of them came from villages around the river.
After foreseeing the potential to create more tourism products, in 2003, Adrift constructed the Nile High Bungee tower, near Jinja Nile Resort, above the Nile.
He says the skills were largely transferable, and a handful of staff were trained in operating the bungy tower safely.
Mcleay said: “The most dangerous part of the bungee jumping or rafting is driving between Kampala and Jinja. I felt that Uganda needed to promote adventures that are unique. In 1986, I climbed the Rwenzori, mountains from Zaire and I knew the tourism potential that surrounds River Nile.”
Today, river surfing, whitewater kayaking, rafting, horse riding, quad biking, zip lining, sun downers are some of the unusual and exciting activities along the Nile , despite the fact that Adrift shut down Bungee Jump in 2017.
The unexploited wonder
Following the declaration ceremony on February 11, 2013 in Arusha, Tanzania Dr Phillip Imler, the president of Seven Wonders stated: “The Nile is more than a historical wonder that engages most of the countries.”
Nile river is the longest river in the world which flows through nine countries, namely Egypt, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Zaire. Flowing northward through the tropical climate of eastern Africa and into the Mediterranean sea, the nile is not known for wildlife but the Nile crocodile, the largest crocodile in Africa and one of the largest in the world, weighing up to 680kgs.
Potential of the Nile
Dennis Ntege, the managing director of Raft Uganda, says marine tourism has not yet been fully exploited yet it has potential to earn Uganda revenue.
“The legendary story of River Nile is breathtaking. I doubt there would be anyone who would not want to touch, step or swim in the Nile when they visit Uganda. The Nile is the longest river in the world,” Ntege explains.
He adds: “The demography of 15-35 years is for adventure seekers who are increasing in number. This category travels on shoestring budget but wants to visit many places.”
He, however, says: “With rafting on the Nile, I have the ability to combine more than 200 people. They can do multiple day trips. We need to appreciate the kind of tourists we attract because the quality and standards of tourism facilities are still wanting. Most of the tourists who visit Uganda are looking for modest accommodation and hotel services.”
Mahatma Gandhi monument
River Nile is an iconic feature among Indians, worldwide. When Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist was assassinated, he was cremated in accordance with Hindu tradition.
Gandhi’s ashes were poured into vases which were sent across India for memorial services. Some of Gandhi’s ashes were scattered at the source of the Nile River near Jinja, Uganda.
This is why every year, members of the Indian Association Uganda, officials from Busoga Kingdom tourism ministry and Jinja residents join other Indians all over the World in celebrating the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi and the International Day of Non-Violence on October 2.
In Uganda, the celebrations are held at the source of the Nile and people lay wreaths on Mahatma Gandhi’s statue.
Tapping into the Indian market
In a recent travel survey in Taiwan, the Indian market is one of the fastest growing in the world, with travellers from the country among the world’s highest spenders.
“Their purchasing power has been estimated to be four times that of Chinese and the Japanese. Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) needs to collaborate with Busoga tourism ministry to promote the Nile to Indians as a bait to popularise other tourism resources in Busoga sub-region. There is a lot of work to be done,” says James Mwere, the director of MJ Safaris Uganda.
Similarly, in March, a delegation from India, comprising Bollywood stars and members of Travel Agents of India, embarked on an eight-day tour of Uganda, supported by UTB and were full of praise for the country’s rich and numerous tourist attractions.
The visit was aimed at unmasking Uganda’s tourism potential, opening up the space for new opportunities and for film stars to identify potential sites for possible film shoots.
Pat Larry Larubi, who joined them on the tour, says: “Besides the numerous Indian establishments in Jinja, the team related with the Nile and the Gandhi monument. This came after a visit to the President, who shared with them the strong ties between Uganda and India and urged them to visit the source of the Nile.”
According to Rastafarians, civilisation came down from Ethiopia to Egypt, Greece and to Rome. It perhaps explains why Jamaican celebrities or believers in rastafarian faith endeavour to visit the Source of the Nile.
A range of festivities and events through the year, from leisure tours, water challenges to music and cultural festivals are organised at River Nile.
There is something for everyone. Nile River festival, Nyege Nyege, Neon at the bridge party are some of the prominent events.
Nyege Nyege festival
“Nyege Nyege International Music Festival is a big deal. The annual festival keeps growing bigger with thousands of performers and revellers from all parts of the world.
“UTB should partner with event organisers of Nyege Nyege to promote tourism around the Nile. Such festivals attract tourists around the world to party as they spend,” suggests Prisca Baike, the public relations expert and events enthusiast.
Big ideas on shelf
According to the Development of Marine Tourism report, published more than six years ago by the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry, in partnership with UTB, there is potential to develop the source of the Nile into a world class recreation centre, with boating facilities such as a docking pier and cruise boats, kayaks, and cable cars, among others.
The taskforce that comprised Dr Andrew Seguya, executive director Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, Joshua Mutambi, principal engineer, Vivian Lyazi, principal tourism officer, Samuel Bikangaga, principal economist and Solomon Sekitoleko, researcher at UTB, recommended development of cable cars over the source of the Nile linking the Mbikko and Jinja areas and possibly one over the Itanda Falls linking it with a natures walk in the forest across and the Kalagala falls.
The team also suggested that tourist facilities be improved and better facilities be installed.
With such brilliant ideas and more in the report, it is about time the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities walked the talk to develop River Nile as Uganda struggles to attract four million tourists annually.