Top of the Falls, Murchison Falls National Park
There is an inevitability about the constant flow of the River Nile that I find quite overwhelming.
I find myself imagining the distance this water has travelled. Day and night, night and day, for tens of thousands of years, billions of gallons of water have raced through Murchison Falls en route to the Mediterranean. Kingdoms have risen and fallen, we live, we die, but still the water keeps coming. Imagine if the Nile had a memory: what stories would it tell us!
There are several vantage points at the top of Murchison Falls, arguably the biggest draw to the National Park. To the right of the drop-off point, there is a glimpse upstream of where the River Nile is half a kilometre wide. See the staggering speed of the water, racing towards a gap in the rocks that is just seven metres wide. The water flows ferociously fast. It is breath-taking.
I stand at the edge of this incredible feat of nature, trying – but failing – to comprehend its total and utter awesomeness. Oh, how microscopic and unimportant I feel with my little camera!
Thousands of people have taken photographs of the Top of the Falls so I can’t pretend I can improve on others’ incredible shots. The truth is, you cannot possibly capture the essence of Murchison Falls with a camera. You need to visit.
You need to see it with your own eyes.
You need to smell the river, feel its thundering power beneath your feet, listen to its roar, let the spray touch your body…
The water mesmerises me. Its power is so compelling. I feel its draw as I stand by the railings above the Devil’s Cauldron, the point where the River Nile plummets, crashes and explodes down a 43 metre drop.
It’s both exciting and scary.
How small I am. Stand in the wrong place and certain death is instant. I would be swept away in a second; indeed, more than one person has chosen to end their life at Murchison Falls. The river’s huge Nile crocodiles (some measuring an astonishing four or five metres long) are unlikely to mean a body is recovered either. There is a strong link between waterfalls and death in Uganda: certain waterfalls in the south west are historically associated with some macabre practices, like the forced ‘damping’ (dumping or drowning) of young women who were perceived to have broken the strict moral codes of the day.
I record a short video clip. As much as I am recording, I’m watching too, trying to make sense of what I am seeing, struggling to understand it. Although every scene is like every other: ‘water cascades over rock’ / ‘water shoots up into the air’ ad infinitum, it has a life of its own. Amongst the voluminous cascades and torrents are microscopic droplets that dance ghost-like in the air for a second before being consumed into a cloud of mist.
The water wears many costumes. At once dramatic and imposing, in a split second it is intriguing and dainty. I see magic everywhere.
I suddenly feel a gust of wind. I am safely behind the railing but I feel the wind catch me. Is it blowing me away from the water or pulling me towards it? Is it my imagination playing tricks on me? I take a few steps backwards. I’m so lost in watching the movement of the water from the safety of my camera screen that I’m wary of the water tricking me. (See what personality I have given it)? It may only be water but I feel it has a life of its own. It makes me nervous.
The moment is a reminder to put the camera down. You can’t beat the full-frontal vision of Murchison Falls and I cherish the sensation of the river’s spray dancing over my face and bare legs.
“The water level has dropped,” Evelyn tells me. “Before, you would get completely soaked standing here” she says, as we pose for photographs next to the safety rails on the small outcrop of rock above the Devil’s Cauldron.
Sadly, we don’t have time today to walk down to the Bottom of Murchison Falls. It’s a steep walk, on a decent path with handrails and, if you plan it well, you can catch a boat from the bottom. It is only by taking this path that you have the imposing sight of both Murchison Falls (once known as Kabalega Falls) and the lesser-known Uhuru Falls.
Tip: take the time to do this excellent walk, for if you do, you will have one photo of Murchison Falls that your friends don’t!
The muzungu’s Murchison Falls travel tips
- – I travelled to Murchison Falls with Wild Frontiers Uganda and stayed at the superb Baker’s Lodge, on the southern bank of the river, in a luxury thatched safari suite looking straight onto the Nile. Highly recommended! We ate every scrumptious meal outside and I even had a dip in the swimming pool. (No extra charge for the soothing sound of hippos munching outside your cottage as you fall asleep!)
- – The scum on the surface of the water is created by the turbulent Falls and is composed of organic matter (rotting fish and hippo, to be exact!)
- – The walk from the Top to the Bottom of the Falls (and back up) costs and takes one to 1 to 1 ½ hours. It costs $15 / $10 / 10,000 UGX (tourists / foreign residents / EAC citizens).
- – Wild Frontiers and Uganda Wildlife Authority both run boat trips up and down the River Nile. I took the Wild Frontiers boat cruise to the Bottom of the Falls “possibly the world’s most “powerful” waterfall in terms of the force of water ejected from the Falls itself.”
- – Baker’s Lodge pays homage to Sir Samuel Baker who renamed the Falls after Sir Roderick Murchison, president of the Royal Geographical Society. (He also renamed Lake Mwitanzige to Lake Albert, in honour of Queen Victoria’s ‘consort’ Albert). The Sir Samuel and Lady Florence Baker Historical Trail runs 805 km (500 km) through the African bush, and recalls the 1864 route from South Sudan into Murchison Falls National Park. The Trail features on National Geographic’s World’s Best Hikes: 20 Dream Trails.
- – On our second day, we embarked on the Delta cruise with Wild Frontiers’ excellent guides Milton and Dan. They located not one but three rare Shoebills!
- – Wild Frontiers are the only company to offer a private Bush Breakfast on the northern bank of the Nile. The best way to experience this is by first taking the early morning Delta cruise. After breakfast, you can circle back to the lodge via a game drive through the park. The muzungu has enjoyed 😊