Few more days to go before 2019 walks in and it’s goodbye 2018. It has become customary to think of what has gone by and what better way to live the new year. The past year has been an absolute roller coaster. As far as memory goes, no other year has shaken me up with joys as well as absolute disasters like 2018. Peaks and valleys in both personal and professional fronts rocked our daily lives—sometimes the same day. I can go on and on and on…..
Despite all the drama, I managed to reach my reading challenge of a meagre 25 books through the whole year. And it so happens that one of the last books I read was “Sikkim: requiem for a Himalayan kingdom”. This was triggered by a recent trip to Sikkim and surprising revelations about the state.
On our first day in Sikkim, as we drove through the mountain roads, our driver guide casually said, “Please ask me whatever you want about Sikkim, including its history.” I thought for a while and wondered every Indian state has a similar history for the last two centuries since the British took over every nook and corner of the country. So what’s so different about Sikkim. May be he sensed my ignorance and summarised the history in one line. “We became the 22nd state of India in 1975. Until then we were a separate Buddhist kingdom.” My jaws dropped. How did I not know such an important part of our country’s history.
This is why the book by Andrew Duff ended up in my reading list. It took me a whole month to read through the book but at the end, I realised the Chogyal of Sikkim went through highs and lows throughout his life for his dream of an independent Sikkim which in any case came crashing down before he died. People came and went in his life—some in support and some against. Yet all along he stood to defend his unwavering love for his kingdom and to safeguard their interests. He might have been stubborn to an irrational degree but lived his life for his passion, dreams and belief. And taught an extremely important lesson to everybody—no amount of time spent chasing your dreams is enough and there is no guarantee of dreams coming true. But that’s the only way I would like to live my life.
On a bright sunny day, few hours later, we walked out grim. The silence was heavy. Neither of us had a clue about how to start a conversation. We were brimming with shame, empathy, compassion…. No words were going to suffice for what we felt. We covered the 45 mins drive back to the hotel without uttering a word. Thankfully the uber driver had the radio on in the background. I wondered later if the cab drivers are used to the sombre state of passengers boarding after a trip to the Apartheid museum.
After millions of safety warnings from anybody and everybody who has ever heard of Johannesburg, we decided to cut our time there to a single day. That was to be our last day in South Africa. The people, the places, the wildlife, the lifestyle.. name any aspect of the country and we would say we had fallen in love with it. Now what is it that remained to pick on from this country – its history. Hence the place to go was the Apartheid museum at Johannesburg to mark the concluding day of our time in SA.
It all began with the Gold rush. People of all races from all corners of the world landed at SA to make their fortunes. The natives struggled through all of this being displaced by fortune seekers. Before they knew, the social hierarchy had been created based on the colour of the skin. Fairest being at the top and darkest at the bottom which constituted most natives. Many people rose up to the struggle and perished.
A century ago, was born Rohlihlahla Mandela who would eventually lead the country in its final battle against apartheid. Years of perseverance and suffering couldn’t break the man’s will but strengthened it manifold only to realize his dream of earning the dignity and right to a decent life for his countrymen. Almost a century of fighting for a country sans racism, they succeeded in abolishing apartheid, a mere 25 years ago. It isn’t easy for the oppressed sections of the society to wake up one fine day to the abolition of apartheid and forget the sufferings, but the attempts to move on are evident. To bring back the confidence of the people who were badgered for a century, might take more than a lifetime to mend. But the hope and the optimism makes up for the starting point.
A fairly young country, South Africa, is still trying to live in harmony with all races as part of their social structure. The diversity eventually led South Africa to be called as the Rainbow Nation.
The Apartheid museum has been built with a lot of passion keeping in mind the struggle of the common man in South Africa to earn the fundamental right to a decent living. And as a constant reminder to the future generations to respect the treacherous path their forefathers walked to give them the life of dignity.
“Please stand in the queue here for your turn to take a picture with the CAPE OF GOOD HOPE board”, said Marcon. I was thrilled to know that we have reached the southernmost point of the African continent… Until our turn came and the board came into view.
Most southwestern point??? There has to be a mistake. Isn’t this supposed to be the southern most point? I gave a confused look to Marcon and before I could ask, he smiled and said the southernmost point of the dark continent is about three hours drive from here. And where would that be? Cape L’Agulhas! Where on earth is this? Why did I not know this earlier?
Marcon clarified later most people have this assumption that Cape of Good Hope is the southern most point but it’s just a popular place because it lies within Cape Town limits. Tourists flock this town and Cape Point is a half day tour. This Cape was first named as Cape of storms because ships sailing all across the world were never able to dock due to severe damages suffered in storms. But because it opened up the pathway from the Western Hemisphere to the eastern world for trade, it was renamed the Cape of Good Hope.
At this point I had decided we have to go to this ‘Cape whatever’ that marks the tip of the continent. So couple of days later when we head out towards Mossel Bay on the Garden Route we took the 80 kms diversion to go see this place. Overlooked by a typical lighthouse, this unassuming place was very significant in terms of geography of the continent.
The Indian ocean and the Atlantic ocean meet here. The warm Agulhas current for the Indian Ocean clashes with the cold current from the west resulting in strong winds and storms. Historically known as the Cape of Needles, it has been known to have sunk big ships in the early days due to the weather conditions and the rocky outcrops.
With only a bunch of tourists, and may be a few locals idling around on rocks, there was no queue here for a photograph with the plaque. One would probably see more sea gulls than people along the coastline of the town. A quaint little town, L’Agulhas, serving as it’s approach, the cape continues to maintain its importance in a quiet and a sombre way.