September 28, 2023

Flight of the angels

One minute I see it, the next I can’t. At the Victoria Falls in Zambia, the spray is so strong that it covers the entire landscape in a thick, impenetrable blanket. It begins as a gentle mist that caresses my face at the first viewing platform, and by the time I finish a round of the marked vantage points, it has turned into a shower. The poncho and raincoat rented from the vendor doing brisk business near the entrance may have been not there, for all the difference they make.

Clearly, Victoria Falls is determined to live up to its local name of Mosi Oa Tunya – the smoke that thunders. Indeed, the spray looks like a plume of smoke rising way up into the sky, mingling with the low, dark clouds. Our local guide Sims takes us from viewpoint to viewpoint, each of them offering just a tantalizing glimpse of the waterfall.

At the first stop, the view of the falls is framed by lush green trees and the Zambezi river from where the plummet into an invisible gorge way down below begins. This is only a teaser of what is to come, every point opening up just a little more of the vista. We gingerly make our way across the wet Knife Edge Bridge leading up to the dramatically named Danger Point, that gives the closest as well as the most expansive view of the Vic (as I have begun to think of it fondly).

Of course, given that the falls stretch over 1.7 kilometres, it is impossible to see more than a tiny slice of it from any place. It finds a place in the UNESCO world heritage sites list. And along with worthies like Mount Everest, the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon, Victoria Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. As I watch the curtain of water play hide and seek with the mist, there is no doubt in my mind that it is every bit as spectacular as this status indicates.

The gorge creates a natural international border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, with each country proudly claiming the best views. And in modern days, there is the Victoria Falls Bridge that connects the two neighbours, also attracting adrenalin junkies for a bungee jumping experience that has them plummeting head-first towards the Zambezi.

Soaked to the skin – but not bothered a bit – I make my way back, heading to the upstream area from where the Vic begins its descent. On the Knife Edge Bridge, a group of young boys is having a rollicking time, taking selfies and pushing each other in jest on that slippery surface. Families are out in full force, mothers carrying their babies on a back sling. The slightly bigger tots are walking on their own, completely submerged under their wet ponchos. I carry on with a huge smile on my face; in this special place, where there is a rainbow at every corner, it is impossible not to smile all the time.

One of the stories that Zambians are proud of sharing is about their favourite Scottish missionary David Livingstone. The first European to see the falls in 1855 – earlier unknown to the world outside the local tribes – he rhapsodized that “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

These words ringing in my ears, I clamber into the tiny microlight flight later that day for a bird’s eye view of the Vic. While this activity is not as challenging as some others possible in this area like bungee-jumping or whitewater rafting, it does require nerves of steel. From a distance, my microlight flight looks like a large auto-rickshaw about to take to the skies.

On this two seater plane, I am right next to the pilot, the quiet but friendly Pascal from Zimbabwe. Why do you want to hold on, he says in reply to my nervous question about the handrail. I wear my headphones and settle in to relax and enjoy as ordered. Pascal starts chatting from the minute he turns on the engine for that short taxi before takeoff. And he keeps up a steady commentary through the fifteen minutes of our flight, partly to make sure I did not miss anything and partly to keep me calm.

We fly towards the thick veil of vapour visible ahead, and within seconds, are cruising over the hero of this story. Pascal flies on towards the Zimbabwe side for a full loop around the falls, before flying over the Zambezi, which looks perfectly still and gentle from up above, with no indication of how forceful its plunge really is. There are two more loops over the Vic, adorned by multiple rainbows that glitter in the winter afternoon sun.

All too soon, we move away from the main canyon and when we land at the base, it feels like the wind is still caressing my cheeks and the roar of water is still echoing in my ears.


How to reach

Fly to Lusaka from Mumbai on Kenya Airways or Ethiopian Airlines, connecting on a domestic flight to Livingstone, the nearest airport to Victoria Falls.

Where to stay

The Avani Victoria Falls Resort and The Royal Livingstone Hotel are both luxury properties, within walking distance of the falls.

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