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Thursday , January 31 , 2013
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Kyra & Kasbekar: Why You Must Plan A South African Safari!

Kingfisher Calendar girl Kyra Dutt on open showers, huge sharks and great shopping…

South Africa has now become a hotspot for film shoots. It has beautiful locations and lovely weather. The sun is bright and it’s great for pictures. The best part about South Africa is that you get a mix of everything... mountains, oceans…. We shot the Kingfisher Calendar in Kruger National Park and Mabula [Kingfisher Resorts wildlife lodges including the Imbali Safari Lodge, Hoyo Hoyo Tsonga Lodge, Hamiltons Tented Camp (Kruger National Park), Mabula Game Lodge (near Johannesburg) and Cape Milner (Cape Town)]. It was a very different part of Africa. You go back to nature and it is just stunning! The night sky has a million stars; I have never seen stars from such close proximity in my life. You feel this is how civilisation started. And then when you wake up in the morning with your cup of coffee, you can spot deer and it is wonderful. Even a morning jog there is so refreshing.

One interesting thing happened while we were in Kruger. At Hoyo Hoyo, the animals move about openly. The rooms are like little cottages and when you want to leave your room, you have to call the ranger on a walkie-talkie to come and fetch you, because you might meet a lion on the way! While we were there, a lioness kept crying; it was very scary! Can you imagine a lioness crying outside your room at night?

There was this open shower. So, one day, I thought of enjoying the shower, but heard the lioness cry… she was so close! The open shower is beautiful. You are in the midst of nature with no prying eyes. You must go on the safari if you are at Kruger.

At Mabula, it is easier to spot animals because it is smaller in size. The food is great. There is a buffet, which comprises not-so-regular items like giraffe and crocodile meat! They also had lovely desserts and I loved the hot chocolate. And, what lovely people.... There would be these South African dancers performing for us at night. The whole ambience was great.

In Cape Town, I did white shark diving — there were many sharks! I had wrapped up my shoot and had a day off. They take you in a boat in a group to the middle of the ocean. You can spot whales, it is beautiful. If you are lucky, you might even spot dolphins. Once you reach the diving spot, they anchor and wait for the sharks to come. They throw fishing bait and wait for the sharks. It is a long wait. And then you suddenly see a shark. I saw four-five sharks. They put you in a cage and lower it in the water. And the sharks are there, inches away from you! And these are killer sharks. They don’t eat human beings, because they don’t like the taste. It is very exciting. Initially, I was a little scared when I saw them. They are huge! You usually do not expect them to be that huge; they look small on television.

It is a great place for adventure sports enthusiasts. The beauty of Cape Town lies in the plateau that is right in the middle of the city. You can go there for mountain climbing and cycling. Also, shopping! Besides clothes and shoes, you must check out these African shops which sell painted ostrich eggs. They are great gifts. Copper is popular. So, there are a lot of copper bangles, earrings and rings that you can pick up. They say it is good for you. I got a beautiful copper ring for myself. There is a lot of vintage shopping available. I picked up an animal print scarf, signature South Africa!

Cape Town is a great place to party. There is one whole stretch, which is full of little pubs. Take a walk down the road and grab a drink. There was a vineyard shot in Cape Town, which I wasn’t a part of. They were enjoying wine while shooting!

Atul Kasbekar, the lensman behind the Kingfisher Calendar, on his love for South Africa...

The variety that you get in South Africa is quite incredible! Geographically, it is in the extreme south. You have warm currents on the east coast and cold currents on the west coast. If you criss-cross the country, there is a remarkable difference in the topography… the flora and the fauna. In a place like Cape Town, you can see four seasons in one day. Suddenly, you’ll have light rain, then fog, then crisp sunshine…. It is one of my favourite cities in the world. You go for an hour-long drive and you are in the mountains, amongst some of the best vineyards. You go in another direction and you’ll see sand dunes. You’ll think you are in the middle of Sahara desert!

From a tourist perspective, I think they know that they need to take care of their tourists well, because it is a lot of money that comes in. The infrastructure is good and the connectivity is good. It has only got better. I remember the first time we had gone there we had bodyguards! That can be quite unnerving. The Calendar has been shot twice in South Africa… 2005 and 2012. The wildlife is the best in the world. From a photographer’s perspective, it is shockingly beautiful light. It is pure and comes from a great angle.

I am reasonably well-versed in wines and I enjoy my red wine quite often and there are some really high quality reds at a good value. The seafood is fantastic. I love it all! There is a local fish called hake, which is quite nice. I liked ostrich too.

Keep aside 10 days or two weeks for South Africa!

Text: Saionee Chakraborty