48 – A slow train to Uganda

Railway route - kongwa2london.comMy father was again transferred, this time to Uganda, some 900 miles inland. I could look forward to visiting a new country and again a new school, in my case, my seventh.

Crates packed and sent ahead, along with our two cars, while the family with two pets in tow boarded the Lunatic Express. The name came from the cost in lives and money in building the railway.

First, the train headed towards Nairobi, crossing Tsavo River, where infamously two man-eating lions picked off many Indian railway workers. Hunters were employed to kill them by placing bait at the entrance to a ‘sleeping compartment’, unfortunately the hunters ‘fell asleep’ and one was dragged off. The notorious carriage can be seen at Nairobi Railway Station.

Two first class compartments were reserved for us (lion-proof I hoped), while our servants travelled second class. Two engines were assigned for the 9,000-feet-plus climb from sea level to the Kenyan Highlands.

The route took us through Nairobi, past Naivasha and then Nakuru (famous for its salt lake and flamingos). We could see Mount Kenya (17,057 feet) to the north-east of the line as we crossed the Rift Valley.

The train stopped often and we took turns in walking the dog by the side of the track. As the stops were in the middle of the bush, we did feel rather vulnerable. When the train started to move, we had to clamber quickly up the steps to avoid being stranded. I can imagine hearing the song: ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ after dining on one little boy and as an hors-d’oeuvre, a small pet in a ‘doggie bag’ to take away, ‘wimoweh, wimoweh’.

At Nakuru, the line divided one branch to Kisumu and Lake Victoria, the other branch towards Eldoret. This latter route enabled us to traverse the equator several times before reaching an altitude of around 9,000 feet.

Jinja Bridge - Photo EAR&HOn our right, straddling the border between Kenya and Uganda was Mount Elgon (14,176 feet), an extinct volcano. This could be an ominous warning of eruptions to come.  We crossed the White Nile at Owen Falls, next to the port of Jinja on Lake Victoria. After a few more miles, we finally reached Kampala, Uganda’s capital.

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