The crowning glory of Africa: The Victoria Falls

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Victoria Falls

Udita Bajaj (India)
Some would dispute over the identity of the Victoria Falls. Well, let me tell you — it’s not Zambian. It’s not Zimbabwean. It is African.

The Victoria Falls is the highlight of the continent. Located in both Zimbabwe and Zambia, it has a shared identity and covers areas of both countries, its bridge marking the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The Victoria Falls is the pride of Africa, the continent hosting the largest waterfall in the world. To me, the largest waterfall was never defined and I longed to see it since the first time I learned that something known as Victoria Falls existed.

The name itself sounds so grand, true to its origin of being named after the Queen Victoria by its founder — David Livingstone. I had read a whole lot about him and oh well, while I was travelling with two neatly packed suitcases, a designer sun hat, and a backpack filled with food only to discover the Falls for myself, that guy endured years of severe discomfort in the African Bush, battled man-eating crocodiles, was bitten by a lion and lost his arm, all to discover the Falls for the world.

And now, the World revels in its beauty every year.

The Falls are shrouded deep in the heart of the trail of nature. Oh, and it’s a long way even to get to the start of the trail — especially if you’re coming all the way from India, like I was.

I won’t lie. Travelling more than 4500 miles was nothing less than overwhelming fatigue. A total of 11 hours spent cooped up in an aircraft — from Delhi to Lusaka, then to Harare, and then to the Falls — to say the least – gave me sores.

And of course, I couldn’t wait to get to our hotel and plump myself on the bed, sink into the fluffy mattress, or perhaps relax near the pool with drink in hand under the morning sun . . . Oh, and a sunbath would really be nice…Victoria Falls could wait till the day after, could it not? Of course not, when the family has other plans.

Let’s just say — I felt forbidden to relax and enjoy the luxuries of one of the numerous hotels near the Falls that I had most ardently chosen. And, oh, hasn’t the country done a marvellous job at enhancing the Tourism in this place!

There are innumerable hotels to choose from, each with its own charm and reflection of the beauty of the Falls.  The Batonka Guest Lodge, The Elephant Camp, The Victoria Falls Hotel — each provide their customers with the best experience, be it in terms of the staff, the ambiance, the rooms — everything! And yes, my stay at the Kingdom Hotel was no less.

The one thing which set apart Kingdom Hotel from the rest was its atmosphere. It was lively. It was spirited. And with its miniature waterfalls, and tribal-like decoration, it held in it the true essence of Africa — all of it in itself.

We left precisely three hours after our flight landed. My dream of luxuriously gorging on hot pancakes, chocolate waffles, and every other delicacy one gets offered at breakfast in the Kingdom Hotel went down the drain as I was forced to gulp some hash browns and corn stew in less then two and a half minutes, only to set off on foot on the entire two kilometre walk to the Falls.

My legs were definitely not pleased, nor were my eyes. I was on a dismal route in the middle of nothingness. The barren, desolate land stretched as far as the eye could see. There was just                               . . . sand on both sides with perhaps one odd tree in the distance. Soon enough my heart gave up and I closed my eyes, wanting to come out of this dream. But when I opened them, I found myself immersed deep into one.

The sudden change of surrounding was almost too much for me to take in. I was in the heart of Africa.

The leaves whispered in bright, yet hushed tones. A soft whistle . . . followed by innumerable thunderous ones.  The swirl of wind evoked no dust, no dirt. It was only a greeting, a way of nature to welcome the human. It was a sign of peace, an agreement and a request of not meddling with nature.  We humbly took it and surged forward on the hills and rocks. The stone path was wet, dotted with small leaves. The sound of a heavy sheet of gushing water was evident and loud. The Falls were close and as tired as I already was, I couldn’t just take a leisure walk when I was this close to living my dream.

I’m a traveller. I’ve ventured to several tourist destinations around the world, and each one is adorned with man-made structures, implanted fountains and statues, ticket counters, the hustle bustle of tourists, the use of walkie-talkies, computers — all to make it convenient and attractive. To MAKE it beautiful. But here, in complete solitude, with minimal human interference, there is no need to make it beautiful because it in itself is  beautiful.

All my fatigue, all my irritation washed way when I laid my eyes upon the Falls. Livingstone was right- “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”.

I stood at the edge of one of the cliffs, shuddering in my raincoat. The fog enveloped me in delicate swirls as if readying me for an other-worldly realm. So I waited for it to clear for me to finally see the Falls. A minute passed. Then two. But the sky in front didn’t produce what I wanted to see. Instead, shimmering rainbows appeared one be one, like those that appear in fairy-tales. It was far from reality. Thirteen rainbows gleamed into existence, as if marking our entrance into the natural world. And when they the fog cleared, I fell. Deep down into the depths of this enchanting reverie. And I won’t deny — I was at a complete loss for words.

The Victoria Falls isn’t the highest waterfall, nor is it the widest waterfall, but based on a combined width of 5 604 feet and height of 354 feet, it is the Largest Waterfall. Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of North America’s Niagara Falls and well over twice the width of its Horseshoe Falls. . This largest sheet of falling water is formed when the fast flowing Zambezi River plummets in a single vertical drop into a transverse chasm as the Falls reach full width.

To all those who claim that Niagara Falls is “better” — how? Now, I’ve seen both, and the Victoria Falls is just as stunning. The statistics don’t matter. It is the feeling it evokes in you that does.

This God’s realm is situated in the heart of nature, away from the quagmire of world outside And in such an era, such beauty, such tranquillity is hard to find.

I was lucky to find some there and with the deep sound and peaceful sight of the falling mass of water, the smell of wet earth and sprinkles of water, the sweet and fresh taste and touch of the mist, nothing could be better.

My ardent desire to just rest and admire the Falls all day was starkly shattered by the family. Their plans were mountainous (and somewhat ominous). It was just noon, so we had a whole day of activities planned over here! The Victoria Falls has a multitude of activities! If you’re up for the ultimate adventure — how about swimming IN the Falls? Through years of erosion, many rock pools have formed at the edge of the Falls, one of them being the Devil’s Pool.

Only open from mid August to January when the water levels are low, this ultimate infinity pool is ONLY for the dauntless ones.

The force of the river in the pool carries you to the edge as the rock lip brings you to a halt while the raging waters of the Zambezi strike-over the cliffs ahead.

Of course, there are attendants to ensure your safety. Our guide suggested this wonderful activity for us. I refused, most certain that I did not have a death wish.

Instead, I settled for an Art Safari. It’s Africa, so why not? Not only does one get to explore the wildlife — the essence of Africa — which includes elephants, buffalos, hippopotamus, baboons, monkeys, cheetahs…just to name a few, but also one gets to experience and absorb the local culture. In the Village Art Safari, one gets an insight into the local Ndebele culture in the Mpisi’s Village. This communal living area is true to the culturally rich lifestyle of Africa. The Interactive workshops, private tutor, and a special traditional meal really bring this enriching experience alive! And Yet again, I experienced what is like to be serene, a sense you can hardly ever feel in these times.

This serenity soon turned into thrill with our mutual agreement on the day’s next few activities. Time to set foot on the Border, where the Bridge Swing and Bungee Jump were waiting for us!  Want to tempt fate?

Become a human pendulum? Your deepest desires would definitely be fulfilled here. Mine most certainly were as I pushed all my fear behind myself and took the plunge. And I wished every day after that that I could live every feeling I felt during that one hour once again.

The Batonka Gorge in the Falls is the best place one can do the Bridge Swing.  This 80m free-fall gives you the adrenaline rush you need as you swing in a giant arc while taking in the beautiful views. I settled for that and I’m glad I did. It was the best experience in my entire life and that’s saying a lot, considering that I’m a traveller.

The Bungee Jump, on the other hand, rattled my nerves as I watched the brother fall through 111 metres of weightlessness. I could here his shrieks. His joy was evident. Both the activities we did were worth it. I remember that before I did it, a million thoughts were rushing through my mind. What will happen? Would I hurt myself? Would I die? It isn’t easy jumping off a bridge. But my hesitation turned into freedom as I took the leap. It made me scream. It made me laugh. It made me feel alive.

And tired.

So, at dusk, we got the treat we very much craved for. The Victoria Falls Sunset Cruise. The Zambezi Explorer Cruise Company really took us for a ride as we sailed upstream to the setting African sun. No — it isn’t just relaxing. It’s reviving. While the red sky gleams in all its glory, sitting in the cruise, you can relish in the evening ritual of wild herds streaming to the river banks for their last drink, and see flocks of all types of birds skimming the water line, slowing rising way above the dying ball of fire as you sail away.

And as the sun lurched away into the earth’s womb, Curacao glass in hand, I settled back onto the deck couches with my family, revelling in the memories of one of the most beautiful places in the world — the Crowning Glory of Africa: The VictoriaFalls.

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