Road Trip – South Africa

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Ever since I have come back from South Africa, I cannot stop raving about the amazing road trip we had there. The feeling of being cock a hoop is not leaving me. The country has amazing panaromic views all around, the roads are in top notch condition and the traffic there is absolutely nothing, especially for a guy who lives in India! After driving around about 4050 kms in the country and spending 12 days there I am quite adamant that anyone that goes to South Africa has to do a road trip.

 

For someone who had not driven in any foreign country before there were a lot of apprehensions and doubts let alone half the known world here telling me it was a horrible idea, that in South Africa after dark people are just waiting to mug me or rob me. Let me tell you, nothing of that sort happened, we infact in our 12 days trip did not ever encounter any of those scary experiences. The thrill of self driving in a safari in a bush full of Elephants, Rhino’s, Giraffe’s and what not has to be experienced and soaked in. Once you complete the trip it seems all chilled out and I wondered what the fuss about it was.

Okay lets first give some information for you guys if any one of you plan to drive in SA :

 

1.) Indian driving license is valid in SA as long as your driving license is in English. However, we had read on the internet that car hire companies could demand an International Driving Permit and so we actually got one and spent money on it, but it was never asked or checked!

2.) In South Africa like in India they have a right hand drive, so its almost no adjustment for us Indians. They do follow rules though, which might be a little tricky for us Indians 😛 However, if you just drive carefully and watch around, there are plenty of signals and signboards and they are all in English and so once you get a hang of it you are sorted.

3.) Budgetcar.co.za was the car rental that we used and believe it or not for 12 days and 4050 kilometers for two drivers it cost us just 20k. How cool is that? Yes we paid for the fuel and toll (which was at very few places)

4.) We did actually pay around 2500 extra for road side assistance (included in the 20k) however we never required it.

5.) When we left we had booked a Volkswagon Polo, however they gave us a ford fiesta. Which was a pretty similar hatchback type car.

6.) For Safari, ideally you want to hire a jeep or a higher vehicle. We made a slight mistake and didn’t opt for the higher vehicle.

7.) Dropping a car and hiring was very easy and whilst picking up it took us some 15 mintues while dropping the car it took us hardly 2 minutes.

 

See it is that easy and hence I recommend you do a road trip in SA and never opt for any other option. If you are weary of driving a very long distance, which we are not, you can drop a car at an airport and pick up another one from another airport. Its easy and no hassles.

The people here even when driving communicate a lot, while we were driving around in Kruger National Park almost every car that would pass us would wave or flash a light to say ‘hi’!! On the highways when you let a car pass, it would switch on its parking light to say thank you and we would flash our light to say welcome! Seriously almost everywhere this was the norm! In the city of Cape Town though all that disappeared but then I guess folks in a big city are always too busy and in a hurry. It used to amuse me though when our host in Cape Town warned us of traffic on the way to the airport, for someone who comes from India the traffic in SA was an absolute non issue, they simply dont have that many cars or people. There were very few two wheelers and that is half the problem solved.

Having our own vehicle in a national park doing safari was something I was most apprehensive about, how do we find routes, how do we identify animals and birds, what if we encounter big animals on the road? If you are just a little sensible with the animals and keep a distance, the animals were fine, most of the time they kept their distance as well. Kruger National Park has amazingly clear sign boards for a park that is spread across 28000 square kilometers! Riding there and tracking animals or finding a waterhole and spending hours waiting there was so amazing that I cannot quite describe it! We have always complained that in Tiger parks in India they do not let us spend enough time inside the park, here from morning 6 to evening 6 you are free to roam in the park track animals or sit at spot and wait for animals. Can you imagine 12 hours of being in the wild looking for animals and birds? I could not before this trip! We bought one animal identification book in the park and it was great to spot birds and refer the book!

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An Impala walks patiently for us to cross before it crosses! 🙂

The most amazing moment was when we encountered was when we saw a family of Cheetah, the parents were teaching their kids to hunt, the kids were pretty inept and could not stalk at all and would always alarm the Impala and Zebra before they could get near enough to chase. We spent an hour with that family and eventually left that family to perfect their art. It was like the first time that we got to see a wild cat for such length of time! We spotted a pride of lions when we were driving and there was no one else around, just us and the lions! One night we got delayed and drove in pitch darkness in the park and encountered wild dogs, Elephants, Rhinos sitting on the main road! Oh I can go on and on about our 3 day drive in Kruger National Park.

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They were more curious about the cars then the Impala’s!

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The usual traffic jam in Kruger! We looked forward to such traffic jams, which clearly meant some good sighting was happening! We used to rush in the midst of all traffic jams! 😛

 

After Kruger National Park we went on a drive on the Panaroma Route and the route is named totally aptly! The views on that drive were amazing, SA generally has less trees and small buildings so the visibility is amazing, you can see far and wide and the landscape is absolutely stunning. There are so many waterfalls on the route that we didn’t know which to visit and which to skip. Overall we felt we should have given ourselves a few more days to properly explore the Panaroma Route and the Drakensberg Mountains, but perhaps that would be for another time. Here are some snaps from the Panaroma Route.

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The drive upto the Three Rhondavels View Point is amazing and the reward at the end of it equally stunning!

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We found loads of maple tree’s near Graskop where we had the best Pancakes ever!

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The Golden Gate Highlands National park is straight out of the wild west or Texas! We were pleasantly surprised to see it!

 

We absolutely loved the Garden Route, picture this : Green Mountains on a side, the top being full of clouds on one side, the ocean on the another and you are zipping about on a tip top highway! The country is amazingly beautiful and one way to see a lot of it in a short time is to take a car and drive! There were innumerable view points, the amount of stops that we took to take photographs would drive any other driver mad, unless ofcourse if the driver and the photographer are the same person!

 

Here are some more pictures of the Garden Route, a full travelogue comes next and then our experiences of our encounters with locals there!

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I told you green mountains with their tops in the clouds on one side!

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The ocean on the other!

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when clouds descend on the garden route!

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Thoda to style maarna banta hai!

 

 

 

 

Breaking the break!

My beleaguered blog needs some revival, its been a while I even looked at the blog, forget writing a post, consciously I need to now get back to regular posting and note down my travel experiences before I start forgetting them! I guess writing down is a habit and it is safe to say this time I am out of habit. Life has been way to eventful at times to actually sit back and soak it all in and summarise and hence the absence from the writing scene. I guess it happens to almost all of us. So many times it feels like the blog is dead and then somehow something inside me tells me to never give up on this idea, somehow keep it alive and sustain it and keep writing, whatever gibberish it may be, just do not give up!

 

At the very least remember to post travel stories! Although pretty much in a phase of life where I am not travelling right now, I must though ensure I tell you I did travel in January to the city of joy and then went tiger spotting in Sunderbans! 😀 😀

 

Yes bitches! I did, ate many Rosogullas and Kolkata Rolls and Mishti Doi’s and even went gliding down the beautiful mangrove forests! So whilst I am not telling you everything about the entire trip right away. I am atleast breaking the break from the blog and am promising to myself more than anyone else that I will be here more often! 😀 😀

 

I’ll leave you with one photo taken during our gliding around the the delta of Sunderbans, on a misty day when the horizon disappeared this boat broke the illusion that had been created! 🙂

 

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Keep moving

That has to be the mantra of life for me, I just cannot stay put in the same routine at all. Ever since I took up an office, I have kind of become monotonous atleast from Monday to Friday and whilst when I started first up I was pretty enthused but now that the newness of it is all out of the way I just cant stay steady. The urge to go away from all routines is really starting to kick up more and more with each passing day.

The other thing is that to advance plan your breaks means the whole excitement bit is gone, you know its done and you have to just wait and whilst you wait you must work coz that is where the money comes to travel, sigh. Every time I read that cliched quote, “If travel were more you’d never see me again” the more I can connect to it.

I end up browsing old photos from trips done and the more I see them the more I want to wander again. Alas this growing into a responsible man bit is boring I tell you and a pretty hard task as well.

Whenever I rant, everyone I know comes back at me and tells me you have just been on a holiday two months back and I am like!? So what? Didnt you eat roti in lunch yesterday? Why do you need it today!?

Anyways this rant will keep on going, thankfully I have managed to convince all who are concerned to sneak away atleast for a small weekend away from work and routine and I am glad! 😀

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Welcome to the Mangrove

So we went on a river safari on Madu Ganga, as many mangroves as we have and as many failed attempts I made to visit the Sunderbans, this was my first visit to the mangroves, excitement was palpable between the two of us. A journey into something unknown, something new always is looked at eagerly with a lot of nervous energy at most times.

 

To beat the crowd our host suggested we go as early as 6 am so that we would not have a lot of crowd which usually pours in after 9am. The early morning trip meant a lot of quiet, peace, easy to grab a boat as the boatmen were eager and free and offered a discount. All that done we hopped onto a boat and we went on our way onto the beautiful Madu river. Our boat guide constantly talking to us and keeping us engaged and informed about the surroundings and from time to time making sure he yelled for us to keep our heads lower as we passed under some bridges that criss crossed the river.

 

The river is pretty huge which did not seem like when we started, but as we went on we discovered many small islands, some with temples, some with small settlements of people in the river. Some of the islands are connected by bridges and some are only connected by boats and yes they have people living there. There are some cinnamon plantations inside, apparently some of the best cinnamon in the world comes from here.

 

We spotted a lot of water monitors, monkeys, kingfishers, brahminy kites in just 10 mins on the safari. It being so early in the morning meant poor light and that meant poor pictures, however, the whole experience was wonderful, a lot of nervous energy gave way to elation of spotting so many creatures going about their life early in the morning. With no visitors apart from us meant we would keep things quieter and wait patiently and slowly glide closer to the animals as they lay about or fished or ate some fruits.

 

We even visited one Buddhist temple on the river that is some 200 years old and I saw the largest squirrel I have ever seen there!

 

The high point though was this picture below, entering into this darkness, the branches and the leaves that don’t allow the sun to enter, the being so close to the branches so little space to run if something were to come onto you, no it was not spooky but for the first few minutes we were nervous and excited both at the same time, apparently I have learnt that this is still a pretty small version of what you could see in the Sunderbans and hence my goal to visit it for sure and soon. The feeling inside the mangroves was something I have not experience, a part of this planet that is so different from others that I have seen, a thriving eco-system to boot. We absolutely loved the little time we were inside.

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This in particular is a part of travel, discovering something new, experiencing things you have not experienced before seeing new things is what keeps us all going ain’t it?

 

Here are a few more pictures!

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At day break we were off on our journey into experiencing something new! 🙂

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Probably the smallest island on the river!

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A water monitor lazing on a tree, he didn’t even blink an eyelid on seeing us! He was almost saying Go away… the tourist time is after 9!!

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There are many foot massage parlours and the labour involved in the massage literally eat your dead skin! 😀

The secluded beach and the sunset

Call me snooty but I generally prefer places with less people, the more quiet, the more I can hear the sounds of nature, my thoughts and just be with my thoughts without any distraction. I love trekking in the Himalayas precisely for that reason, for the only way you can go away from people to the real places is when you walk away from the road and take up a trail up the slopes!

 

There always is an effort going on whenever I travel to go find such spots, sometimes its great to be just by yourself in nature, watching a sunrise or a wave crashing on a rock or a squirrel making merry with some nuts.

 

Recently we stayed in a place called Balapitiya, kinda in between the more famous Bentota and Hikkaduwa on the west to southwest sea coast of Srilanka, whilst Hikkaduwa and Bentota both are pretty nice beaches, there is a lot of activity there too, we did immerse in those, however, in the evenings after a couple of Mojito’s we preferred to walk on the beach across the road from the villa we rented. Barely 50 meters away is this beautiful beach, the best part was very very few people were about and so it was great fun to have this all to ourself.

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The beautiful Balapitya Beach!

 

We took long walks whilst watching the waves, collecting shells, getting our legs wet, spotting snails stuck on stones, and when tired we sat down to see an ethereal sunset! A very quiet, peaceful evening on this wonderful beach that was also where we took our first dips in the morning, albeit in the morning there were a few joggers around!

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The waves crashing on the rocks

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Soon enough the sun started going westwards!

 

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continually showing different hues as it went on its way!

 

There always are hideouts everywhere, remember that! If you are one of those who likes finding them, this is one nice beach tucked away in Srilanka that is not “developed” and at times I am thankful of that! 🙂

Off the grid in Kandy

Loads of people go to Kandy in Sri Lanka, one of the major buddhist destinations in the country & a pretty regular place to visit in your Sri Lanka itinerary, situated in the central province and a shining jewel in Sri Lanka’s hill country. However, I am a bit of a loather of doing things that are popular or visit places that are frequented by too many tourists.

 

Thanks to the fact that we were living with locals as I mentioned in my earlier post here we were fortunate enough to discover a few slightly more quieter and lesser explored spots. Our host said that instead of spending time on the Kandy lake which is in the middle of the city near the Temple of Tooth, we try out Sembuwatte Lake along with a picnic lunch. We gladly accepted his suggestion and packed some wholesome food made by our host and headed for Sembuwatte Lake, about 20 kms from Kandy, this lake is in a Tea Estate and is amazingly beautiful, located at a much higher altitude than Kandy it had wonderful weather and was very serene, peaceful and sparsely crowded. The weather in that part also kept on changing very fast from sunny to a shower to showing us a total white out!

 

Tuktuk’s ply to this lake, which somehow the Arabs believe is facing Mecca, I don’t know how religious people come out with such notions. On the way there are a few restaurants serving Arabic Food, a few people had come there for picnic all prepared with a gas stove and all to cook their food. Its a very pretty place as you can see from these pictures!

 

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Thats the place!

 

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There are some small shelters made around for you to sit about when it rains or to make your lunch. Best thing is they are all spaced out enough to offer privacy to everyone visiting there.

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Thats the scene when clouds take over, this was shot at 1 in the noon!

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The place is lively with colours, various shades of green, Kingfishers that keep hopping in and out of the water and loads of Brahminy Kite’s hovering around

 

On the way back from Sembuwatta we also stopped at Hunas Waterfalls which were a very pretty sight as well. The whole ride from Kandy to Sembuwatta Lake and back is scenic, many sections look like a scene out of Congo really!

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Hunas Water fall, seemed so much like a place that would be in Congo!

 

We spent a day just lazing, sighing and soaking in the views whilst munching on our food that was packed. Whilst there is a 5 star hotel near Hunas Waterfall, when you go to Sembuwatta lake remember to carry your own food. There is no food shop there and trust me you will want to spend more time there. A spoiler is that the lake is controlled by a tea estate and they charge 1000 LKR for foreigner entry inside their estate. Bathing is not allowed in the lake, however, they have made a pool of the same natural flowing water so that you can bath in the water at the same time not spoil the serenity of the lake. Amazingly clean and well kept lake surrounded by tea gardens is a lovely place for a picnic.

 

Hunas waterfall is an entry fee of 300 LKR, slightly commercialised however the place is breathtakingly beautiful, you can anyways see the waterfall without paying the 300 LKR. Tuktuk from Kandy would cost around 1500-1800 for a day trip along with waiting charges.

 

 

Sundays in Bharuch

On sundays you get up lazily, sometimes you are kicked out of your sleep for its time to head for a bath, a bath that is a short drive away, on the way you have to have some breakfast and then onto the bath, here is a short photo story! 😀

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Hit the road on a glorious Indian monsoon day! 😛

 

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Stop and climb a random green hill!

 

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Find this view atop a random hill! 😀 😀

 

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Get lost into capturing it all in your camera… this could be a mini valley of flowers from Bharuch 😛

 

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Getting friendly with the locals of the place! They are kinda poised to take off I say!

 

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Eventually stop digressing and head for the bath!

 

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The spot!

 

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Finally time to wash!

 

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Then some time for a siesta in the shade watching over rich contrasting shades of nature!

 

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Every few minutes the cloud scene kept changing and it was amazing to just gaze about.

 

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Hamara Bharuch!

 

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As it invariably happens, after you have washed and dried and dressed you suddenly come across another waterfall, this one a natural shower of sorts…. sigh…. what do you do!????

 

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Well I say walk straight in!

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Not to miss out on the wonderful hogging that happened through this arduous day 😛 A few dhokla’s here a sev ussal there, bajri ka rotla or makke di roti, locha and well ice cream to top it off!

 

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Enough for a day I say!

 

 

Pic credits have to be shared within the four of us, Jay, Supas, Rishabh and me!

Sea, Sand & Fun

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A couple of kids jump into the Indian Ocean at a beach in Galle under the watchful eyes of their father. A beach is a wonderful blessing to have nearby and the Sri Lankans are pretty lucky in this regard, especially the ones that live near the coast. We happened to spend a week there, which coincided with Sri Lankan holidays as it is their festival season. It was a short, sharp trip but we loved it anyways watching the mild, smiling Sri Lankan’s enjoying their holidays and basking in the glory of their rich lands. Finally after the war ended some 6 odd years ago the emerald isle is set to shine and grow.

 

I guess the abc tag has to take a break, there are a lot of stories from Lanka to share. So stay tuned for more!