Thursday, March 29, 2012

2 Chikmagalur with family

This was a family trip including Ajay Narayan’s family (Ajay, Preetha and their wonderful twin sons Ryan and Rohit), Sanju Poonacha’s family Sanju, Rohini, their active son, Pranoy and very beautiful daughter, Nikki) and my family (Sunil, Bindu and our children Johan and Giane). We started our Journey on Friday, 23rd March 2012 morning in a Tempo traveller at about 6:15 AM from my home in Ejipura, by the time we picked Ajay’s and Sanju’s family from RT Nagar it was about 7:15 AM.

We had delicious breakfast in an open air restaurant few kilometres after Nelamangala, in the shade of trees, whose low branches was source of fun for the children who plucked the leaves and enjoyed swinging from its branches.

We reached Shravanabelagola by around 10:30 AM. The barefoot climb of 600 odd steps to the top of hill to see the Statue of Gomateshwara/Bahubali was probably a little tedious but well worth the experience. I could say Rohini was the one who stretched herself the most, her sheer desire to see the Statue finally overcoming the constraints of the challenging climb.

The statue is sight to behold, with a height of 57 feet and carved out of a single stone (Monolith). It is considered the World’s largest monolith stone staue. The view from the top of the hill is also beautiful.

We had booked our stay in Texwoods resorts ( close to the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary at a place called Muthodi. We reached honnala check post by 2:30, and the 5 kilometre stretch of mud road through thick plantation from here to Tex Woods was adventurous and was not something which our driver enjoyed, it was probably designed for a 4 wheel drive to say the least.

The Buffet lunch at Tex Woods was excellent, with chicken and mutton among the menu.
The rooms here are elegant and comfortable. The place also has good swimming pool and the enthuisiastic children ensured that we spend close to 2 hours in the pool. Swimming, Playing running and catching, and throwing Pranoy with synchronised effort ensuring he had brief flights of 2-3 metres. We went for short walk in the evening which was cut short by the hints from my wife to return as it was getting dark.

Evening was fun sitting around the ‘Campfire’ having a few drinks of Bacardi and attempting to play Antakshari and Dumb Charades. Morning we got up by 7:30 and went for small walk to see the place where they process coffee seeds. It was close to 10:30 by the time we has breakfast and departed to Kemmangundi via, Chikmagalur. We reached Chikmagalur by 11: 45 AM and decided to see Dhaba-Dhaba falls, Baba Budan giri hills and Manikyadhara falls instead of going to Kemmangudi and Hebbe falls in the interest of time.

Dhaba-Dhaba falls which is a few kilometres before Attigundi on the way to Kemmangundi, is close to 1.5 kilometres trek from the main road with a sign board of Jzhari eco resorts as the starting point. In the middle of the walk, Sanju and I decided to take the deviation to Jzhari resorts to get the lunch parceled. But after we had travelled about 400 metres we were told by the Jeep driver from the resort that they will not have food for 10 people as they had a full house and we had not ordered earlier. We went back to join our gang under the falls.

The falls was beauty with the water falling from a considerable height over layers of rock. Bathing in the falls was a great experience with the cold water and force of the fall ensuring we were shivering and our body parts were turning numb in less than a minute.We had to have few sips of Whisky as an enticement to go under the falls repeatedly. On our way back from the falls we took the more adventurous short cuts with its share of challenges.

We had lunch of Paratha’s, Chiken curry and egg omlette in small restaurant in
Attigundi before continuing our journey to Manikyadhara falls in Baba Budangiri hills. The climb down of about 100 odd steps to Manikyadhara falls was not very fruitful as there was very little water, probably equivalent to one of the showers in our homes. This place as I was informed had a lot religious significance, with the presence of the ‘Dharga’ and Dattapeetta.

It was close to 6:00 PM when we reached Thanmaya home stay ( close to a place called Kaimara. Thanmaya offers an old fashioned home, the external view of which can be little intimidating. But inside the rooms and toilets were clean and we soon started liking the place and its different ambience.
The men along with the children started playing Cricket and showing off our abilities with the bat and ball. When it became dark, we had a refreshing shower and played carrom for while, allowing the women and men to celebrate the simple victories with high fives and laughter,

which would have put the ‘podium’ celebrations of the world carrom championship to shame. Soon it was Bacardi time, we had a great drinking session, accompanied by some beautiful songs, thanks to the talent of Rohini, who mesmirised us with her singing. It was past 12:30 AM when we reluctantly retired to our rooms for the much needed sleep.

In the morning we again played cricket for while and by 9:30 AM left to Mullayanagiri, which at a height of 6300 ft is the highest peak in Karnataka. There were some beautiful scenery to behold on the way, and although we did not trek to top of the hill, had good time enjoying the view from place called Sitalayanagiri which also had a small temple, about 2 kilometres below the Mullayanagiri peak.

We reached Belur by 11:30 and went to the main attraction of the area, the Chennakeshava Temple. We fortunately hired a guide for 250 rupees and he explained that the temple was built by King Vishnuvardhana in commemeration of his victory over Cholas in the 12 century, it took over 103 years to build and was completed by his grandson.
The temple has 32 corners and 32 pillars, and about 6,000 statues. The intricate work of the statues, with their distinct ornaments, postures, features and expression was extraordinary and unimaginable.

The statues carved from single stone had visible gaps between the ornaments and parts, creating a 3 dimensional view, which had us astonished with admiration for the people who had created it. We agreed with the guide when he told us that this temple takes days/weeks to see and admire every individual statue, and what we had seen in about 45 minutes was in his words “highlight of the highlights”.

We had delicious lunch of Biriyani and chicken kababs at Belur and left to Halebeedu. Halebeedu, was earlier called Dwarasamudra and was the Capital of Hoysala kingdom around the 12th century. The hoysaleshwara temple here is astounding for its wealth of sculptural details. The walls of the temple are covered with an endless variety of depictions from Hindu mythology, animals, birds and dancing figures. The guide told us that the temple was twice the size of the Belur temple and had 64 corners and nearly 12000 satues. The statues outside were much detailed than Belur, and are amazing work of art. Unfortunately moft of the statues inside were stolen, and most of the designs were incomplete as the artisans had to flee during the attack by the army of Malik Kafur the general of Alaudin Khilji. The city was later deserted and hence got the name halebeedu which means ‘Old Abode”

We departed to Bangalore by 4:00 PM and reached RT Nagar by 8:00 PM, ending a great trip with memories to be cherished. Thanks to Ajay’s and Sanju’s family who were traveling with us for the first time for being understanding and adjusting with the sudden change of plans and late meals.

Friday, June 17, 2011

World Cup & South Africa – Part 2 – Port Elizabeth and Garden Route

Click here to read the first part or our experiences in Johannesburg and watching the World Cup Match
24th June 2010: Port Elizabeth (PE) is an elegant town and Airport was no different, we landed there by around 7:30 PM and moved to the Car hire session where we got the keys to Renault Logan from a beautiful young lady called Calliandra who worked for Tempest. I Should say we were lucky to a get this car as we definetly needed the extra space inside the car as well as in the boot to accommodate our entire luggage. It was decided that Jeff would be the main driver and Keith would be co-driver, Kieth’s size and Jeff’s enthusiasm easily burying other options. I was happy as it gave me the liberty to enjoy the beautiful scenery, have small bursts of dream and also have the occasional drink or two without worrying too much. The short drive of 15-20 minutes from the Airport was serene, giving the right picture about the peaceful and quite town, although we managed to lose the way atleast on one occasion. We were staying in a place quite close to the beach called, Kings Beach Backpackers on Winderemere Road, 2 blocks from the Marine Drive Road. We had small walk in the quite surrounding and located Mc Donalds near by, we had a light snacks before packing some necessary items from the cash and carry. We went back to Kings Beach and had couple of pints of beer in the small but cute bar counter outside the Backpackers, if I remember correctly with some barbecued meat.

25th June 2010: We decided to get up early and go to Seaview Lions Park. I should say I was a little skeptical whether our Singapore friends would arise so early, despite Jeffs caution; to my pleasant surprise they actually were ready even before Jeff and I. And I should say they surprised us by their descipline and team spirit every day from then and I should mention that for young people still in their early twenties they were very well organised and acted with a lot of maturity.
The drive to Seaview Lion Park which was about 35 kilometres was sheer pleasure, the roads were good and there was almost no traffic all the way. We also travelled along the coast line for some distance and got the chance to get down from the car and take a couple of pictures in of the beaches along the way.

The park ( is actually a small hill, atleast a couple of kilometres from the Sea, but definetly had one of the best views of the Sea as it was at considerable height 200-300 metres above sea level. As soon as we entered to the Park territory we were greeted by a few Giraffes, Majestically walking along our path and a couple of them actually accompanied us for while, making it difficult for us to go past without scaring them, on the narrow road.

We also saw few Zebras before stopping near the Lion enclosures. The Lion enclosures are unique in the sense these are large areas surrounded by fences, and there are narrow paths around them where we can walk and see them. There were lots of lions in there, some with beautiful manes, giving life to all our imaginations about the majestic creatures, making us realise exactly why they are refered as the King of the Jungle.

This is one of the rare places where we get to play with Lion and Tiger cubs, and we were told that we should be lucky as it all depended on the mood of the cubs when we were there. Lucky we definetly were, as we all got to play with the Lion cubs. It was an amazing feeling to touch these cute cubs, imagining and respecting how strong and fearsome they will become in few months. And although they were only about a month old and very little, they often tried to nible at your clothes, and tried to scratch with their cute tiny paws. Those 10-15 minutes with them was bliss, giving us beautiful memories to be cherished forever.

Jeff and Keith also got to be with the Tiger cubs which were 4-5 months old, rest of us avoiding it as the cubs were quite large and definetly did not look like they can be played with. I should admit that I was a little embarassed when we saw a lady playing with a full grown lioness. They have a beautiful restaurant on top with an amazing view of the hills below and the surrounding Tiger and Lion enclosures.

Our next destination was Addo Elephant National Park ( one of the best national parks according to our research for game viewing, we had already booked our stay there along with two Safari rides. The beautiful drive to Addo was dirturbed by the realisation that our tom-tom (GPS Navigator) was a faulty one; we called the travel guys and were told that they will come to Addo and replace the same for us, which they actually did by the same evening. We reached Addo by 2:30, had lunch and after confirming booking for the Sunset Safari went to our cottages, Jeff and I were in one cottage about 300 metres from the cottage where Farhan, Keith and Diana stayed. Our cottage was real beauty, with a small open balcony, overlooking a water hole (where we saw a Fox the following morning) separated only by an electrified fence.

We all gathered back by 4:00 to start the sunset Safari, called the Sundowner, we were 8 of us including the driver, in the large sized vehicle. Soon we were driving through small hills, open fields having grass and shrubs as the main vegetation. We spotted a few wild beasts, Ostriches and herds of Elephants, we realised why this park got its name as there were lot of elephants in this place and they could be seen freeling moving in small and large herds. This park has the largest density of Elephants in the whole world.

Then we entered through a gate to a large secluded area, and after driving for while we spotted 2 two majestic lions relaxing under the evening sun, 20-30 metres from our path, our hearts skipped a beat or two when the driver slowly reversed the vehicle through the grass between the shrubs, and stopped within about 10 metres from the Lions, we soon became quite comfortable as we realised that Lions were not too much bothered by our intrusion. We silently exchanged places and took a few pictures with the two beauties in the backdrop. It was an amazing to see these animals in their natural habitat, with the soft rays of Sun and the hills in the background adding color and beauty to the enthralling sight.

Our driver soon stopped the Vehicle in betweeen a large open field right in the middle of the park for us to down a few drinks. The snack of dried exquisite meat like Ostrich and beef along with flavoured African special beers were relished in the beautiful backdrop of the surrounding hills, with the setting sun and cold breeze providing the perfect setting for a memorable experience.

We returned to our tent and the setting was so beautiful that we could not resist the temptation to drink the Lamb’s Rum, soon Farhan also joined us and gave me all the reason to continue drinking, Jeff stopped after while probably to ensure that atleast one of us were in our senses.

I remember seeing the match in the Fan Square, the common gathering place and enjoying every moment of it. In my high spirits and contentment, I was talking to almost everyother person including children from different countries, we met in the restaurant and so occupied was I with my discussions that I actually did not find time to eat my dinner. I should confess that I only vaguely remember when and how I returned to the tent and slept.

26th June 2010: We were up early in the morning and it was very cold, and we were almost shivering on our way to and from the bathrooms, which were outside the tent. The morning Safari was less entertaining as it was chilly and the breeze was not making it any easier, we did not see too many animals, except for a few Ostrich and meerkats, not even the elephants as they were standing behind the large bushes to escape the cold, according to the driver. But soon things changed, probably brought on by the beautiful sunrise, as we drove around a hill we suddenly realised that we were amidst 50 to 70 elephants, some so close that we felt we could just stand and stretch our hands to touch them, many of them only partly visible behind the bushes. I should admit we were a little fazed by their near proximity but took heart in the fact that there were many other vehicles near by and it took just a minute for us to regain our composure and enjoy the rare and delightful experience. We also saw a couple of Lions along our path and the interesting scene of a Lion marking its territory.

It was about 9:30 AM when we started for the Tsitsikamma, we travelled mainly on the N2 Highway and it was impossible after seeing the Kabeljaus lagoon (close to Jeffers Bay) not to take diversion and enter the Kabeljaus beach. This beach was an absolute beauty, with endless sand at the mouth of the lagoon, the backdrop of hills and the artistically built houses on the slopes providing for some exceptional secenary, etching memories which are likely to stand the test of time. We enjoyed playing like small children, taking pictures with different postures and style, some even daring to remove their shirts, all in an attempt to cature the magnificence of the place and feeling of bliss we shared. On our way back from here to Jeffrey’s Bay, we saw an interesting and simple street market; we also stopped at another beautiful beach on the way.

We reached the storms river village in tsitsikamma by around 3:30 PM, we directly went to Tsitsikamma falls adventures office as we wanted to do the zipline tour across the kruis river. I remember when we reached there it was overcast with some drizzle and the place looked beautiful. We soon purchased the tickets which cost us about 500 Rands or 3000 INR including the tickets for abseiling, and individual photographs and videos.

The Zipline tour, is basically sliding from point to another by being suspended from a ‘line’ or “cable’ usually made of metal. We got the instructions from two wonderful native guides, one of them was really friendly and talkative, I can never forget his favourite way of calling us ‘as my brother from a different mother’ in his distinct South African accent.We were a group of about 9, Keith opting out as he had fear of hieghts.

Here you will have 6-8 slides taking you zigzagging across the river gorge above 3 small water falls, the first two slides are small allowing you to get a feel of things, all the slides except the last one is down the river. The last slide is the longest, for which we have to climb to a platform at height of above 50 meters, and slide the entire distance we covered in the last 7 slides, covering a distance of about 211 meters at height of above 50 metres across the picturesque gorge with magnificent views. This was an awesome activity and we were completely thrilled by the experience. We also managed to do the gravity zone abseiling, which is going down vertically being suspended only by the ‘line’ or ‘cable’ from height of about 30 metres to the foot of a small waterfall. We were tired after nearly 3 hours exhilarating action and headed straight to
The Tube ’n Axe Backpackers lodge ( ) where we had booked for the overnight stay. This place gives you a very homely atmosphere and is peaceful, atleast till the start of the football match in TV, like most of the lodges in this part of the World. If my memory serves me well this is the place where Diana prepared noodles for our dinner, and I was helping her by just being around. Soon the match started and we started our little booze session near the beautiful bar counter watching the football match between Ghana and USA. I was a little tired from previous nights drink session and also from the zipline activities in the day and retired to bed after the match, but Jeff encouraged by the victory of Ghana (he had bet a sizeable amount on this team), became his usual self and celebrated till early hours of the next day, along with Farhan and Keith.

27th June 2010: This was the big day, for Diana, Farhan and I, as we had planned to do the ‘Bungee Jump’ from the World’s tallest Bungee Bridge (Jeff opting out as he had already had sky dived a few months back)and the highest single span concrete arch bridge in the world called Bloukrans, at height of 216 meters. We were near the bridge by 9 AM and were in the slotted in the second batch for the jump by the Face Adrenaline team. I could make out that Diana and Farhan was a little apprehensive waiting for the jump, and they asked me how come I was so cheerful, I was not worried at all, this was something which I always wanted to do and my excitement ensured that I had absolutely no room for fear.

The platform from where you jump, is right at the centre and below the bridge, and the walk to the bridge along specially designed catwalk (should be called cagewalk) below the bridge, can be little intimidating before the jump, giving clear idea of the height and view of the river below though the opening in the metal cage on which you are walking. I was the first in our gang to jump and what an experience it was! I should say it is breathtaking feeling to stand at the edge of the platform looking down to the river 216 meters below just before the jump.
The jump was spectacular, soaring down with my arms outstretched, sensing the encredible gravitational pull as well the as the weightlessness caused by the flying feeling, and quickly seeing and sensing the river/land closing in on me very rapidly, and immediately being tossed up to nearly 60% of the original height due to the recoil of the bungee rope, just like flying, giving an incredible sensation, I kept saying 'I did it' repeatedly keeping a closed fist, for the next minute or two I would fall and be tossed up multiple times till I was pulled up by a guide, who came down using another rope with the help of a motorised pulley. And I should confess there was few seconds when I was suspended freely after the jump, when I was a little worried with the feeling that my legs were slipping out of the harness, but I soon realised it was just my feeling. The astounding few minutes with different elating sensations was a feeling of pure bliss and can not be expressed by mere words. I was as excited after the Jump as I was before it, making one of the jumpers Mohammed, who stayed in our same lodge remark that I was not a human as I had no fear at all. It was very nice to share the feeling with Diana and Farhan, which by just holding our hands together, conveyed and shared the triumph more than words could ever do.

We had a quick brunch and went to Knysna, a marvelous place with numerous spectacular views. We went to the Fan Square, the public World Cup viewing area in thesen harbour town to see the match between Germany and England. It was nice and different experience to watch the match in the Fan Square, but I should mention that crowd here is much disciplined and as expected it was uneventful. The place though was an absolute beauty and we took time enjoy the spectacular view of the sea and strikingly different buildings. The surroundings here are so serene even with the World Cup, imagine what it would be on other regular days.

We soon headed to our destination for the day the Outeniqua Lodge ( ) in George, again a private and homely place with a beautiful swimming pool. This is the first place we had to use codes to access the main gate for entering the Lodge driving your car. We went out to have dinner in a near by restaurant, had a delightful meal watching the match, being served by a courteous and friendly waiter and returned back to the Lodge, some of us continued watching the match along with a guest of the Lodge and others chose to browse the internet and check their emails.

28th June 2010: This was the special day for Jeff as he was planning to do something called as Kloofing, so we headed straight to the Eden Adventures located in the midst of Wilderness National Park. Kloofing is usually a summer activity, where you wear wetsuit, go boulder hoping, swimming down narrow canyons with optional jumps of the cliffs to the colored water below (designed for the ones like Jeff). The rest of us did not feel like doing it because the water was really cold, nearly freezing and we were not ready for another adventure after the Bungee Jump the previous day.

We decided to hire canoe and peddle around the beautiful stream in the wilderness area. The river and the surrounding was extremely gorgeous with the soft rays of the morning sun adding to the beauty and also filling us with the much needed warmth from the chilly wind, on this exceptionally pleasant and beautiful morning. Keith and I, were in one canoe and enjoyed the experience of synchronised rowing, which was the only way we could move in the direction we wanted, and the company of Diana and Farhan in the other canoe. We then went to the wilderness beach for quick visit and went to the near by Victoria bay as we waited for Jeff to finish his kloofing.

Victoria bay is small cove with a few palm trees and is popular beach for surfers and there is walking path along the right of the beach with beautiful dwellings on one side, which will take you to small bridge/path a few metres into the sea ending with a good viewpoint. This place I guess is quite famous for Icecreams as I could see lot of Ice Cream parlours, and we also gave way to the temptation.

We were soon joined by a very tired looking but visibly happy Jeff, and we set out to see the Birds of Eden Sanctuary near plattenberg bay, The Birds of Eden is an enormous two hectare dome spanning a gorge filled with green indigenous forest. With in which there are some 100 species of incredible birds, a few of them endangered. There is a wooden walkway to lead you through the beautiful place, over a river and behind a waterfall which are all part of the sanctuary. I should confess though I did not find any thing spectacular here and do not even remember most of the things I saw in this place.

Jeff alone went see the monkeyland, which is basically guided tour on an eco friendly trail which allows you to see the free roaming monkeys in their natural habitat and Jeff looked rather thrilled by seeing the different types of monkeys and possibly their antics. We spent time waiting for Jeff having few pints of beer in the near by restaurant. Near this place there was also a beautiful pearl white goat/sheep with a very distinctive and large horn which attrated lot of visitors. There was also a handicraft’s shop which sold the work of indigenous Africans in this part of the World.

Then we drove to the Congo caves and realised on the way that we were late and decided to spend time visiting an ostrich farm, we had delicious ostrich meat from the open restaurant in the farm. The ostrich meat tastes quite similar to Beef, perhaps a little more hard but is considered very healthy because of the low fat content. It was a nice experience to see these huge birds from very close quarters, seemingly completely at peace with surrounding, probably unware of their size and great strength. We also saw a strawberry farm, had some fresh strawberries and also saw the precessing of strawberry Jams if my memory serves me right.

On the way back to Outeniqua Lodge we made a very important decision to start our travel to Cape Town by 4 in the morning, initial plan was to start by 9:00 AM and reach Capetown in time to see the match in the evening. By starting at 4:00 we could reach Capetown by 10:00 and had the option of seeing the Cape of Good Hope and also visit the Boulders Bay. We did manage to start at 4:00 in the morning, Jeff and I engaged ourselves in light conversation till daybreak to ensure that we were awake. I should say that the conversation was really good I got an understanding about Jeff’s lifestyle and his views on his life and experience in the last 6-7 years. I never realised how outdated I was, after all it is not everyday that we have time to discuss about our personal lives, the fact that he stayed in Ireland and me in India not helping the cause a bit. We took a small break at a filling station; we had tea/coffee with some quick take away snacks. We soon were witnesses to some of the most wonderful landscape, the sunrise adding final touches to the already beautiful portrait, we found it irrestitable to stop, get down and take a few pictures. The scenery on the entire stretch is exceptional and the roads were in excellent condition all the way, making sure the comparatively long travel was a great enjoyment.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It is a discreditable way to win

The neutral s and especially the Real Madrid fans, would feel that Real Madrid were denied of an equal chance and lost to Barcelona in yesterdays Champions League Semi final first leg mainly due to the mistake of the Referee. The one brainless decision to straight away red card Pepe for a non malicious ordinary foul virtually sealed the match and in most probability the Semi final. The same thought was expressed by Jose Mourinho the Real Madrid Coach, who said "Obviously in the return leg it's a very difficult mission, It's not very difficult, it's impossible.”

The people who saw the match yesterday will know that even if Barcelona played the better football they never ever looked threatening as long as it was 11 on 11, and would have struggled to score even a single goal. It was interesting to note that the very famous Barcelona players were great play actors and tried to get extra punishment by holding their faces when they did not even get a touch any where near their face (Pedro and Puyol are best actors whose performance is still very vivid in my memory). So it was hardly surprising when the red card was finally shown, it was like the Barcelona players had just won the Oscars.

I have two questions to ask one is why do we have these referees for such an important game? And secondly, why does this always happen to opponents of Barcelona, especially in key matches?

Sure it can not be coincidence, and like Jose mourinho said this is not the way a great team like Barcelona should make it to the final, if they make the final and win it, it would be a shame. This match was rightly called the ‘Scandal of the Bernabeu’ and brings into memory Barcelona’s infamous win against Chelsea, who were denied multiple penalty claims, before losing in the semi final, which eventually Barcelona won.

It is a pity that such a great team like Barcelona, needs these favourable decisions to win the key matches especially in the Champions League.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

World Cup & South Africa - Part 1 - Johannesburg

I should say I am fortunate as a football fan, for not every fan will be able to fulfill one of their greatest dreams of seeing the Football World Cup in South Africa, and for this I am obliged to God. The credit for me making this successful trip should also go to three people who are very close to my heart – Zacchy, my nephew for planting the idea in my head, Bindu, my wife for supporting and encouraging me all along and Jeff, my close friend the main reason for the trip besides football.

I reached OR Tambo Airport, Johannesburg on the beautiful morning of 23rd July 2010 at 8:30 AM by the South African Airways flight. The 30 minute wait near the FIFA ticket counter, as decided earlier for Jeff, was mixed with anxiety and Joy, and I should say, I was pleasantly surprised and quite relieved to see Jeff coming, in his trademark walking style, with a large bottle of ‘Lambs Rum’ in one hand. After all Jeff was an international travel veteran and did most of the planning if not all, for this dream come true trip. We quickly collected our match tickets, the local MTN sim and were enquiring about the transport facilities in the FIFA information counter when we apprehensively noticed a little smiling man, showing more than the casual interest in our conversation and said that he would be willing to drop us to our place in his car for a more economical amount of 150 Rands. Jeff and I, reluctanly started talking to this man but quickly decided to travel with him. Little did we know that this man, Samuel would be our travel guide and become our very good friend in the course of the next couple of days.

We reached the ‘Medhurst Complex’ in Johannesburg University where we had booked our stay along with 3 other friends from Singapore (Farhan, Kieth and Diana), whom Jeff had made friends through online interactions,who were also going to accompany us for the rest of the trip.
Just as we were settling in to our room, Farhan entered with a bottle of whisky and couple of glasses in his hand, from that very first moment, I felt we shared something nice, so we decided to say ‘cheers’ with the smallest of drinks, served more as a welcome note. One look at their room was all it took for Jeff to realise they will not be able to travel with us immediately, so Jeff and I, left along with Samuel in his car, after weighing our options we decided that we will go to Gold Reef City.

Gold Reef City is a uniquely South African, world famous theme park which is just 8 kilometres from the centre of Jo’burg, offering the widest range of features and attractions in Africa and with an exhilarating Casino complex, alive with the excitement and buzz. It had a lot of really exciting thrill rides like Tower of terror, Jozi express, the Anaconda, Golden loop and the Miners revenge, along with lots of other less adventourous rides and children rides. Please use this link to explore all the rides in the park

I should say some of the rides were really intimidating, allowing us to scream, bringing out the children in us and enjoying the thrills to our hearts content. We quickly covered most of the challenging rides, and also got see some live entertainment like the tribal dance, and got a little insight into Jozi’s story of Gold and also got to see the ‘Gold panning’ the way it was done traditionally.

We asked Samuel to take us to traditional African style restaurant for lunch and he took us to moderate restaurant in town, where we had Rice and gravy with large pieces of meat, which was quite nice. I should admit though the place had a strange smell of non veg soup/gravy which was not too comfortable. We then went to the local market and brought a couple of ‘vuvuzela’s the famous plastic horn, usually of about 2 feet long, that produces a loud monotone note. Next, we headed to the Sandton City, shopping centre, where we got our faces painted by a pretty lady, with flags of our supporting nation, for the evening’s game between Germany and Ghana. We also did a little window shopping, with the sole intention understanding the cost of things in this part of the world.

Time was just flying and we realised that it was time for us to head to the FNB or Soccer city stadium, the largest stadium in Africa, with a maximum capacity of nearly 85000. The 2 odd kilometre walk from where Samuel dropped us to the stadium was a pure delight, with hundreds of football fans from different nations, singing and blowing vuvuzela’s, showing their passion and joy of going to see the world Cup match.

It was fun to be moving along with such a passionate crowd, our hearts filled with the excitement and joy, realizing that we were extremely close to realising our dream and that of every passionate football fan, to see a World Cup match. The stadium was site to behold, its earthen colours with a ring of lights running around the bottom of the structure, simulating fire underneath the pot, making a perfect back ground for some memorable pictures.

The security check was swift and orderly, and Jeff in his unique style managed to sneak in the hip flask with the precious Lambs rum. After soaking in the atmosphere in and around the stadium we reached our clearly marked chairs. The stadium had three tiers of stands and we were in the top most of them, giving us clear picture of the ground below and also the nearly capacity crowd.

Jeff and I shared few drinks right in the stadium, where beer was the only allowed drink that too which had to be brought from the stadium premise.

Seeing the two teams practice, coming out of the tunnel, lineup for introductions, and actually playing right in front of you is something which can not be expressed, it has to be experienced to be believed. It was sheer pleasure to be midst of 84000+ football passionate crowd, actually seeing what you always dreamed of. On the 60th minute of the game we witnessed our first world cup goal, the only one of the game scored by Germany’s Mesut Oezil.

It was interesting to note that Ghana had the majority of the support, being an African nation and the Goal actually dropped the enthuiasm of the crowd. The crowd had a happy ending because though Ghana lost the match, they had qualified to the next stage thanks to results of the other match played at the same time. It was great to see the unbound joy of the supporters as the large screens flashed the news of Ghana qualifying to the next stage. We hence had the privilege of seeing the whole stadium celebrating together because of the unique situation, and what a celebration it was! It was an effort actually to not get too involved in the celebrations and make way to designated place where we were supposed meet our friends from Singapore.

We got a drop to our hostel, in one of their friend’s car and we reached our rooms quite late, in the early hours of the next day, after a little adventure of losing our way, which I was completely unaware as I had fallen asleep on the way, and was informed when we stopped to buy quick take aways to satisfy our hunger.

Jeff and I, bieng early raisers got up by 7:00 AM and strolled around the University campus, clicking a few pictures and went to have a great breakfast in Mike’s Kitchen, a family oriented restaurant serving some amazing food ( The university had a large campus and a beautiful ground, and incidently the Dutch football team had used this as their practice ground. We packed our luggages and realised that waiting for our Singapore friends to join us for sightseeing was not a posibility atleast in the morning; as they were still asleep after an extra long night and also seeing the things they had to pack considering that we had the 6:00 PM flight to Port Elizabeth. So we called Samuel and decided to spend the day ourselves, promising to pick them before going to the Airport.

We headed to the place called the ‘Cradle of the humankind’ a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 50 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg. This site currently occupies 47,000 hectares and contains a complex of limestone caves. The name reflects the fact that the site has produced a large number, as well as some of the oldest, hominid fossils ever found, some dating back as far as 3.5 million years ago and it is widely believed that life originated from here.

We realised that there was also a Rhino and Lions Nature Reserve with in the ‘Cradle of humankind’ and the combined tickets for the seeing the Caves and the Nature reserve was a good bargain. The Reserve is 1200 hectares and has more then 600 animals with nearly 30 different species, including 3 of the big 5 namely Lion, Buffalo and Rhino.

The interesting part is that we can self drive the car along the well marked route, and our initial sightings included ostrichs, Wild Beasts and Deers. As we moved in furthur we saw a herd of Bisons, and encouraged by the cars ahead of us we stopped our car in the middle of the herd and it was nice feeling to be surrounded these huge beasts.

The next sight was nothing short of astonishing, we saw a lioness lying near the road allowing us to get very close, within a few metres, and watch her peacefully soaking in the warmth of the sunlight. We alaso a saw few Rhino’s before heading to the entrance of the cave for the guided tour.

The Wonder Cave is the third-largest cave chamber in the South Africa and believed to be about 2.2 billion years old. The sixty metre deep cave can be accessed by combination a narrow flight of steps and a classic elevator. It was discovered in the late 19th century by miners who dynamited and excavated limestone for the making of cement.

The cave has about 14 stalactite and stalagmite ( formations up to 15 metres high, 85% of which are still growing. One such formation has got the name of ‘The praying Mary’ due to close resemblance and is a true wonder to watch considering it has taken millions of years to form.

We went back to the town to pick our Singapore friends and we all just reached in time to board our British Airways flight to Port Elizabeth after grabbing some quick takeaways from “Subway’ within the Airport as our lunch/snacks, bidding temperory farewell to Johannesburg.