Sunday, 25 March 2012

Intrigued by Moroto/Karamoja

The landscape is covered with different hues of brown dry grass, patches of soil, and black from the rocks and the charred remains of burnt vegetation. But there is a haunting beauty in the landscape.

A kind curious appeal in the rocky outcrops and hills that seem to hem in the road just after leaving Mbale, through the grassy expanse of Nakapiripirit, all the way to Moroto. It may not be the landscape one can describe as picturesque or rolling, but for what it lacks in vigour, it makes up in its apparent longevity. The hills are barely disturbed probably since the molten lava that formed them set Sometimes, the countryside looks like the setting of an apocalypse film. And just like all nature, if you look close enough, you will see some surprises you would not ordinarily notice with just an all sweeping glance. A waterfall in the rock face far off in the distance, a rocky hill that looks like an 18th century fort. Wild flowers in full bloom, their bright pink a shock among the dry grass and acacia.

The monotony of the landscape is often broken with an authentic Ikarimojong village, countless dry riverbeds, karamojong grazing their goats or walking, probably from one village to another. Our driver has to hoot repeatedly before the shrouded stick carrying men leaves the middle of the road where they tend to walk. They scamper and stop for a minute or two for the car to pass before resuming walking.
From the window seat, the Karamoja savannah is not much for wildlife, (I only see a lone baboon, a few small deer and some startled guinea fowl) but there is a Pian game reserve, meaning an interested, traveller who isn’t in a hurry might have more luck there.

The trees are dry or blackened from what I later learn is an attempt by the warriors at making sure the cycle of life continues. They burn the dry vegetation so new grass and shrubs can grow for their cattle. It explains all the blackened patches that I had previously assumed were as a result of wildfire and makes me look closer. In some areas, there are signs of new grass while in the more recent burnt areas, you will see a still smoking tree trunk.

Exploring the town

All hopes and expectations are lost in the empty stretches that bear no sign of life let alone human habitation. But the lights of the town clustered at the foot of the dark figure that is Mt Moroto gives one renewed hope. Moroto the town itself is an oasis of modernity as far as Karamoja is concerned. From the tarmac road that starts as abruptly, a few metres before the first shop in the town, to the well finished business premises that line the main street on either side. Everything is a stone’s throw away from each other. The two nightclubs, the guesthouses, the eating places, and shops.

Mt Moroto big and imposing looks down on this little town that probably hosts the largest number of NGO’s any single town in Uganda has. The signs of the NGO presence are many, from the large four wheel drive cars parked along the main street to the over a dozen signs scattered around the town announcing various organisations and their locations. Independence Street which runs at the base of the mountain looks like the designated NGO district with as many as a dozen sign posts at its head. A Kanjokya or Bukoto street of sorts. On Kitale road is the bustling ever busy Kamuswahili, where I learn most of the town dwellers live. It also happens to be a better place to have business and as a waiter intimates, if you cannot get an item in the shops, try Kamuswahili. There are pretty decent places to stay just around the town and even if the menu of the two eating places is not wide or varied, the waiters are quite happy to prepare special orders(nothing fancy though) if you pay early and have patience. The little town may be a long way from the city, and the trappings of modernity, but it is not as bad as many would have you believe. For me seeing Karamojong in full regalia, placidly going about their business and the sight of the sun rising over mount Moroto made the trip worth it.

When to Go
Accessible year round. Dry Season, June – August. Wet Season November – December, March – February.

You can experience the fascinating combination of natural beauty and cultural heritage through contacting;
Eco Culture Tours and Adventures

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