Log in
Updated few hours ago

Then I went climbing Busoga’s Kagulu hill

Kagulu hill

Kagulu hill

The memory of climbing Kagulu hill stays etched in my memory and will be for a while, for trekking up that rocky outcrop might look easy when one is standing at its foot, but the actual experience is quite the opposite.

Standing an impressive 3,600ft above sea level, Kagulu hill is found in Busoga sub-region’s Buyende district, about 30km from Kamuli town in Eastern Uganda. It is said to be at the center of Busoga’s cultural heritage because the hill is believed to be the first migration and settlement center in the sub-region.

It also houses the history that has bound Busoga and Bunyoro, for centuries. If you find time with a good Musoga, s/he will tell you the story of how Basoga migrated from Bunyoro and why the two cultures and their languages are interwoven.

It is said Bunyoro kings sought sanctuary and spent their leisure time on Kagulu hill. The hill also comprises caves, small crater lakes said to have formed the first settlement of the earlier traditional rulers of the Babiito clan, which governed Busoga.

Legend also has it that Prince Mukama was among the first Bunyoro traditional rulers to conquer Busoga and to settle in the caves of Kagulu hill. On a chilly Sunday afternoon, fully sweating
under the hot sun together with my team, we made our way to the top of the hill under the guidance of the site guard.

Looking up at Kagulu from the starting point, I raised questions within myself how long it would take me to reach the peak. I inquired from our guide who told me it would take us about an hour to climb to the summit of Kagulu hill.

Off we went. Every step I took up built imaginations within me on how this place came to be but as if reading my mind, I heard our guide say that for those who claim that Basoga were in Buganda before were completely wrong; “Kagulu is the birthplace of Basoga”.

It is said to be at the center of Busoga’s cultural heritage, because the hill is believed to be the first migration and settlement center in the Busoga sub-region. Every year the installation of a Gabula or chief is done on the hill. Locals from the surrounding areas go to the hill and make merry. They spend about three days on the hill, drinking, feasting and dancing as they congratulate the new Gabula.

But that festival has gradually disappeared due to poor management. As the people of Budiope advocate for a district, there are fears among Basoga from Kamuli that, this will lead to the complete demise of these festivals.

As I ascended further up the hill I passed through an open tunnel with rocks on either side. Stairs were built to the summit of the hill in 1972. Part of the stairway, however, has been overrun by grass. Once at the top I saw boulders that our guide told us were believed to be royal seats for kings who came to visit the hill. Next to these stones is an open space where Busoga cultural rituals are performed.

At the top of the hill, there is also a pool of water in which people used to bathe, believing there was a cure for them from diseases. However, the water in the pool has since receded in size. Marriage, the death of a royal or the birth of children used to be also commemorated on the hill.

Locals pray to spirits believed to be in the crater lake on top of the hill

The guide told us that people would sound drums called “nduyi” to commemorate the special occasion and they would shout, ‘Bunyoro Kitara,’ in respect of their ancestors that lived in the same place before.

This singing was believed to awaken the spirits many Basoga still believe in. Gawoole, a local we found at the hill, told me hyenas that used to live in the caves on the hill would terrorize locals neighbouring the hill.

“Those hyenas used to eat our animals and it was not until 1983 when we ganged up and killed them that we experienced peace,” he said.

When I joked with him to take me to the caves, he quickly and anxiously told me that for a fee I could be taken for a tour into the dark confines of the caves, adding that it would be a different treat which was not on the tour package we had just subscribed to.

The hill, with its gigantic rocks offers adventurers a challenging climbing experience. In fact for the last two years, Busoga Tourism Initiative has been organizing the ‘Kagulu Rock climbing challenge’ where people from different walks of life take part in hiking to the top – no mean feat, as the rock is very steep in some places and slippery in others.

The challenge is indeed a test of one’s patience and resilience because 30 metres uphill, I began to feel the intensity of the climb. Under blazing sun, my legs were already burning and my breath coming out in pants. Some were saved by small clusters of rocks, which acted as a source of support on which they clutched as they climbed. It is at this point that climbers are sieved.

Those determined to climb to the top go ahead, whereas for the fainthearted, this marks the end of their experience. I continued to the end. The steep climb eases as one approaches about 100 meters to the top. Here, one can finally stop crouching and walk upright, although with great caution.

Because one is almost done with one’s journey, it is advised not to look behind where you have come from. Things lightheadedness is made from. The best sight at this point are the man-made stairs that come in handy and to a climber’s rescue. Considering how steep the stretch of bare rock is, on which the stairs are, the person who had them constructed clearly had tired climbers in mind.

I was told former president Idi Amin, who loved Kagulu hill, ordered the construction of the stairs. With the steps, climbing to the top of the hill is a walkover of sorts. The only shortcoming is that there is only one set of steps; those making their way downhill have to scramble for space with those fighting their way up. But at the end of the day, everybody is sorted either way.

Finally, at the top of the stairs stands a monument, which signifies the end of the challenge. I got there after approximately one and half hours! Many may argue that 90 minutes is a short period, but unless you have participated in the challenge, you will never know how long just one hour can seem!

At the hilltop is a monument that all climbers anticipate reaching. Although ideally, the monument should mark the end of the adventure, a keen climber will notice that about 200 meters from the peak is another attraction – rocks beautifully and naturally piled in a way one would think gigantic men arranged them.

A lone, dilapidated building stands on top of the hill. The building has no semblance to the once beautiful appearance it must have commanded. What is left of this grand scheme is a Radio Uganda mast that is said to have been more than 100 feet tall.

This aside, from the top, I was able to view the beautiful waterfalls that flow from the top of the rocks, the ancient historic caves, and Lake Kyoga in the distance as it welcomes the River Nile.

Soroti district is also in clear view at the peak. What an experience of a lifetime! The view from the top makes all the scrapes and heart-stopping moments along the way worth it. It tests one’s stamina and endurance, and hey, the descent downhill is not any easier. You will feel every muscle and ache.

No wonder Busoga is marketing this challenge aggressively as a tourist attraction; I can authoritatively say that the Kagulu adventure is an excellent way to spend one’s day in Busoga. Whereas it is not a must to get to the top, it is a worthy try and I felt such satisfaction knowing I pushed through to the top.

Now I can tick that off my bucket list; Rwenzori, are you ready for me now?


Comments are now closed for this entry