Kampala and Fort Portal

The second country I visited in Sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda was a complete contrast from Ethiopia, far more tropical and relatively more developed. Before spending ten days hiking in the Rwenzori Mountains I had some time to explore Kampala and Fort Portal.

Kampala is the capital and by far the largest city in Uganda, home to over two and half million people. Originally it was city of seven hills, but it’s more like 23 hills now with it’s rapid growth.

By far the most impressive building in the city is the Uganda National Mosque, formerly known as the Gaddafi National Mosque, as it was funded by the Libyan dictator before his downfall. One of the largest mosques in Sub-Saharan Africa it can seat up to 15,000 people in the main hall, used for special occasions, while a smaller hall underneath is used for daily prayers.

The hill on which it sits is in the centre of Kampala, with main roads leading out to the six other original hills of the city. There was a British administrative centre on the site, which was demolished by Idi Amin in the 1970s to be replaced by a mosque. By the time of his downfall in 1979 only the foundations had been completed, and the site remained unfinished for twenty years. In 2001 Colonel Gaddafi visited and pledged to build a new mosque on the site, which was started in 2003, finished in 2006, and officially opened in 2007 by Gaddafi and nine other African heads of state.

Given the poor quality of the original foundations, and the collapse of a number of locally designed and built structures in Kampala, Gaddafi preferred to use non-Ugandan materials and expertise to build the mosque. Only the sand and water for the concrete came from Uganda, while the cement was from South Africa and Kenya, carpet from Libya, chandelier lights from Egypt, chandelier metalwork from Morocco, stained glass from Italy, wood from the Congo, steelwork from Belgium, and painters from Germany.

It attracts around 150-200 international visitors a day. The panoramic views from the minaret were well worth climbing the many steps to the top.

On top of another one of the hills is Namirembe Cathedral, the seat of the Anglican Church in Uganda. The church building dates from around the time of WW1 and is the fifth cathedral on the hill. The previous four were outgrown, blown down, nearly eaten by termites, and struck by lightning!

Another hill is home to Rubaga Cathedral, the seat of the Catholic Church in Uganda. Completed in 1925 it’s a pretty standard brick cathedral.

A few other sights from around Kampala. At the traffic lights I wasn’t surprised to see people selling fruit, but wasn’t expecting to see people selling giant laminated posters and pillows!

Boda-bodas are ubiquitous in Kampala, and across Uganda. They’re the cheapest and fastest form of public transport, but also by far the most dangerous. I stuck to walking the streets, though as the only white person around I attracted quite a few stares, not aggressive but not particularly friendly either. I found Ethiopians more outwardly welcoming than Ugandans based on my brief experience.

The five hour drive from Kampala to Fort Portal was surprisingly comfortable, with paved roads the whole way, and decent service station toilets. Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world the infrastructure, both the roads heading east and shops in Kampala, seemed significantly more developed than roads in Ethiopia and shops in Addis Ababa.

A colourful surprise at Fort Motel was a brief sighting of this stunning lizard.

There were a few eagles flying overhead as well, large wildlife is so much more present in Africa than almost anywhere else I’ve visited.

The only real sight in Fort Portal is the Tooro Botanical Garden. Opened in 2001, they replaced 100 acres of eucalyptus trees with native species. It’s the only garden I’ve ever been to where a guide is mandatory, helpful for local employment, providing information on the various plants and animals, and preventing you from getting lost in the sprawling grounds.

To end with a few wildlife photos from the shore of Lake Victoria where we stopped briefly after arriving into Entebbe, home to Uganda’s only international airport.

Author: jontycrane

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