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Buhanga Sacred Forest Walk in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
Covering 31ha of land, the Buhanga Sacred Forest is one of the magical Rwanda Safari sites that border Volcanoes National Park. Buhanga Sacred Forest is located in the village of Nyakinama about 8km to the west of Musaze town and its profoundness is not about its beautiful flora but the cultural tradition associated with it.
Buhanga is a Kinyarwanda word that literally translates to creation and the belief has it that the creation of Rwanda started from this point. The first King of Rwanda named Gihanga is noted to have based from this place to form the Kingdom of Rwanda. As a result, all the Kings of Rwanda before the collapse of the monarchy used to perform rituals in this forest which made it a sacred ground and feared among the locals.
The sacred touch of this forest has made it to remain intact even when the destination Rwanda is experiencing high levels of land fragmentation and scarcity. Buhanga Forest is apparently dominated by counts of drago and ficus trees that come together to generate very lush canopy where Rwanda Safari undertakers find a tranquil environment to walk under. The guided forest walk in Buhanga is conducted on walkways which are made up of lava stones.
The forest features a cave where the coronation ceremonies of the Rwandan Kings used to take place. It is an amazing place and central to the traditional Rwandan customs since the Kings of Rwanda would transfer from the southern areas of Nyanza and Butare to come to Buhanga for coronation. The forest also features another cave where the Kings would take a bath for cleansing before being declared Kings (Umwami).
Following this compulsory ritual bath, the King would be smeared with regal oil after which he would be taken to the lava rock that used to serve as conference podium to receive the instruments of power presided over by the Advisory council of the Kingdom, elders, clan leaders and the royal sorcerers. The belief is that the King secured considerable blessings from this place and the Protection of the Kingdom by the gods.
Buhanga forest also has a magnificent spring of natural water called Gihanda that is named after first King of Rwandan Monarchy. It is noted that the waters which are used for the ritual bath come from this spring. According to the legend, a local chief once ordered his men to drain the mentioned spring but by evening, it was already flowing again. The next day, the chief’s home was surrounded by big snakes for seven (7) days and quit after the death of the chief along with his whole family.
The Buhanga forest walk exposes one to the remarkable trees such as the Inyabutatu ya Rwanda literally translated as Unity Tree which appears as if there are three trees in one. The local belief has it that, the tree represents the three tribal groups of Rwanda namely; the Tutsi, Hutu and Twa. Other trees some of which close to 300 years old are Umusando, Igihondohondo and Ibigabiro. The Buhanga Sacred walk also exposes one to over 150 species of birds. The Buhanga Sacred Forest walk costs $40 and is conducted between 8am to 6pm.
Dian Fossey Site Hike as a Rwanda Safari activity in Volcanoes National Park
Dian Fossey was a famous American Primatologist who is credited for having undertaken extensive studies of Mountain Gorillas in the Virunga massif especially Volcanoes National Park which enhanced their conservation efforts. She established her research station at Karisoke in the saddle between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke in the year 1967 and conducted extensive Mountain Gorilla studies including habituation until her unclear demise in the year 1985.
However, her cause continued and today, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund which was named in her commemoration does the same role in the Volcanoes National Park. Though the research station was shifted from Karisoke to Musaze, the tomb of Dian Fossey and her favourite Silverback Digit remained at the site and travellers on Rwanda Gorilla Safaris take up the hike to this site to pay tribute and commemorate Dian Fossey works.
The Dian Fossey hike commences at Kinigi Park station at 7am and lasts about 4 hours involving traversing the relatively steep landscapes of the Virunga Volcanoes since the site stands at an altitude of around 3000m (over 9000 ft). The Tomb of Dian Fossey bears a headstone with the following words; “No one loved gorillas more Rest in peace, dear friend Eternally protected In this sacred ground For you are home Where you belong”
Taking up the Dian Fossey hike while on safari in Rwanda can be seen as an ethical cause to commemorate the foundation of the Mountain Gorilla Conservation known to be critically endangered world over.