An African safari by Col Jay Mishra- Part I
The patience of being so long in Africa, DRC (Democratic Republic Of Congo) and not being able to see the great River Nile was finally over my head. I packed my bag and headed out for a long awaited R&R (Rest & Recuperation) with two of my colleagues who are real Gems, namely Ashutosh Tandon and Nitin Kumar Tyagi. The start as always was more than expected. You might be ignored or least wanted in any organization throughout the year but just before your leave or on the day your leave is to start or you have to leave your office, all the important decisions/works will start looking right into your face. There will be important assignments, events or presentations before you can pack your bags.
I was told in the morning that I should give a presentation on our African Safari to the top man by the evening of 1st Feb as we had planned to leave for GOMA, from RIWINDI, early on the morning on 02nd Feb 2012 by 0700 hrs. I reached the office and asked for the time to brief the top man and was told it will be at 1830hr on 1st Feb. I organized my team of officers and got down to put up a good show. My gems , Tandon and Tyagi , had already got the things on board and after a few clarifications we were ready. At around 1900hr on 1st Feb we were told the presentation will be now on 02nd Feb at 0930hr.We communicated that we will be late as we had planned to leave Riwindi by 0900hr on 02nd Feb. But that was not heard.
On 2nd Feb the team led by me was ready to do the prentation to the top man at 0920hr and we kept waiting till 1330 hr. We decided that it would be wise if we finished our lunch and than wait for the presentation to happen. We finished our lunch and went back to wait for the top man to bless us. Finally around 1410 hr the orders came that the topman will hear our presentation (or our prayer) . We did the presentation around 1430 hr and than we left for GOMA around 1445hr on 2nd Feb 2012.( our was a special group which briefed the topman as the group previous to us did not do so and the ones which went after us also were not required to do so)
Though we were late by the standard time of our departure from Riwindi, we were happy that now we were at least moving and will be soon in GOMA. It took us approximately six hours to reach GOMA , which included a tea break at KATALE where we were hosted well by 13 Sikh. We did not waste much time in shaking ourselves back into the leave mood and at around 2115hr we three and one more officer, Ashok Tiwari went out to LINDA HOTEL in GOMA, where we were met by a dear friend of Ashutosh Vishesh Arora.
Linda Hotel is a very beautifully decorated and located on the banks of lake Kivu. We decided to sit outside in the open with lake Kivu making a pleasant noise a few feets from us .We ordered the staple diet i.e beer and pizza’s , sizzlers and fish. Vishesh , whom I had met for the first time was instrumental in getting all of us together that day and was a very good host. We managed to reach our rooms around midnight.
On 3rd Feb we were up and early as we had to catch the UN Chartered flight to BENI ( DRC) and further to ENTEBBE (UGANDA). The flight was scheduled for 0900hr and the check in was at 0730hrs. We arrived at the GOMA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT and went for the luggage check-in. The staff was courteous and we were allowed in with our packed breakfast, with a warning to finish it off before boarding the plane. We pounced upon our breakfast package which had sandwiches & fruits. There were some more known faces with us , namely Chauhan, Rakesh, Tushar, Sunil etc. Notes on the places we were visiting were exchanged and we were happy to learn that we had struck a better bargain than all the others.
The Flight N803, an AN24 , took off around 0930hr on 03rd Feb and an Russian Airhostess briefed us about the safety features of the aircraft. I am sure non of us could look beyond the features of the air hostess and did not hear anything except “Good Morning Gentleman”. Our plane landed at Beni Airport, which is basically in MAVIVI, in DRC. BENI town is approximately 12 KM from here . We saw a JORDANIAN SF BN, NEPAL BN, and SOUTH AFRICAN BN bases there. The runway was a make shift and so was the Airport. Basically the plane refuels here and then heads for ENTEBBE, in UGANDA.
We took off around 1045hr from BENI and landed at ENTEBBE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, UGANDA around 1210hr. After the necessary documentation and immigration formalities we headed for the flight booking office on the first floor of the Airport .I stayed down and kept an eye on the luggage and my gems went for the Air tickets. We got the tickets from ENTEBBE to ZANZIBAR, in TANZANIA and return for 5th Feb and 12 Feb 2012 respectively for $400 each, in the Precision Air Lines.
Taken care of the air tickets , we were now famished and headed towards the cafeteria on the airport itself. The rate list displayed was mind boggling, namely a samosa was USG 2000, coffee for USG 7000 etc.(US 1 $=2305 USG). We immediately got working on the conversion rate and heaved a sign of relief. We took our staple diet and Nitin gave a call to his old friend to arrange for a cab. Shortly afterwards a person approached us and informed that he is the cab driver , Mr GODFREY, who will be at our service. We came out of the Airport and saw a beautiful Toyota Corolla, G –TOURING waiting for us. We placed our luggage in it and jumped in. The ride was smooth and to our surprise it was a right hand driven vehicle and traffic was moving on the left hand side , just like “APNA INDIA”. So much of diversity inside Africa.
We were moving with a fast moving traffic an excellent roads. The driver was superb and we realized that it was a “NO HORN” country. People were moving quietly without honking and waiting for their turn to pass or move. We travelled from ENTEBBE to KAMPALA , the Capital of UGANDA , which took about an hour plus and approx $ 30. We reached the hotel SPEKE, around 1630hr. Hotel SPEKE is named after Mr John Hanning Speke, who was on a pioneering 1862-63 expedition team around lake Victoria, who first controversially suggested that a small water fall flowing northwards out of the lake might be the legendary spring- a theory whose accuracy was confirmed more than ten years later by Mr Stanley, and thus source of river Nile was found to be based in JINJA , approximately 85KM from KAMPALA.
The hotel SPEKE, built in 1920, is located in the heart of Kampala, at 7-9 Nile Avenue, on Nakasero Hill, close to the Grand Imperial Hotel and the Kampala Sheraton Hotel. This location is close to banks, shopping arcades and offices, in the middle of Kampala’s central business district is ideally located in the heart of the city. The view from the hotel room was enchanting. We changed and got out to travel the city and were on the road by 1730hr. We went straight to the Grand Imperial Hotel and exchanged our dollars for the Ugandan shillings. We were rolling in money now. It was the first time I had seen a single currency note worth 20,000/-.
We went to the famous shopping mall, called “NAKUMATT”. “NAKUMATT” is a wholly Kenyan, privately held company, owned by the Atul shahFamily and Hotnet Limited. It is a Kenyan supermarket chain. Nakumatt is an abbreviation for Nakuru Mattresses. The Mall is spread over a very wide area and just as grand as any of our super malls in India. We bought three T-shirts , each costing approximately USG 28,800/- each. We were foxed to spend over a lakh plus amount in a few seconds . After this we went to the Garden City, in the adjacent building , which too is a grand shopping mall.
We came back to our hotel room , changed and went straight for the restaurant for dinner around 2045hrs. We were met with a number of people who were from India, namely Mr Ramesh, Mr Gonzalez, etc. During the course of our dinner one of our friend from the flight , Mr Andre Hein, from Germany , too joined us. We finished our dinner around 2330hrs and moved to the Rock Garden Bar, a pub cum disco joint , which is a part of the SPEKE hotel. The place was full of skimpily clad young girls/ ladies and people from all parts of the world were there. The girls were trying to catch the attention of men with their gestures , dance or by directly introducing themselves. Many a couples were seen hanging around with their bodies so close that air could barely pass between them. I came back to my room and slept.
On 04th feb 2012 we had to get up early in the morning as we knew the breakfast buffet was very filling and on the house to but only till 1000AM. We all were ready and at the table by 0930. It was a lavish spread of fruits, ham, bacon, sand witches, cutlets, muffins, donuts, eggs to order , milk, fruit juice and coffee. We picked what ever we could and started ravishing it. We ordered for Spanish omelet too as we had a very hectic day ahead of us. We finished our “MAHARAJA BREAKFAST” by around 1020 and went to our waiting cab with Mr Godfrey at the wheels.
We had planned to see the source of river Nile, which is at a place called JINJA. JINJA lies in southeastern UGANDA, approximately 54 miles (87 km), by road, east of Kampala. The town is located on the shores of Lake Victoria, near to the source of the Nile River. The town is also the location of the Uganda Senior Command and Staff College. Jinja is the largest metropolitan area in Jinja District, and is considered the capital of the Kingdom of Busoga. JINGA in local language means “rock”. There is a good tarmac road east of Kampala to Jinja . We were prepared well for the ride, the moment we hit the road, we took out the king of beer, CORONA, laced it with lemon and enjoyed it with the lush green scenery which was eye catching. The area is rich in sugarcane, tea and minerals. There is a sports stadium in the city center as well as a football and athletics stadium in Bugembe, another suburb of Jinja, approx 5 miles, called NELSON MANDELA STADIUM.
We reached Jinja around 1150, and after paying a entry fee of USG 40000 at the barrier we went down a steep concrete staircase to the bank of River Nile. The sight was quite impressive. The water was flowing with a great speed and it was deep green. The bank on our side had a sports bar with all the walls decorated with the playing jersey’s of all the world best Football teams. We fixed our boat tour of the River Nile with a tour guide for USG 30000/ person for half an hour. Before we embarked on our journey we placed our order for lunch at the sports bar for fresh Talapia fish and rice.
The Boat ride was a pleasure, the Nile was aggressively trying to force us to its direction of the flow ,i.e, northwards, and we were forcing our way towards the south. The Nile is the world’s longest river at 4,135 miles. It has two sources, one at Lake Victoria, in Uganda (the White Nile) and one at Lake Tana, in Ethiopia (the Blue Nile).White Nile leaves Lake Victoria at Ripon Falls near Jinja, Uganda, as the Victoria Nile. It flows for approximately 500 kilometres (300 mi) farther, through Lake Kyoga, until it reaches Lake Albert. After leaving Lake Albert, the river is known as the Albert Nile. The Blue Nile is the source of most of the water and fertile soil. It begins at Lake Tana in Ethiopia and flows into Sudan from the southeast. The two rivers meet near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
The guide showed us the place where the lake Victoria was merging with the spring which mysteriously was coming from nowhere and the start of the great white nile was forming up in front of us. We also saw the small man made island where small shop were made for tourists like us. INDIA has a very momentous and historical connect with Jinja as some of Mahatma Gandhi‘s ashes were scattered into the source of the White Nile. There is a small memorial garden at the spot. There is an active Hindu temple near Jinja, which has a bronze bust of Gandhi .we prayed for the departed soul and wished him to bless us.
The journey was a bliss but our stomach was calling for the staple diet. We ordered beer nile and our lunch too was served with a complete Talapia fish to savior with rice. We were amazed at the preparation and without wasting a second started with our bare hands to finish the task at hand. The journey back from jinja was completed with a visit to two famous malls before the kampala town, Lugogo Mall, Jinja Rd Stores which includes a Barclays Bank, a large Shoprite supermarket and Game, a huge DIY and household shop . It was the first time I had seen a super market where you could shop from a pin to a hardware items, garden tool, camping gear, cycles, and you name it.
We reached our room by 1945hr took bath and headed for the restaurant , ordered beer and sizzler for dinner. One of our friend Mr Andre Hein joined us for dinner and we enjoyed it till 2330 hr. We went to the rock garden bar after this and had a few beers there and then Mr hein and I left for our respective room for a good night sleep, as Mr Hein was to catch an early morning flight to Berlin.
Early morning of 5th Feb 2012, we got up at 0530 as our flight for Dar es Salaam , via Kilimanjaro was to leave at 1230 hrs. We all dressed up in a hurry , went for the “King Breakfast” and were ready to move out by 1000hr, when we remembered that we have given our clothes for calendaring and they have not been delivered yet. Lot of frenetic calls were made to the house keeping but nothing seemed to be moving , after lots of shouting and persuation we were able to get our clothes back and we rushed towards the ENTEBBE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. We were in time for the check –in and heaved a sign of relief once inside the immigration window.
To be concluded in the next part.
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