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Namibia: Damaraland, Etosha National Park, NamibRand Nature Reserve, Ongava, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, Windhoek
Sossusvlei, Namibia: Just spectacular
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert are often referred to as the highest dunes in the world. Various arguments are laid out to support this claim, but all miss the point, which is that Sossusvlei is surely one of the most spectacular sights in Namibia. Located in the Namib Naukluft park, the largest conservation area in Africa, and fourth largest in the world - the sand dunes at Sossusvlei are just one excellent reason to visit Namibia if there was only to be one!
For our stay at Sossuvlei, we had booked Little Kulala, a luxurious desert retreat situated in the private 37,000 hectre Kulala Wilderness Reserve. This place, without any iota of doubt, offers an unparralled experience to its guests. Another great advantage when staying here is the fact that they have a private gate that allows easy access to visit the dunes. Other accommodation are outside the reserve area gates and that means a drive of at least 60 minutes to the dunes.
We drove from Swakopmund for about 5 hours (covered just about 370 kms.) to reach Little Kulala. The experience began right away. Our group was welcomed by the traditional drums and dancers... singing a welcome song for us... interspaced by a shrill whistle kind of sound. I tried to emulate, but 'that' sound was just not possible. And to top it all, one of the members of my group named Rajesh had his birthday. The dancers and the music just made his day. Rajesh later told me that he will never really forget 'this' birthday. I believe him for good reasons.
Our lunch was served in the verandah under a thatched roof. For views we savoured the striking patterns of the desert sand, the mountains beyond and grazing Oryx in between. Truly mesmerising.
Post lunch, we had time to rest in our villas. And that again was an experience. Floor to ceiling glass offering fantastic views of the wilderness, a little Jacuzzi out in the verandah, a rustic bathroom and a cozy little terrace.
The lodge offered us an evening safari. Barring my son Anuj and I, everyone else decided to enjoy their cottages and the lodge's hospitality. For the next two hours we drove in the wilderness. We were lucky to spot a pair of desert foxes, which otherwise are very shy and elusive. Of course they were at a distance, but my 400 mm lens did the job.
Dinner that evening was set in room that was lit with candles and was decorated with African artefacts. A couple of hours well spent to say the least.
Guests have option to ask for their beds to be laid on the terrace. The area has the darkest nights on earth thus giving an opportunity to see millions and millions of stars. I wish I had my camera tripod with me. I could have captured some beautiful night sky. Nonetheless, a table, a few pebbles and a pillow gave my camera the support it needed. I did get a couple of pictures... but not the way I wished. So be it.
Everybody asked for their beds on the terrace, but being windy and chilly, in a short time, the entire group was in their cozy cabins, save for a courageous couple who slept through the night brazing the chill.
Very early next morning, at sunrise to be precise, we need to be at the gates of the reserve. The best time to view Sossusvlei is close to sunrise and sunset; the colours are strong and constantly changing, allowing for wonderful photographic opportunities. The midday heat is intense and best spent in the shade.
At 6:30AM, we were out at the gate. The fog was dense. The cold breeze from the Atlantic Ocean creates this phenomenon. It was a delight to drive past dunes, many of them engulfed in the mist, with just their peaks peeping out.
The road is paved all the way up to the parking lot. Here, all 2x4 vehicles need to be parked. The visitors have the option to walk for about 4 kms. to reach Sossusvlei or use the shuttle vehicles arranged free of cost by the park. But since we were in a 4x4 we were allowed all the way.
From the final parking spot, we got the first close look of ‘Big Daddy’ – world’s largest sand dune, standing over 325 metres. We began our walk towards this dune and onwards to Sossusvlei. At the base of Big Daddy, half of our group decided to climb the dune whilst the other half, including me, opted to walk. The climbers would eventually meet us at the big pan by sliding down the slope which would take about a minute! Going half the way up would need at least 30 minutes.
Sossusvlei is a clay pan created by a river that flows through the Namib Desert every 5 to 10 years. The area is famous for the spectacular high, red sand dunes which surround it. The river does not reach the Atlantic Ocean, but drains away between the dunes of Sossuvlei. Vegetation, such as the Camelthorn trees are watered by frequent floods of the Tsauchab River, which slowly soak into the underlying clay.
One local meaning of Sossus means ‘place of no return’ and the word Vlei is an Afrikaans word for ‘marsh’. Sossusvlei itself is in the small valley and is one of the 4 clay pans in the area; the other being Deadvlei, Hiddenvlei and Naravlei, which can be best seen from atop ‘Big Daddy’.
It was still very misty. Unfortunately, it was not the way we expected to view the location… missing the reds the whites and the blacks. I was a little disheartened. But our guide was not. He asked us to wait. And sure enough, in just about 30 minutes, the sun was up, the mist was gone, the sky was blue, the sand was red, the clay was white, the dead Camelthorn trees were black. Nature’s colour palette at its best! I don’t think I will be seeing a setting like this ever again, save for in the hundreds of pictures that I was able to shoot that morning.
On the other side of our parked car was ‘Big Mama’ a dune little smaller than ‘Big Daddy’. The naming tells it all. Breakfast was organized under a shady tree, overlooking the dunes.
By lunch time we were back at the lodge. Thankfully, we were allowed to keep the rooms till we came back. After our showers and our hearty lunch, we moved towards Wolwedans in the NamibRand Nature Reserve.
Sossusvlei Image Gallery Photo viewer
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