In 2003, Steve Williams, a Briton, passed through Fort Portal on his way to Bwindi National Park to see gorillas.
However, what wowed him most on his voyage was Lake Kyaninga. And although he did not discover the lake, he has surely given it a new identity, writes Caroline Ariba.
The word Kuninga in Rutoro means to spoil or pamper someone. When one says “Kyaninga” in the same language, they are talking about a place that “spoilt and pampered” them. Well, somewhere in the western district of Fort Portal, where the same language is spoken, is a lake called Kyaninga, whose waters and surroundings are the real defi nition of tranquillity. The village’s people could not have picked a better name for this beauty of a place. I set off for Fort Portal to find out and feel the calming effect of the place first hand.
And just two kilometres before I reached Fort Portal town, I turned to the left, and moved for about one kilometre, before seeing the sign post of Kyaninga Lodge. As I went up this road, a breathtaking view of cottages atop a pyramid-shaped hill, designed in the most alluring of ways got my toes curling in excitement. They are the cottages that make Kyaninga Lodge, and I like to call them the guardian of the beautiful lake. Kyaninga Lodge is the brainchild of Steve Williams, an Englishman who, while passing through Fort Portal in 2003 on a trip to see the gorillas down in Bwindi National Park, stumbled upon Lake Kyaninga.
“It was all bushes and a tiny footpath led to this incredibly beautiful lake. I was struck right away by not only the lake, but also everything, from the view to even the village’s people,” Williams says. And oh, I could not agree more. I too was charmed. Was it the music from the birds or the monkeys playfully swinging off the branches of trees in the rain forest? In my observation, this was not the usual brown or grey monkey that steals people’s mangoes in your small towns; this one looked like a monkey that belonged to royalty – the vervet monkey. And the birds, good God, they wore feathers that would have garnered applause from any fashion guru. There are other beautiful tourist attractions in Kyaninga such as rare bird species.
With guidance from the manager of the lodge, Matt Cooper, I found myself carefully strolling down some steps which lead directly to the lake. I can swear my heart skipped; normally my water phobia would have taken over, but not this time. I had never seen a lake’s water so blue, not in this country.
This lake, which was formed about 10,000 years ago as a result of intense geological and volcanic activity that shaped the dramatic scenery of the region, is 220 metres deep. It has got a meandering shape, with shores guarded by a rain forest that adds shading to the beauty of the waters. A recently concluded study by a group of scientists from Belgium found that Lake Kyaninga is the cleanest lake in the East African region. “It is Bilharzia-free and, therefore, safe to swim in,” Williams said. While on the lake, the lodge has set up a floating bar from which their guests can float on the shores of the lake while sipping drinks. “We are hoping to get a boat so that people can go to the heart of the lake and escape all their troubles,” Williams adds. In the meantime, those that fancy a good swim in calm, soothing lake waters need look no further.
Beautiful gardens The gardens provide a beautiful backdrop to the lodge, with a kitchen and an orchard. Apart from the cottages that stood beckoning to me, the gardens, which also included a tennis court and crocquet lawn for guests, blew my mind. Grass neatly manicured to a discipline of a carpet, strawberries for all to pick at leisure, what more would I want? First, I had to go check in and see if indeed the gold that coated these cottages from the outside awaited me from the inside.
A comfortable seating area set with an open fi replace where one can enjoy a cosy evening over a good book, a board game or a drink, is the lodge’s bar. This, which is the main building, also houses the restaurant, where one can down a sumptuous meal with a good overview of the lake. For those who love a private place, an intimate setting is available with the exact same scenery. As I headed to my cottage, I could not help but notice steps moulded from volcanic rock material leading down to a gorgeous swimming pool overlooking the lake and the forest. Just as I thought I had seen the epitome of beauty, then came the rooms.
The rooms have a natural touch blended with modern architecture. It made sense why the construction of the lodge took six years to complete. From wooden floors to the scent – everything was classy. “We spent two years training the local workforce in the skills required to embark on this project,” Williams says. More to view The lake is surrounded by undulating hills. Lake Kyaninga is beautiful, no doubt, but if you travelled all the way to partake of this beauty, why not take it all in? After you have seen the lake, a good walk around the village would be nice, because this will equip you with knowledge of the Toro people and their culture.
And yes, this village has it all. Everything you find in this area will induce a sense of adventure that even you did not know you had. You can also enjoy a crater rim walk around the lake, which can take only one-and-a-half hours. I know I already talked about the lake, but a comfortable stroll on the dodgy hill that surrounds the lake will not only reveal a stunning view of the lake, the Rwenzori Mountains, but also the rolling hills of Fort Portal. And oh, need I mention how gorgeous the hills of Fort Portal look from there? Besides the vervet monkeys, this walk might land you on one of the hard-to-find monkey species, the lone Redtailed Colobus monkey.
The insects of the wild also make a sound that blends with the surrounding like an endless nerve-soothing song! Have you seen a large butterfl y so beautiful that it simply takes your breath away? Well, you have not till you take this stroll! After walking around the lake, the tour is not complete without a two to four-hour walk into the Kyaninga Forest. The terrain in the forest might be a little ragged than that on the ridge, but this is soon forgotten as you are ushered into the sights and sounds of the Kyaninga Forest. This time around, look out for the wild and shyer inhabitants of the forest, besides the monkeys and birds.
Civet cats, which are rarely seen, go about their secret life deep in this forest along with porcupines and other interesting creatures. Then you emerge to another spectacular view – the Rift Valley. This should be a stroll for another three to six hours by foot and could take much less by car. This can be deferred for the next day. This trip takes you down to the edge of the escarpment, where you will be able to see the vast expanse which is the convergence of the Congo Basin and the Great Rift Valley. On a clear day, the distant view of Lake Albert blinks at you, as do the blue ranges of the Rwenzori Mountains.
It is a great romantic spot for picnics and calm family gatherings, among many things. It provides for one of the best views in the country, the world seems happier there and so will you! As I left Kyaninga, indeed, I felt spoilt and pampered.