I realize I should have posted this account prior to showing off my Nokia pics in my previous post, but I was so excited about my pics, I forgot about the journey and the sights along the way. But not to worry – you may join me now if you wish, alas! no Nokia pics to accompany the text. En route to Underberg, I hadn’t thought of using the camera function on my phone.
Because I dislike driving – especially on roads decorated with stray kamikaze goats, who are horribly speedy as they dash across the narrow tarmac; browsing cattle on the verges, wobbly cyclists, over-laden trucks, and huge SAPPI trucks loaded with timber – no thanks, I’d rather pay and take the NUD Shuttle to Underberg. Much more soothing. You can sit in the back and enjoy the scenery.
We whisked along past surprisingly full rivers, but the dry brown hills rising from the rivers were what I’d expected during winter-time. In between the goats on the road I saw the occasional skinny sheep with dirty, tatty wool, which was another surprise. Kwa-Zulu Natal is not really sheep country, the Western Cape is the area for sheep, millions of them.
I enjoyed looking at the small farmsteads and houses dotted on the hillsides. Some were the old, traditional round huts with thatched roofs. Others, presumably more modern, were small rectangular houses, many with interesting paint colours notably a deep violet that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a bordello! I can only assume the violet paint was a real bargain on a sale. Government buildings sported new cream paint, with a vivid sky blue trim to prevent mud splashes during the summer rains. The painter must have been an Ndebele, because the borders had been given a traditional geometric pattern effect.
Outside Bulwer I saw scores of school children along the dusty roadside, exiting from school buses – all remarkably spruce in navy track-suits, with a white chevron and gold trim, no hanging shirt-tails or rebellious add-ons. In view of the reports we often hear about rural poverty, this was a welcome sight.
We passed big timber plantations. The spruce needles hang in pretty fringes from the branches, reminiscent of Japanese scenes on scrolls and paintings. The massive timber trucks are neither artistic nor pleasing, as they crawl up the hills at nought miles per hour, belching exhaust fumes, and preventing traffic from passing. There are few stretches of flat road in this hilly terrain. Other heavy duty trucks clog up the roads, carrying agricultural supplies and products, building materials, and who knows what? Impossible to tell. Surprisingly, I saw hardly any buses or taxis, even deep into the rural areas, where few people own private cars. But Underberg was full of the ubiquitous bakkies and 4x4s, driven by village locals, and also visitors en route to the resorts and parks of the nearby Drakensburg mountains.
As we left Underberg the horizon was decorated with mountain peaks in a soft blue – a series of ranked cut-outs at the edge of the world. Dharmagiri Hermitage lies in the foothills of the Drakensberg, on its own mountain, Bamboo Mountain. On my first night at DG I looked up through the cold, clear sky and marvelled at the stars so very many, and so very bright. Such a contrast to the city night skies down on the coast. How wonderful to be standing outside at night, gazing up at the stars!