The enigma of the Nile unfolds
Published Saturday Nation magazine
Above: Jinja Nile Resort – in the foyer, pictures of the men whose lives revolved around the mystery of the Nile – from left to right – Baker, Speke, Burton and Livingstone – copyright Rupi Mangat
The Nile flows smooth. Returning 16 years later to the same spot, in my mind’s eye l recall my first spotting of the rapids – the Bujagali – at this spot on the outskirts of Jinja. The cascading waters turned white by the very force of the river, had us captivated. I was with a group of Egyptians – and it is one of the few times l have watched grown-up men overcome with emotion have tears in their eyes. Without the Nile, Egypt would perish.
It’s an anti-climax – the drama of swirling waters is no longer there. Local boat men offer a sail up and down the river to the few tourists while we drive into Jinja Nile Resort on her banks where on checking in there is a huge sepia picture of four men whose lives revolved around the Nile – Baker, Speke, Burton, and Livingstone. Between 1856 and 1866, they had crisscrossed much of modern-day Uganda.
Until then, this region was a blank space with no written record of – what is Uganda today.
Past the foyer and climbing up the handsome double staircase for lunch, there’s another mosaic above the main entrance – it’s of Henry Morton Stanley – the American (but actually English) reporter commissioned to find Livingstone – epic meeting with Britain’s most celebrated explorer who nobody had heard of in over five years – Dr David Livingstone – at Ujiji in Tanzania on 10th November 1871 with the famous line ‘Dr Livingstone, l presume?’
It’s where l head to a month later – Ujiji near the shores of Lake Tanganyika at the very exact spot that the epic meeting happened.
Livingstone had been sent out by his friend Sir Roderick Murchison the president of the Royal Geographical Society to solve the mystery of the Nile – one that had never been solved since the time of Herodotus in 460 B.C.
The Egyptians and the Arabs knew of the Nile up to Khartoum but after that the river was impossible to negotiate because of her swamps and rapids. Every expedition failed.
Going back to Speke – he was given a hero’s welcome initially in London and when invited to speak on epic journey – he said ‘the Nile is settled’.
It infuriated his critics.
It is now Stanley who laid to rest the question of the Nile.
He sailed around Victoria – starting and ending at Mwanza on 6 May 1875 – a journey of a thousand miles and fifty-seven days – proving without all doubt that the Victoria Nyanza was one single lake and also that the lake had one only major outlet – at the Ripon Falls in Jinja. Speke had been right all along.
Stanley also proved that the lake had only one major intake – the Kagera River – flowing in from present-day Rwanda.
But that was not all that Stanley proved. Livingstone had chanced upon the Lualaba River in the Congo – where did it flow to? Could it be the Nile?
Stanley sailed the entire length of the river without knowing where he was heading – the Lualaba joined the Congo River and flowed across Africa into the Atlantic.
Walking through the foyer of Jinja Nile Resort, it’s filled with pictures of Jinja from more than a century ago – of it starting life as a railway town and then transforming itself into a prosperous merchant town.
Driving through town, it has a Cuban-atmosphere – with most buildings from pre 1970s like the beautiful Barclays Bank, one-storeyed houses and offices on wide streets –juxtaposed with modern cars and mitumba sold in most shops.
After a sail down the river to the exact point where the Nile starts at the now submerged Ripon Falls we’re at Jinja Golf Club for a round of 9-holes finishing as the sun sets.
Leaving for Kisumu the following day, we stop by the roadside on the stretch of the amazing 300-square-kilometer Mabira Rain forest. I hold my breath – is it the Uganda mangabey – a monkey only found in Uganda crossing the road? It was listed as a new species only on 16 February 2016 because before that it was thought to be the same as the grey-cheeked mangabey – but it’s smaller. The troop vanishes before we can determine but we’re rewarded with a flock of Silvery cheeked hornbills flying across the road.
Road to Jinja
4 h 20 min (236.3 km) via A 109 and Kisumu – Busia Rd/B1
Must have for Uganda: log book, yellow fever certificate – East African’s use ID cards.
One stop border at Busia: Easy but the vehicle registration is lengthy – they keep the log book forcing you to return – annoying – if you decide to continue to another country.