Known as the only town with an ‘English’ name in East Africa, Fort Portal is probably the most ‘Rwanda-like’ town in Uganda. In Fort Portal, you can forget the smoke, dust, buveera (plastic bags) banned in Rwanda, piles of rotting rubbish and disgusting Marabou Storks that plague Kampala, Jinja, Mbarara and other major Ugandan towns. Here, a sweet air and cooling breeze welcomes the visitor.
I travelled to this town, which is about five hours away from Kampala, to attend a ‘Rutooro’ traditional introduction ceremony. By the time I left, three days later, I’d fallen in love with the town. Surrounded by tea plantations, the town, home to about 50,000, was named after the British Special Commissioner to Uganda, Sir Gerald Portal. His statue, which takes pride of the place in the central business district, is one of the distinct attractions there.
The other is the ‘Karuziika Place’, the official residence of the king of Toro, Omukama Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV, once known as the youngest monarch in the world when he ascended to the throne when he was just three. Reining over a kingdom, that was founded in 1822 by Olimi I, his kingdom had the eyes of the world trained on it when his older sister, Princess Ruth Komuntale married her African-American beau, Christopher Thomas, last month.
Curious to see where the nuptials took place, I jumped on a boda-boda (as Ugandans call their motos) operated by one of the chattiest riders I had the good fortune to meet. I call to good fortune because, as I found in the ensuring hours he drove me around, Mr. Assimwe Christopher, as extremely knowledgeable about the history of his town.
The palace, which sits atop at hill overlooking ‘Forti’ (as the locals call their town), is easily accessible all the days of the week. That is, of course, until the king is in residence. I was lucky to find that he was still in Britain, where he is in university. I was shown around the palace grounds by a friendly guide (who I later found out was in fact a chief!) who explained to me the history of Toro. In fact, I found out that the old Kingdom of Rwanda had close ties with Toro. The chief was excited when I told him I was, in fact, from Rwanda.
After shooting a bunch of photos, I was taken around town, getting to see the famous Mountain of the Moon hotel, the Toro Club (a gold course that is one of the prettiest I’d ever seen) and the local market.
All the riding was making me hungry, so I stopped for lunch at Gardens Bar and Restaurant. The food was simple but delicious and the bill was friendly on the pockets. If you tire of the ubiquitous mashed plantains (matooke) and want something a bit more ‘exotic’, I suggest that you try the local delicacy, uburo (millet bread) and firindi (mashed fresh, beans, infused with a generous amount of cow ghee). I tried it and could barely keep it down.
Attending the introduction ceremony, which was about thirty minutes out of town along the Fort Portal-Kasese road, gave me the chance to see rural Kabarore District and what a sight it was. The world famous ‘Mountains of the Moon’, the Rwenzori’s, loomed around me, providing a sight that haunts me to this day. If you think that our very own Virungas are impressive, then you need to see these peaks. Absolutely stunning.
So, how do YOU get to see these sights? Get to Kampala by bus, car or plane, and then ask a boda-boda to take you to the ‘Kalita’ Bus stage. The ticket shouldn’t cost more than 30,000 Ugandan shillings. You will be able to find accommodation that you can afford, no matter your budget. Fort Portal awaits you, I recommend the trip.