Flying in a copter over the Victoria Falls as the grand Zambezi smokes and thunders is a lifetime experience which Dr Livingstone would surely approve
My journey to one of the most beautiful African country began with the water taxi gliding across the majestic Zambezi River. On one side of the boat I could see something rising from the depths, only its eyes and nostrils showing, “That’s a Hippo,” I screeched. On the other side, I chanced upon a croc with its mouth wide-open laid waiting for its prey, and to the fore, the spray of the regal Victoria Falls rising high in the air.
The 20-minute long boat ride ended as I reached the Royal Livingstone Hotel. Set in the southern province of Zambia in the Livingstone city, the property revels in the natural beauty that surrounds it. It was after a two-hour flight from Johannesburg to the Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport (Livingstone Airport), I was dropped straight into the soul of Africa— the place where British explorer Dr David Livingstone, first set his eyes on—the Victoria Falls. Though the locals had always known it as Mosi-Oa-Tunya (The Smoke That Thunders), he named after the British monarch in November 1855.
With sun shedding its colour, a fizzy cocktails and cold towels awaited me at the sundeck. Though built in 2001, the Royal Livingstone Hotel oozes colonial charm, thanks to its white-buildings with thatched-roofed rooms in soft earthy tones. The wooden bed-heads, the white drapes, handmade rugs, wildlife pencil sketches on the wall and marble-edged baths takes one to the luxury of a bygone era. A cuppa of cappuccino accompanied me while I enjoyed the lazy evening in the shaded, long veranda overlooking the manicured lawns and the relentlessly flowing Zambezi.
As the hotel stands in the middle of a national park—you are likely to come across couple of zebras waiting for you at the breakfast table, a pair of impalas (African antelopes) welcoming you at the reception area or a giraffe couple keeping an eye on your activities. Indeed, an amazing sight!
If you’re a wildlife lover you can pick from a galore of activities at the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National park. Elephant safaris or the Big Five safaris are a few of the incredible experiences to sample during your stay. My experience of taking two cheetahs for a walk was unheard of. Do not worry; just let yourself loose with these big five, as the volunteers and the guards guide you with the do’s and don’ts throughout the walk. “Purrrrr….,” I exhaled. Apparently, cheetahs make a purring sound when they are very happy and comfortable with the person taking them for a walk.
Just like the monkeys around the hotel, the adventure junkie was jumping in me too. So soon after my walk the big cat, I thought of flying over the smoking falls and booked for a 20-minute helicopter ride. As the copter rose and hovered over Zambezi I could see a crack made in a hard rock from the right to the left of the river bank. I captured few lounging hippos in my camera, yet again.
Victoria Falls, Zambia
My fascination for the rainbows which threw up in the air made me book myself for a guided tour to the waterfalls, just a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Keep your raincoats, umbrellas and trekking shoes in place. Though slippery, the way towards the mist and the rainbows is sure to take your breath away. “One, two, three and, really, am I seeing four rainbows?” I counted. I was told that the rainbows stay here even during the night, called lunar rainbow. If fortunate, you are likely to witness the magic, as on each full moon the Victoria Falls rainforest re-opens in the evening for special tours of the lunar rainbow.
Beside the escapades of natural and wildlife wonders, the hotel offers variety of delicacies around the magnificent stone fireplace, beautiful French doors and hand-carved colonial chairs. If you crave for Zambian dishes, Chef Alex’s is at hand to offer you authentic African cuisine. For Indians it is Chef Anuj, flown from Mumbai, offering piping hot samosas and traditional dishes which can keep your home sickness at bay.
The afternoon high tea at the lounge is a not-to-be missed. If you are a newly-wed and need little privacy, go for a romantic dinner under the Monkey tree and fall in love all over again as the magical drama of the African skies unfolds on the horizon. The setup of lanterns and candles hanging down from the tree, lights up the evening.
The steam driven Royal Livingstone Express
How about experiencing dinner at The Royal Livingstone Express as you are transported right down to the middle of the Victoria Falls Bridge? Possible. The steam-driven train has a sunset and dinner trip with fine wine and dining as you travel in Pullman-style coaches, lovingly restored to their former glory. Travelling through a high-density suburb of Livingstone called Dambwa and onto the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park the sun had begun to set. And as the train paused at the entrance to the game park, a family of baboons hopped and skipped on the roof. After crossing the Sinde River, a tributary of the Zambezi, the train was stationed for a five-course meal at a dining carriage. Later, the locomotive drew into the Bushtracks Siding at 9.30pm and I was transferred back to the hotel. Must-note: Every Wednesday and Saturday, the train departs from the Bushtracks station at 5pm sharp.
Presidential Suite at the Royal Livingstone Hotel
After exploring the Victoria Falls, gorging over delicious food and lazing around, I needed something to calm my nerves. Back to the hotel, the canopied massage gazebos set up at the edge of the river spoilt me for choices as the masseuse kneaded away the knots with her signature treatment, while the stillness of the place engulfed me in its embrace.
Getting there: Fly from Johannesburg to the Livingstone airport
Favourable months: July to September
Local cuisine: It’s based on nshima, a stiff porridge made from ground maize
Dress code: Smart casual with a hint of safari khaki for outings
Perfect luggage: Jackets, raincoats, trekking shoes, suns cream, sunglasses, hat
Written by Ami Gandhi