Mosi-oa-Tunya – The smoke that Thunders

Victoria Falls – Mosi-oa-Tunya – The smoke that Thunders

We visited the Victoria Falls in October 2011, a few months after moving to South Africa. I like the African name ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ much better. This is the best place I have seen so far in Africa, the waterfall on the Zambezi River, between Zimbabwe and Zambia. This is the largest sheet of falling water (Volume wise), twice the size of Niagara falls in height.

Almost three fourth of the falls is within the Zimbabwe border and only one fourth in the Zambia. So Zimbabwe side provides a better view of the falls. Previously most of the tourists used to go to the Zambia side due to political unrest on the Zimbabwe side. But now, with the improved situation, many tourists visit the Zimbabwe side. We also decided to visit the Zimbabwe side.

We landed at the Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe and stayed at the Victoria Falls hotel. The airport was a small and quiet place, with a very relaxed atmosphere. The moment we came out of the airport, I liked the place instantly. It reminded me of India – with its bright sunny climate, trees and red unpaved roads.

It resembled a small sleepy town of India in every respect. The roads were almost deserted, with mostly tourists in sight. We saw many Japanese and Latin American tourists on the way. There was a small railway station near the hotel. It was crowded with hundreds of locals wearing green colour robes. They belonged to a particular church and were going for some religious gathering. Missionary activities are widely seen all over Africa.

The Victoria Falls hotel is a Victorian style hotel, built in 1904, looking very similar to many old British style buildings in Colonial India. The hotel had taxidermy all over its lounge which made Megha very upset and uncomfortable. The horns and masks of various wild animals decorated the lobby and the passages everywhere. It was not a pleasant scene at all. Other than that the inside of the hotel was very nice, with lotus blooming in the ponds, mango trees and friendly staffs all over. The falls were visible from a distance from the hotel; in fact the sprays from the falls could also be seen. Mosquito bites can be dangerous in Africa, causing malaria. At night we slept with the mosquito nets put around the beds.

Upon reaching the Zimbabwe, we set out for a park which was an hour’s drive from the hotel. The park organized elephant rides inside the jungle. After waiting for some time with other tourists and refreshments, a group of at least 20 elephants arrived. The elephants had to be befriended first, given food before they agree to carry you on their back. Some infants were following their mothers. We learnt that the African elephants are aggressive in nature and so do not do any domestic household work unlike Indian Elephants.

On our way back to the hotel from the Victoria Falls national park, we saw a strange phenomenon. There were several nests on each of the trees along the side of the road. The strange thing was that all the nests were built only on one side of the tree. The guide informed that the birds built the nests only on the west side to keep their nests warm for a long time at night.

At night there were many nice African cultural programs and dance hosted in the hotel. The next morning we set out for the Victoria Falls. The falls was at a walking distance from the hotel. Almost ten years back we had visited Niagara Falls in the US and Canada. It is a major tourist attraction with hundreds and thousands of tourists thronging the place every day. There were countless rides and entertainment programs to keep the tourists engaged. There were huge parking lots and gift shops and eateries all over the place. In comparison to that, Victoria Falls was quiet and serene. The entrance was simple. No vehicles were allowed inside. One has to walk the entire length of the falls in order to see it, along the side of the rain forest. The walk beside the fall is very nice, quiet and relaxed, completely natural, full of Rain Forests. I liked the fact that, the nature was very well preserved, with all its wildness. There was no effort to commercialize the place. There were no coffee shops, food stalls or recreation centers inside the falls area. The view of the falls was extremely beautiful, difficult to express in words. It stood like a magnificent giant, with huge sheet of water falling with great force at places. The surrounding looked mysterious – with wild green rain forest and mountain range surrounding the falls. Since it was just end of winter and beginning of summer, the water sheet was not continuous. They were seen at various points in the mountain range.

In the evening we went for a river cruise on the Zambezi River. The Zambezi River is the fourth largest river in African continent, touching the borders of four countries. It was huge and wild, with strong current and strong wind blowing over it. The cruise on the river was a great experience. The river was full of hippos and they could be seen very often close to the cruise. Hippos are the most dangerous animals in Africa. Most of the wild life related deaths take place in Africa due to Hippo attacks. Hippos normally stay in huge groups of 20-30 in a single group. Other than this, many other wild lives like crocodiles and many types of birds were also seen.

Next morning we went for the helicopter ride. It was going to be our first experience of helicopter ride. I am scared of heights and so I was not sure about the experience. But when we ultimately took the ride, I was happy that I came. It was a wonderful experience. The view of the waterfall from the helicopter was breath-taking and magnificent. The animals in the national park were clearly visible from the helicopter! It was a strange experience indeed.

On our way back to Johannesburg, the small airport which looked so relaxed last time, was in a chaotic state. It was full of tourists and the flights were delayed. There was not a single inch of space free on the floor to move around, as many of the fliers were sitting on the ground. We went inside a Zimbabwean art shop and I bought a beautiful piece of African necklace from there. It was my first African necklace. In the next three years, I bought many of them from the African Art and Craft markets.
In the next 2.5 years of my stay in South Africa, we visited many places like Capetown, Durban, Kruger, and even Kenya & Tanzania. However Victoria Falls remains the most favorite African destination of mine till date.