Welcome to Bollywood!

Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
Trip End Aug 08, 2005

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Flag of India  ,
Sunday, September 28, 2003

Yes, we are in India and don't we know it! Everybody said it would be intense but the past few days have been unbelievable. Firstly, back to Cape Town. After staying there for over three weeks we said 'goodbye' to our friendly, quiet, hostel which had become our 'home' and hired a car to take us to Johannesburg via a few South African sights. Initially we decided to hire the car for a few days as it worked out to be the cheapest method of transport but, well we extended it and blew our budget a bit. Too late now though! We drove along the famed 'Garden Route' stopping at a couple of the 'must see' beautiful bays and beaches. Overall the scenery was pretty nice where the forested mountains drop dramatically to meet the sea and where an old steam train follows a track right on the edge of the coast. However, tourism has really set in big time and the once beautiful bays are now full of new B&Bs, cafes and tourist hotels, but at least the surfers were entertaining. We stayed a night at a horse ranch where the next day we coaxed two stubborn horses through forest tracks. This was Sian's first time ever on a horse and only Kev's second so we must have been an amusing sight. Kev's horse grabbed every opportunity to stop for a bite to eat while Sian's was a little more erratic about which route to follow, some of which were definitely not wide enough for them both to avoid the branches with Sian letting out random yelps. Back on the road with purple bruised knees, and after a few more stops at quaint little towns along the coast, we reached Port Elizabeth and a wonderful hostel set amongst the rich suburbs. It was here that we found out about a Lion Park that allows visitors to hug captive bred lion cubs. It was a must for Sian who had waited patiently to see cubs in the wild, which just hadn't happened. So, joined by two German girls who felt the same, off we went. The park itself was fascinating, being able to get so close to lions of all ages really brought home how beautiful and powerful they are, but we're still not sure about the ethics of captive breeding animals such as these, and the adults there seemed a little frustrated in their enclosures. Meeting the cubs was very special. One in particular really captured our attention. White lions (not albino) are very rare and although part of Northern African mythology, were only ever found in the wild in one part of South Africa. The lion park had a white lion cub, as white as snow with blue eyes, they had called him 'Mr. Whitey'. He was about six weeks old, very playful but also very sleepy, Sian was in heaven as it snuggled on her lap suckling her thumb. The other cubs were gorgeous too but a couple of weeks older and much more boisterous. There were also three cubs which were only two weeks old, too young to handle but tiny and unbelievably cute!

From Port Elizabeth we set off to discover the 'Wild Coast', an area apparently undisturbed by tourism and full of natural beauty, but having seen so many beautiful beaches in Africa already it didn't make that big an impression. So, we left early and headed into the Drakensberg mountains. The hostel we chose was at the foot of the 'Sani Pass', the only road into the mountainous country of Lesotho from the East. The road was quite rough, even to the hostel, so we trekked for a few hours to take in the dramatic mountain scenery and Eucalyptus forests before driving further North to the Drakensberg Amphitheatre, an array of peaks that form a massive horseshoe shaped enclosure where even the views from the hostel were fantastic.

Next we drove through the rolling plains of Kwazulu Natal and into dreaded Johannesburg. Taking care not to get lost, it wasn't that bad, for all the hype it gets we found our way around easily enough and although we camped in the garden of a hostel that was securely locked at night, it was perfectly fine. We arranged our Indian visas and flights and as we had 5 days before they were processed we decided to head off towards Kruger National Park for a few days, our last NP before leaving Africa. We passed through a fascinating former gold mining town called Pilgrim's Rest and visited 'Bourke's Potholes' where two rivers meet and the swirling water combine with rock particles to create strange rock formations. We also visited 'Gods Window', where spectacular views of the Blyde river canyon can be seen, but unfortunately, not by us as the clouds rolled in and the weather turned pretty miserable as soon as we gained altitude, visibility was cut to a few metres.

We stayed a night in Phalaborwa, a small town on the edge of Kruger so that we could get into the park early the next day (6:30 am). The morning's game drive along the perfect tarmac roads (not the norm for game parks) was pretty uneventful with only a few elephants, giraffe and zebra about but the weather was a little wet and windy - not the best for game viewing. Later on, some young hyenas wandered onto the road and mischievously tried to chew the bumper off the car in front. Then the rain arrived again but that didn't stop two lions from tucking into a new kill near a watering hole. We camped that night in the park and set off early again on dirt track roads heading further East near the border with Mozambique. It was on this road that we found a pride of 5 lions lazing in the early morning sun, the most lions that we had ever seen. Along with a few other cars, we watched them for a while before a couple of younger lionesses approached the roadside and started digging into a drainage tunnel which ran under the road. More of the lions took an interest as they investigated the commotion and it became obvious that an animal was trapped in the tunnel. Slowly, one by one about 12 lions appeared from nowhere, howling through the tunnel as they dug frantically but just couldn't squeeze themselves in. The big male took a disliking to a Mercedes car parked just a little too close by and proceeded to chew the edge of the boot! Once the lions had lost interest in whatever was in the tunnel they retreated back into the bush, out of sight and then suddenly they began to howl which echoed loudly around us, the most amazing sound ever! We set off again and soon came across a (not so elusive anymore) leopard sitting in a distant tree with a new kill. We saw more elephant, deer, buffalo and giraffe and cautiously passed a troop of baboons walking along the road, one carrying the body of a long dead baby. Just before sunset we found two lionesses with cubs sitting in the long grass amazingly close to the road. Sian was so pleased that we had seen cubs in the wild that after another night camping in the park we returned early the next morning for a better view. Unfortunately they soon attracted so much interest, with around 15 cars parked at all angles vying for a better view, that the lioness backed off leaving the cubs alone and squawking. Thankfully though she soon returned to pick the cubs up by the scruff of their neck and take them further into the bush. We then headed into the far South of the park, searching for Rhino. The landscape became really dry and rocky with few animals to see. This year has been particularly dry and most of the water holes and rivers have dried up leaving the animals with little vegetation or drinking water. It is due to this that we had our best sighting. As the sun was setting and we headed towards one of the park exits we visited just one last watering hole, which seemed almost empty, when suddenly, from nowhere, a leopard casually wandered over, lay down for a drink, then got up and disappeared again. We were all alone watching him and it was such an amazing sight and so rare. Even as we drove out of the park we continued to spot animals lit by the glow of the last rays of sun and made our memories of Kruger really special. We stayed the night in a town called Hazyview, where a couple had just set up a new backpackers hostel. The guy is a park ranger and runs courses in game ranging and anti-poaching with an almost guaranteed job at the end of it. We were so tempted to sign up for one but India was calling and we were a bit 'Africa'd out' by then. You never know though, we may return because working on an animal conservation and anti poaching unit really appeals!

Back in Johannesburg we picked up our Indian visas with no problems at all and spent a few days relaxing before heading for the airport on the morning of Sunday 21st September. As we reached the back of the massive queue for checking in, we knew that the flight would be crowded, we then found out that it was overbooked by 80 people and it took two hours to check in, luckily we were among the last to squeeze on. The Kenya airways flight actually left twenty minutes later, three hours later we arrived in Nairobi airport, a grotty place, very grubby and rundown with power cuts every ten minutes and boarding announcements called by staff rushing into the sweltering, packed canteen and just shouting half remember calls for flights. A brief welcome back to Africa! We were unsurprised when after a six hour flight and at 5am in Mumbai airport, we found that our bags had not made the flight.

As we left the airport and walked out into the hot (yes, hot at 6am) and humid air, jumped into an old Austin A60 style taxi, India suddenly hit us. The taxi ride was frantic as our driver cut in and out between lumbering old lorries and London style busses, past rickshaws and the occasional cow with everyone beeping horns like it really made a difference. We passed the Sheraton hotel on one side and at the other a multitude of two storey tin shacks lined the side of the road where in the early morning light people were emerging from sleep, from the 2 foot deep second storey, they climbed down a rickety ladder straight onto the road - washing, brushing teeth and dressing in the filthy overcrowded streets. Even at that time in the morning Mumbai was one heaving, stinking, noisy and hellishly hectic city. We headed into Colaba, Mumbai's 'tourist centre', where the first couple of hotels we checked out seemed to double up as shelter for the homeless. We eventually found a nice enough place, clean and at a decent rate (as Mumbai's accommodation price can easily rival any western city) and crashed out. We woke up 12 hours later and grudgingly went in search of food. Our meal that night was excellent, real Indian cuisine in a simple café-restaurant, for about two pounds. When we returned our hotel guy asked us if we'd like to appear as extras on the set of a Bollywood (India's Hollywood) film. We readily accepted as it would be a great introduction to India and early the next morning we jumped onto a bus with a few other westerners bound for the city's film studios. We were given costumes for the parts, Kev in a suit and Sian in an Indian style dress, and positioned as guests at a party, drinking, dancing, clapping and generally making fools out of ourselves during one of the films big song and dance routines.

Apparently the big names of the film (Kal Ho Naa Ho) are major Indian movie stars (Shuruk Khan and Priety Zinta) and appearing in the film was a major privilege. Imagine our horror when we discovered it'll be released in the U.K. too! The grand, colourful set and the filming was fascinating to watch and all the colourful dancers and the performances were really impressive. It was however, a really long day with loads of rehearsals, takes and just sitting around waiting. We were well fed and watered and even got paid a whole 500 rupees each (around $10) for the day which was hilarious. The Iranian couple who arranged it all then helped us to get back to the airport (by vastly overcrowded train and rickshaw) where we were finally reunited with our bags and about $50 compensation each which wasn't bad at all for a 24 hour delay.

Mumbai itself is reasonably westernized but really intense. Everywhere there are people trying to attract your attention to sell you everything from balloons and drums to silk and incense. The people are mostly friendly and genuine and there are many beggars and street children but only the kids persistently hassle you for money and they all have a story to tell. We have been sightseeing at a leisurely pace, mainly to silk and silver markets, art galleries and just wandering past the many old British colonial buildings, crumbling and stained from the constant traffic. The Gateway to India is not far away, where the recent bomb blast hit but everything seems normal enough, for what we expect of India anyway. There is so much to see in the country that it has confused our original plans a bit, but there's no real hurry!

Anyway that's enough for now. We've been away a year already and can hardly believe it! Hope you are all well and happy,

Take care,

K & S.
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bombay_guide on

Mumbai ..
Is my native place.


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