Through the streams in the Kidepo valley, dotted with palms and whistling acacia thorns, stands Kanangorok hot springs, a place where Mother Nature waved her magical wand and created one of the most natural of all wonders, natural hot mineral water. DAUDI NANA visited this magnificent work of nature and brings you the story.
Those who have visited Kidepo Valley National Game Park in Karamoja agree that the Kanangorok hot springs and their extra-ordinary features shape the park’s outstanding beauty.
The main highlight of Hot Springs perhaps is the benefits that come with the natural hot mineral spring water. Those who immerse themselves in Kidepo’s hot springs testify that it has remarkable healing properties, which enter the body in a way similar to how a transdermal patch releases medicine.
Many a tourist will tell you about the elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, antelopes, leopards, jackals, bush bucks, and bush pigs, among other animals in the park. But maybe there is something more than that, and that is the Kanangorok hot springs.
A hot spring is formed when water is heated in the earth’s bowels and emerges from the earth’s crust.
According to the conservation area warden Johnson Masereka, the water is heated deep within the earth and comes out as crystal clear carbonated water famous for its mineral content and legendary healing powers.
Masereka says the Kanangorok hot springs, that flow between rocks, over-look expansive grassy plains dotted with big rocky outcrops and flanked by steep-jagged mountains with the summit ridges of Napore range, Taan and Natera hills, part of Nyangea, Morongole and Zuulia forest reserves.
Phillip Akorony, a guide at the hot springs, says Kanangorok is one of unique gifts of nature that makes Kidepo Valley National Park a must-visit destination for tourists. He explains that owing to the belief in their healing powers, the hot springs are an attraction to tourists and natives who bathe in the warm water believed to cure some skin diseases.
However, despite hosting this treasure, there is no road or clear path leading to the hot springs. One has to maneuver through scattered thorny trees along narrow footpaths subdued by overgrown grass and shrubs that scratch and pierce one’s body as they advance.
A hundred metres away from the hot springs lie two rocks that look like rivals meeting for a confrontation.
At this point, the hot springs are visible. Being shallow, one gets a magnificent view of the clean rocks. Right in the middle of the water lies the spot hot enough to boil food.
The hottest spot is about three metres in length but it is not clearly visible as it has been covered by rocks and vegetation due to years of neglect.
Kidepo valley scenic drive
Though wildlife is scarce in the arid Kidepo valley, the two hour-long drive to Kanangorok Hot Springs makes you go through some magnificent landscapes.
North of Apoka, beyond the river crossing, the road passes between rock outcrops and hills before descending into the Kidepo Valley, crossing the Kidepo Sand River and traversing open plains that extend past Kanangorok Hot Springs towards mountains across the Sudanese border. This is the part of the park where ostriches are most commonly seen.
On arrival to the site, one will notice dead cockroaches and other insects floating on the hot waters. This is the point believed to possess healing powers.
But there is a lot of smell of Sulphur all over and when we bend to touch the waters, the smell of Sulphur remains in our hands. Many people allegedly bathe in the waters at this point.
Kanangorok hot springs reportedly has a temperature of about 60°C and a flow rate of 1 l/s. It is rocky all around and the surface geology indicates that the springs issue from alluvial and pediment gravel material at the base of Mt Murungole and is crossed by rivers Kidepo and Narus.
Geologists believe there could be travertine deposits, and sulphurous algae and hydrogen sulphide.
“We intended to open up this place and build around it but the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development said it would develop this place to get economic value from this treasure,” Masereka says.
For most of the year, a lack of surface water means that little wildlife is found in Kidepo valley, though it is still worth the drive to visit the dry Kidepo River to stroll along its 50m wide bed of white sand between banks covered with borassus palms.
According to Mr Akorony, Kidepo comes from a Karimojong word “Kidep”, which means “to pick from below”. It was named by people coming to gather fallen borassus fruit below the valley for fermenting to make palm beer.
The Kanangorok hot springs lie 11km beyond the Kidepo River on the Sudan border and this is a glorious place to sit and view the mountains beyond the frontier.
Local legend has it that it was named after Longorok, a young man assigned by a Sudanese traditional king to carry water in a gourd from Kochetut to Lotukei village in Southern Sudan. This was meant to appease the gods to let the rains pour in Sudan after a long period of drought .
“But on reaching this spot, clouds gathered and it rained heavily. Lightning struck, blinding Longorok, who later died. It is believed his blood and water mixed and then begun boiling and coming out of the rock that was later named Kanangorok,” narrates Phillip Akorony, a guide at the hot springs.
There are breathtaking views of panoramic hills and valleys and serene green vegetation as you approach Kanangorok Hot Springs.
On reaching the site, especially in the evenings, one wonders whether it is a market, for there is an immense crowd of humanity congregated here.
But the half-naked people sitting on rocks as they enjoy the natural warm water are here to relish one of Uganda’s gifts of nature. This place attracts over hundreds of people daily.
Many stories have been told about Kanangorok Hot Springs, but the most popular belief is that it has healing powers.
The hot springs also attract tourists, drawing many to experience the natural phenomenon of a hot spring.
Apoka Safari Lodge in the heart of Kidepo Valley National Game Park boasts of hand-made architecture by local craftsmen. It comprises 10 self-contained bandas.
The manager, Mr Oscar Rodrievez, takes pride in the swimming pool at the lodge, describing it as “deep and cool – carved out of the big rock. The kind of pool that makes you want to jump in, splashing and yelling, feeling like a child again.”