Mesmerising Cape

Published : Jul 13, 2012 00:00 IST

A view of Lion's Head, a mountain that is part of the Table Mountain National Park.-

A view of Lion's Head, a mountain that is part of the Table Mountain National Park.-

In South Africa, Cape Town provides a unique experience with its Table Mountain and other wonders.

High up in Cape Town, South Africa, the past, the present and the future rub shoulders even as the world watches. Throngs of tourists come and go amazed at the piece de resistance, Table Mountain, one of the new seven wonders of the world.

Cape Town has something to suit every tourists taste. Two oceans, mountains and this remarkable geographical wonder of wonders, Table Mountain. The rocks that form the mountain jut sharply out of the Atlantic Ocean, creating an icon of scenic beauty and biological diversity. The cableway up the mountain is itself a remarkable feat of construction, dating way back to 1929.

The historian David Hiscock says: Table Mountain is a remarkable geographical feature, its sheer rock faces rising steeply out of the Atlantic Ocean. Its a defining feature in making Cape Town one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was natural, then, that people who had neither the time nor the ability to clamber up its steep 1,000 metres, wanted to experience the exhilaration of strolling on the tabletop taking in the 360-degree vistas from Table Bay to False Bay, from Cape Point to Camps and Sea Point.

From a multitude of points, one can see different facets of nature coexisting with the buildings that human enterprise has contributed. On one side lies the former colonial abode of the whites, and what looks like a mini colonial Europe. On the other sides are Indian and black clusters and monuments to remember the fight against apartheid, and the liberation.


Cape of Good Hope, which is a part of the Table Mountain National Park, lies at a distance of 90 kilometres from the town. The route is scenic with the Atlantic Ocean on the one side and hills on the other, and as we get closer, we are greeted by a number of ostriches walking majestically along the road.

Inside the park a magical world greets us. The area is rich in flora and fauna and is covered with bushes that make it look like a painting in different shades of green! There are 1,100 species of plants of the fynbose (fine bush) variety. The most famous and most common is the protea, the national flower of South Africa. Flowering proteas and ericas attract sunbirds and sugarbirds. There are a wide variety of animals as well. Baboons are found aplenty as are huge ostriches; on the climb to Cape Point we were greeted by a host of ostriches, huge in size, their plumage fluttering away in the morning breeze.

The Cape of Good Hope has tremendous geographical significance. The stormy cape was once a nightmare for sailors. The Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was the first to reach the cape in 1488; he named it the Cape of Storms. The first explorer to sail round the cape was Vasco da Gama. The cape was later named the Cape of Good Hope as optimism arose because of the discovery of a shorter route to the East, particularly India. The lighthouse atop the hill is the viewpoint from where one can have a distinct view of the sangam of two oceans the Atlantic and the Indian. The two oceans meet, at times in thunderous roars, at times in peaceful hugs.

The viewing point below the old lighthouse is quite a climb. One can take the Flying Dutchman Funicular for a picturesque ride to the top. Unfortunately, that morning the funicular developed a snag and the ride was cancelled. We were told not to climb up all the way, but climb we did ultimately. We just could not stop mid-way. And what a magnificent view awaited us at the end of the climb! We were simply mesmerised!

On the way down it started raining, but we were so full of the enchanting view that we did not mind the stormy wind and the lashing rain. Nearly drenched, we reached the Two Oceans Restaurant for a welcome cup of coffee.

On our way back to Cape Town, we went to the Boulders Beach Penguin Colony. This was our first encounter with penguins. We were very excited to spot the first one. Soon we came upon a colony of penguins, some taking leisurely walks, some basking in the sun, some chasing small birds in joyful play. Warning: Please look under your vehicle for penguins, said one hoarding.


The Slave House and District Six are well-known museums. Slave House is centrally located, just a few metres from the Parliament building. Through photographs, the reconstruction of the interior of a ship in which indentured labourers were transported, snatches of recorded conversations of slave children and the clanking of chains, a visitor is taken back to the world of slavery. A world where slaves learned skills, constructed buildings, worked in mines, created a whole city and yet were denied all human rights.

The building was a courthouse until recently. South Africa, with its transformation, chronicles the meaning of slavery in the ancient and modern world. It reminds the younger generation of the horrors of apartheid and tries to ensure that they will never be repeated.

The most evocative landmark is Robben Island where Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Mac Maharaj and other leading lights of the liberation movement, including the present President, Jacob Zuma, were imprisoned. This bean-shaped island is situated in Table Bay, barely nine kilometres from Cape Town. It was an ideal place for quarantine, and the British had used it as a leper colony. In 1960, the apartheid government used the newly constructed maximum security section as a political prison. The building is now a museum. Robben Island might mean a jail to some tourists but symbolises freedom for South Africans. The lime quarry where Mandela and other prisoners, including teachers, lecturers and doctors, were forced to work is barren except for a pile of stones that lies there as a mark of respect for the prisoners.

The visit to the 34 prison cells and the courtyards, with a former inmate as guide, is an unforgettable experience. Anti-apartheid leaders had used their time in prison to engage with jailers, educate fellow prisoners and further their movement. Zuma himself was educated here, and one of his educators was Mac Maharaj, who is now the principal adviser to the President. As the guide told us: You reckon with how the inner-city residential area, District Six, functioned. Tens of thousands of blacks were confined in a ghetto during apartheid.... Nelson Mandela learned patience on Robben Island, where he was jailed for 18 of the 27 years of his imprisonment....

The prisoners were subject to hard labour and brutality, but few were broken in spirit. Their experience is today symbolic of the triumph of ordinary people over an extraordinary crime against humanity. The museum is now a symbol of liberation from oppression and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999. It is also a cultural and conservation showcase for the new South African democracy.

Cape Town is South Africas second largest city, housing its Parliament. It is a beautiful colonial settlement, European in ethos and appearance. Its waterfront is among the most spic and span in the world. Cape Town today is also a vibrant city remarkable for its social, political and intellectual life.

We had a special evening at a COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) meeting. All meetings here start with hymns, revolutionary songs in chorus, beginning with the chanting of Amandla (Power to the People). The workers assembled were almost all black South Africans, only a few whites. Mike Louw was one important labour leader present. The speeches were predictable, encouraging people to fight against injustice still widely prevalent in the society. The foot-tapping vocals rendered by ordinary workers were fascinating.

The famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden is spread over 36 hectares, on the eastern slope of Table Mountain and is part of a 528-ha estate. One of the finest botanical gardens in the world, it houses 7,000 species of plants. The flowering proteas, ericas and birds of paradise swaying in the morning breeze are a sight to behold. An enchanted pathway with flowers of the most amazing colours enhances the beauty and grandeur of the place to a measure beyond the imagination.

The magnificent landscape of Kirstenbosch is also a perfect setting for art. The garden hosts a variety of art exhibitions. At gate number one, a bust of Nelson Mandela stands beside the pepperbark tree that Mandela planted on his visit to Kirstenbosch on August 21, 1996. The bust, which captures the radiant face of the great leader, was sculpted by John Francis Gardner and donated to Kirstenbosch in January 2010.

In the garden there is an exciting new work of collaboration between a sculptor, an architect and a poet. Called Untamed, it aims to restore the lost balance between man and nature.

A living wall, solar panels, incredible bronze sculptures, nature poetry and masterpieces of architecture merge to form what the trio of the sculptor Dylan Lewis, the architect Enrico Daffonchio and the psychologist, psychiatrist and writer Ian McCallum describe as an unfolding and evolving collaborative response.

On our last day, we go on a quick drive around the city in the rain. We drive past Signal Hill, so named because signals from it on dark nights saved many ships from getting wrecked. We get a glimpse of Peace Fort, the Town Hall, Parliament House, Company Gardens and Lions Head.


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