My experience at Kiho Gorilla Safari Lodge

An aerial view of Kiho Gorilla Safari Lodge.  PHOTO/TONY MUSHOBOROZI

What you need to know:

  • Daytime tends to be darker than usual because of the thick forest and the misty-rainy weather. Transparent roofs, pergolas and wide, sliding glass walls were designed to allow in light and  air.
  • Fireplaces are installed everywhere to avert cold conditions.

Travel is like an excellent book. It gives you a fresh perspective on reality, refreshes your soul, gives you a sense of being in touch with yourself again and leaves you with a feeling of catharsis. 
Your passions and aspirations start regenerating and you are left wondering why you do not do this more often. More than anything else, travel tends to offer a powerful spiritual experience, like the day you first believed. And like in the case of a good book, you never forget a single detail of a good trip. 

Memorable experiences 
You never forget the morning you travelled to Matemwe beach on the northern shores of Zanzibar, where you watched in awe, village women seated in those shallow salty waters of the Indian Ocean, farming seaweed or the dhow race that took place later that day. 

You never forget your first experience on a German autobahn, a speedway with no speed limit, when you rode a motorcycle from Hamburg to Frankfurt and back. Sheer adrenaline. It is this newness you encounter so far away from home that truly brings you so close to home. It captures your imagination and quenches your natural thirst for adventure. 

The allure of the forest
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is one such place. It is one of the most prized tourist destinations in Uganda. The high-altitude rain forest is home to the largest population of mountain gorillas in the world, at over 400 of these endangered giant primates. 

The forest has an aura like no other. It is cold and dark, (the word Bwindi means darkness), yet these very gloomy qualities make it exceptionally inviting. The intensity of the smells from the forest, a mixture of moth, mushroom, aging tree bark and all sorts of herbs are all soothing to the soul. 

The air is so thin, your lungs skip a beat. Because of the high-altitude, you get the sense that you are approaching the cusp of the unknown. Your city-dwelling body is not used to this alien environment. It is glorious.

The slow, two-hour climb into the National Park from Kabale Town is a separate thrill on its own. The drive up the forested ranges is punctuated by the constant popping of your ears as you go higher and higher into the ranges. 

The ferns and the bamboo reeds and the general shrubbery on the forest floor are as menacing and mysterious as the giant trees that have never seen an axe since the creation story.  


The forested high mountains and the bottomless valleys leave you in awe of the grandeur of nature. Meantime, the temperatures keep on dropping until you arrive at your lodge freezing and in urgent need of a cozy couch in front of a fire place. Or if you are like me, a strong drink. 

Obviously, the true allure of Bwindi is the mountain gorilla. All the other animals in Bwindi, such as the elephants, the antelopes, the duikers and hundreds of bird species are only a curtain-raiser act to the movie that Bwindi offers. 

More than 20,000 tourists that visit Bwindi every year, mostly come here to see the mountain gorilla. And they have a $600-dollar ticket (approximately Shs2.1m) to show for it. Seeing a gorilla is what makes a trip to Bwindi unforgettable. 
And yet, for me and my four-year-old daughter, it was the hotel we stayed at that made the trip memorable. 

Kiho Gorilla Safari Lodge
Kiho Gorilla Safari Lodge is a gem in all conceivable aspects. The new lodge, which opened to tourists in August, is located on Bugarama hill in Ruhija sector. 

This sector is the highest point of Bwindi Forest at an altitude of more than 8,200 feet, and Bugarama Hill, on which the lodge sits, also happens to be one of the highest peak of the sector at an altitude of more than 8,400 feet above sea level. 

This is, therefore, the coldest part of the National Park, which explains the ever present cloudy mist on top of Bugarama hill, where the lodge sits. It derives its name from this for ‘Kiho’ which means mist in Rukiga.

Because the lodge is located on one of the highest peaks in Bwindi, tourists staying here get to see the best views of forested ridges of Bwindi, stretching from Mugahinga mountains of Kisoro all the way to the Virunga mountains in the Congo. 

This part of the park also happens to be home to the elephants of Bwindi. Yet you barely ever hear about them. It is unfair how the mountains gorillas overshadow the elephants with whom they share the forest. Elephants of Bwindi are the broke chap of the family. People tend to forget about their existence.

The lodge experiences temperatures that average at 12 degrees Celsius. One of the things you first notice about this new lodge are the thermometers. That is how important temperature is out here. 

The last time I saw as many thermometers as I saw here was during my trip to Germany, in 2014. There is a thermometer displayed in all the important installments at the hotel like the reception area, the lounge and so on.  

State-of-the-art architecture
What is the point of taking a trip to the heart of nature and still feel like you are at home? The hotel was designed in such a way that visitors would fully soak in the elements. 

Outdoor fireplace for cosy evenings.  PHOTO/TONY MUSHOBOROZI

The exceptionally high ceilings, humongous doors and expansive hallways, ensure constant supply of the airflow in the main building, where tourists dine and hang around. 

Because of the thick forest and the misty-rainy weather here, daytime tends to be darker than usual. So natural light had to be designed in the property. There is a lot of transparent roofs, pergolas and wide, sliding glass walls to let in as much light and air as possible. 

Fireplaces are everywhere because the weather is extremely cold. They were designed in the blueprint; the lounge, the restaurant, the bar, even in the bedrooms.   

Serene environment 
Ruhija sector of Bwindi, in which the lodge in located, is one of the quietest parts of the forest. Probably because of being so high above everybody else and so far away from civilisation. 

Each suite is separate from the other and once you enter it, the silence in there, will catch your attention. It is the kind of silence you never have never experienced. If ever you were to hear a still small voice, this is the place to go. Allowing yourself to stay in this bizarre stillness for any considerable amount of time is nothing short of a spiritual experience. 

And when it gets unbearable, throw the curtains open, slide the sound-proofed glass walls open and you find yourself in the heart of the forest. There are no dangerous animals out here, so it is safe to sleep with the windows wide open, only if you can handle the cold.

State-of-the-art equipment
The rooms are decked with standard cushy beds, a state-of-the-art bathtub; the kinds that have jacuzzis, where you get to pamper your body in swirling warm water that is fortified with magnesium salts and essential oils. 

It is here that you will marvel at gem.  The shiny wooden floors shield you from the sting of the cold temperatures at night. Epoxy flooring in the bathroom insulate your feet from the cold temperatures. And for the truly adventurous, there is a bush bath right outside the indoor bathroom, just in case you want to fully soak in nature.

Utilities
So how does one run an exquisite hotel in the middle of nowhere? A place where there is neither water nor power lines? The answer is smart, sustainable engineering and lots of clever investments. A complex web of apparatus designed to collect, filter and store every drop of rainwater, operated by a nifty set of automated water pumps. 

And for electricity, a pair of industrial scale generators put out a total of 200kw combined. They keep alternating for optimum performance. All this ensures that there is never a time when there is no water or electricity.

Buy Uganda Build Uganda
In a country where the books we read, the roads we walk on, the gadgets we hold, the clothes we wear and indeed the lodges our visitors sleep in are all made by foreigners, Kiho is the change we have been yearning for. 

While most tourist lodges across this country are owned by foreigners, Kiho is owned by a local investor from Kabale. This is stuff that aspirations are made of. Finally, we have a remarkable product and service that is made by one of us. 

Expansive hallways

 The exceptionally high ceilings, wide doors and expansive hallways, ensure constant supply of airflow in the main building, where tourists dine and hang around. 

Because of the thick forest and the misty-rainy weather here, daytime tends to be darker than usual. So natural light had to be designed in the property. There is a lot of transparent roofs, pergolas and wide, sliding glass walls to let in as much light and air as possible. 

Fireplaces are everywhere because the weather is extremely cold. They were designed in the blueprint; the lounge, the restaurant, the bar, even in the bedrooms.   

Charles Kasambira is the proprietor of five-star safari lodge in bwindi. PHOTO/TONY MUSHOBOROZI

Charles Katambila, a retired rail engineer, has unwavering  passion for tourism. He is as well travelled and exposed as a British royal. Only a man with an astute mind, more so an engineering acumen and means would pull this off.

He is behind the design and the financing of this lodge but his humility is disarming, to say the least. His long history in the world of real estate is the trick that has made all this possible.

And when the expansion is done, this will probably be one of the best lodges in the region.  This is the newness you did not know you were yearning for.


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