Welcome to Bollywood!
Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
158Trip End Aug 08, 2005
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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
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 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
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,
K & S.