Johannesburg – the gateway to Africa

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Johannesburg city

Johannesburg is the launching pad for many destinations within South Africa and the farthest place is less than a two-hour flight distance away. Historically Jo’burg, as people of the country call it fondly, is just about a century old, compared to Cape Town or Durban, but it attained importance during the ‘gold rush’. Gold was first discovered here in 1886 but, despite the arrival of many wealthy South Africans, it remained a dingy wilderness till the early 1920s. Even now the metropolis does not hold more than a day’s interest for tourists; in fact most of them arrive here to visit one or more of the game reserves or Sun City.

Nelson Mandela House

I found the city to be spotlessly clean with wide roads, multi-storied structures and good infrastructure and there are places of historical interest. For instance, we visited the famous address in the town of Soweto in Orlando west. 8115 Vilakazi St. is where Nelson Mandela lived. The single-story red-brick matchbox built in 1945 has bullet holes in the walls and the facade has singe marks from attacks. It is now Mandela Museum with his memorabilia on display. At the interjection of the roads, a group of Zulus put up a street performance of Zulu dance. This locality also constitutes Tutu House, the home of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

Gandhi Statue in Johannesburg

It was a proud moment for us to visit Gandhi Square (previously known as Government Square) which has a bronze statue of our Father of the Nation in a lawyer’s gown over his suit.

Metal figurines in Johannesburg

Johannesburg is dotted with beautiful metal works of art like a herd of gazelle jumping elegantly above a water body, near the Magistrate’s Court. Another lane had metal statues of people, yet another sported the gold mining machines and engines that loaded the metal.

Steam engine used for coal mining

Our itinerary included two points of tourist interest – Sun City and Mabula Game Lodge. The game lodge is not as big as Krugar National Park. Still it is home to the ‘Big Five’ – elephant, lion, rhino, leopard, and wildebeest. It also boasts of numerous bird species, reptiles and other mammals. Even before we could check in to Mabula Game Lodge, we were greeted by antelopes gracefully sprinting across the lush lawns outside our villas which stoked our enthusiasm for the safari that awaited us.

Zebra at Mabula Game Lodge

After freshening up, we were treated to snacks and coffee in the open area that overlooked the swimming pool and a rock fountain, with monkeys for company.

The burly game warden Marco picked us up and we got to see plenty of zebras and gazelles at the start of our safari with our first halt barely 15 minutes later to allow a mother rhino dashing to the other side to be with her baby. A few meters’ drive ahead and we spotted a family of giraffes. The animals amble across the dusty path casually eating the tender leaves of acacia as they walk by. Our desire to view crocodiles made Marco take us to a watering hole but there was just a couple of crocs sun bathing and a jackal loitered around.  The backs of hippos could be seen bouncing in the lake nearby.  As we neared the edge of the water body, two hippos protested by snorting and gave out a loud hiss which made us take a hasty retreat. Dusk lurked and Marco informed us that elephants retire to the hills and true to his experience, a long drive compensated us with the sight of a herd of elephants moving uphill. Though we could only see the backs of these giants who were flapping their large ears, nevertheless the ‘gaja gamini’ walk did make us feel rewarded.

The sleeping lion couple at Mabula Game Lodge

The next day we left early, as soon as the camp gates are opened to visitors. While early mornings are good for sighting animals, it is often said, “it is just a matter of chance. After all, we cannot control the animals’ moods – they just roam about anywhere”.

Marco arrived and drove straight to a place that had electrified fence and an underground gate which he opened with a remote controlled key. This was the lion zone he said and our vigilance antennae stood up. The safari jeeps that crossed each other from the opposite directions kept exchanging notes about their respective sightings. After an hour of rounding up the place, we chanced upon two sleeping lions and that made our day.

On my trip back from the game reserve, I couldn’t help thinking about my experiences in Africa and wonder when I will return to this wonderfully rich country!

Image courtesy: Author and Pixabay

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