The little-known but very accessible Lake Basotu lies about 40km northwest of Katesh, and is reached via a scenic road that ascends the Rift Valley scarp north of Mount Hanang and Lake Balangida before passing through grassy highlands populated by Barabaig and Bulu pastoralists. Lake Basotu is a lovely, atmospheric spot, fringed by stands of papyrus and tall yellow fever trees, with Hanang towering on the eastern horizon. Large numbers of hippo are resident in the shallows, and troops of vervet monkey commandeer the wooded shore. The birdlife is fabulous, too, particularly on the far eastern shore, where a ghostly forest of waterlogged trunks supports a seasonal breeding colony of reed cormorant, pink-backed pelican and black-headed, grey and squacco herons.
The aforementioned heronry can be explored on foot at the point at where the road from Katesh first skirts the eastern shore of the lake. This is also a favourite watering spot for traditionally attired Barabaig, Bulu and Maasai, who march their cattle here from miles around. Directly opposite this stretch of shore, only 50m from the road, but invisible until you stand on the wooded rim, is a small green crater lake with waters too saline to support any fish. The cattle herders who congregate here don’t see many tourists and, based on our experience, are likely to be more than willing to show you the lake – ask for it by the Barabaig name of Gida Monyot (Salt Lake). Assuming you have a fair grasp of Swahili, you might also want to enquire about the folklore surrounding the lake. It is said that the local Barabaig used to throw their dead into it, because it is so deep, and also that when a woman had sexual intercourse outside of marriage, she would undress and wade into the lake up to her shoulders to cleanse her of wrongdoing.
After reaching the eastern part of Lake Basotu, the road from Katesh continues roughly parallel to the shore for about 3km before reaching the town of Basotu, which sprawls across a pretty peninsula on the southern shore of the lake. Today a sleepy and unexpectedly traditionalist small fishing town, though somewhat more bustling on Monday, the main market day, Basotu was the scene of the decisive battle in the German campaign to coerce the resistant Barabaig into their colony before World War One. The German garrisons at Singida and Mbulu marched into Barabaig territory, converging on Basotu, where after a short battle, they hanged 12 leading elders and the most revered of the Barabaig medicine men, leaving the bodies dangling from the scaffold to discourage future resistance.
Whether in a private vehicle or on public transport, it is perfectly feasible to visit Basotu as a self-standing day trip out of Katesh. The drive takes about 60-90 minutes, following the Singida road for a few kilometres out of Katesh, then turning right at the first major intersection. A bus service runs between Katesh and Haidom (about 50km past Basotu) daily except for Sundays. This leaves from Katesh in the early morning, passes through Basotu two or three hours later, then passes through again in the early- to mid-afternoon on the return trip, allowing one a good four or five hours to explore the area. Details of approaching the lake from the north – or leaving it in that direction – are included under the page Between Katesh and Karatu.
Should you choose to overnight in Basotu, the basic but adequate Saria Guesthouse, charging around US$2 for a double room using common bucket showers, is about the sum of your options. A couple of local restaurants serve fresh fish from the lake and other local staples.
(c) Philip Briggs, 2009