Victoria Falls, shared by Zambia and Zimbabwe, is truly one of earth’s greatest spectacles, leaving every visitor awestruck by its magnificence.
“You’ll be rather wet,” our guide warns us. I am skeptical. I check my shoes and am happy they are waterproof. The drive from the hotel to the falls is short. We were informed that the spray from the falls can be seen from many kilometres away from where we stayed. Considering that Victoria Falls is the largest in the world and is 1.5 times wider than and double the height of Niagara Falls, I expect to see it as we drive past. But we arrive at a gate that announces itself as the entrance. The entry fee for foreigners is 30 US dollars a person. Meanwhile, locals pay a negligible entry fee.
More surprises await us. Our guide leads us through a series of displays that explain the many viewpoints to the falls, the formation of the falls and other interesting details. He hands out raincoats with hoods. The spray, we are informed, can be rough in places, much like a high monsoon day in good old Mumbai. Obviously, unless we are airborne over this natural wonder, there is no way to see it in its entirety. The path that we have started on will wind in and out, getting us to the viewpoints close to the rushing waters, snaking back to move to the next viewpoint, covering a total of 2.5 km. The viewpoints have quaint names like Horseshoe Falls, Eastern Cataract, Rainbow Falls and Devil’s Cataract.
The guide also warns us that after the third or fourth viewpoint, it is best to put away any photographic equipment that is not waterproof. I am disappointed. At times, he adds, we can experience an up-pour, where the spray can come to us from the bottom, pushed upwards by the force of water. It can be stronger than rain. So we walk on, jostling through the narrow paths with other tourists. Chinese, Europeans and Americans come to gawk at this natural wonder of the world. Many are accompanied by guides. Others ramble along the path with its many signposts.
Through February to July, one can expect the most spectacular views of the falls and it is best to view them from the Zimbabwe side, if one has to choose between the two countries. As Indians, we had to, else it would mean yet another visa. In the lean season, as summer hits the southern hemisphere, Zambia allows very close views of the falls, including a natural swimming pool at the edge, which though exciting, has claimed some lives. Our guide says he herds up to three tours a day and in peak season gets really tired after six trips. But the majesty of the scene still keeps him in awe. As we stop at the first few viewpoints, the roar of the water, the sound of the cataract as it drops dizzyingly down into the abyss is indeed awe-inspiring.
The bottom is out of sight. Clouds of spray rise and come floating inwards, drenching us lightly at first. And of course, the combination of sun and rain gives rise to rainbows. One arches across the water at Rainbow Falls. After a particularly wet dousing when we turn to run to shelter, a perfect arch stands just ahead, and we run under it, to beyond the reach of the spray. My phone has been rendering great service as a camera but between shots I have to tuck it into my shirt, close to my body, to warm it and hopefully, keep it dry. I keep weighing the risks of yet another shot and look enviously at the Canadian lady in our group who has a transparent waterproof cover for her instrument. At a particularly long curve towards the falls, our guide stops, asking us if we wish to walk the stretch known as ‘the wettest’. We venture forth, fighting the heavy ‘rain’. Surely, for one part of the year, when the falls are full, this must be the wettest place on earth.
We stop to view a road bridge that links Zimbabwe to Zambia and marvel at the structure built in England and assembled in Africa to stretch across the chasm in the early 20th century. And of course, as we turn back, a rainbow gleams through the iron and steel as if to remind us that one of the world’s natural wonders is not that far away.
1) You can fly into Victoria Falls which is connected by air through Jo’berg and most African countries. It is also easy to drive into Zimbabwe
2) Indians can get a visa on arrival paying $30
3) Do make time for a Zambezi river cruise. You will possibly see hippos, crocs, and plenty of birds. Unlimited snacks and drinks, liquor included are served on the house.
4) A special visa allows you to view the Falls from Zambia too. The Zambian view is much closer but less spectacular, especially in the dry season.
The writer is the Consulting Editor, Harper Collins Publishers India and Executive Director, Encyclomedia