During our 28 months stay in Kampala, we had many jovial experiences and a few miserable ones. Our visit to Mpanga Forest is among the sweet memories that we have from Uganda. Though we had several trips to Mpanga due to its proximity to the capital city of Uganda, our first experience in this reserve forest is worth sharing on Jaunt Monkey.
We were seven in our team to explore the swamp lands and tall tree forest in Mpanga. Cloudburst of Saturday night had left our Sunday morning to be drizzling and moist. 6:00 in the morning we were on our way to Mpanga forest. Mpanga is an enticing thick forest located approximately 37 kilometers away from Kampala on Masaka Road. Just in a few kilometers outside Kampala, we were enjoying the lonely roads with plenty of vegetation on both sides. Our journey of 50 minutes on tarmac road has come to an end as we turned to the murram road leading to Mpanga. Though the murram road was dusty and a bit grass covered, our four minutes trip was comfortable.
The murram road took us directly into the quadrangle of National Forest Authority. There a little African girl opened the gates of Mpanga reserve forest for us. She directed us towards the parking space while staring at our Indian look. As we got out of the car her friends who were hiding behind a flowering bush didn’t forget to scream Muyindi – that is what the Ugandans call Indians.
At the quad of Mpanga forest a group of lively Red-tailed monkeys caught our attention. With white noses and cheeks they were small in size. The long red tail that they used for balancing themselves on the trees distinguished them easily from other monkeys. As some of our friends completed the official formalities to enter the forest, others tried photographing the monkeys, the entrance, the cottages made for night stay, and the tall trees there.
Tom, one of the forest officials, instructed us about the forest trails. There were four options in front of us to move inside the forest. The options were the Hornbill Trail offering a better view of hornbills and their habitat, the Butterfly Trail displaying the territory of butterflies, the Baseline Trail that passes through the center of the forest, and the Family Trail which is the shortest. We have decided to take the Baseline Trail which offered 2.5 hours of trekking.
Chirping and squawking sounds were all around, but the tall trees never offered us a clear view of birds. After walking for almost ten minutes, we started glimpsing hornbills and our friends managed to snap a couple of them. Not so far from the hornbills, we spotted a Ross’s Turaco, a bluish purple African bird with a small cap on its head. I clicked my camera but having a point and shoot camera, my snaps were poor beyond my expectations.
Walking on the forest’s baseline trail was not difficult for us except a few skin-piercing grasses. Suddenly, at one point, our youngest jungle walker caught his eyes on something. He held his knees in his palm and bent his neck to observe something on the pathway. That was a tunnel of safari ants crossing the trail. Thousands and millions of smaller ants were flanked by the soldier ants as they carry food stuff. The soldier ants were larger in size and surely they sting if you intend to disturb any of them. Most amazing factor about the Safari ants is that they creep on to animal bodies, including humans silently, and sting at once all together on a certain signal. They have huge pinchers, and they grab hold and don’t let go. The marching ants of Mpaga Forest was my first experience with Safari Ants ever in my life.
We walked under the tall and spread trees with too little lights falling on the trail. A stream that flown beneath produced giggling sound with the jungle’s own natural music. Two dung beetles were busy rolling a piece of dung into a spherical ball. Tom explained to us that these beetles feed partly or exclusively on feces.
While the surrounds offered beautiful nature, the forest was also rich with insects and flies that found pleasure in feeding on us. The insect stings were unpleasant, especially when a 5 year old was in the team, but we could have taken some precautions.
A place that seemed bushy interrupted our path. We sat on the fallen branches of Mahogany and unpacked our breakfast. Meal must have offered energy to some of us who cleared the bush and made our way ahead. It was a slender wood that fell on the way, may be months before, which blocked the trail and allowed bushes to spread. More trees and creepers, colorful insects and butterflies were all making a show in turns. All of a sudden, our 5 year old teammate screamed, ‘See Daddy, there is a grandpa monkey hanging on that tree’. It was a Black-and-White Colobus, one of the most primitive of the Colobus monkeys. He didn’t pose for a photo session but vanished in the woods. Though disappointed on his action, we walked ahead anticipating his relatives.
The acidic smell of decayed fruits made us to feel that we are approaching the Giant Fig Tree – it was informed to us that the fig tree is towards the end of the baseline trail. Yes, we started sighting fig fruits on our track and we found the tree. Roots of the tree stuck out so high and wide not allowing even 12 people to hold it round. The trail didn’t stop us at the bottom of fig tree but to continue for almost another 2 minutes to reach a swamp, which was the end of it. On our way back, curiosity took me away from the baseline trail to butterfly trail. I strolled almost 10 minutes to find green butterflies, blue butter flies, and white giant butterflies. With a wish to come back on trying other trails of Mpanga Forest, I returned and joined my team.
Before returning to the jungle of concretes we turned our way to Mpambire village. Mpambire is the home of Royal Drum Makers. Even the smallest kid who could walk on his feet might say a few words about the art there. Five major species of trees, which were used for making drums are found abundant in Mpanga forest allowing the villagers to earn for their life.
Mpanga forest is one of the least visited tourist attraction in Uganda. However, at a closer proximity, Mpanga is easily accessible from Kampala. For nature lovers, Mpanga is very good among the tourism attractions of Uganda. Mapanga forest lies on Kampala – Masaka Road after 37 kilometers from Kampala. While going for a trek in Mpanga Forest, make sure to carry some insect-repellent lotions.