From South Africa to Rwanda

A Dose of Wild Africa
/ New Delhi
From the sharks and penguins of South Africa to the gorillas and chimpanzees of Rwanda, here's an offbeat take on Africa.
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The month of May offered the India Outbound magazine and its team an enchanting and soul-lifting tour of Africa. From South Africa, a country quite well-known to Indian tourists and that is capturing the popular imagination for its wildlife and safaris, as well as luxury and modern urban life, we visited a nation that makes people crease their brows in confusion and ask, “Do you mean Uganda?” No, we mean Rwanda, and it is a beautiful country whose people exude cheerfulness, and the nature boasts of unparalleled grandeur. Also, it is one of the three places in the world to see the famed and endangered mountain gorillas.

Photo credits: (1 & 4) Virat Garg; (2 & 5) Rwanda Development Board (RDB) | High Commission of Rwanda | RwandAir | Inspiration Unlimited; (3) Pallavi Goel

Photo credits: (1 & 4) Virat Garg; (2 & 5) Rwanda Development Board (RDB) | High Commission of Rwanda | RwandAir | Inspiration Unlimited; (3) Pallavi Goel

More than just the Big 5

We start our journey by revisiting South Africa. Last year, we had visited various national parks, like the Kruger National Park, where we came face to face with the African Big Five (African Lion, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, African Elephant and Black Rhinoceros). But 2017 packed more exhilarating adventures for us, where we left the land-based Big 5 and went underwater and swam with the sharks. We were in the port city of Hermanus, known as the capital of the great white shark but is also a great whale watching spot and a beautiful countryside region. As a bonus, we also chanced upon some African penguins at Betty’s Bay.

Thousands of tourists from India visit South Africa during the summer break, as plenty of buses full of Indians in Cape Town bore testimony. As we decided to climb Table Mountain, we met a group of Indians from Ahmedabad – “This is my second time in South Africa, first time I was here for work and this summer, I decided to bring the entire family with me and we are really enjoying it,” says Amit, a 47-year-old businessman.

The entire Indian family, grand parents, uncles, aunties and kids were all wearing clothes in red and white and joyfully screaming while taking pictures on top of the Table mountain. The flat top mountain is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and without doubt the symbol of Cape Town. Walking at 1,086 metres on the flat top, we experienced dramatic views of Cape Town. The main feature of Table Mountain is the level plateau approximately three kilometres from side to side, edged by impressive cliffs.

To explore the city in an original manner, one should try the sidecars. We ride through the lanes and discover its multiple treasures, from modern building, old architectures, exciting markets to pristine beaches and multiple bars and pubs.

The city was built by the Dutch for the East India Company. This is where boats used to rest while going to and coming back from Asia.

It is definitely the best expression of the melting pot of culture of the Rainbow country, as the Cape Dutch architectures that combine different European styles and the colourful Malay quarter show.

The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, built on the docks of the Port of Cape Town, is the city’s biggest tourist attraction, with multiple sea food restaurants and shopping options. It is also a popular meeting point for the local artists, painters and musicians. The V&A also hosts the Nelson Mandela Gateway, through which ferries depart for Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela, father of modern South Africa and the current President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, had been imprisoned during the apartheid regime.

(Left to right) Traditional local Rwandan dance called Intore; Shark diving in Gansbaai, South Africa

(Left to right) Traditional local Rwandan dance called Intore; Shark diving in Gansbaai, South Africa

Rwanda, an offbeat destination

We then head northwards, almost to the heart of the African continent to break all stereotypes about Rwanda. When it comes to Rwanda, much that is known about the country is mostly centred on the dark hours of its 1994 genocide or its mountain gorillas. But whether a tourist or a traveller, Rwanda has much more to offer.

Rwanda opened its door to tourism not long ago, and has already entered the global list of countries to visit. In April 2017, the World Economic Forum ranked Rwanda as the ninth safest country in the world for tourism. It may also be your next MICE destination, for Rwanda jumped to third place in the latest 2016 ranking of business tourism in Africa, released by International Congress and Convention Associations (ICCA).

Landlocked between Uganda (to the North), Tanzania (East), Burundi (South) and Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC (West), Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in Africa, with varied topography, each boasting of a rich ecosystem. Its mountainous terrains are a trekker’s paradise, with the added thrill of seeing its brilliant wildlife: we trailed through the raw wilderness of Nyungwe National Park where we saw the Colobus Monkeys and humankind’s closest living relative, the chimpanzees, and then, tumbling and falling, we scaled the steep extinct volcanoes in the Volcanoes National Park to witness the majestic mountain gorillas.

To relax our worked up muscles after the tiring, yet completely rewarding treks, we lazed on a cruise boat, wading through the azure blue waters of the beautiful Kivu lake that was reflecting the candy-floss filled sky that day. Rwanda’s largest lake, Kivu, is shared by DRC, and also connects three towns of the country. The serenity and the beauty of the moment, almost too exotic, made us wonder if it could perhaps be a setting for a new Bollywood romance number.

Our final stop was the Akagera National Park, towards the east of the country, hugging the Tanzania border, where we had the quintessential African safari experience. Driving through the scenic savannah landscapes and scintillating lakes with the misty mountains in the backdrop, we spotted many herds of zebras, oribi, impala and cape buffalos, plenty of baboons, and saw some waterbucks and also dear old Pumba but without Timon (the warthog and meerkat duo from the film, Lion King). While boating through the Lake Ihema of the park, we passed by a bloat of humongous hippos and chanced upon some grey-crowned cranes, a flock of black-headed weaver birds, among other vibrant bird species.

Before bidding the country adieu, it was imperative that we understand Rwanda’s history from its own people. Over a million people of the Tutsi tribe were killed by their Hutu neighbours and friends, who were convinced by the colonisers of their ‘Hutu-ness’ and their ‘Hutupower’. The Tutsi, they were told, were their “internal enemy” and “cockroaches”. Merciless strokes of machetes not only tore through limbs and lives, but also severed ages-old familial ties and friendship. Trust and humanity turned to ash, as the world stood and watched, doing nothing when Rwanda fell.

But Rwanda did rise up, and today, it is well on the path to forgiveness and reconciliation. The government is working to inculcate a sense of shared identity in Rwandans and reducing the reference to ethnicity. In the capital city, Kigali, we paid our respects at the Genocide Memorial that is frequently visited by the locals in an effort to forgive, but without ever forgetting.

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