Learnings from South Africa

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As I leave this country, I was thinking what can I have as a parting blog post ?! And finally, I decided, it would only be fitting that I could list what India could learn from a country like South Africa. And actually – there is lots !!

Some people may read this and go – “Sala ‘foreign-return’… Shana banana ke koshish kar raha hai” – but nonetheless I would take the effort as I feel it would be worthwhile for an “open-minded” Indian to read this.

Ok … Let me list things as it comes to my head.
  • Dignity of Labour – I have seen many instances where I have found that people have immense dignity for labour.
    • I have seen restaurants where the owner’s son was waiting tables – can’t imagine that happening in India.
    • I have seen people in senior positions in office environment talk to workers at lower level or housekeeping etc with such respect – Can’t imagine senior officers in talk to anyone but their subordinates (anyone else is practically too low to even look at, leave alone talking to them)
  • Respect for Individuals – At work environment, people are treated with lot of respect. Never have I seen loose talk or disrespect. People are never forced to do an overtime. If required, it is requested and the leaders lead from the front and are present when you are in on a weekend or are working overtime. Also people work normal hours here – I mean normal – Start at 8 finish by 4 … at max it can stretch to 5 … That’s it. It would probably never happen even in dreams in India.
  • Civic Sense – This is something that Indian have to learn from South Africa. I am not saying that situation here is like Singapore – but its definitely much-much better than India. Streets and public places are so neat. I feel that one of the main reasons for that is the absence of Gutka in South Africa (I feel that it should be banned in India). Apart from that also there are many garbage bins in public places and people really “use” them. They hold on to the waste and walk up to the bin before disposing it off. People use designated smoking areas and smoke and drink responsibly without inconvenience to general public. How I wish I could see India like that !!
  • Wonderful Traffic Sense – Anyone who has seen India and South Africa would say this. It goes without saying that people here are organized and follow traffic rules. But what is amazing is that people have this automatic way to organize themselves even in a traffic jam situation or a deadlock situation. In a four road crossing where the traffic signal is not functioning also people would take turns (one from each road) to resolve the problem. All this without the intervention of a traffic cop. Even when traffic in one direction of a road is in a jam and the other side of the road is even empty – no one dares to even cross the divider line to hijack the opposite lane. This is traffic sense – and this is patience … I mean .. wow … This can never even happen in a dream in India. Can it ?
  • Wonderful Road Planning – This is something that is present in all big nations of the world. I am yet to see anything even close to this in any part of India. There are some main roads (freeways) that cut across city north to south and east to west. Similarly, there are ring roads that circle the city’s perimeter (Please click on teh hyperlink to see what I mean). These are really wonderful high speed roads with typically 4-6 lanes for each side of the traffic. You will not have any traffic signals on any of these roads. You only have entry and exit points to these roads that happen at interchanges (this is something people don’t even understand in India) - where traffic crosses over main roads using multi lanes multi level roads without any traffic stoppages at traffic signals. The speeds limits on these roads are typically 120kmph so that ensures fast transport from one end of the city to the other. Because of this system people here coolly travel 50-60 kms to work and back home. Just waiting for such a thing to happen in India.
  • Less Corruption: I am not saying that there is no corruption in South Africa. But I feel that its much less … when compared to India, people at the grass root level are more ethical and honest here. I have never paid a traffic cop money – even when I was at fault (now imagine that India). I was not able to make fake parking bills because the parking attendant told me it was “wrong” and he wouldn’t do it even when I tried to “bribe” him (shame on me to try that !!). I have dealt with government offices and got work done without bribe. Now I don’t know .. There would be corruption at the higher levels but at the lower levels people are generally honest and maintain their integrity.
  • Happiness Quotient - This is last but not the least – I have seen that people (rich or poor – high or low – young or old) are generally much-much more happy than any average Indian. The well-to-do people work hard and when their normal working hours end they pursue other interests – cycling, biking, boating, gambling .. or anything. This happens regardless of age or physical condition. I have seen really-really old people taking the pains to come to the casino to play and enjoy themselves (In India, I have never seen people of that age even come out of their houses, leave alone have interests – the older folk there have sort of given up on life itself). Even the poorer people that I see on the roads - I find them dancing and singing and enjoying themselves. I don’t know them personally but I get a feeling that they may have problems too but they seem to be happy when they can and enjoy life when they can.
I am not saying South Africa is the best and has no problems. There are problems in this country too - but what I am pointing out here is some really good and basic things that are “right” in this country. If India can take up even a few of the above, it would go a long way in making India a better country.

Part 2 - Kruger National Park

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Just as I was starting to feel that the Day 1 was so awesome, we entered the Marloth Park in the South of Kruger National Park . We were booked at the Marloth Bush Retreat. As we entered the Park and were approaching the guesthouse, I couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw a Giraffe standing by the side of the road on which I was driving … a little further down some Zebras and Wildebeests on the other side of the road … I knew that there was something about this place that is going to make my Day 2 more special … And I was right !!

I had heard that Kruger National Park is famous for the Big 5 (the Lion, the African elephant, the Cape Buffalo, the Leopard and the Black Rhinoceros), but again there are no guarantees – after all it’s a jungle that you are going in there to see what you can .. unlike a zoo. The Key to a place like this is Patience and low expectation. So, I had a full day game drive booked (the patience part) and in the beginning of the game drive our Tour Guide Heinrich told us (the low expectation part) that we would try to see everything that we can but what we can see ultimately is based on our luck on that day. So with that mind-set we started our day long game drive from 5:15 am to 7:00 pm.

To begin with – the patience and low expectation paid off and we were able to spot all the big 5 and much more. In fact we had multiple sightings of the Big 4 (Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and the Rhinoceros) and one sighting of the Lion.
  • Leopard – Caught this guy relaxing on a tree after having his big meal (an impala). After a meal like that … All one can do is relax.
  • Elephants – Caught the elephants as the herd came by to the river to drink some water. It was fun seeing the huge animal relax, play and chill out in the water. Also got a nice close up of the elephant just minutes before leaving the Kruger Park.
  • Cape Buffalo – Came in a herd of about 500 together to have some water at a lake and then they also came by close to our vehicle to help some good view
  • Rhinoceros – Saw both the white and black rhinos … (incidentally the difference between the white and black rhinos is not because of the color … actually there is no color difference .. read more here) .. Saw the white rhino multiple times and once with a small baby rhino too. We were lucky to see the black rhino too just by the road side … considering that the white:black rhino ratio is about 5000:300 !!
  • Lion – saw only one male lion but it was far off the road and was deep asleep and so we couldn’t do much about that …We kept trying till then end to get a better sighting of another lion – but didn’t happen :)
  • Zebras, Kudus and Impalas – Loads of them … Every few kilometers … and in dozens …
  • Giraffe – Again loads of them … They are very shy …. Caught a photo of a baby giraffe feeding on the mother giraffe .. was so cute !! :)
  • Hippos – Got to see them swimming in water … basking in the sun beside the river … and showing their discomfort when the buffalos came in hundreds to drink water at the river …
  • Hyenas – We again had multiple sighting of Hyenas … in small groups … Somehow looks horrible :) … We saw one which was badly injured … probably by a lion or by some other hyena.
  • Crocodiles – Saw many of them across the banks of Crocodile river also got to see a baby croc while crossing a bridge.
  • Loads of Vultures, Eagles and lots of other birds
Overall, it was a pleasure to be up-close and personal with Nature. Got the time in life to hear the silent sounds of nature. I present to you some of my best shots taken at Kruger Park. As always click on the photos to take an enlarged view.

I also tried a very innovative way to take some excellent photos … All the above photos were taken with my modest Sony Cybershot 7MP Digital Camera … I enhanced the power of my simple Digital See-and-shoot camera using a Binocular … I was myself amazed at my creativity :) … I used a powerful Binocular (that belonged to my tour guide) as Extended Lens and took these real close up shots of the animals … This is how I did it. Put the Camera lens behind at the viewing eye-piece of the binocular … and then use the digital monitor of the camera to focus and click !! But before doing this I had to first see through the binoculars and focus the view in there. It was actually hard to hold the binocular on one hand and the camera on the other and still not cause a shake as well !! :) .. Quite an effort ! I am proud of myself ! Bravo Hari Bravo !!
 I would like to put in a word of appreciation for Heinrich who was an awesome tour guide – he was an “walking/talking wildlife encyclopedia”. He knew all about the animals, birds, plants and trees. He had such sharp eyes that he could spot animals at such a long distances that I used to surprised every time. It was such an informative guided tour (Thanks to Heinrich) that I would strongly recommend that anyone who plans to go to Kruger can take his help and have a wonderful visit to Kruger National Park.

Indeed … It’s a perfect way to end my South Africa Stay …

Sabie and Krugar National Park – Part one – Sabie

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If I could just start with one Word .. It would be WOW !! I really doubt if there was a better way to culminate my stint in South Africa … Krugar and Sabie were places that I had heard about from the beginning of my South Africa visit and I wanted to go see them, but somehow it just never happened. Finally it came in the best of times … This would leave a lasting memory of South Africa in my mind for a long time to come …

Day 1 – Sabie

I had the company of my friend Arindam in this visit … Wasn’t as bad as I had expected it to be !! ;-D … So we started our Sabie and Krugar National Park weekend tour on a Friday early morning. We had planned to see Sabie and Hazyview first and then reach our Guest House in Krugar by Friday evening. As we approached Sabie weather started to chill up a bit and the view started to get prettier with every passing kilometre. At one point the fog started to get so thick that I had a visibility of only a couple of meter after my car’s bonnet. So I was relying on the road’s divider lines to drive ahead … a fog that thick was a first time for me … a very unique experience !!

We viewed Bridal Veil Falls and Lone Creek Falls for starters. Thanks to our wonderful planning, we had forgotten to withdraw money so by the time we were at Lone Creek Falls we were down to our last R5. We pleaded our way into Lone Creek Falls as the entry fees there was R10!! The person there was kind enough to allow us in for half the charge. We had to then make our way to Sabie town to get to an ATM to get money for the rest of our journey. Our next destination was the Mac Mac falls. It was a probably the highest of all the falls we saw (about 65 meters I remember reading). Looked majestic from the top where we saw it – the water then flowing into a canyon … It was a beautiful sight indeed! The last falls that we saw was Lisbon falls it was also had a very scenic panorama. Photos R to Lin the order described above.

We then went to the Pinnacle at Blyde River Canyon. This was close to the God’s window and the view that I saw was something that I had never seen before. I could never imagine that there could be a place like this. Absolutely spell bound. No wonder, its called the God’s window. There was this huge structure protruding out from the gorge between two cliffs. Just see the image to see the awesome view. When we did reach the God’s window, the fog again surrounded the area (just like before) and we couldn’t see the view at the actual God’s window. Well … Guess, God decided to close the windows for me that day. :) .. But its ok … his creations that I saw that day was satisfying enough for me.

Last destination for the day was Bourkes Luck Potholes at Blyde River Canyon (incidentally Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest Canyons on earth). This Canyon had some really huge potholes possibly formed due to water repeatedly circling specific areas for thousands of years. Its again a sight to be seen to be believed.

After that unique experience we drove past the sleepy town of Pilgrims Rest and beautiful area of Hazyview to our Guesthouse - Marloth Bush Retreat at the Southern end of Krugar National Park.

Some more photos ... surprisingly taken from my Digital Camera ... :) .. Wait for Day 2 ... soon ...

Last few weeks ...

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Ok .. spate of laziness .. pure laziness .. was the cause of my inactivity for the last few weeks. So, anyways lots happened in the last few weeks … I will start with the one that I am most excited about.

1. Finalized Date of Departure from Johannesburg: My stint in Johannesburg is going to end after a period of close to one year. And I have to say that it has been lots of fun, learning and broadening of my horizon/perspective. Tickets booked and I am now counting days ...

Now back to chronological order.

2. Carmen (Ballet): I am a complete novice to Ballet … so I decided to try that out. And I must say that its an experience that one should experience. Coz I hadn’t seen anything like that before. Live music .. wonderful dance and in all an experience that I was completely mesmerizing. Here is some cut-paste material about the ballet. “The saga of Carmen and Don José is one theatre’s most fiery love stories, based on an original story by Prosper Mérimée and later adapted as an opera by Georges Bizet. Now this tale of tragic love comes to the stage in a sensual ballet version by choreographer Veronica Paeper. Carmen captures all the fiery heat and passion of Spain in a ballet highlighted by spectacular pas de deux that chart the unfolding story of love, pain and loss, and blends classical ballet with the dances of Spain in a ballet of lavish entertainment and excitement.”

3. Indiaday Celebrations: The week after the Independence Day was the India Day celebrations at the Brightwater Commons in Johannesburg. It was good to see so many Indians in one place … mostly “desi” Indians .. if you know what I mean .. The program was nice … with performances by Local Indians here covering the culture and dance of Major Indian States … Lots of color and lots of lively music.

4. Avaniavittam: I had my first Avaniavittam in a foreign land. And I went off absolutely wonderfully. It was conducted by local Vadhiar Mama (Mahadevan Iyer). Thanks to him - I feel that it was conducted in such a detailed manner that I would rarely have such an experience even in India. I also had a peaceful Gayatri 1008 japam on the next day. Overall it was a peaceful experience.

5. Visit to the “actual” Rooftop Market at Rosebank: I have been to the African Craft Market before but I somehow had missed the rooftop market there every time I went there before. It was a wonderful experience. The place was bustling with activity and there were so many stalls selling all kind of stuff from craft to collectables to food items. I felt that that it was a nice way to pass sometime and pick up some interesting stuff …

6. Back to Back movies and other movies I felt like I should get back to college days where we used to go for back-to-back movies. So I was able to do that when I saw “Salt” and “We are Family” back-to-back. It was nice experience given both movies were decent and tolerable. Also saw some other movies … Aashaayen … Peepli Live … Grown ups … and some others.

7. Airtel Champions League Cricket matches: It was a wonderful experience as we went for couple of matches till now. One in Wanderers where I was able to see the God himself in flesh and blood… Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. And he was playing so well … and when it was looked all well, he got out and some more quick wickets saw Mumbai Indian lose the match. Then I saw one yesterday .. Bangalore .. at Centurion it was also fun to see some big names again … Kumble, Dravid, Kallis apart from others. It was a one sided match which saw Bangalore getting to Gayana’s score in 11 just overs. We managed to get some autographs and not to mention photographs. Got one more coming up Chennai … Dhoni and his men .. lets see what they do.

A big event that is coming up .. which is going to culminate my stay in Johannesburg .. Is my forthcoming visit to Krugar National Park. I am now looking forward to that one.