And then I conquered the mighty Tororo rock
- Written by Ernest Jjingo
“Please carry along comfortable wear suitable for hiking of the famous Tororo rock,” read a WhatsApp message I received from Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) as I prepared for the journey to Tororo ahead of the commemoration of the World Wildlife day which was marked on March 3.
The thought of hiking the Tororo rock left me feeling exhilarated; I could not wait to have fun and conquer the heights. My most challenging hike so far had been the Sir Samuel Baker trail to the top of Murchison Falls last year, which was no easy feat for me. I more than looked forward to this new challenge.
Standing at an impressive 1,483m above sea level with a gradient of 0.75 from East to West, the Tororo rock is the second highest volcanic plug in Africa, the first being in Nigeria. It is found in the Eastern division of Tororo town in eastern Uganda and is the defining feature of Bukedi sub-region as it can be seen from every corner of Tororo district as well as from neighbouring districts of Mbale, Bugiri, Butaleja and as far as Kenya.
Since we could see the rock from every corner of the town, we wondered how we would manage to climb to the summit of the giant rock. With a closer look at the rock, some media colleagues balked at the idea of scaling it, saying there was no way they were going to hike to the top of the volcanic feature and indeed some remained at the foot of the rock as the rest of us took on the challenge and got ready for the journey.
D-day presented with a chilly morning in Tororo town. The hike was meant to start at 8 am, but since Ugandans have normalized not keeping time, we ascended the rock at 8:40 am. With a bottle of mineral water in hand and determination in mind, I started the hike to the top which, at a good pace, is supposed to take about an hour.
There, however, was no guide to take us through the precautions for the journey, what we needed to have and not have, as well as brief us about the necessary information about the rock. So, we just set off on our own, prepared to face whatever could possibly come our way. The path is narrow, rugged and steep, with sharp and slippery rocks at some points which called for caution, and the path passes through shrubs and thickets.
Just 15 minutes into the climb, some colleagues were already sweating and panting and holding onto each other for support; some even sat down. I for one, still felt the vigour to carry on; regular exercising surely comes in handy!
We did not think of getting ourselves walking sticks before the climb, but even before we were half way, we realized they could have come in handy in hauling ourselves over the steep rocks. We borrowed sticks from those who had climbed earlier on and were now descending, which we gripped firmly onto as we made our way to the top.
As you near the peak, the elevation gets tougher that there are four metallic ladders that were installed to help hikers pass through the steepest section. These ladders pass through some of the most dangerous spots on the course, in between giant rocks with small caves.
Here, patience, stamina and caution have to be your best allies as it feels like you are literally crawling up a hill. With us now almost at the peak, we find an old man who welcomed and congratulated us on making it to the top. He then gave us coupons with the stamp of the town mayor, which he said qualified us to pick a certificate of recognition for having climbed the Tororo rock to its peak.
At the peak, you can get a clear view of the whole beautiful and leafy town of Tororo with its flat landscape, the Sukuru hills where limestone is mined, the golf course, Mount Elgon in Bugisu as well as a glimpse of neighbouring Kenya, which is only 5km away, making all the scrapes and heart-stopping moments along the way worth it.
The summit of the rock has, however, been taken over by telecom companies that have set up masts and an accompanying power substation, leaving little room for a resting point where a hiker can cool off and congratulate oneself upon conquering the rock. Instead, hikers have to squeeze through fences of the masts to get the best viewing point of the town.
One can also not fail to notice the amount of litter up here, especially plastic mineral water bottles that are carelessly thrown along the path and bushes, which poses a danger to the environment. Shame upon you all, who have left plastic bottles on this pristine surface!
The Tororo district council speaker Chena Andera said they are already having a discussion on how to manage plastic waste, not only on the rock, but in the whole district.
“We are already moving a motion to create an ordinance as a district to do away with non-degradable waste. We also want to install dustbins along the path such that people don’t litter on the rock as they enjoy their hiking experience,” she said.
When you reach the summit, you can breathe a sigh of relief with a belief in mind that the journey back to the foot of the rock will be easier; disappointingly, it is not. Going back down proved to be another adrenaline- packed experience on its own, as we struggled sloping down the steep rocks at the same time trying to defy the force of gravity.
Going down requires one to be slow and steady in order to avoid a mighty fall and roll down the rocks. On the rock, there are various plants species such as ficus trees, acacia senegal and acacia seyal tree species and even though we were told it is also a habitat for various animals including monkeys, wild rabbits and antelope, we did not see any of these.
We, however, came across snake skins on the rocks, but thank God we did not see the reptiles. At the foot of the rock is a huge cave with rock paintings, which I was told the tribes in the area, mainly the Japadhola and Iteso, had for years been using to perform cultural rituals to their gods.
Back at the starting point, our determination and efforts were rewarded with certificates of recognition for having climbed the rock to its peak.
GAZETTING THE ROCK AS A TOURIST SITE
Even though it has huge potential of attracting tourists to the region, government has not yet gazetted the Tororo rock as one of the tourist attractions in the country, something leaders in the area are not happy about, since it has left the rock vulnerable to encroachers and other human activities which can derail its usefulness.
According the Emorimor of Teso Paul Sande Emolut, people are already encroaching and giving out land titles to the land surrounding the magnificent rock and if nothing is done to stop this encroachment, the rock, which is the pride of the region, will be no more in years to come.
However, during the marking of Wildlife day at King George Memorial stadium in Tororo municipality on March 3 under the theme “Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation”, minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Tom Butime said that under the 2022 Museums and Monuments Act, they could declare Tororo rock as a national tourist attraction site because once it is declared and gazetted, then it is protected by government and encroachers will have
no opportunity to encroach on it and its surroundings.
“My ministry will continue to work closely with Tororo district local government to promote tourism and wildlife conservation around the Tororo rock by undertaking the necessary assessments, profiling key attractions as well as developing promotional and marketing materials. I have already instructed UTB to prioritize marketing of rock climbing and other key tourism resources in Bukedi region,” he said.
Butime also revealed that plans are underway to have an electric cable car and zip line on the rock to add to the fun experiences one can have on the rock as well as make it easily accessible to everyone.
Meanwhile, Lily Ajarova, the CEO of UTB, revealed that they have already identified private sector players who are working towards developing tourism in Tororo, who have pointed them to different cultural sites and tourist attractions in the region.
“We shall have our product development team to come over and profile what this region has to offer in terms of tourism so that we can be able to bring in the tour operators to know what they have to package when they bring in their clients.”