By: Anoop Sood
Indians are the new emerging class of “great international travelers”- large in numbers, easy spenders and moving around in hordes.
Nations vie with each other to market themselves as preferred destinations for these “great Indian tourists” and tour operators are delighted to grab the business opportunity.
Bollywood has served as an effective marketing tool. It was famous producer director Yash Chopra who first started shooting movies in Switzerland. Today movies are shot in every country, East Europe being the latest to join. And the Indians are everywhere. Switzerland, France, Austria, England, Germany, USA, Singapore, Hongkong, Dubai and Thailand are some of the hot spots. The number of outbound Indian tourists crossed 25 million last year and it is expected to touch 50 million over the next 5 years.
However, the place that has given us pleasant memories and visually stunning experience is not in these countries.Its Cape Town in South Africa, a land with a very different look, crisp air and deep blue skies. You feel it the moment you are out of flight. Its truly an amazing place with recent volatile history, Apartheid, Nelson Mandela and of course Cricket.
On map, Cape Town is practically bottom of Africa. Flights are a little cumbersome. Emirates to Dubai and after a transit halt of few hours an 11 hour flight. Alternative is to take SA airlines via Johannesburg. It’s not a very big place by Indian outlook. The first thing that hits you is the Table Mountain. Anywhere you move in this city, it’s somewhere around you.
Check into the Hotel. A warm welcome and also a word of advice “Just be careful in venturing out alone in night”. Went out in the afternoon to get a feel of the city and found that the best way to explore the city is to board the “hop on hop off buses” which have an open deck. Spent the evening at Waterfront and enjoyed the amazing sunset. It is great place full of restaurants and a night club nearby. Live Jazz bands made it a perfect day
Best part is that SA is not expensive at all. Most things cost about the same as back home. A Rand is about Rs 5. So you can spend and not bother unlike Europe.
On the following day we planned to visit a place we had read and heard right from our school days- Cape of Good Hope- the bottom of Africa where Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. The 90 km drive along the ocean is perhaps the most picturesque landscape you will see anywhere. Deep blue sky, still deeper blue Ocean, hills on one side with varied vegetation we had not seen earlier. Small fisherman’s villages now transformed into modern habitats, an island full of just seals, a park dedicated only to ostrich, frolicking penguins rolling around in sand and hiding under the rocks, a scare of Baboons which never materialized. These were spectacular sights which we had heard of but never witnessed.
At Cape of Good Hope your guide gives you a lesson.What we were taught in school is not correct and this is not the place where oceans meet. They meet at a place about 80 km to the east called Cape Agulhus. The deep blue ocean and white rocks provide ideal settings to get photographed and keep it as a memory.
Next door is something which is truly marvellous. It’s the Cape Point Mountain Nature Park. This is a mountain of rocks- a huge cliff vertically overlooking the sea. You go up by a train climbing almost vertically. The view from top is indeed out of this world. A pillar bearing directions and distance to major world capitals indicates New Delhi is 9296 km away.
On the top there is a light house built in 1860.One makes some disastrous decisions in life. So did the company which erected this huge light house. Once it became functional, they found it of zero utility as after sunset, the entire hilltop is enveloped by fog and nothing is visible. So it was not used even for a day and they had to build a second lighthouse at the bottom of the hill. Now in South Africa whenever they want to call someone stupid, they remind him of this lighthouse. Again a great place for Photography. I myself have a huge collection myself.
Saw proteas, a wild flower that grows in abundance, in South African. Its cricket team is often called Proteas after this flower. And by the way their Rugby team is called Springboks which is an agile deer native to SA.
Leisurely late lunch closer to dinner time at a beautiful sea side restaurant called Seaforth. Informal seating on beach full of penguins, lovely local wine and freshly cooked native food made the day. Back to hotel pleasantly drunk and dead tired but ready for more.
Started early on day 3 to visit the famous wineries and visit a suburb called Stollenbotsch. The wine country is beautiful like well manicured gardens with Blue Mountain, called Lion’s Head, in the background a little far away. Half a day is spent in photography and yet you can’t have enough of the place.
We spent half a day in a winery called Asara Wine Estate. It’s a nice place with a beautiful restaurant and wine produced in-house. Tasting ritual is done with a lot of flair and wine is really good. The restaurant has its history on the walls with a luxurious ball room attached. The food is great like the wine.
Finally, reached Stellenbosch, a beautiful little town, located about 40 km from Cape Town. A good number of people live here and commute to work. It’s a pleasant experience to be in a “white” town with every building painted white. There is no other colour. This town is inhabited mainly by medical students as there are a couple medical schools.
And in this heaven, property is cheap. You get a two-bedroom flat for 5.99 lakh Rands, which roughly comes to Rs 28 lakh.
The next day we visited the famous Robben Island, which served as a prison for political activists during apartheid years, just 18 miles across the sea. Cape Town was mainly set up as a slave market. The auction house for slaves is still there close to the harbour, well preserved. In fact, it was one of the first buildings in city. Slaves from Java and Madgascar were auctioned to the highest bidder.
It is the place where Nelson Mandela, the spearhead of struggle against apartheid, remained incarcerated for 27 years from 1963 to 1990. An humbling experience to know how he lived there for such a long time.
District 6, an unoccupied piece of land in Cape Town, stands out as a monument to anti-apartheid movement and Black resistance. It was a black township which was demolished overnight in 1969 after the locals refused to obey the orders to move out. In the ensuing clashes, a large number of people died. Thereafter, blacks have blocked all efforts to develop this prime real estate and the open land remains a testimony to what happened under apartheid.
The beach of Cape Town is a major attraction. The locals are extremely fond of spending leisurely time there. Beautiful women and males with well sculpted bodies- well they know how to look good and enjoy life. People are generally friendly but you do come across a little snobbish behaviour off and on, particularly in these hot spots. The sea face in this part is extremely windy and most trees are tilted towards the land.
The penultimate day of our visit was dedicated to the Table Mountain. It took only 10 minutes to reach the top by cable car but view of the city getting smaller and smaller as you go up was awesome. The Robben Island out in the sea stood out. Today SA is home to all races. As Desmond Tutu often said “it is a rainbow country with residents of all colours.” During Apartheid there was racial segregation and whites and black lived and worked separately.
The mountain top is huge and absolutely flat. Those interested in cricket must have seen a glimpse of it with Devil’s peak the background while watching matches on TV. The view of Cape Town city gradually meeting the sea is incredible.
The weather is unpredictable. It is said that Cape Town has 4 seasons and sometimes you experience all of them on the same day. We got feel of it atop the Table Mountain. A hot and sunny day suddenly turns cloudy and windy. Rain follows and temperatures dip to freezing levels, all in just four hours we were up there. We had to spent a lot of time in a restaurant to survive the weather onslaught but it was fun.
The evening was devoted to Waterfront, a great place with a nice museum related to the local culture, cafes, good food and wine and native music. It’s a carnival.
The final day of our visit was a bit of disappointment as we could not do para-jumping as planned due to inclement weather. We had a feel of the two-seater plane used for para jumping which soars up to 12000 ft in about 20 minutes from where the para jumpers go for the leap. We went all the way to faraway Johannesburg to try but we were rejected because of age and we also did not have the required medical certificate of fitness. So finally all good things end.
This year we have been hearing about an acute water shortage in the town. There has been a drought for last 3 years. Hope the situation will become normal in days to come.
Travel to Africa is entirely a different experience and one only longs to visit it over and over again.
Anoop Sood is former President of a Pharma Company. He is a voracious reader and a keen traveller.