Why South Africa makes sense for the Indian travellers? Cricketer Jonty Rhodes tells Nishiraj A Baruah
South Africa makes sense to the Indian traveller and India makes sense to him. That’s what legendary South African crickter Jonathan Neil “Jonty” Rhodes told me recently when I met him in Durban. Author of the recently launched book My Travel Escapades in South Africa, he promptly cites statistics to drive home his point: According to the latest arrival figures, South Africa received 106,774 Indian tourists last year. This is an increase of 18.2% to the corresponding period last year. “This shows Indian are increasingly putting the Rainbow Nation in their holiday itinerary,” he justifies. And why not? After all, as the brand ambassador of South Africa Tourism Board, he is doing a thorough job of telling the world how good his country is. “From the country’s magnificent wildlife, iconic beaches, adrenaline pumping adventure activities, to its world-class cities, shopping, nightlife, food & wine, my country has it all. Be it Cape Town or vibrant Johannesburg, there’s something for everybody,” he says, adding that the greatest thing is the ease of travel. “In Mumbai, if I am driving for three hours, I am still in the city. In South Africa, I can go from coast to mountains in three hours. It is a country with first world infrastructure,” says the fielding coach for IPL Team Mumbai Indians.
Rhodes admits that he is not a big city guy – he is from Pietermaritzburg, a laid back small town, where his parents still live. Yes, it’s the same town where Gandhi was thrown off from a train for boarding a first class compartment. So, big cities like Johannesburg do not fascinate him at all. “Rather I like Cape Town where I live for its nice and relaxed atmosphere. One of my favourite ways to enjoy my country is to stay in a luxury tent in a game reserve. The lovely Table Mountain region and the Kruger Park area are also my favourites,” he tells me in an one-on-one interview.
South Africa is best seen by road. But Rhodes tells you to skip the bus. “Hire a car and enjoy the great scenery at your own pace. I highly recommend the route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth that entails a drive of a thousand kilometer,” he says. Also in South Africa, unlike in Europe, people don’t mind talking loudly. “I say this because Indians come in large groups and are a chatty lot. Shout and make noise and nobody will mind. Our tradition, in fact, is that we talk loud. And that’s because, if you speak too softly, people might think you are badmouthing them,” he explains. However, he warns that there is crime in some parts of South Africa. So “don’t wander into areas that your hotel concierge warn you about”.
Over the years, Rhodes has realised that it’s very important to travel with a sensitive companion. In all his travels, he has been accompanied by his fiancé Caroline. “I always get a new perspective when I travel with her. She is a passionate traveller with a good eye for spotting things. She makes me see things that I often fail to see,” he says. He has another word of advice: “Never be a slave to the camera. If you are going click, click, click the moment you arrive at a place, you lose out on the essence of the place. Be aware of the surroundings first.”
When Rhodes was playing active cricket (between 1992 and 2003), he never had a chance to ‘do’ the place he visited. It was always the airport-hotel-stadium routine. But now he has the time and has been to several countries. “New Zealand is one of the countries I really loved for its beautiful landscapes and many adventure sports – I have done sky diving and bungee jumping there. But the one country I would really like to visit is China. I am very keen to know its people and culture.”
As for India, he has been here a hundred times. With Caroline, he has been houseboating in Kerala and skiing and snowboarding in Gulmarg. Sure he is the right person to provide some advice to first timers in India. “Well, don’t get scared by its food. Try the sweet and syrupy gulab jamuns particularly. And yes, don’t be perturbed by the fact that it has a billion people. And if your are adventurous, ride a Royal Enfield to Ladakh” he says.
That’s what he intends to do soon. And who will ride pillion? “Caroline, of course,” he signs off.
(The writer is the Managing Editor of Shubh Yatra, the inflight magazine of Air India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)