What you need to know:
Bunyaruguru County, 350km west of Kampala and north of Bushenyi town on the edge of Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to 52 crater lakes. There are so many tales that revolve around their existance as our writer shares.
Having spent my formative years in Bunyaruguru, despite the mystical tales about these lakes, to access relatives, I had to pass by the lakeshores. The paths linking the different villages go past some of these lakes. And that erased any fear factor for mystics in me forever.
Unknown to many, most of the craters are twin lakes and those that stand out are Katinda and Mirambi, Kyema and Kamweru. My mother’s homestead stood close to Lake Mirambi and we grazed my grandmother’s goats in the Kyambura escarpments of Mirambi. We were always warned to leave the valley before the sun went down. You would never know what you might come along with under the cover of darkness. If you did, before you entered the house you would be asked a familiar question: “Are you alone?”
Twice a week, we went by the lakeside of Mirambi and Lake Katinda through the deep valley of Kinkina to access the gardens in Omumashaka and Kagando. When it rained, the ground was very slippery. Any misstep would be fatal.
We always passed through this valley of Kinkina at the speed of wind before nightfall. What with the mystical tales of the mating Octopus called Endyoka between Lake Mirambi (female lake) and Lake Katinda (male).
There were tales of ghosts roaming the valleys and areas around the Kyambura escarpments.
Once in a while, we would see a light starting off from the north-side of Lake Mirambi and vanish in the middle of the lake. And if you saw such a light and delayed to run away, a whirlwind would pass by and sweep the hair off your head, so we were told.
The lakes that swallow people
At Kyakasharu township, on Mbarara-Kasese highway, is the basin-like Lake Mafuro. Mafuro means foams. It is said that annually, this lake swallows a person from the village of Kasungu. The people say, “The lake has eaten a person.” But according Vincent Banaga, a resident of Kasungu, it is because the lake has no shoreline, it is like a basin. Any slight slip, the lake swallows you.
Then there is the Africa-shaped lake Nkugute known as Lake Rutoto. Its original name is Nkugute. It means to swallow. It is presumed to be the deepest lake in Africa. One is told that white men came to determine how deep it is and they failed to reach the bottom of it.
According to Mulongo Kato Gyavira, beneath Lake Nkugute is a pot-like mouth that opens deeper into the centre of the earth. Kato says that annually, Lake Nkugute too, swallows a person, hence, its name, Nkugute, in Runyaruguru dialect.
Northwards past Rugazi Post Office centre, curving the sharp corner of Kyambogo, behind the bus stop of Kitooma kya Rumuli, you are welcomed by another set of twin lakes on either side of the road.
That is lakes Rwizongo and Nyungu. Nyungu is true to its name, a pot, deep and dark, with a small stream pouring in from Rugazi. Adjacent to these twin lakes are the false lakes of Kisanga and Nziranga. These false lakes are covered by papyrus reeds and floating plants called amarebe (water lilies) but underneath are the snake like mud fish called Ewondo.
Queen Elizabeth National Park gets more visible as you approach Kataara and Kichwamba kya Balyanika. Behind Kichwamba trading centre, at the beckoning of Lakes Edward and George which are conjoined to Kazinga Channel, lies the invisible Lake Kibwana. Sometimes, this lake peeps out when the winds are strong. It is home to hundreds of hippos. South of Lake Kibwana lies other twin lakes of Nyamusingiri and Kyasanduka. What is common on all these lakes are hundreds of bird species endemic in the Albertine region, according to Achilles Byaruhanga, the Executive Director of Nature Uganda and a son of Bunyaruguru.
Valley of the dead
At Omu-ibaare, another mystic of Kyambura escarpments, on some nights, tall ‘firemen’ known as ebinyamazimua appeared from the hills of Kigabiro and descended to Kyabafu; the valley of the dead.
Sometimes, these firemen would burn the bushes on their journey down the valley and their fire would be seen by people from the adjacent villages of Kichwamba kya Nyakashozi, Kichwamba kya Bwijuka and Kichwamba kya Balyanika across the escarpment, but in the morning, there would not be any burnt bush.
The other twin lakes that carry a lot of myths are Lake Kyema and Kamweru.
While there are homes around Lake Kyema, there are no homes around Lake Kamweru. It is said that there are mystical beings called Amayeru that colonised the area and made it their own.
At night, these mystics hold feasts with overnight drumming and dancing. Children from Buhera, Buzenga and Aharukondo and Bugaya were always warned never to dance to drums from afar. You would be partaking in the dance of the Amayeru.
Further deep in the forests of Kalinzu are the mystical twin lakes of Kamunzuku and Kasiriya. Kamunzuku sits on a clear slate of rock enabling you to see the bottom of the lake and the fish-swimming in the lake.
Kasiriya is said to be shrouded in sacrificial mysteries of medicine men and witchcraft initiation.
lake of flamingoes
East of Kyambura Gorge, which separates Queen Elizabeth National Park from Kyambura Game Reserve, you will meet another set of twin lakes – Kibwera and Nshenyi. Lake Nshenyi is home of the flamingoes, which migrate from Lake Nakuru in Kenya. It is the shallowest of all lakes in Bunyaruguru. You can walk its width and breadth to the humming of flamingoes.
Lake Kibwera, it is said to have the tastiest tilapia, hence the name Kyerunga. South of Lake Nshenyi is the community lake of Kyamwiga near Katerera town. North of Lake Nshenyi en-route to Kashaka fishing village on Lake George lies the dark marshes of Lake Kineera on the left and on the right are other twin lakes of Kararo and Bugusha. So much for the lakes of Bunyaruguru and the deathly valleys that make your hair stand on your head.