A friend, months back, informed me about the existence of a transparent lake in Uganda. Only the deadly seriousness of his tone made him believable.
It was easy to dispute the existence of such a lake. It was easier since this is a phenomenon I had never heard, read, or seen anywhere. A recent trip to the new but insipid Rubirizi district in Western Uganda cleared my doubt.
The day was a Saturday. The time was 2 pm. I arrived in the sleepy Nyakasharu a parish in Rubirizi. Armed with a camera and notebook, I was set to enter the records as the first person –at work – to punch holes in my friend’s claim. My next destination was Lake Kamunzuku (the transparent lake that was said to lay bare what was underneath it).
Benon Mutabazi, my elderly and friendly guide, briefed me about the journey. It was funny listening to him insist on speaking
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to me in broken Luganda (maybe because he knew I was from Kampala) despite my utter assurance that I understood his first language, Runyankole.
“We’ll ride on boda boda in the first segment of the journey and walk to the lake in the last segment,” he said with his eyes painstakingly reading my face to register the reaction to his words. I regularly nodded to communicate my attention to his message. We jumped on one boda boda and sped off.
The journey on the motorbike lasted 15 minutes. It was amazing and a tad chilling. Amazing; because I, unconsciously, got to see the beautiful and gently twin lakes known as Nyanza’ ibiri sitted by the roadside. Chilling; because the burly cyclist was riding fast on the skinny road rendering me fearful of a looming head-on collision.
We disembarked from the bike at a place called Kanyara. It was time to walk. We quietly weaved through a weary banana plantation, crossed a thin pathway of River Rubale, and entered a man-made forest. A couple of the pine trees waved lazy branches against the sun. The slow but sure slope we were tracing got me panting. The aged Mutabazi was not.
The sun was scorching. My body was aching, a little. My soul was developing hesitance to proceed, but my mind blatantly dismissed the idea; it was determined to see the lake irrespective of the bottlenecks.
The foot track snaked to a natural forest with gnarled overhanging trees. These suspended out the sunlight most of the time. In other cases, the sunlight was only needling through the cracks left in the canopy. This forest was bubbly. Birds were chirpings, insects were and we heard human voices were within earshot – I later learned that these were illegally falling trees.
We also engaged in chitchat (earlier we were not because I was more concerned with the unenviable difficulty of moving up the slope). Swarms of beautiful butterflies occasionally wobbled across our trail.
The journey was longer than I had anticipated. The track led us into another forest of pine trees. This was as dull as the earlier one. Few sounds of birds, insects or humans could be heard. Anxiety was apparently having the better of me. But soon the trees thinned out and I could see a glimmer of a water body. “At last we have reached,” declared my guide. Excitement set in. We hurried through the thick bush of elephant grass – that was obscuring our view – to get closest to the lake.
From a distance, it really came off like any other lake. I could not see the transparency aspect that I had been told. “You just have to get closer,” replied Mutabazi as he led me closer to it. Lo and behold, my friend was right. The lake stripped bare all that was below it.
My emotions were a cocktail of joyous and disbelief. I could crystal clearly see a drum (probably cast down by an adventurous Mzungu), foliage, and logs underneath the lake. And the green color of the water was breathtakingly beautiful.
The child in me was now on a rampage. I picked stone after another and aimed at the water to wrinkle its surface and see the stone sinking. But I did not see the fish and
I was burning too. The option was to take a stand on a raft and take a ride on the lake or jump in to swim. I could not do either. It was creepy. There was no activity on the lake Kamunzuku. And it was just the two of us present.
There are more tourists who visit than locals, revealed my guide. Some of the courageous tourists go scuba diving to have an exact experience of the uniqueness of the lake. Locals, I was told, occasionally come around to fish. “It is not easy to fish from Kamunzuku.
Because it is transparent, the fish in the lake can see the nets. So we resorted to using rods,” says Julius Ainembabazi, a local. “They see these too, but sometimes they do not. On a lucky day one can leave with five fish. But this is after hard work. Besides, the lake is far from the local community.” Tilapia and mudfish are caught from the lake.
Elders, in the village that I talked to, said 20 years back the lake was more transparent than it is today. 80-year-old Pregrino Bijune said in the 1980s Kamunzuku was receiving more white visitors. “These whites wanted to know what made the lake transparent. First, they attempted, in vain, to drain it of its water to see what was at its base. Then they started depositing chemicals in it,” he said. “All these regrettable acts slightly affected its transparent nature.” Most of the locals believe there are untapped minerals – gold or oil – beneath the lake that explains why it is transparent.
Enthusiasts of nature have the luxury of going for a nature walk through the rich forest that sits on the larger part of the shore. On our way back, I did not feel the strain of the journey for I was reflecting on how generous Mother Nature was to Uganda. In the same breath, I was picturing my friend punching the air upon receiving news that I confirmed his statement; Uganda has a transparent lake,