THE SMOKE THAT THUNDERS

From the mighty river Zam­bezi thun­der­ing down to form the fa­mous Vic­to­ria Falls, to pet­ting li­ons and he­li­copter rides above the falls, Zam­bia is a trav­ellers’ par­adise for sure

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - City - - LIFESTYLE -

Anurag Mal­lick and Priya Gana­p­a­thy

As our 30-seater twin­tur­bo­prop ap­proached at the Harry Nkam­bule In­ter­na­tional Air­port at Liv­ing­stone, Zam­bia, we could see a gi­ant mist hang­ing in the air over the lush green land­scape. “That’s Vic­to­ria Falls,” smiled the ami­able stew­ard, quite used to see­ing pas­sen­gers agape. The gush of wa­ter is so much, the ris­ing mist can be seen for miles, hence its lo­cal name ‘Mosi-oatunya’ or ‘The Smoke that Thunders’. A UNESCO World Her­itage site, Vic Falls as it’s pop­u­larly known, ranks among the seven nat­u­ral won­ders of the world — and the only one in Africa.

The first for­eigner to stum­ble upon the Zam­bezi river in Jan­uary 1498 was Vasco da Gama, who dis­em­barked at a point he named Rio dos Bons Si­nais (River of Good Omens). Cen­turies later ex­plorer David Liv­ing­stone be­came the first west­erner to see the Mosi-oa-tunya. He heard of the great wa­ter­fall in 1851 and fi­nally vis­ited it in 1855. He came down the Zam­bezi in a ca­noe, camped on Kalai Is­land a few kilo­me­tres up­stream and set off in a small dugout to ap­proach the thun­der­ous smoke. He landed on the big­gest is­land on the lip of the wa­ter­fall (named Liv­ing­stone Is­land af­ter him) from where he got the first view of the fall. He later wrote, “It was the most won­der­ful sight I had wit­nessed in Africa. It had never been seen be­fore by Eu­ro­pean eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by an­gels in their flight.”

It was a short drive from the air­port to our re­sort, lo­cated just a five-minute walk from the cataract. The re­sort came within the Mo­sioa-tunya Na­tional Park, which en­sured en­coun­ters with wildlife like gi­raffes, an­telopes and the odd ze­bra cross­ing. One could pre-book an African open-air Boma din­ner with tra­di­tional dances, though we hap­pily de­voured a mixed meat Zam­bezi Plat­ter by the pool.

We had the priv­i­lege of un­lim­ited ac­cess to the wa­ter­fall and we de­cided to make the most of it. Fol­low­ing the crash­ing sound of wa­ter through the dense fo­liage, we ex­ited from the back gate and stopped for sou­venirs at the small mar­ket right op­po­site the wa­ter­fall en­trance. Artists carved ex­quis­ite sculp­tures from lo­cally avail­able verdite, bet­ter known as ‘mosi oa tunya’ stone. An­other pop­u­lar pick-me-up, the Nyami Nyami pen­dant, made of soap­stone, wood or bone, has a fas­ci­nat­ing leg­end.

The indige­nous Tonga tribes­men be­lieve that the Zam­bezi is home to a fierce river god called Nyami Nyami. The myth­i­cal crea­ture is be­lieved to live un­der a large rock at Kariba gorge, near the falls. Ever since the dam was built, he was sep­a­rated from his wife and un­leashed his fury through floods, thun­der and rain. The lo­cals tried to calm the spirit through sac­ri­fice and con­tinue to craft the pen­dant as a good luck charm for vis­i­tors. “This is the face of the crea­ture — half snake, half fish, these notches re­sem­ble the wa­ter­fall and this hole is the eye of the fall,” ex­plained a sculp­tor.

There were sev­eral trails branch­ing out and we took the right­most one for a walk up­stream, which led to the top of the wa­ter­fall.

The river flowed gen­tly, non­cha­lantly dis­ap­pear­ing from view over the cliff of­fer­ing no clue about the drama be­low.

We re­traced our steps and paid trib­ute at the War Memo­rial in mem­ory of North­ern Rhode­sians, who lost their lives dur­ing the First World War.

Nearby, stood a large statue of Dr David Liv­ing­stone, erected in 2005 to com­mem­o­rate the 150th an­niver­sary of the first Eu­ro­pean sight­ing of Vic­to­ria Falls on 16 Novem­ber 1855 an to com­mem­o­rate the cen­te­nary of the found­ing of the town of Liv­ing­stone. On his 1852-56 ex­plo­ration of the African hin­ter­land, Dr Liv­ing­stone mapped out al­most the en­tire course of t river.

We walked down the ston path and with each step the crash grew louder. And the through a clear­ing, we saw for the first time — the mig Zam­bezi river thun­der­ing 360ft down the im­mense gorge. The vol­ume of the wa­ter was so much that th fa­mous Devil’s Pool on the edge of the wa­ter­fall was o of bounds. Yet, other trails to Boil­ing Pot (615m) and the scenic Pho­to­graphic Trail (788m) were ac­ces­si­ble.

As we ap­proached the Knife Edge Bridge, the gen­tle spray turned into a full down­pour. Our rain jack­ets were mod­est pro­tec­tion from the tor­ren­tial splash. Built in 1968 by PWD, the 40m long 1.3m wide bridge con­nects the main­land to the head­land. We con­tin­ued to Dan­ger Point for a view of Vic­to­ria Falls Bridge. The bridge was a cru­cial link in the route of the rail­way, as en­vi­sioned by Ce­cil John Rhodes. The bridge was as­sem­bled in sec­tions at the Cleve­land Bridge Com­pany fac­tory yard in Dar­ling­ton be­fore be­ing shipped to Africa.

The steam en­gine Princess of Mu­lobezi orig­i­nally hauled tim­ber for Zam­bezi Sawmills nearly a cen­tury ago. To­day, it chugged along the scenic tracks with pas­sen­gers. We had a brief peek into the plush Royal Liv­ing­stone Ex­press in town and con­tin­ued to the Vic­to­ria Falls Bridge. Rhodes had wished “I should like to have the spray of the wa­ter of the Vic­to­ria Falls over the car­riages,” and boy did his dream come true. We felt the spray as soon we got off the tour bus and walked to­wards the bor­der be­tween Zam­bia and Zimbabwe. The wa­ter­falls were a shared legacy be­tween the two coun­tries and we watched the Zam­bezi river down be­low flow to­wards Zimbabwe. Bang in the mid­dle of the bridge ad­ven­ture seek­ers try the bungee jump over the Zam­bezi gorge.

Liv­ing­stone has no dearth of ad­ven­ture. From he­li­copter and mi­cro­light rides above the falls to ele­phant feed­ing and lion pet­ting, Liv­ing­stone has it all. At the Cul­tural Cen­tre, there are vig­or­ous Zam­bian dances in tra­di­tional cos­tumes. The Liv­ing­stone Mu­seum, the old­est and largest mu­seum in Zam­bia, show­cases the his­tory of early man, the coun­try and its tra­di­tions be­sides a gallery ded­i­cated to ex­plorer Dr David Liv­ing­stone.

In the evening we headed to an­other re­sort, which is built of stone, thatch and wood. The high-roofed foyer was dec­o­rated with gra­naries, drums, cane lamps and African por­traits on adobe walls with lux­u­ri­ous spa treat­ments and Afro-ara­bian fu­sion cui­sine at Kalai restau­rant. At the pier, we boarded the Lady Liv­ing­stone for a mag­i­cal two-hour sun­downer cruise on the Zam­bezi river. A band played on the sil­imba (Zam­bian xy­lo­phone us­ing res­onat­ing gourds) as we sipped sun­down­ers while train­ing our binocs to the river­bank to spot crocs, hip­pos and other wildlife.

The stew­ard pre­sented us a chilled pint of the lo­cal Mosi lager. The la­bel called it ‘thun­der­ous re­fresh­ment as mighty as the Mosi-oatunya’. The ris­ing mist from Vic Falls danced like a fairy and we watched the sun slowly sink into the Zam­bezi as if it was swal­lowed whole by Nyami Nyami...

PHOTO: IS­TOCK

Vic­to­ria Falls

PHO­TOS: ANURAG MAL­LICK AND PRIYA GANA­P­A­THY A tra­di­tional wel­come in Liv­ing­stone

Mi­cro­light rides

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