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In the crater of a dead volcano

Photograph: Preeti Verma Lal

Ostrich eggs stacked in ebony boxes, sausages colossal enough to feed a neighbourhood, turkey topped with braised pineapple slices, quail eggs in painted bowl, seeded, focaccia, ciabata bread; a cheese platter that could tempt the skimping... That morning in The Palace of the Lost City hotel in Sun City (South Africa), gluttony was tempting me too hard. That it is touted as one of the best breakfast spreads in the world looked true even before I had forked one morsel. All this in a resort that seems dug straight out of a bygone era, replete with 30 million bricks, 50 square metres of carpet, 4.25 lakh square metres of paintings, 6,500 light fixtures, 16 lakh trees, a dome that took 5,000 man hours to build…I had gotten giddy with facts in The Palace where a stuffed lion stands in the middle of the foyer amidst pampas grass and mulch.  

I was in Sun City that was built in the crater of a dead volcano, a barren stretch metamorphosed into a holiday hub by the South African tycoon Sol Kerzner. I knew not where Kerzner was but at every bend his imagination took one by surprise. In the aviary next to the Gary Player golf course, I saw ibis’ that seemed pulled straight out of a bucket of fluorescent orange emulsion and in the 13th hole of The Palace of Lost City Golf Course six crocodiles are prepped to gobble all the golf balls that are putted shoddily; in the Let There Be Rock show throaty singers not only churn the best of rock and heavy metal, the women swirl and shimmer in silver bikini tops and beaded tubes and men are so nimble that I thought they had forgotten their bones in the green room.  

There was so much to do in the Sun City that I wanted to kneel in the wind-chime chapel and ask the gods to stretch my hours to weeks. But then when do gods listen? Instead I paid heed to what Nokuthula Nkosi of The Palace recommended. I walked with her to the Cultural Village where the Zulu man was wrapped in gazelle hide, a Swazi woman had stringed pupa around her feet and a young girl covered her modesty with a thousand beads. An old woman in a colourful skirt and matted hair blessed me in Afrikaans. I was about to walk away but with the first thud on the large drum I retraced my steps and tapped mesmerized as they broke into an impromptu gig. They kicked dust, somersaulted, jumped in air, yoddled and brought alive the real Africa.

In Sun City I did not play slots or poker, neither did I walk on the silken sand of the manmade beach. Instead in The Palace I sat by Shawu, the sculpted elephant that perhaps has the largest bronze tusk in the world. And as the sun dipped in the Pilanesberg mountains, Nkosi retold the story of the Lost City and of the sheeben (tavern) that comes alive in the evenings. As I curled up in the fluffy bed, I dreamt I was the princess of the tribe that came from the north of Africa to build a spiritual centre that was razed to rubble in an earthquake… I woke up only to find it revived as The Palace of the Lost City. 


Published in The Hindustan Times, 2008


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