”I have a home in every country, I am still searching that abode.”
– Rabindra Nath Tagore.
You will get hypnotized when you find that abode in Botswana. Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari became enthralled while enjoying a boat cruise and game viewing in the Chobe national park in Kasane. The splendour and the green serene beauty from the flora-fauna left him breathless. He likened the park to the Biblical Garden of Eden. He conceded Botswana could soon become the centre of India’s film industry.
Botswana is roughly the size of France or Texas with a surface area of 581730 Sq. Km. It is entirely land locked surrounded by South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Almost 85% of the land is covered by legendary Kalahari desert. Population is about 2 millions, 45% of which is younger than 15 years. Half of the population lives in urban areas. Gaborone is the capital. Nationality is Batswana and the language is Setswana. However official language is English. Currency is Pula but US Dollar and South African Rand are also popular. Oldest ethnic group is San, the original inhabitants of the land. The old name of Botswana is Bachuanaland. It was such an impoverished nation that the British did not feel like colonizing it but used to control it from Mafiking as the capital of Botswana till its independence in 1966. Mafiking was a bordering district in South Africa. World’s best and maximum reserve of diamond is in Botswana. Diamond is the mainstay of revenue. Copper, nickel, coal, iron, Beef, soda ash and tourism are other sources of revenue. Main crops are maize, sorghum, millet, sun flower and cotton.
Maun: If there is anything like capital of tourism for Botswana, yes it is Maun. Maun is located in the Ngamiland in northwest of Botswana. Combination of modern buildings and native huts – Maun was posted as capital since 1915 for the Twana people. The thriving tourist town known as ‘ the place of short reeds’ Maun has everything one could ever cherish- Museums, Moremi game reserve boasting over 500 species of birds and a vast array of wild life and wilderness. The town is also reputed for dense population of donkeys and red leetchwe antelope mostly found around the Thamalakwane River. Maun Education Park is a top favorite among the tourists. Here you will enjoy the fine stands of real fan palms, variety of acacia thickets and beautiful riverine woodland. The park straddles the Thamalakane River, rich in many aquatic bird species. There are open areas where you will see zebras, wildebeest, and grazing warthogs, red leetchwe, kudu, impala, giraffe, chackma, baboon, vervet monkey and a host of smaller mammals. For bird watcher to hold the breath, you will find – red necked falcon, bronzed-winged courser, African jacana, swamp boubou, fish eagle, bat hawk. You will never forget Maun- a perfect blend of rural and urban life.
Gewihaba Caves: 260 Km from Maun and 225 km from Gumare, the caves, caverns and passage ways- Gcwihava is a rare gift of nature. Situated on a sand ridge farway from Gaborone, northwest of Botswana at the southern edge of Okavango, the access to Gcwihaba is through Tsau. Million years stone formations, the mystery of staglamite and staclite will keep you captivating. Dolomite rock is brown and staglamite rock is white. The saline mixture seeping through the roof cave forming into spicules gives testimony for a million years history. The caves were referred to as Drotsky’s cavern named after Martinus Drotsky who discovered it 1934. The legend goes the wealthy Ghangi farmer Martinus Van Zyl stashed some of his fortunes in this cave.
Tsodilo Hills: The top gear of Botswana’s art cultural heritage- site of stone age rock paintings by the ancestors of San people- ” Tsodilo” described by Laurens Van Der Post as ‘ The Louvre Of The Desert’ which has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002.The ancestors of San had occupied the hills for millennia and the Hambukushu who have periodically occupied the hills for past 200 years – the first people to settle at Tsodilo were the Kungs.
The earliest people to inhabit Tsodilo were the middle stoneage people about 100000 years ago. They were the first anatomically modern humans (homosapiens). People from middle and late stone age would have lived entirely by hunting, collecting wild foods and fishing the lakes that existed 22500-7500 years ago. Domestic animals were introduced 2000 BP.
Modern age: 1800-1900 BP.
Iron age: 2000-1800 BP.
Late stone age: 3500-2000 BP.
Middle stone age: 200000-3500 BP.
Early stone age: 2.6 million -200000 BP.
Over 4500 rock paintings have been recorded at 400 sites in Tsodilo- many in obscure, inaccessible places high up in the mountains. These depict wild and domestic animals, human figures, schematic design and geometrical patterns. There are 3 main hills: Male, Female and Child. The caves and caverns of female hills are believed to be the resting places of deceased and various Gods who ruled the world from here. The most sacred place is near the top of the male hill, where legend goes that the first spirit knelt and prayed after creating the world.
To follow the hills there are 3 trails. Rhino trail, Lion trail and Cliff trail- best experienced by employing a local guide.
The Chobe National Park: The golden safari destination of Africa is The Chobe National Park covering 11700 Sq. Km. of wild life paradise, stretching from the riverfront in the north to Savute and Mababe in the south west. If ever there was a place on earth where elephants reigned supreme, it was the Chobe where highest number of savanna elephants in the world estimated 154000 moved freely between northern Botswana and neighboring countries.
To explore Chobe you can take a game drive on main land or a boat cruise (motorised) where you will be absorbed in the in the absolute splendour of Chobe sunset. Prolific wild life exhibition will expose you to buffalo, zebra, lion, giraffe, African wild dogs, kudu, puku, jackal, eland, cheetah, wildebeest, ostrich, hippo and many more animals let alone elephants in their natural sanctuary.
Chobi national park derives its name from Chobi river that enters Botswana from Angola as the Kwando becoming Linyanti, Itenge finally Chobe confluencing with the mighty Zambegi river – where Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia meet. Tourists often tack on a day trip or proceed to Victoria falls in Zimbabwe or Livingstone in Zambia. A guided trip is best to learn and watch the beauties of flora and fauna as the extempore commentaries from the local guides apprise you with the sorroundings.
A hippopotamus can weigh 2 tons with a gestation period of 8 months delivering a single ton baby. A hippo usually takes 130 Kg. of grass every day. They are not good swimmers. On the other hand elephants can swim well spending a good deal of time eating 16- 18 hours a day and as much as 218-300 Kg. of plants though mophane trees are their favourite. They take on the mophanes from the top allowing the young ones gulping from below. The gestation period for elephants is 22 months giving birth to a singleton. The gestation period for a rhino is 16 months. In the cruise you will find the crocodiles on the river banks cooling their bodies with open mouth. Crocodiles have no tongues. They lay 7-8 eggs in about 20 minutes. An ostrich can kill a lion by its paw (foot). A female ostrich is grey which incubates the eggs at day and males are black who take their turn of incubation at night when temperature falls. As you cruise you will be captivated when you turn your eyes on shores with the sight of Kori bustard(national bird of Botswana), Homer corp, African darter, red Leetchwe their hind legs longer than the fore legs to allow it to jump quicker, These be antelope-is the fastest antelope. African falcon can dive on a prey at a speed of 300 Km. per hour as being the fastest creature on earth. A cheetah can chase a prey at 120 Km. an hour.
During the cruise on Chobe, we were introduced to Sidudu island about 3.5 Sq. Km. on which both Botswana and Namibia locked horn over the ownership. Finally the dispute was settled by international court of justice awarding the right to Botswana. During June-July Sidudu goes under water, when all the residents namely buffalo, elephants, hippos, antelopes migrate to mainland.
The Okavango: The biggest off shore delta is the Ganges delta in Bangladesh where as the largest inland delta in the world is the Okavango delta of Botswana. Okavango is called jewel of Kalahari. Most rivers subsequently meet sea but Okavango riveris a queen infatuating on her own romanticism. She traverses through Kalahari desert. The waters join Botswana at Mohembo, at the Caprivi, at the village of Seronga following out over the vast fingers shaped delta making a lush wetland wilderness of lagoons, channels and ox-bow lakes. The voluptuous delta is also the hostess of legendary Africa’s big five- buffalo, rhino, elephant, leopard and lion- as are a host of predators and preys. Red leetchwe, Impala, water buck, sitatunga, kudu, sable, cheetah, caracal, roan, tsessebe, crocodile, hyena, the extinct wild dogs are sighted here. Bird watching is spectacular. Rare species like African skimmers, a variety of egrets, storks, king fishers, warblers are common sights. Okavango is the abode to some 444 species of birds, 122 species mammals, 64 species of reptiles and 1300 species of flowering plants. If luck smiles on you, you can even view a dog fight in a clear sky between a pale southern chanting goshawk and a yellow billed kite. Okavango may lure you by presenting her rare possession of masking lions who can camouflage their manes to go unnoticed before their prey. Mokoro a locally made dugout canoe negotiating down the crystalline water, speaks loud about the Okavango. Viewing sunset from Okavango is spell bounding. At the delta’s lower reaches lie 3 land masses- Chief’s island, Mophane tongue and Matsebi ridge.
Moremi Game Reserve: It is considered to be one of the rarest gifts of Southern Africa- encompassing Chief’s island and Mophane tongue in the central and eastern territory of Okavango – a wide corridor of the reserve stretches east to meet the Chobe national park- covering an area of 5000 Sq. Km. Moremi was proclaimed a national reserve in 1963. Moremi has 4 composites. Khwai River, third bridge, magwee and xakanaxa. From November to March during rainy season savour the renewed wonders of African wilderness. Alternatively enjoy the cool dry season from April to November- the spectacular abundant wild life as it gathers around the perennial water sources. Witness on the flood plains of Khwiai River – a number of red leetchwes, hippos, baboons, as you follow the lions, leopard or hyena. Listen to the soothing songs of water birds while riding on a mokoro and viewing flaura and fauna.
Though these are not the tip of iceberg yet there are many more elements within Botswana which can unfold further surprises in their all glory. Just to name a few: Makgadikgade and nxai pan national park, central kalahari game reserve, kalagadi transfrontier park, northern tuli game reserve, mokolodi nature park, deception valley, khutse game reserve.
There are places where soul is overawed by the heart breaking beauty of nature- Botswana stands par excellence.
About the author
Dr. Capt. Syed Ahmed Mortada (Retd), MBBS (DAC), DGO (VIENNA), MPH (USA) was repatriated from Pakistan in December 1973 under Simla agreement. He spent 2 years in GRC-13 (Fort Sandaman), Quetta, Baluchistan, Pakistan in captivity with other defense personnel. He got his retirement from Bangladesh army in 1977. He served in many countries like Iran (2 times), Saudi Arabia, Botswana under Ministry of Health as a physician staging a comeback in 2012. In between he served as Director Hospital, Tairunnessa Memorial Medical College and Hospital, Tongi. He was also a Joint Director Hospital, BIRDEM, Dhaka. Captain Mortada is a free lance writer. His write-ups appeared in The Daily Star, New Age, Mirror, Sylhet Association Magazine and many more journals at home and abroad. He travelled many countries. Still he is travelling and currently engaged in preparing is maiden book “ATTONONG BIDDHI”.