Exploring the Magical Cango Caves: Esha M. Dutta
For most visitors, an African safari is probably one of the main reasons for visiting South Africa. For us, though, it was those fascinating travel tales we’d been hearing from our friends in Mauritius, for well over fifteen years, that convinced us to realise our dreams. With the dawn of the New Year, our itchy feet chided us to pack our bags and leave. As soon as the school term ended in March, we found ourselves ready to set off for our dream destination.
The Lure of South Africa
As an avid traveller, I can share a thing or two about South Africa that might be of interest to you—First, that is a land of endless opportunity for the tourists and two, that it has something of interest for every individual, irrespective of whatever it is that stokes their senses.
For history lovers, South Africa offers a wealth of museums, galleries, and historical sites. For the foodies, it is the restaurants, eateries and wineries that appeals. Wildlife lovers are keen on Safaris, especially lured by the Big Five (a term coined by the game hunters to refer to the game animals —the lion, leopard, rhinoceros—both the black and the white species; elephant, and the cape buffalo). For the adrenaline-junkies, there are over a hundred extreme exploits available, including white-water rafting, shark cage-diving and then, of course making a beeline for the world’s highest bridge bungy—a one-of-a-kind, thrill-inducing, life-changing experience that takes bungee jumping to an altogether new height. In short, South Africa has something special for you anyway, no matter what you’re looking for. And, thus, one beautiful bright sunny evening, we landed in Cape Town, with the mighty Table Mountain looming above our heads, ready to explore the sights and sounds of a new country.
After two days of intense sightseeing in and around Cape Town, we set off on our road trip along the Garden Route, covering some of the most scenic vistas of the country, all the way right across to Port Elizabeth in the East.
On the third day of our road trip, almost 30 km out of Oudtshoorn, a town in the Klein Karoo region, our tour guide Derek decided that we experience the magic of the ‘Cango Caves’. He tweaked our travel itinerary to get us to see the biggest stalagmite formation in South Africa, that dates back to 4500 million years ago.
As one of the seven great natural wonders of the world, the Cango Caves are said to be the biggest show cave system in entire Africa. Historical records reveal that the earliest inhabitants lived here during the Early Stone Age. We were excited to hear about this new addition to our plans and headed straight away for the Caves.
To our surprise, we discovered, that the caves are a series of hidden chambers that cut deep into thick limestone rock layers. They are a spectacular underground wonder of the finest dripstone caverns which form a part of an archaeological and historical highlight of the area. Originally, believed to be one kilometre long, later, more tunnels were discovered and many more new caves came to light, that revealed that they were actually well over 5 km in length.
A Magical Entry
Just as we had imagined, the entry to the caves was rather dramatic. As soon as we entered through the main entrance, a rush of humid and warm air greeted us. With barely a hint of light coming in from one of the corners, the sudden illumination of the chamber was enough to catch everyone by surprise. In an instant, the cave walls lit up, dazzling the visitors by the formations visible all around the walls—It was the most fascinating display of underground wall art and formations imaginable. The massive Hall was quite simply, breathtaking, to say the least!
Right up next was Cleopatra’s Needle, said to be almost 150,000 years old. It is a 9-meter tall stalagmite, located in the centre of one of the Halls and is one of the major attractions for visitors to the Caves. Further inside, was the beautiful dark-grey roof, its’ finely sculptured hollows and pendants yet another big draw for the tourists.
As we kept walking inside, from one section of the Caves to another, there were more formations, each revealing intricate structures in grand proportions, that only inspired more awe and wonder in us. What an experience of a lifetime it was! And, what a sight! Even today, when we see the photographs, the eerie feeling of walking through the caves, comes back, albeit bringing along some of the most wonderful memories of that day.
We walked out of the caves, and headed straight for the restaurant, to grab a bite and quench our thirst. Before heading towards the exit, we eyed the Kraal Gallery curio shop that stored exquisite African gifts, collectables and hand-crafted artefacts. Sadly, time was running out and we had to get moving since we still had a long journey waiting ahead of us that beautiful Wednesday afternoon in Oudtshoorn.
But, in our hearts, we carried along a wonderful experience and some very cherished memories, that were certainly going to last a lifetime.
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