It was the fag end of a busy year when I started my Northern Cape adventure including Richtersveld Ai-Ais Transfrontier National Park (in fact around the Christmas time).
I come from state of West Bengal in India, and somehow Richtersveld is a popular name in my language in culture since arguably one of the best pieces of Bengali literature, a novel called 'Chaander Pahar' by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay [translated as: Mountain of the Moon] narrates the story of a early 19th century Bengali boy's sojourn into Richtersveld and Kalahari along with a Dutch diamond prospector. But that's story - and now here I am - possibly one of the very very few Bengali's who have ever been able to come and visit the much-read 'Mountain of the Moons'. And tough it was - not a journey for the faint-hearted. Took a morning flight from Johannesburg to Upington - the nearest airport to Richtersveld.
Had booked a local tour agency (Aukwatowa Tours) for a 3 night kind of a tour beforehand. [My recommendation - if you are visiting Northern Cape-Kgalagadi or Richtersveld, you should not go without the guide and owner of Aukwatowa, Conrad Mouton. If someone blames me of promoting his services through this review, I would willingly and happily take the blame. Couldn't have been any better....] The journey started - which was a tough one - from Upington - through Kakamas - across vast stretches of Kalahari (Kgalagadi) - scraping around Pofadder - blazing African sun at 48-52 degrees C - until we reached a 'cool' Port Nolloth at night. A 7 hours drive - hot but a dream-ride for people who want to taste the adventure.... Interesting finds - Groen Kgalagadi - the greener part of the Kalahari desert on both the sides. Add to that, the huge Common Weaver's nest(s) on electric poles all along the road was a good photo opportunity - some were so huge that it bent or broke the poles itself...
Rested the night at Port Nolloth - nice small sea-side diamond-mining town. Morning we were ready to enter the grand Richtersveld. First stop (before the National park started) was at Alexanderbaai (Alexander Bay). Huge stretches of Rocky desert sublimely separated with plainlands coloured with 'Lichen's.
Red/Green/Orange/Yellow - looked like a meadow painted carelessly, giving way in between to poisonous Euphorbia plants. Spotting groups of lazy Springbok's and Ostriches around Oranjemund (River Orange) was a bonus... and the binoculars were able to spot quite a few of them both on the south African side as well as the Namibian side of the Orange river. Had a quick lunch at Cornellskop - gateway to the mighty Richtersveld. Cornellskop is known for the Giant quiver Trees, the Trees used by local Nama people and Bushmen to build their quivers for arrows. Hundreds of them scattered on a 360 degree panoramic view of red hot rocky desert - you have to be there and experience it. Cornellskop alos features a giant hole called Wondergat (now guarded with railings) which supposedly links to the Atlantic Ocean - and houses the local folklore of living giant monster Heidis Eibip.
[could this Heidis Eibip be the monster Bunyip/Dingonek described in the novel Chander Pahar/Mountain of the Moons? Leave it for my fellow Bengali travellers to find out more...]
At last within Richtersveld..... The landscape is rough, demanding and tiresome. The hills change colour and character every 5 KMS. Green, Red, Brown, Purple they are - depending on Copper, Iron, quartz and what all they are made up of. Passed a SAF-Namibia Pontoon on Oranje River which allowed cars to cross over boundaries. Had a long drive around Pootjiespram (greener part with trees) before we settled at Sendelingsdrift Camp for the night. Conrad brought all tenting equipments and George The Cook. Spent the night with the best ever hand-made breads I have had along with a sumptuous Bush Braai. It was peak off season, so we were left all alone with our beers and some Vervet monkeys eager to share the bottles with us. It was amazing when the night fell in. I tried hard to translate my vernacular story of Chander Pahar [Mountain of the Moons] to my new-found African friends - however they haven't ever heard the name 'Mountain of the Moon' referring to Richtersveld. Anyway, literary imaginations of my vernacular author, I thought!! I was okay with it, I was living my dream ...The night sky was dark and fearsome - didn't quite want to sleep though..
Morning was awake early to catch the sunrise through the bushes around Oranje River. I could discover my 'Mountain of the Moons' exactly as the way I have read in my book. The hills started turning brown, then orange and then golden. The layer of colours were so distinct it looked painted.. We started our day on a Pteroglyphic trail - Images made by local Nama/Bushmen when they are on a trance. Then we are up again on roughest roads and prettiest desert flora we could imagine. On and around Halfmen's Pass, stood the charismatic Halfmen Trees. The thorns did actually produce a faint music when brushed through.Corkwood, Hoodia, Button Tree, Pearson's Aloe - each of the desert flora had it's own story. And it was the driestseason - i could only imagine the floral cover if I would have come in the peak months for travel. Conrad told Richtersveld looks like a coloured carpet during and post monsoons.
One more mention of interest - there is a place called 'Hand of God' which houses a huge rock with a palm imprint almost double the size of a human. Local folklore says it to be 'Hand of God' - seemingly god was tired building the world and put his hand on this rock for a while for some rest. Upon closer scrutiny - it looked like more of a pre-historic sauropodic hand - however with 6 fingers. I again went back to my vernacular story where my author imagines the place to be inhabited by a giant dianosaur like monster guarding the diamonds....
Folklore, reality and story kept on mixing themselves until it was the right cocktail!!!
Driving back to Upington, I promised myself to come back - have merely scratched the surface in 3 days, the vastness of Richtersveld still lies in front as a challenge.
Finally, Thanks Conrad
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