THE city of Arusha, regarded as Tanzania's tourism capital, has always played a simple role of being just the gateway to attractions such as the Ngorongoro Crater, Mount Kilimanjaro and other National Parks in Northern Circuit.
The industry's players were content to let Arusha remain a place where foreign visitors buy their Safari itineraries, making the city to be at the mercy of travel seasons and backpacker tourists, who must go through the town on their way to Serengeti, Tarangire or Lake Manyara. As time goes by, however, Arusha is revealing its own natural attractions worth an air-ticket and a night or two in town.
One such latest discovery is the astounding waterfalls found in the remote section of Bangata Ward in Meru District. Waterfalls have not exactly been synonymous with tourism. In Tanzania, for instance, features like the Kidatu falls, are always described in terms of hydroelectric power production despite their tourism potential. The same case applies to Uganda's 'Owen Falls' a.k.a Nalubaale Power Station and Zambia's Kariba Dam.
Back to Arusha, where a number of tourists passing through the region have of late started to gather around the gushing jets of the waterfalls found in the remote Bang'ata village, making the area rather crowded especially on weekends. The falls attraction, which is found in Bangata Ward of Moshono Division in Meru, is mostly a favoured destination for foreign students on field studies or volunteers serving with a number of organizations here.
Besides, being located some eight kilometres from Ngulelo junction, the falls can't be very far from town. But since most volunteers usually live in such suburbs, they tend to be very much within their reach. It is not just foreigners, who favour the watery spot. Many people from Arusha City and the surrounding hamlets have discovered that the waterfalls are rather a nice destination for Saturdays and Sundays' rendezvous, picnics or just fun expeditions. According to people in the area, at first the waterfalls indeed used to be just a spot for foreign volunteers who could not afford paid game drives in the parks, but as days went by, the cascades became an important destination in their own right.
Visiting the cataracts costs nothing. All one needs is enough muscles and strong lungs to tackle the climbs in order to reach the falls. Otherwise, everything is free. No one is charged to visit the torrents ... yet! Mr Samwel Ndossi, the area's chairman, reveals that it is mostly foreign students and volunteers, who visit the waterfalls for leisure. Their interest in the feature has cultivated curiosity among the locals, who of late, have also started to visit the falls.
Precipitating from a height of 40 meters' cliff, the Bangata cataracts are a huge God-made natural shower bath. Tourists must have enjoyed taking a bath in the falls (with or without clothes). Mr Ndossi explains that the gushing jets of water land on a hard rocky plate below, which means there is no depth and the water flows freely from the base, extending through a number of fresh water springs supplying the precious liquid to the three nearby villages.
"People here take the falls for granted because they have been here since Creation. Besides, this area has other waterfalls, which are, however, a bit far away and involve steeper climbs," said the Chairman, adding that in the future the village would start charging for visits to the site.
As we went to press last weekend, latest reports were that the Arusha Urban Water Supply Authority (AUWSA) has stationed a guard at the site to prevent people from venturing into the falls ostensibly because they were an important source of water to the urban precinct. With that, therefore, anybody out for a cheap tourist site, should look elsewhere.