Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Johannesburg - Rich History and Culture

 After an overdose of Europe we decided to explore Africa, hence we planned a 9 day trip to South Africa which is the 25th largest country in the world. Our first stop was Johannesburg, where we stayed for 3 days. All of the people we knew had discouraged us to stay in Johannesburg; however, I really came to like the city a lot. It has a rich culture, heritage albeit a painful history.

After the 6 hours flight we reached our hotel early in the morning.  We checked into the hotel, had a quick breakfast and went to visit the Constitutional Hill which holds the chilling and dark stories of the struggle that an African man had to face especially in prison. We heard many stories of the revolutionaries who boycotted the racial policies and unjust civil rights to attain equality for the coloured races. It was gruesome just to see the harsh conditions that the prisoners had to face on a daily basis. I can’t begin to fathom how the society didn't act against the barbarians who treated their fellow men with such cruelty. We also saw the jail where Nelson Mandela and Gandhiji were kept. It was an honour to see that the South African government in collaboration with the Indian Government has dedicated an entire room for Gandhiji’s clothing’s, speeches and his beliefs. It makes you believe that one man’s belief can help to change and inspire an entire society.

Constitutional Hill consists of a fort, women’s jail, awaiting trial block and the prison ward infamously known as Number 4 & 5. For decades, thousands of prisoners were brutally punished, beaten, abused and made to do the most humiliating Tauza dance. They were kept in dirty and overcrowded conditions stripping the prisoners of their dignity psychologically and physically. Gandhiji was imprisoned in 1906 and as we all know the history; that’s where the struggle for Satyagraha originally started. The photographs, objects, sounds and voice recording makes you travel back in time but it is almost impossible to try and picture yourself in the unimaginable situation that the prisoners had to go through every single day of their life. In the same vicinity is the Constitutional Court which I was very impressed to see. There is a huge handmade flag of SA from beads made by the local women which is remarkable. The way the SA government has beautifully architected the Court by preserving the partially demolished “awaiting trial block” and merging it into the new building – thereby making the whole place ironical yet prideful. It shows that they have come so far with their determination to change the society and embodied complete freedom in every aspect of life. Usually we would try to forget such horrifying past but to see them preserve the rich and complex history however gruesome it was and to make a progressive new beginning is commendable. The architect has beautifully designed the building in such a way that the building interweaves the past with the future.

After visiting the Constitutional Hill, we headed to the Lion Park. The Lion Park is a place where you can hear the roar of lions amongst the whisper of grasslands.  I was extremely excited to see the rare White Lions. There were individual huge enclosures for Cheetahs and Lions where you could take your car and drive down. In a separate small enclosure were 3 cute little white lion cubs that we could touch and click snaps with. Later we went and fed the giraffes followed by a safari around the property where we saw hyenas, zebras, deers etc in the wild and in their natural habitat.

We were just about to leave when my eyes read something that excited me instantaneously. It was a banner of “Walk with the Cheetahs”. I told Aakaash that I really wanted to do it. I know he wanted to do it too but we didn’t have enough time to do it separately and with 2 small kids we couldn’t have done it together. While we were discussing the possibilities of who goes and who stays behind, one of the organizers kindly volunteered to help us with the kids and offered to stay with them in the car while we were with the Cheetah. We had an experience of our life time with the Cheetah. While we were with the Cheetah, she decided to put her paw gently on my hand and when she lifted her paw, it left a small puncture in my skin and a tiny drop of blood oozed out which was enough to remind me of the power this magnificent animal holds. With the setting sun we bid goodbye to the beautiful Cheetah. Our day had been perfect and we were looking forward to the rest of our holiday.

The next morning we were to go and see the Lipizzaners Show. Not many people know about this Show. Lipizzan are the oldest human bred Stallion horses which are rare and unique. It was amazing to see the Stallions perform in perfect sync with each other and their spectacular leaps and unique maneuvers were worth the applaud they got. I didn’t know that a stallion’s coat is jet black when it’s young and as it matures into adulthood its coat becomes pure white. After the show ended we headed towards the barn where we all enjoyed feeding the horses carrots and later headed to see the Cradle of Humankind.

Another place which is famous in Johannesburg is Maropeng for having some of the oldest archaeological and human fossils in the world. There have been many sites and series of caves from where fossils have been excavated and are still are being discovered. This area has been named as Cradle of Humankind. This place is an hour’s drive from Johannesburg and is a World Heritage Site by Unesco. We first went to Sterkfontein Caves where one of the oldest fossils and stone tools dating back 2 million years old and skeletons dating 3 million years were found. Sterkfontein Caves is a set of limestone caves where excavation work is still going on. This is the only longest and continuous running fossil excavation ground in the world.  There are around a dozen dolomitic limestone caves in that area.  After an exciting trek we were taken to the museum where the fossils and other displays are kept.

The third day we had just kept for shopping and had an amazing time off course. So we took a cab and drove 45 mins to reach the premium outlets and stores. After we got dropped we realized that we were not at the right place so we requested the cab to drop us to the place which was 5 mins away. The driver was nice and kind enough to wait for us. We took 3 hours just in Toys R Us and with so many toys it was impossible for us to go to other stores, so we put all our stuff in the boot of the cab and shopped for another 2 hours. In retrospect I now think that we made such a fool hardy decision. What if the guy had decided to take off, there was nothing that we could have done, but I would just say that we were lucky. The next morning we were excited to board our flight to - Cape Town to continue our adventure.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Writing a blog after a year….Although supposedly I am a stay at home mom, wonder why I just don’t happen to find the time at all…

Anyway this time we decided to have a stop over at Dubai for a week before we went to Delhi. Even though we had already been to Dubai; we were yet to experience Dubai in the true sense. So I chalked out my itinerary and we started our journey from Lagos to Dubai. Aakaash’s colleague and friend Maqsood, his wife Shagufta and their son Muaad were also travelling with us in the same flight, so the kids had a blast since they had a friend to play with for 7 hours in the flight. Once we landed, we checked into our hotel and later decided to meet up with them to see Bhurj Khalifa - the tallest building in the world.

When we reached the tallest free standing structure in the world, it was amazing to see the view from the observation deck called “At the Top” which is at 124th floor. It has the tallest elevator in the world functioning at 10 meters per second taking us to the 124th floor in a minute. It has the world’s highest observation deck at a height of 452m. It also has the world record of having the highest stories in the world with more than 160 floors and also has the highest occupied floors in the world. It was totally awesome to see the city view from there.

From there we walked down to the Dubai Mall which is the largest shopping mall in the world. However we didn’t get enough time since we were meeting up with other friends from Lagos - Rajesh and Phalguni who hosted us for dinner, after which we retired back to our hotel.

The next day we had kept free for shopping and later we were meeting up with another couple for dinner who used to stay in Lagos but now are residents of Dubai. After scanning the Mall Of Emirates to buy my camera we met up with Sandhya and Sanjay along with their kids Nakul and Nikhil. It was really nice to meet them after almost a year. The kids especially enjoyed meeting each other after such a long time. So after dinner; when I saw that my appetite for shopping was not yet full; and after saying our goodbyes, we took a cab back to MOE again. The day had been fruitful since I had managed to buy the camera and other lil nick knacks.  Hence we called it a night and went back to our hotel.

The next morning we were rejuvenated and charged up to use the new DSLR, moreover we were going for Desert Safari. Till now we were having our normal holiday, relaxing days nothing extra ordinary to make our pulse go haywire… but we usually do find something or the other to make our BP travel to extreme numbers. So after we got up, we had our breakfast, made the kids ready and decided to leave a little early to have the feel of the city before we reached for Dune bashing which was at 3pm. Just when we were leaving the room, we were checking on the stuff we had to carry. So Aakaash said “Diaper bag”, I said “Check”, “New camera bag”, I said “yippee check” and then I said “Old camera bag” and we went in panic mode…

We never realized that the previous night we never came back to the hotel with our old camera bag. The bag had our digital camera and handy cam… the worst of all… Aananya’s birth recording and all were in it…. It was all gone. We couldn’t recall where we left it or what happened to it. Immediately I called Sandhya with whom we had had dinner the previous night, coz we did remember that we had clicked snaps with them. What we didn’t know was where we left the camera; possibilities were in the cab, the restaurant, on our way to the mall, the mall or on our way back to the hotel. With Sandhya’s help we got the number of Cab Company only to realize that they have different cab colours and we didn’t remember which one we had taken and hence we had to call all the different companies to ask if they found a handy cam. Since we still had some time left before Desert Safari, we decided to go back to the mall and see if we had some luck there.

I went to the store in which we had gone and asked them if they found a handy cam but they didn’t say anything and called the person from lost and found department to come and talk to us. Suddenly when the uniformed attendant appeared in front of me, I couldn’t control my smile. I saw him carrying the camera bag and he asked me for identification to prove that it was mine. Luckily it was very simple since I had kept the passport copy of ours in it and that’s how we got our handy cam back. 

So we still manage to have these nerve wrecking moments even in a supposedly simple and relaxing holiday. Now with peace of mind we were all set to get our adrenal rushing for Dune bashing. Dune bashing is a very popular sport in Dubai where you are driven in a 4 wheel drive on the sand dunes at high speed. They deflate the tires and then you are driven on steep sand dunes. It is like being on a roller coaster ride on the sand dunes. It is indeed an exhilarating experience.

A Desert Safari usually includes Dune bashing, camel ride in the scenic desert, henna painting, sheesha for hooka lovers, Arabic dinner and belly dance performances. After dune bashing we reached the venue right on time to capture the picturesque sunset from the middle of the desert and to enjoy rest of the desert safari. We hired quad bikes and raced on sand dune tracks. After the thrill of driving the quad bike; the kids and Aakaash went on the camel ride under the blanket of stars with a perfect full moon following them all along.

Later we went back to the place where food was laid out for us and it was amazing to see a very small platform created right in the middle of the desert for the performances covered by Arabian carpets, low tables and loads of cushions to make us comfortable.  This area was surrounded by small souvenir shops. There was a stall where you could dress up like an Arabian woman or man and click snaps with a live eagle perched on your shoulder or hand; which Aakaash went ahead and experienced but to be under the abaya was too much for me to handle so I just enjoyed clicking pictures of him. Aananya and I got henna put on our hands. Aananya got it done for the first time in her life. At first she was excited but later she just wanted it all gone and kept saying her hands had become dirty and smelt funny.

Later with our dinner we were entertained by a human horse puppet, followed by the much awaited belly dancer but the best performance was the Tanoura dance which is a dance of prayer. The first time I ever saw this style of dance was on a cruise in Egypt but this was class apart due to the specially designed dress that had miniature light bulbs that came to life in the middle of the dance to depict new life and pure soul. This beautiful dance is usually performed by men who swirl in colorful long skirt like outfit and most of their performance is done spinning and swirling with various accessories. The swirling refers to the circle of life and the entire dance is performed in that manner and when they stop spinning, the sufi men show no sign of dizziness. The dance was definitely mesmerizing. Later we were driven back in the 4WD to the place where the tires were inflated again and we were driven back to our hotel.

The next day we went to Ibn Battuta Mall to meet up with Aakaash’s friend Neeta and her daughter Urvashi. Interestingly Ibn Battuta Mall is the world’s largest themed mall. It has 6 courts with themes of China, India, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia and Andalusia. However we didn’t have the time to see it all but it was nice to meet up with friends after 5 years. Spent some time with them and later went to our family friend’s house for dinner. We met Prashant, Indrani, Ananya and aunty after 6 years. It was really nice to catch up with friends after such a long time. This was the perfect way to end our journey and head to Delhi.