Scenes from a street parade

The sixth edition of the Seychelles Carnival, known locally as Carnaval, took place in the tiny capital of Victoria last week. And I was lucky enough to have a ringside seat to watch this parade. Apart from the cheerful and friendly Seychellois, artists and performers from all over the world – from Indonesia to Germany (and India too) – sashayed their way through the parade.

It was a riot of music, dance and colour on the streets of Victoria. I want to share a few standout images from the Carnaval, to show the impressive variety on display that evening.

Starting with one of my favourite performances of the evening, this Chinese masked dancer who changed masks with just facial movements…

Chinese

As a bonus (and because I was so fascinated with this), here is a short video…

And then this pretty dancer from Indonesia, wearing clothes and accessories that must have weighed a ton, through the sweltering afternoon, with a smile…

Indonesia

Colour was the leitmotif of the parade, with stunning, sometimes starling hues on display…

Blues

Multicolour

Not surprisingly, Africa was well represented, with artists from Mauritius, South Africa and several other neighbours showing off their skills…

Clown

Stilts

Dancer

But the undisputed stars of the evening were the Brazilians, with their costumes and chutzpah – it is no wonder that the word carnival brings to mind (atleast mine) images of these sassy dancers…

Brazil1

Brazil2

I hope you enjoyed this short photoessay on the Seychelles Carnaval – do stay tuned for more stories from this beautiful island.

My Spafari experience in South Africa

This is how it works at the Karkloof Safari Spa. They stop you at the main gate to verify your credentials and then phone the reception to expect you. You drive on further on the mud track and reach the reception area. After those last fifteen bumpy minutes on a gravel path, those cold towels feel just perfect.

No complicated check in process: just one signature here please. Someone then smiles broadly and tells you all about the facilities at the safari spa, named after the Karkloof valley it is located in. You smile back at them, only half listening, and get on to the jeeps waiting to transfer you to your villas.

And then you almost fall off your seats. Just outside the reception area, a couple of white rhinoceros are lounging in the shade of a tree (no, not acacia, even if we are in Africa).

Rhino
(image courtesy: Karkloof)

When I enter the Karkloof Safari Spa, I know I am not going to spot any of the big cats. You see, I have gone through their website with increasing wonder and anticipation for days before I finally get there. But I certainly don’t expect a welcoming committee of the other wildlife that this safari lodge meets spa heaven promises.

For a minute, I cynically wonder if the call from the main gate is some sort of code for “visitors ahead, let the rhinos out” but another look at these behemoths kills that thought. So I sit back and take a few hundred photographs. Imagine the abundance of wildlife here when I say that by the time I leave I am blasé about these big guys. Oh ok, one more rhino.

The drive to the villas, through the green and golden bush, is a taste of what is to come. And the dozens of pools, that seemed to be the preferred rendezvous for the local birdlife. By the time we reach the accommodation area, we have spotted zebras, warthogs and the native antelope, nyala (what a fascinating sound; I cannot stop saying the word aloud. Go on, try it yourself.)

nyala

It is a lovely walk from the main lodge to the villas, linked to each other by stone walkways and wooden bridges, with streams gurgling underneath. Esther shows me to my villa, where I make a quick mental note of the espresso machine and the small selection of South African wines.

The villa is a spacious affair with a bedroom, a sitting area and a bathroom that opens out to a cozy rear garden. Up front is a verandah that tempts me to put my feet up and wait for a nyala – there, I use the word again for its sheer melody (it could just as easily be a wildebeest) – to stop by my doorstep. With the bush all around and the expanse of the valley far ahead, it is no wonder they call it a viewing deck.

Villa

View
(images courtesy: karkloof)

The game reserve itself is spread over 8600 acres of land where the animals roam free. And to allow that, it is deliberately devoid of big game, the predators. But I have no time for Karkloof’s fauna to find the time to pay a house call. The spa awaits. In a land strewn with hundreds of national parks and game reserves, a safari lodge that is also a destination spa is a rare delight.

So, the spa. This paean to pampering is set in a space that is as large as the lodge itself. Karkloof takes great pride in the fact that the spa has been built to blend seamlessly into the environment. The nifty buggy gets me straight to the spa and within minutes, I am officially open for a whole day of spadom. One of the best things about this spa is, not having to go through the agony of making hard decisions based on time and money. I have eleven hours of spa treatments to indulge in, breaking off only for a bite of organic food at the spa café or a leisurely game drive to wave at a few giraffe.

All this is part of Karkloof’s concept of “timeless stay”: flexible check in and check out schedules, meal times of your making, game drives at your convenience and the luxury of staying at the spa all day. Uplifting facials? Detoxifying scrubs? Aroma Thai massages? Bring them on.

Spa
(image courtesy: Karkloof)

The star attraction of the spa is the hydrotherapy treatments – a floatation pool, the open area Jacuzzi and the Kniepp pools, among other things. The last is a system devised to boost your blood circulation by making you alternate between hot and cold pools. If you survive the shock to the system, that is. Obviously, I skip it.

In keeping with the eco-friendly theme, the hydrotherapy area boasts of “living roofs” of thatch and grass, where animals wander in to graze. The treatment rooms, also reached through wooden walkways, are spread around the core zone and overlook the wild bush. I almost expect curious zebras to peep in through the large picture windows and suffer mild trauma upon seeing humans with gooey face packs on.

My therapist is a petite Thai lady who silently works magic with her fingers. Towards the end, she tries to give me a few health tips to keep my skin glowing. I wonder sleepily if I can’t take her back home with me instead.

After being spa’d so much, I can barely keep my eyes open at the dinner table. Much of the food choices here are of the raw, healthy variety; I had a choice of falling asleep on the bowl of roasted vine tomato soup (cooked) or the pear, melon and rocket soup (raw).

That bit about game drives being at my own convenience? I had fully intended to make use of it to not wake up at an ungodly hour to go wildlife viewing. But fate has other plans. Our safari guides Kenny and Lovemore hint gently that early mornings are ideal for drives inside the reserve but of course, I could sleep in if I choose to.

ostrich

And so we go on a safari at the crack of dawn. The Karkloof birds – over 300 species within the property – are just coming to life. A couple of hippos are raising their heads hesitantly from inside a large pond. A group of ostriches is going on a disciplined march, even as wild buffalos engage in mock fights nearby. And just about everywhere, zebras and giraffe stay close to each other, grazing, content. The long and short of it, I think, looking at them.

Giraffe
(image courtesy: Karkloof)

zebra

Despite my rhino sighting of the previous day, I am excited at the thought of seeing more of them. Thanks to a white rhino-breeding programme, there are nearly twenty of them in the reserve and a solitary, endangered black rhino. The rhino we spot is right by the side of the road. He ignores us with a steadfast dedication to his breakfast. Seeing him framed against the golden glow of that morning sunlight, there is a moment of affectionate silence in the jeep. Then he looks up and the spell is broken.

Kenny and Lovemore, Zimbabweans both, are remarkably informed and passionate about the reserve and the birds and animals within. They drive us to a “special place” for breakfast. And like everything else I have experienced at Karkloof so far, breakfast too is special, in the bush, on top of a cliff, overlooking the valley.

breakfast

breakfast1

All too soon, it is time to leave. I wonder if I have the time to sneak in one more spa treatment; this kind of thing is rather addictive. But the call of the real world outside these gates is getting sharper.

The Karkloof Safari Spa calls itself Africa’s best kept secret. I come away believing it.

THE INFORMATION

How to get there

Fly Jet Airways (Rs. 51,000) or South African Airways (Rs. 53,000) from Mumbai to Durban via Johannesburg. From Durban’s King Shaka International Airport, the Karkloof Safari Spa is less than a two-hour drive. The nearest big town is Pietermaritzburg, 24 km away.

Visa

Apply for a short-term visitor visa (no fee for Indian nationals) at the VFS in Mumbai or Delhi and allow for a minimum processing time of five working days. A service charge of Rs. 1350 is to be paid in cash at the time of submission of the visa application.

Stay

There are 16 private villas at the Karkloof Safari Spa, with tariff 9900 ZAR per person, per night. The rate is inclusive of all meals, beverages, game drives, outdoor activities and spa treatments. Check in is allowed from 8 am and check out the next evening at 8 pm, which means that for one night, you get two days at the property.

Since the spa has 17 treatment rooms, there is no need to book in advance. And the stay policy also means that you can potentially get up to 22 hours of spa treatments.

Activities

Apart from the wildlife and the spa, the property is home to the Karkloof river and the 340-feet high Karkloof waterfall, reached by a mild hike. And for those so inclined, activities like fishing, birding, mountain biking and yoga sessions are offered.

A bite of bunny chow

Most of my mealtimes during my South Africa trip were spent looking at colleagues tuck into all varieties of meat, from ostrich to wildebeest, while I quietly ate the pasta or salad put in front of me. I did have one Indian dinner at The Ocean Terrace restaurant at the upmarket Oyster Box but that was a dubious “curry buffet” and not the most satisfying meal.

One of my most delightful Durban experiences came in the form of the bunny chow. Or bunny, as locals call it. For example, “Let’s go for a quick bunny lunch” (asking for “bunny chow” immediately marks you out as an outsider, I am told).

What is bunny chow?

Nothing to do with rabbits or indeed with any form of meat. It is simply a hollowed loaf of bread – usually a quarter – filled with curry that could be vegetables and kidney beans, chicken, lamb or mutton.

The origins of this dish are unknown, with many theories floating around. The most popular one is that Indian labourers working in the sugarcane plantations of Kwazulu Natal (a region in South Africa, of which Durban is the capital) found it difficult to carry an elaborate lunch with them. So, a clever housewife decided to make a one dish meal of bread and curry that can be eaten with the hands.

As for the name, it is believed to have originated from the word “bania” – although you will hear stories of this dish being invented by a Mr. Bunny from India! And for a bit of trivia: today, Durban has the largest Indian community outside India.

How is bunny chow made?

It is one of the easiest snacks to make – I should actually call it a meal, because a quarter loaf of bunny chow is enough to keep you going from lunch till dinner. And remember, the bunny chow was born out of a need for convenience.

So, here is the bunny chow in five easy steps:

1. Scoop

Scoop

2. Arrange

Arrange

3. Fill

Fill

4. Garnish

Garnish

5. Serve

Serve

And Bob’s your uncle! Or should I say, Bunny’s your chacha!

The National Geographic rates it among the top ten culinary experiences in Durban – as a vegetarian, I would go further and extend it to all of South Africa.

They also call it “lip-searing spicy curry” and perhaps by Western standards, the filling is a bit fiery. But certainly not by our palates conditioned by “Everest ka tikha lal” masalas. But I do agree with this bit in the article: “It’s hot, messy, and impossible to eat without using both hands and lots of napkins” – if you want to eat it daintily with a fork and spoon, you may as well forget it and go find something more amenable to cutlery.

Where should I try bunny chow?

Bunny chow is available everywhere in Durban, and these days, in other South African cities too. Locals swear by Goundens, although I tried it at The Oriental, which also came highly recommended. It is a small place inside a shopping mall, designed for a quick eat or take-away experience. The manager kindly allowed me into the kitchens with my camera once I expressed curiosity about the chow-making process.

Oriental

I had the vegetarian version, with a generous filling of a curry (how I hate that word!) loaded with vegetables and rajma, and spiced gently with Indian masalas. I had a tough time managing the mess but hey, that’s part of the fun. And I have to say, this bunny was absolutely delicious.

The Wall Street Journal thinks highly enough of this “sloppy, savory, eat-it-with-your-hands Indian curry dish” to carry a piece on finding the best bunny chow in Durban.

So, if you ever head to South Africa, go find yourself a bunny.

1 2 3