It’s almost a very big break since my last blog, almost two months from now. I got somewhat bit busy with other work, travelling and so on. If you remember, in my last blog we were at a beautiful tea estate. After that it was time for the forests and here we go…..
Our destination was the Queen Elizabeth National Park, a UNESCO site, located at a distance of sixty-six kilometres from our current location(we were at Ankole Tea Estate, Bushenyi in the previous blog ). We took the Mbarara Kasese Road to reach the national park. Happy to know when we were told by our driver that we would be reaching there in the next one and a half hour from that moment. Our joys knew no bounds as we felt confirmed that we would make our entry to the forest lodge on time. The last cut off time for check-in at the forest lodge was 3 p.m. The road experience was really worth sharing. Just after crossing the tea estate in my previous blog, I could suddenly figure out the changes in the climate, the flora and fauna on the way. It was getting hotter and hotter, the skies looked so near from us, the shapes and patterns of trees looked marvellous on both sides of the road. A few miles ahead, we could see only tall cactuses both sides of the road. It wouldn’t be wrong to call them trees because of the tall heights and voluminous growths like branches of trees. As we progressed further, the number of vehicles grew lesser and lesser. Remember, we were proceeding towards the forests and the time factor for entry for safety purposes. Silence and serenity were the two things that had already started to occupy our minds as we started inching every moment towards our destination. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to describe its look and feel as that of the Great Sahara desert of Africa. Actually, the heat, the dry air and the cactuses made us feel like that.
In a few minutes, we reached the premises of Queen Elizabeth National Park. We were so elated with joy and surprise to have discovered a few forest lodges so beautifully built in the midst of the forest. For us, we had already booked in advance one of such forest lodges, its name was Engiri Lodge and Campsite.
Engiri Game Lodge and Campsite is a budget game lodge at the heart of Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda, 300 metres off the Mbarara-Kasese road, on the shores of the Kazinga Chanel. The beautiful ambience consists of volcanic huts, a campsite and the main building housing the reception, lounge, restaurant and bar. Located amidst pristine, quiet savanna bushes, this is a perfect budget hotel to stay for a holistic wildlife experience. It is also situated closest to the infamous Kasenyi Plains known for lions and leopard tracking and where most game drives are carried out. Luckily this place is near to the Community Boat Tour on Kazinga Channel where one can see around 550 different species of birds and also watch the hippos as well as a large number of elephant herds. One can find the largest number of hippos in the world in this place.
We had reached the destination at around 2.50 p.m East African Time. We got down from our vehicle, baggage still lying in the vehicle. We proceeded towards the reception of the forest lodge. It was a two-storeyed building with the look of a hut, the roof of the top floor was made of straw. The staircase leading to the top floor was wooden. As we soon we reached the reception, we were greeted with warm smiles by the staff and we were offered a complimentary welcome drink. It was a fruit juice naturally made from the locally available tropical fruits like watermelon and pineapple mixed well. What a taste it was? The very thought makes me feel so refreshing and nostalgic about that forest stay there. We did the required check-in formalities after the drink. Our luggage being carried by the hotel staff, towards our assigned hut. There were a few camps and stand-alone huts strewn across at regular distances of few yards. The only difference between staying in a hotel and a hut (forest lodge )like this one is one’s privacy and freedom to enjoy the forest, to watch the wild animals move from one’s assigned hut any time at night. In a hotel, we lose such opportunities as we have nothing else to do inside the room, just eat and rest. Although the reception was at a different building, we could stay connected with the telephone lines or the wifi, for any urgency or requirement. We took the keys and walked towards our hut, which was at a stone’s throw from the main reception hut. In half an hour, we got fresh and took some snacks we had carried all the way from our home location for our trip. After charging our bellies with a morsel of food, until our early forest dinner, we also had to charge our mobile phones as they were almost dead or switched off by the time we made entry into the forest. All this was fine, even the hot weather was ok for us. The only thing that disturbed me on reaching the hut was we were told by the reception manager that dinner would be served in the restaurant above the reception. There was no provision for dinner inside as the huts were too tiny, which somehow housed two small beds and an attached toilet with bathtub fittings on a wooden floor. It was a forest. Obviously, if they allow food inside the room, it would mean inviting the tiny creatures like ants and other insects for our dinner. Dinner time was after 8 p.m. and there was no room service. Imagine, what could be my thought or how I felt in the midst of the forest. During check-in time, we were clearly told about the lions, hippos and other wild animals which usually comes out and keep moving around the area of huts and campsites. Its nature, so obviously unpredictable about time and events. So just before dusk by 6 to 6.30 pm, every visitor who stayed in their lodge had to confirm their return from their game drives in the presence of the forest guards or tour guides. For a while, I regretted why didn’t we put up in some nearby hotels where food, reception and rest were offered in one closed building and thereby enjoy our game drive the next morning. My husband was a bit bold. For him, it was not a big deal to go and have his dinner in the dark in the assigned restaurant (the restaurant was on top of the reception floor in a different building). After a few minutes, one of the reception staff promised to offer us food inside our hut. I was more than thankful to them at this kind gesture of theirs. My greatest fear was now eliminated and now I felt I could get some peaceful sleep up to dawn prior to our game drive.
Just before sunset, I and my hubby strolled around our hut and other nearby huts to enjoy the scenic beauty of the ambience with sunset at the backdrop and the different varieties of tropical trees and bushes. The sun had finally set, the crickets and other insects did their daily rituals of making their formal announcements to other creatures of mother nature by their typical sounds that it was time for rest and sleep. Slowly and slowly, we too got absorbed in the serenity and peacefulness of mother nature. The air around us got cooler and more peaceful. One by one, the stars gradually started to make their appearance with their brightest ever twinkle upon us. The sky never looked so near us and it was a fully lit starry night. Blessed to witness this sight. The silence and darkness below the skies hovered about and we finally headed our cottage room. No sooner had we entered, someone knocked at our door. I opened the door. What a surprise! Two smart Ugandan waitresses of the restaurant were accompanied by two male waiters and a forest guard, everyone with lamps in their hands had already come with our dinner. The quantity of the food was too much for two of us. We were offered a full big fish per person, almost a kilo by weight, French fries, a tomato soup naturally made, a bun, some butter and a dessert. Even one such fish for two Indians like us was much more for our bellies, especially for dinner time. We readily decided to return one fish to the restaurant staff and offered them to eat on behalf of us as a gesture of gratitude or you may call avoiding food wastage. They left the food trays with us and they dispersed to the restaurant. We arranged the trays on the wooden floor itself as there was not enough room space for a side or centre table, unlike other hotels. The fish and the other items were wholesome and tasty too. Dinner was finished and then we had nothing else to do like taking a stroll outside. It was simply impossible in the midst of the forest. We switched on our alarms of our mobile phones as we had to wake up early in the dawn to catch up the game drive on time which was scheduled at 6 a.m. in the morning when it is still dark and one could actually catch a glimpse of the wild animals prior to sunrise(sunrise at 7 p.m in East Africa) . We were so tired that day that no sooner had we laid down on the bed than we felt sleepy. Now only a door, the four walls and the straw roof stood between us and the forest and the wild animals must have been moving around us with or without sounds. Luckily we were fast asleep. What happened the next dawn, I will surely narrate. Till then, enjoy reading. Stay blessed and happy!