Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s first national park and occupies an area south of the Ruwenzori Mountains, between Lake George and Lake Edward (www.queenelizabethnationalpark.com) . Its 2,000 km² area makes it the second largest after Murchison Falls.
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Queen Elizabeth National Park is named after the current Queen of Great Britain, who is considered the head of the Commonwealth of Nations and as such is virtually present in the life of independent Uganda. The park is located in the southwest of the country, at the foot of the Ruwenzori Mountains. Like Murchison Falls, it has its own highlight, the Kazinga Canal. A rare natural formation, the river with no permanent flow, connects Lake George and Lake Edward. The canal’s banks are occupied by hundreds of species of birds, which seem to have gathered specifically to pose for the cameras of passing tourists. Queen Elizabeth National Park is also a natural nursery for hippos, which pay little attention to humans here. Of the larger animals, there are no giraffes, but elephants alone – as many as 2,500 trunks! This is about 7 times less than it was in the middle of last century.
The war passed through the country’s reserves like a killing broom, although there is another side to the coin: if the number of animals had not been reduced, now they would probably have eaten the park completely.
How to get there
Getting to Queen Elizabeth National Park is no more difficult than getting to Murchison Falls. The nearest town, Kasese, is only 33 km from the park administration. You can get there by shuttle or bus from Kasese to Katunguru (4,000-5,000 s.f.) , but help from any campaign tour company will make the visit less of a hassle (On average, 3 days/440 $) .
From the park gate you can get to Mweya (Mweya, hitch only, about 22 km, 5000 to 10000 s.f.), a small peninsula on the north shore of Kasinga at its confluence with Lake Edward. There are several campsites there.
There are famous park trails around Mweya along the north shore of the canal between Lake Edward and Lake George – including the Roayl Circuit Trail, the Queen’s Mile and the Leopard Loop . The longest trail goes past a group of crater lakes and ends at Kasenyi on the shores of Lake George. The lhamba Safari Lodge (in Kampala +256-031-2513675; www.ihambasafarilodge.com) is located in this part of the park.
Visitation can be paid at the entrance ($35/1 day, children $20, entry 20000 sh. +10000 sh. per driver) . A boat ride on the Kazinga Canal is organized by the administration located in Mweya ($25, 2 hours) – the best way to see the hippos, of which there are as many as 5,000 in the park.
Another route leads to Kiambura or Chambura Canyon, 35 km east of Mweya and 11 km from the Kasese-Mbarara highway. The canyon is 16 km long and up to 100 m deep, and a small river flows along the bottom, flowing into the Kazinga Canal. It is a picturesque place where herds of wild animals come to drink. Chimpanzees live in the thickets on the walls; the park takes them to visit ($50, from age 15) . Another curiosity is the local subspecies of lions, distinguished by their short manes and a predilection for climbing trees.
At the southern end of Elizabeth Park begin the forests that stretch all the way to Rwanda. If you have transportation, you can go to Maramagambo Forest with a ranger (Maramagambo Forest, $20/1 d.) . The lodges also arrange excursions to this part of Queen Elizabeth Park. Here is the park’s largest crater lake, Nyamusingire, which has the Jacana Safari Lodge (in Kampala +256-041-4258273,0+256-0701563-437; www.geolodgesafrica.com; pho 120 to $200) – you can walk through the forest and kayak on the lake there.
The farthest southwest corner of the park, the so-called Ishasha Sector, borders Bwindi Impenetrable Park. You can only get there in your own vehicle.
Queen Elizabeth II Park. Around the World with AiF
I’ve never been to London. I’ve never been to London. But if I ever get to this, as those who have been there say, wonderful city, the first thing I’ll do – I’ll ask an audience with the Queen. I really want to talk to a man who has been ruling the country for 60 years, and people still love him and don’t count the years of his reign. Queen Elizabeth II is still the head of not only Great Britain, but also Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea and a dozen other small states, scattered in different parts of the world. Of course, all of these states are ruled by parliaments and cabinets, and Elizabeth II, being a true monarch, does not teach farmers to potatoes, architects to build houses, teachers to educate children, or the military to defend the country. Maybe that’s because she wasn’t chosen to be queen, she was born to be queen. Not for nothing is she Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and her other Kingdoms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith. Such a unique and enviable position.
Historical fact: Elizabeth II learned that she became queen while in a tree somewhere in central Africa near the equator. Then, while still a princess, she was traveling with her young husband, Prince Philip, through British East Africa, which at the time included Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, and Zanzibar. The hotel where the young couple stayed was in the crown of a huge tree. It was called the TREE TOPS. In those days, national parks as such in Africa were just beginning to emerge, and the savanna was teeming with animals. It was simply not safe to spend the night on the ground, so on top of the tree were built hunting tents from which it was convenient to watch the animals coming to the watering hole. On the night of February 6, 1952, the senior butler knocked on the door of her hut and gave her two pieces of good and bad news. The first: her father King George VI had died, and the second: from today Princess Elizabeth takes the baton of the Windsor dynasty and becomes queen. And, of course, not only the Queen of Great Britain.
As I traveled through Africa, I repeatedly heard references to English monarchs. Thanks to the explorers of the Black Continent, whether they were colonizers, colonialists, or even pirates, the names of monarchs can be found everywhere. For example, the most beautiful waterfall on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe and the largest lake on the continent are named after Queen Victoria, one of the Great African Lakes is named after her husband Prince Albert, and the largest national park in Uganda is named after Queen Elizabeth II.
This is the park we drove up to one evening. It had been raining for the third day and the savanna was soaking wet that not a shred of dry land was left. The few roads through the park were a slurry of clay and sand. It is unclear why we were driving about two hours in an SUV through the park, trying to find tree climbing lions, which, as we were promised, live in these places.
The territory of the park is big – more than 2000 square kilometers, so it was not so easy to find predators even on a sunny day. The rain is a lifesaver only for antelope and buffalo, during which they rest from the bloodsucking insects that attack them in clear weather.
We decided to stop looking for predators and drove for the night to the small town of Kigihi, five kilometers from the park. The rangers promised good weather for tomorrow and offered to come back in the morning and visit the park again for free. Only to the other part of the park – maybe we would be lucky there.
The rain was not over yet. At the entrance of the park there was an SUV with tourists from Holland. Apparently, they couldn’t decide whether to go to the park or not. Two of them, a boy and a girl, were strolling leisurely nearby, holding hands. The others sat in the open jeep in raincoats and looked longingly at the sky beginning to lighten.
– Look, muzungu (“white man” in Swahili), how people perceive inclement weather differently: some just get wet, and others walk in the rain.
I turned around. Standing next to me was a short man in a protective shirt and frayed jeans. He looked at me with smiling eyes and continued:
– Don’t listen to anyone, come here early in the morning, I’ll be working tomorrow. I’ll find you some lions.
– And if it rains again? – I asked.
– Muzungu, are you blind? Look at the sky, you see, it’s beginning to glow. The clouds are getting thinner and the sun is shining through.
– Of course it is! Not until I see it stop raining, I won’t believe it.
– You’ll be funny in your old age, muzungu,” the little man laughed. – You try the opposite – believe first. And you’ll see, if you believe first, you’ll see much faster.
I promised to believe and wondered. It seems that lately, in Africa, I have been met with a lot of sages and prophets. On the other hand, it’s better than fools and fools.
– How much will your services cost?
– I told you, I’ll be at work tomorrow. And I do my job well. It has nothing to do with money,” he paused, and smiling again, added: – Well, maybe a little for candy for the kids. And a handkerchief for the wife. And a bottle of gin for me.
We arranged to meet in the morning and left for the town of Kigihi. We could, of course, spend the night at the local campground in the park, but we were warned that it was full of rats, and socializing with these unsympathetic rodents was not part of our plans at all.
By the time we reached the hotel, it had stopped raining.
I remembered my conversation with the stranger in the park about the primacy of faith.
The hotel, or more accurately, a small guesthouse, was located on the outskirts of town. In the courtyard I could hang my clothes out to dry after a fruitless search for tree-hugging lions in the rain.
After changing into dry clothes, I decided to walk through the town. I wanted to buy some fruit – Africa.
I haven’t been afraid of walking alone through the streets of small African towns for a long time now. Maybe because I am familiar with the elementary rules of decorum, which, however, do not differ much from ours. So now I was walking down the dusty street, looking at the one-story houses along the road. People tend to live and work in them: some have a store, some a workshop, some a warehouse. It’s quiet and peaceful.
Moreover, almost no one paid attention to me until I, according to our village laws, began to say hello to everyone I met. The locals calmly and respectfully responded to my greetings and just as calmly went on about their business. The sun, though sunset, was already warm in the African way. It was hard to believe that not so long ago the sky was covered with black clouds. It was getting hot. After buying two small watermelons for my companions in a nearby shop, I walked back to the hotel.
Walking down an empty street, I thought to myself, this is interesting, Queen Elizabeth II has been ruling a country for 60 years, and not just one. The vast British Empire, now the British Commonwealth, is scattered all over the world. Those in the know would not believe that the queen is merely a tribute to the former British might. Elizabeth II can at any moment, without consulting anyone, dissolve Parliament, dismiss the government and even declare war on any nation. Just because she is Queen. But apparently she does not do so for the same reason. The queen is far-sighted and wise enough not to do things unworthy of her.
In the morning, grabbing lunchboxes, we drove back to the park. To be honest, there was no hope of seeing tree climbing lions. But then I remembered to have faith.
At the entrance to the park my acquaintance from yesterday was already waiting for us. He waved at us from afar when he saw our SUV. Today he was serious, wearing a camouflage suit and rubber boots. A Kalashnikov assault rifle, or rather its Chinese equivalent, was hanging on his shoulder.
– Hello, muzungu! How was your rest? I told you it would stop raining. You better believe it. So, do you think we’ll find any lions today?
– I think we will. At least I hope so, I was really starting to believe it.
– Then let’s go. Yes, by the way, my name is David. After Livingston.
– And I’m Seryoga, in honour of. No, it’s just the name my mother liked, – I started to explain.
– No, Seryoga. You are Muzungu. Let’s go look for lions.
I looked at the tops of the trees: there weavers were feeding their chicks. By all appearances, the day was supposed to be good.
It was an amazing feeling – the beginning of a safari. When the morning is still just waking up, and the sun is gilding the savannah with its rays, and long shadows from the acacias stretch to the horizon. At this time, herds of antelope and wild bulls emerge from the dense bushes. The most interesting thing about the safari is that you expect to meet all the animals you know, but you never know who you will meet on the way.
Offers to see the so-called Big African Five or Ten have long been ridiculed. In the savannah it is much more difficult to find a simple chameleon or a tiny dik-dik antelope than an elephant or a hippo.
Any guidebook to the national parks will tell tales and lure you into their paradise. All the rangers will claim that as recently as yesterday they saw a lion pride in this very spot, and where it has gone today is unknown. And a leopard was sitting in this tree with the carcass of an antelope he killed, and today he has gone “to a distant cordon. And to prove it, they will show us someone’s poo planted beforehand. Storytellers, those rangers.
We drove through the park. The ground was already dry from three days of rain.
Along the road, not paying attention to the moving car, shaking its shoulders and licking predatorily, crawled a meter and a half varan.
Nearby, an impala antelope grazed in the bushes.
Hearing the sound of the engine, the menacing buffalo stood motionless like bronze statues, and the crooked horns and heads of water goats protruded from the tall grass.
A crowned crane (the symbol of Uganda by the way) gracefully displayed his plumage in front of us, and from somewhere in the bushes a spotted hyena was watching him.
The bustard, like a madwoman, was trying to get under the wheels of our car.
A family of warthogs whistled and grunted.
Rough-legged partridges were diving in the tall grass. Green monkeys were perched on roadside trees and cheeky baboons were on duty along the roads.
Elephants occasionally came up to the road, but at the sight of the car they immediately retreated into the savannah.
David was sitting next to me on the roof of the jeep and was looking intently into the distance. He wasn’t being clever or philosophical today; he must have been sober. But he was confidently guiding the driver, forcing the latter to move from one part of the park to another. He also promised to find the lions.
For those who have not been on safari, it is difficult to explain why one should look for lions. It’s simple: turn on Animal Planet or go to the zoo – everything is nearby, everything is detailed, everything is accessible, no risk, cheap and with dry feet. But, believe me, that’s not it.
A wild animal is an individual. It’s an incorruptible and non-saleable creature whose habits no matter how much you read about, until you see them in person, you’ll never understand anything.
David-in-honor-Livingston suddenly roused himself, held out his little hand, and said softly:
– Where?” I asked, seeing no one in the tall grass of the savannah.
David made some imperceptible sign to the driver, who, contrary to all the rules, turned off the beaten track and drove off-road to the tall bushes growing nearby.
Here I saw red lion skins flickering among the grass.
A lion pride of several lionesses was resting under a sprawling fig tree. One of them had a radio collar, and the other had a torn ear and a wounded eye.
Perhaps the other lionesses had distinctive signs, but I didn’t have time to notice them. Let me remind you, I was sitting on the roof of the jeep, taking pictures of the animals, feeling completely safe. But then it was the lioness with the radio beacon around her neck who suddenly, with a loud roar, rushed onto the SUV, about to jump onto its roof, where I was already sitting at that moment!
Do you know how quickly I was inside the cabin? Well, even faster.
The lioness, letting me know who was boss in the savannah, stopped. She stretched her neck and, you wouldn’t believe it, moaned. She was calling for someone, looking for someone.
We looked around and saw the funny faces of little lion cubs in the tall grass. Our jeep was just between the children and their mothers, which caused the latter’s anger.
The animals hurried toward each other. Good thing we weren’t hunters, though.
– David,” I asked the ranger, “tell me, my friend, we read that the lions here climb the trees. Is it true?
– Of course it’s true,” he smiled for the first time all day. – It’s also true that all lions can do it. Not just ours. They’re cats. But they won’t climb trees now-the rains have passed, and the ground isn’t yet hot.
I remembered that a few years ago I had actually seen lions in the trees at the Serengeti in Tanzania. For some reason I wasn’t surprised – cats, indeed.
David suggested we go to the river, or rather, to the Kazinga Canal, to see the hippos. I couldn’t refuse – I’ve had an undisguised fondness for these animals for years. Besides, David said there was the largest population of them here.
It was time to leave. I knew there were no zebras, no giraffes, no rhinos, no wildebeest, no wildebeest, no many other animals I could only dream of seeing in this park. But frankly, I really liked Queen Elizabeth Park. It reeked of kindness.
Like a queen.
I’d never been to London. Never had the chance. Or rather, I didn’t want to. But now I want to. I’m going to go to Foggy Albion one day and call the queen:
– “Your Majesty,” I’ll say, “thank you for Africa! I agree to such colonization, with a commonwealth to follow.
And she replies:
– “It’s good that at least you understand that, muzungu,” and she adds: – Shall we go horseback riding?