Murchison Falls—Uganda’s Unique Piece of the Nile
“This was the greatest waterfall of the Nile.”—English explorer Sir Samuel White Baker.
WATERFALLS have always captured the attention and admiration of people. The therapeutic sound of the waters crashing on the rocks below and the soft, cool mist that often ascends from the falls provide countless visitors with hours of relaxation.
Murchison Falls* in Uganda is no exception. The Nile River extends over 4,000 miles (6,400 km), and some call these falls the river’s most spectacular feature. True, they do not have the height of Angel Falls in South America or the water volume of Victoria Falls in Africa or Niagara Falls in North America. Yet the beauty and power of Murchison Falls leave a lasting impression.
A History of Murchison Falls
Murchison Falls is just one feature of the 1,483-square-mile (3,841 sq km) area that makes up Murchison Falls National Park. The park, located in northwestern Uganda, was established in 1952. The falls were visited by Baker in the early 1860’s. In his book The Albert N’yanza, he describes his first view of the falls.
“Upon rounding the corner,” he wrote, “a magnificent sight burst suddenly upon us. . . . The fall of water was snow white, which had a superb effect as it contrasted with the dark cliffs that walled the river, while the graceful palms of the tropics and wild plantains perfected the beauty of the view. This was the greatest waterfall of the Nile.” Baker originally gave the falls the name Murchison Falls in honor of the president of the Royal Geographical Society.
Ways to View Them
A fine way to view the falls is by boat. The ride originates at the Paraa launch site and provides visitors with the thrilling experience of cruising the Nile while observing wild animals from a comfortable distance. Hippopotamuses are commonly sighted but so are large African elephants, crocodiles, and buffalo. The magnificent Nile wildlife may even cause a visitor temporarily to forget his goal of seeing the falls. But once he reaches the snow-white waters that seemingly explode through the rocks, he understands why Baker was so impressed.
Although many visitors thoroughly enjoy the view of the falls from a boat, the view from above has its own special enchantment. Some consider it the best. From there one can see the 160-foot-wide (49 m) Nile forced into an opening approximately 20 feet wide (6 m) and then cascade 130 feet (40 m). This has been described as “one of the most powerful surges of water found anywhere in the world.” Visitors at times feel a slight tremble in the ground as the water gushes through to the other side.
Baker tells about his impressions just prior to seeing the falls. He said he heard thunderous sounds while out for an early morning walk. He assumed that the sounds were coming from distant thunder but was surprised to discover that they were coming from the falls.
Each year, like Baker, thousands are thrilled by the breathtaking beauty and power of this spectacular sight. Seeing the force of these waters as they cascade to the depths below is an experience not readily forgotten. Murchison Falls is indeed a unique part of the Nile.
Also known as Kabalega or Kabarega Falls.
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Murchison Falls National Park
A 1969 census found that some 14,000 hippopotamuses, 14,500 elephants, and 26,500 buffalo lived in the park. In the decades that followed, a dramatic decline in the populations of such animals occurred. Recently, as a result of conservation efforts, they are making a comeback. Now the forests are also home to many primates, such as chimpanzees and baboons, while the savannas provide grazing for animals such as giraffes and Jackson’s hartebeests. In fact, over 70 mammal species and over 450 bird species have been identified inside the park.
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All photos pages 16 and 17: Courtesy of the Uganda Wildlife Authority