The land God made in anger

Here’s a glimpse into the world’s old­est desert, desert which has many a sur­prise to dis­cover

Hindustan Times (Patna) - Live - - Variety - GEETIKA JAIN geetik­a­glo­be­trot @google­mail.

The des­o­late, windswept Skele­ton Coast of North West Namibia is what might be the op­po­site of the Gar­den of Eden. It’s a place where whim­si­cal, life-chok­ing and con­stantly shift­ing sand dunes meet the frothy wa­ters of the At­lantic. For cen­turies, dan­ger­ous cur­rents have wreaked havoc on its shores and the bare, ex­posed ribs of ships, whales and sailors of yore give it its macabre name. Por­tuguese sea­far­ers called it “Gates of Hell” and the San Bush­men, “The land God made in anger.”

The cold coastal Benguela cur­rent from Antarc­tica keeps the mois­ture from ris­ing and form­ing rain clouds. In­stead, on most morn­ings, a thick cloud of fog is born from the meet­ing of cold and hot air, and it moves 50 kilo­me­ters in­land over the hy­per-arid gravel plains, gnarled gran­ite hills and parched riverbeds, not lift­ing till the af­ter­noon.

Fly­ing low into Hoanib Skele­ton Coast Camp in the Palmwag con­ces­sion on a light air­craft, we could see life­less, bar­ren hills be­low us, and won­dered whether there was any wildlife at all, but the views be­lied a strong pulse on the ground. On our game-drives, we saw a host of fas­ci­nat­ing crea­tures that have fig­ured out how to thrive on the mea­ger of­fer­ings of this land. We found our­selves even more cap­ti­vated by the haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful land­scapes. Frozen fin­gers, sun­burn, sand-in-the-lens, thorn­cuts and tick-bites would just have to wait; the old­est desert on earth was com­mand­ing our at­ten­tion.

Life giv­ing fog, oa­sis and flash floods

An am­phithe­atre of hills pro­tected the stylish tented Hoanib Skele­ton Coast Camp from sand­storms and blis­ter­ing winds, and a short walk away was the steep drop down to the Hoanib riverbed, along which grow aca­cia trees and shrubs that at­tract ele­phant, spring­bok, oryx, ostrich and the brown hyena. And lions. With­out wa­ter for miles, you won­der how they sur­vive here. While con­densed mois­ture from the morn­ing fog on the wet leaves is enough for the graz­ers and browsers, the lions and chee­tahs have adapted their ways, care­fully pool­ing their prey’s blood in its skin and lap­ping it with­out let­ting it run into the sand. They have knowl- edge of the area’s oa­sis and springs, and are tuned into na­ture’s rhythms and cy­cles. Oc­ca­sion­ally, when rain falls on the eastern high­lands, rivers such as the Hoanib flow sud­denly, wash­ing down silt and enough wa­ter to keep the hardy veg­e­ta­tion go­ing.

A desert sa­fari

Walk­ing along the riverbed, our feet crunched the im­mensely beau­ti­ful curled-up pieces of clay formed by the fast dry­ing silt of the pre­vi­ous flood. Tall mud banks on both sides were like the ram­parts of a fort, and the soft sand heaped on the sides the but­tresses. They formed a back­drop to the pho­to­graphs of a lone, de­fi­ant gi­raffe. Five young male lions, a band of broth­ers, had taken down his com­pan­ion in the early hours. Around the bend, our guide had us hide be­hind a tree as a male ele­phant with a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing can­tan­ker­ous made his way down a 20-foot dune by slid­ing down on his bot­tom. He was more com­i­cal than for­mi­da­ble. On our last day we drove to the smelly and rau­cous sea lion colony at Möwe Bay on the Skele­ton coast, stop­ping en-route to sur­prise some flamin­goes and to slide down gi­ant dunes that roared like fighter jets.


Gran­ite hills, the river bank and Hoanib camp in desert Namibia A lone gi­raffe on the Hoanib river bank in north-west Namibia A desert-adapted lioness

bags an oryx in the Palmwag Con­ces­sion

We crunched the beau­ti­ful, curled up clay un­der­foot as we walked along the riverbed

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