In February 2018, I participated in a thrilling canoeing tour along the meandering course of Mukungwa River. While indulging in this thrilling excursion, I was awestruck by the beauty of the river and its surrounding landscapes. This experience made me eager to learn more about the river and the genesis of its formation.
Two years later, I visited Lake Ruhondo and spent a night at My Hill Ecolodge built on the Musanze side of the lake. Upon arrival, I was astonished by the view of all the five volcanoes soaring to the clouds along the border. While having dinner on the terrace, I couldn’t stop marveling at the blurry sight of the volcanoes as darkness enveloped the sky.
I saw the lake disappearing in the gloom of the night. Lit lanterns from a fleet of fishing boats made it look like a diamond-sprinkled surface. My host informed me that there are times when the lake turns yellow. Ruhondo is a Kinyarwanda word derived from the occasional yellowish appearance of the lake.
I woke up at 5 in the morning and crossed the lake by boat. This is the craziest boat ride I have ever been part of. It was foggier than ever. Visibility was below zero. We couldn’t see anything en route to the Burera side of the same lake. My boat operator relied on his familiarity with the lake to navigate. He knows the route like the back of his hand. He can steer his vessel from point A to point B with his eyes closed.
We docked near Ntaruka hydro power plant at the foot of the hill standing between lakes Ruhondo and Burera. By then, the fog had disappeared. I saw a pipeline mounted on a sharply rising hill. This pipeline drops water from Lake Burera to her twin sister, Lake Ruhondo. Water flushed through the long tube whirls turbines, which in turn, convert kinetic energy into electricity. This structure is the only physical connection between the two lakes.
I was informed that there is a stream on the upper side of Lake Burera flowing from Rugezi swamp in the highlands of Buberuka. Before the formation of the volcanoes, this stream used to flow to the Congo basin.
The emergence of the Virunga Massif blocked its course and channeled it to the valley. The said valley eventually became Lake Burera. The stream from Rugezi still pours into Lake Burera. As a matter of fact, it is the reason the lake exists. I was tempted to trek all the way to Rugezi but time wasn’t on my side.
About a week later, I returned to the area. This time, I rode to the southern tip of Lake Ruhondo and traced the source of Mukungwa River. Here, water is pumped to Mukungwa hydro power plant through an underground channel. Farther downstream, Mukungwa pours into Nyabarongo River. Yes, this river is part of the Nile water catchment area. It contributes to the wealth of the popular Nile basin.
When the volcanoes stood on the way of one gentle stream, it changed its course and filled one basin, forming Lake Burera in the process. From Burera, its water filled a second basin and formed Lake Ruhondo. Currently, two man-made structures serve as links between the two lakes and Mukungwa River.
The stream responsible for the formation of the twin lakes and Mukungwa River has created tourist attractions and a source of livelihoods for many fishermen and farmers while generating electricity to the tune of 23.5 MW . At some point, Mukungwa joins forces with Nyabarongo, which is part of the upper headwaters of the Nile and the primary source of domestic, commercial and industrial water supply in Kigali and other parts of Rwanda.
The author is currently visiting all 30 districts of Rwanda. His tour of Musanze is sponsored by Ikaze Rwanda Tours & Travel, The Peakspot Lodge, My Hill Ecolodge, Kingfisher Journeys, Volcanoes Residence, Migano Hotel, Ndaza Escape, Beyond the Gorillas Experience (BGE) and Crema Cafe.