south africa 6: kwazulu-natal adventure—from sani pass to its game reserves

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The thrill of Sani Pass

Aah, that adrenalin rush! That sense of adventure in exploring unchartered, gruelling terrains and then coming back to tell the tale. For many travelling to South Africa, and to me, it simply means the Sani Pass.

Once a rough mule trail, Sani Pass is now a notoriously dangerous mountain road to Lesotho via the Drakensberg Mountains which can only be traversed by a 4X4. Lying between the border controls of South Africa and Lesotho, the 8-kilometre-long gravel road through no-man’s land starts at 1,968 metres above sea level and ends near the summit at 2,873 metres. The journey is marked with steep ascents, hairpin bends appropriately named “suicide bend” and “big wind corner”, loose gravel, and beautiful views. Some walk this road. For the adventurous, the thrill is in the 4X4 drive. Continue reading

south africa 5: kwazulu-natal history—from rorke’s drift to kamberg to shakaland

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At the historic Anglo-Zulu battlefields in northern KwaZulu-Natal. What you see behind me, to the right, are sand storms in action. 

Day 1: Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift: Where heroes were made

An endless expanse of dusty plains and stunted thorn trees sprawls for miles in front of me. We’ve been driving for five hours now. I’m on my way to Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift and am told it is just beyond the last mound that shimmers in the horizon.

It is incredible that these barren expanses in the middle of nowhere, absolutely nowhere, were once the scenes of key battles fought during the Boer-Zulu, Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer wars.

The few travellers who trickle up north to make this journey tend to be British, military buffs, or those tracing their family tree. But you don’t have to be any of them really. Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift are a celebration of the human spirit during war, of courage against all odds. In the former, the valour was that of the Zulus. In Rorke’s Drift, the heroes were the British. Continue reading

iran 9: nain, abyaneh, kashan—travelling through the desert

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I’ll be leaving in a couple of days; I have been in Iran for two weeks now. How easily we are able to change our habits. Two weeks and I now feel uncomfortable going out in public without my hejab, kebabs have become my staple diet, and salams and merci come easily. One more week here and I would be all chadored, going na na every time someone wanted to take a picture of me.

Travelling through miles of desert is an extraordinary experience. It also teaches you not to be fussy. Bathrooms are invariably behind a sand dune, at a little booth in a caravanserai, or in a thicket. So when you emerge you learn to check your front and backside as well so that there are no twigs sticking out of your hejab. It gives a whole new angle to the “going to the ladies” ritual.

There are two main deserts in Iran—Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut—and they are both dotted with tiny little towns built around ancient mosques. Nain is the most charming with its carpets and 9th Century Jameh mosque decorated with stunning yet simple stucco-work. Continue reading

iran 7: the desert city of yazd

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I am nearing Yazd. The landscape is stunning. Towering, barren, sedimentary mountains streaked with iron oxides flank both sides of the road. It has been a long day, driving through hundreds of miles of arid wilderness. As I wind my way through the burgeoning city, millions of street lights twinkle in the darkness in warm welcome.

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Yazd is one of those not-to-be missed, no-matter-what, highlights of Iran. Wedged between two desolate deserts, it has long been a prosperous staging post on the caravan route between Esfahan and Central Asia. The city was an important center for Iran’s pre-Islamic religion, Zoroastrianism, and still has the largest Zoroastrian population in the country at 12,000. Continue reading

iran 4: the story of persepolis

“Passer-by, I am Cyrus the Great, I have given the Persians an empire and I have ruled over Asia. So do not envy me for this tomb.”
~ Inscription on the tomb of Cyrus the Great, Pasargade, 6th Century BC

I love rambling through archaeological sites, running my fingers over millennia old ruins, walking down worn out paths where before me countless souls had also passed along. Where history was made and destinies defined. Sites like these are humbling, making us realize how small we are in the bigger picture. And yet such sites also fill us with a deep sense of pride in humanity’s political achievements and artistic endeavors which are a legacy belonging to all mankind.

persepolis_rama Continue reading

iran 3: takht-e soleyman, epicentre of zoroastrianism

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The unspoilt expanse of Western Iran is desolate. Its people simple. Barren red mountains stretch as far as the eye can see, in sharp contrast with the clear blue skies above. Decade-old cars of forgotten makes and models plough highways punctuated with police checkpoints at rapid regularity. I’m on my way to Takht-e Soleyman, the spiritual center of Zoroastrianism, and on to Takab for the night, a minuscule town less than a hundred miles from the Iraqi border. Continue reading