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Kitigata - The Place of God

Kitigata - The Place of God
 
 

IN MANY cultures hot springs are considered to be therapeutic. People travel from far and wide to seek healing at these pools. Little did I know this existed in Uganda.

Lake near Kitigata
Lake near Kitigata

Having left the Rift Valley about an hour ago, the mountainous terrain here in remote Western Uganda began to even out. I don’t think the summits of the hills were getting any lower. Rather the valleys were higher as we were nearing the main dividing range running down the middle of the African continent separating Uganda from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

By now the banana plantations and subsistence farms were giving way to large tea plantations over the now rolling hills. The forests abated.

Then we crossed a saddle and started descending into a large and deep valley passing through banana plantations. At the bottom of the valley we reached a small very run down town with a dirt road running through the middle of it. We passed through the town before turning off along a narrow dirt road for a couple of minutes.

Tea fields near Kitigata
Tea fields near Kitigata

We suddenly turned off and drove up a rough driveway. A small sign stated the words “Kitigata”, and “The Place of God”. The word Kitigata in the local language means "warmth". We drove up the driveway and parked beside a rather run down toilet cubicle. Yuck.

My guide Travis introduced us to a local guide who will take us for a short tour. I could smell a distinctive sulphur aroma in the still cool morning air. A short walk along a trail through long grass revealed why.

We walked a short distance along the trail until reaching a pool of water with steam rising from it. About thirty almost naked people were sitting in the hot spring water and a few more were sitting around its edge. They all looked at us with their bright white eyes open wide against their very dark skin. Being the middle of the week I was surprised there were so many people here in this remote pool out in the middle of nowhere.

Amongst the people in the hot pool, there were a lot of elderly folk nursing their arthritis and other aches and pains. There were quite a few children and a number of adults as well. Every person had some kind of ailment.

The locals consider these springs to be like a referral hospital. The area is dotted with small houses hidden in the forest/ Some of these were grass thatched and others roofed with corrugated iron. These are available for the locals to hire for between one hundred and three hundred shillings per night.

Foreigners' Pool
Foreigners' Pool

On the far side was a pool for foreigners which we naturally congregated towards. Now we didn’t have time for a swim, but the local guide showed us a couple of gaps in the rock where the water was welling up, and letting off some steam. It was about eighty degrees but when mixed in with a local creek it cooled to about thirty five degrees – a very comfortable temperature.

I took a few pictures of the foreigners pool, but was forbidden to photograph the main pool, and certainly forbidden to photograph the people sitting in or around the pool. The pool was mostly surrounded by bare rocky outcrop. I imagined it would have normally had vegetation on it but because it was used so much all the vegetation and soil had been stripped off. There was a plank of wood in the middle for people to sit in. The other side of the pool was grassed and I could see the pool draining into a wide swampy stream running into the nearby forest.

The water was a bluish grey colour and the rocks were a dirty brown. I couldn’t recognise the rocks though, but would have obviously been part of the continental bedrock.

The local guide filled a cup of the hot water and gave it to us to drink. It was just like drinking hot water at home apart from tasting slightly salty.

80 degree water bubbling out of the ground
80 degree water bubbling out of the ground

The hot springs were discovered in 1904 by a local hunter. Early one morning he set off from his remote campsite to hunt in an area that he had never explored before. Shortly after leaving his camp he could see saw steam rising through the trees ahead of him. He assumed this was a camp fire, so he decided to investigate it and to introduce himself to whoever else would be hunting in this remote valley. Upon reaching the source of the stream he realised there was nobody there, but instead it was steam coming from water oozing from the ground.

Nowadays it is not so remote, with a road now passing through the valley. The hot spring is very well known now, so there is a bus coming here from Kampala every day, and other transport vehicles coming from other parts of the country. Some eight hundred patients use the pool every week having come from all over the country. They believe the water can cure all ailments such as skin rashes, fever, chest pains, cancers, wounds, and many other conditions that conventional medicine cannot cure. There are many claims that the springs can also cure what can otherwise not be cured.

Our guide explained the patients come here to the pool twice a day to drink and to bathe. Patients take their turn to lie in the hot water for treatment. They come for four hours in the morning and for up to seven hours in the evening. The morning session is shorter because the hot water becomes uncomfortable to bathe in when the sun gets hot towards the middle of the day. The evening session often goes to the small hours of the morning. In between bathing each patient returns to their private hut to rest.

People with ailments dip the affected part of the body in the water. If the problem is in the stomach, they draw water directly from the spring, let it cool a little, and then drink it. The water coming out of the ground is almost a hundred degrees, but most of the pool is around thirty to forty degrees.

There are rules of orderliness and hygiene that the local leaders have put in place. People are not allowed to smoke, make noise, fight, or use soap, and children have to wear nappies in the pool.

The patients can buy food at one of the local makeshift stalls paying about 500 shillings for a plate of beans and matooke. The locals are making a reasonable income from it, though much of their income comes from curious tourists such as myself.

Hot springs draining away into the forest
Hot springs draining away into the forest

The locals come here for healing. They believe the water has spiritual healing powers; hence the sign out the front on the main road saying this is the place of God. I figured this was linked to their religion, but didn’t know whether they were Christian, Muslim, or Animistic. That didn’t matter. What mattered was they sought healing at this pool.

Some of the wise folk here say that it is not the water itself that heals, but it is the faith that the water heals is what really cures. In most cultures around the world it is common knowledge that belief in your own healing is a stronger cure than any form of medicine. In many cases the medicine simply serves to help their faith in their cure.

The springs do contain minerals with curative properties. Examples include sodium chloride, potassium chloride, lithium sulphate, calcium sulphate, calcium phosphate and magnesium chloride. The calcium in particular helps with the healing.

Apart from that there is no scientific basis for the hot water to be the cure for whatever ailment they are suffering from, but that doesn’t matter. The people who come here have the faith they are going to be healed, and in the quietness of the hot springs nestled in the forest, their ailments are cured.

Although it is scientifically known that tectonic forces and local fault lines have created the springs, the locals disregard this saying that God has sent his holy water here to cure his people. The locals are unaware of any other hot springs in Uganda, so they consider this the one place where they can receive their healing. They do not care about the geology or chemistry here, just that they know the water here heals.

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24 August 2011

 

Kitigata

Uganda

 

0°40'21"S
30°09'19"E
1130m ASL

 

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