Lesotho – A parallel universe beyond the mountains

Half a year before my trip to Africa, I heard of a country named the ‘Kingdom of Lesotho’ from a friend who used to study economic policies of third-world countries in Africa. Mentioned in passing, he meant to illustrate that how ignorant I, and in general people living in affluent societies, can be of the other countries that concurrently exist in the world. I managed to remember the name of this country after the conversation, but I knew nothing else about it, except the fact that follows naturally – it is a third-world country.

Then one day I sounded out my friend in South Africa that I would travel there. He said he could take me to drive through a ‘Sani Pass’, which leads to the border of a country called ‘Lesotho’. Oh Lesotho! Of course I heard about it. But ‘Sani Pass’?

I googled. The top entries said things more or less the same: Sani Pass is one of the most dangerous roads to drive in the world – a crazy driver’s paradise. It sounds adventurous enough for my taste, and definitely would be one more interesting thing to do in my already interesting itinerary in Africa.

After roaming around Namibia and South Africa for a few weeks, I arrived at last in Drakensberg of South Africa, where my friend lives, and where the Kingdom of Lesotho lies somewhere not far. When we talked about the plan in the coming few days, my friend said matter-of-factly, ‘We will only go to the Sani Pass when the weather permits. It makes no point to go there in the bad weather. You can see nothing’. That was a day of shitty weather when he said it, and I frowned.

In fact, I secretly protested. I had been looking forward to this adventure a lot. ‘I would go, no matter what,’ I was telling myself, although I had no idea at all how I could do it on my own.

The days leading up to our planned adventure had been all gloomy and rainy. The mountains were shrouded by wisps of clouds most of the time. They looked as beautiful and mysterious as a hinterland where fairies live and where the mortals cannot reach, but I was at times grumpy and anxious when I looked at these gigantic mountains afar. I prayed the weather would turn better for my sake.

When the day we planned to set off finally arrived, I got up from bed in the early morning after a night of toss and turn. From my room window, I saw the first rays of sunlight slowly tinge the vast green pasture into a bright golden carpet. I almost cried with joy. The weather was on our side. Yes, we would go!

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We drove with the 4×4, gingerly passing through the hairpin turns bending every few hundred metres at the edge of the mountain ranges of Sani Pass. We progressed and ascended slowly. I was holding my breath, not because of fear of falling off the cliffs, but because of the indescribable beauty of the views that changed at every turn outside the car window. I was overwhelmed by the grandeur of nature.

Soon we were at the top of Sani Pass, where a small house marked the border of the Kingdom of Lesotho. We crossed the border, and had a cup of coffee at the pub a few hundred metres next to the border. We stood at the balcony of the pub, breathing in the much chilly air. Speechlessly we appreciated the mountain ranges, which looked like giant round boulders arranged neatly in a row, rolled and stretched miles without bound. Then we looked back on the narrow ribbon of winding road that we had just come through, the road that brought us all the way to this landlocked kingdom. Beyond those mountains is another country. Just miles apart, the mountains separate two countries like two parallel universes, two different worlds.

I would love to explore more of this much less blessed land. But before we could go further and deeper, the engine of the vehicle did not cooperate. We had to head back, descending slowly through the same long, winding, bumpy road of Sani Pass to the parallel universe of South Africa, where we came from.

I had been to this little-known country called ‘Lesotho’; my feet set on its barren soil for an hour; I got a fresh new stamp on my passport; but I didn’t know much more about this tiny kingdom and its people than what I had known before.

I was thrilled by this road trip and this short visit. I still am. I wish to be there in this country again one day, driving by myself, and get to know more about this kingdom called ‘Lesotho’ – where its people are called ‘Basotho’, and the language they speak is called ‘Sesotho’ – all these I found out later.

But first things first, I have to get a driving license.

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