Monday, 26 November 2012

Uganda-The Pearl Of Africa!

Mississippi Masala- My first exposure to a film of cross cultural genre,more than a decade and a half ago. This lovely Mira Nair film starts in Uganda and then moves across the ocean to the West. I had had my first glimpse of Uganda then and I had found it really beautiful. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day I would get a chance to actually visit this place, for we were in East Europe then and Africa seemed very distant to us.
Well, get a chance to visit I did, and I grabbed this opportunity with both hands, even though it entailed asking the school for permission to let the children leave early for a day, something I am usually completely against doing. Nairobi to Entebbe is just an hour's flight and we got our first glimpse of Lake Victoria long before we landed!My son was especially excited as his class had just finished studying the major land forms of East Africa and he had no trouble identifying this vast water body which can be easily likened to a sea! Applying book knowledge to real life brings with it a thrill like no other...
A torrential rain greeted us as we drove from the airport to Kampala, the capital, where the resort was located. The hilly landscape and the bright red mud brought to mind Assam in India, where I have spent three of my preteen years!Streams of water, the colour of strong Brooke Bond Red Label tea, flowed from the upper levels to join the main road and the already overflowing rain water drains spilled over onto the roads! As the car splashed and sploshed it's way down the extremely narrow roads,visibility was reduced to almost zero but we managed to make it to the resort.
The artistically landscaped five star resort lies right on the banks of Lake Victoria and we were lucky enough to get a room overlooking the lake! We had been invited to attend a function to celebrate twenty years of a particular company in Uganda and so we rushed to freshen up and then presented ourselves at the venue,to the tune of African drums and bongos! It was also time to witness a World Record being created, another first for us! A representative from India's very own Limca Book Of Records was present to declare that the carpet of more than three lakh fifty thousand soaps, was indeed, a new world record! And the best part was that all the soap bars would be donated to school children across Uganda, to promote hygiene amongst them. Philanthropy at it's cleanest!!
A balmy breeze sprung up as we settled down to enjoy the rest of the evening on the shores of the lake.Scrumptious, strictly vegetarian snacks - paneer tikka, aloo samosas, bhajias, veg spring roll along with soft drinks were served. I cannot describe the sheer relief of not having to break open a samosa to check the contents! I have had nasty experiences in the past in restaurants where the veg and non veg samosas or spring rolls 'somehow' got mixed up in the freezer! May more such organizations promote vegetarianism!A sumptuous dinner, followed by fire works which lit up the lake horizon, wound up the day for us.
An absolutely delicious and very Indian breakfast of  dosas, idli and chutney followed by mango lassi brought a sparkle to our day, even before it had barely begun! I thought with satisfaction that the Kolonialists who 'opened  up'  Africa, must be turning over in their graves to see that the descendants of Indians who had been brought as slaves to lay the East African railway line, had completely 'Kolonized' the food scene not just here, but the world over!
The time that we had at our disposal was very short. So going to see the chimpanzees and gorillas that Uganda is known for was, sadly, not an option for us. But we did have time to go to the source of the River Nile at Jinja which is just a couple of hours drive from Kampala.The Nile arises out of Lake Victoria which also happens to be Africa's largest lake and the world's second largest fresh water lake.Though it was difficult to pin point any one spot as the origin, it was clear that a number of underground springs which bubble up to the surface of the lake continue to supply it with fresh water and the Nile arises from there.Unfortunately, the original water falls at this spot were submerged when a dam was built in the middle of the last century. Man has an unparalled record of destroying God's creation for his own selfish purposes!
 My son was curious to know why everything was named 'Victoria' in this part of the world. I had to explain to him that when the first Kolonial explorer came here, it was Queen Victoria who was ruling the Empire.Hence all the African names were swept aside and all the newly 'discovered' locations were rechristened in honour of the queen.It is a sad reality of our Kolonial past that we face these reminders in most places across the world that we visit! No wonder they said the sun never set on the British Empire!
Our guide coaxed us into taking a boat ride on the river and the lake. We saw a plethora of the most beautiful birds we have ever had a chance to see in a natural environment. (Singapore's  Jurong bird park cannot be counted as there the birds have been captured and displayed by man!!). They came in all shapes, colours and sizes and were a sheer delight as they dived into the water for fish or just had a swim!We also caught a quick glimpse of an animal in the water which the guide told us was closely related to the notorious crocodiles of the Nile...We were glad that we were safely perched on the bench in the boat!
This is also the spot where a portion of Mahatma Gandhi's ashes were immersed, according to his wishes, soon after his assassination, in 1948.A bronze bust of Gandhiji marks the peaceful place.It reminded me of my hometown Pune's very own Aga Khan palace where the Father of our Nation was imprisoned for long periods under Kolonial rule.

                                                                 A Ride On the Nile!

                                                              The Source Of The Nile!

                                                                Lake  Victoria!
Birds of Different Feathers Flock Together!
                                                                     
                     
                                                  I could sit here all day!-At the Resort.
The next day it was time to head back to Nairobi, but not before my son had a ride on the horse of his choice at the resort stables and my daughter spoiled all the horses to her heart's content. In Mississippi Masala, the family of Indian origin is forced to leave Uganda on the orders of the then ruler Idi Amin.The diktat said that anyone not of African origin had to leave the country, way back  in the early seventies. They had to abandon everything and flee with just a suitcase each. As they prepare to board the aircraft, they turn back for a last look at what they, till then, had thought was their motherland.                                                                                                          Coincidentally, there was no aero tunnel on the day we left Uganda and we had to actually walk on the tarmac, hand baggage in hand, prior to boarding our plane.I, too, turned back for a last look, and wondered what the scores of people who, during the course of history, have had to flee from their homeland must have felt like. The Jews under Hitler, the people of  Indian origin under Idi Amin, the Hindus after the partition of India...the list goes on and on.Man,it seems, refuses to learn from History. Is it any wonder then, that history repeats itself?!



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