You can walk with a guide to the top of the mountain to see the royal graves and some fortifications, but if you’re planning to visit the much-vaunted new cultural centre (if, like us, you had made a special detour to do so) you will be disappointed. Yes, the cultural village has a restaurant, an amphitheatre, a museum, a traditional village and attractive chalets where you can stay. But none of it is open to visitors yet.
Guidebooks on Lesotho talk about it all being ‘about to open at the time of writing’. In books published in 2009, this must have been some time in 2008 or ve-e-ry early in 2009. But it was still not open by our visit in late December 2011. And no one could tell us when it would be, except to say they ‘were hoping’ it would be ‘soon’.
I wonder how many potential visitors have been lost over the past two or three years as a result of this tardiness. Visitors who might have paid for lunch in the restaurant, a book or craft item in the museum shop, a night or two’s accommodation in the chalets. Visitors who, like us, would have been happy to add to Lesotho’s tourism revenue if given half a chance.
At 3 000 metres, Bokong is the highest nature reserve in Africa that you can get to by car. It’s on the way to the Katse Dam, one of Lesotho’s tourist highlights. It includes wetlands, grasslands and afro-alpine flowers. It’s home to the rare Drakenberg rockjumper and the endangered bearded vulture. It’s excellent hiking or pony-trekking country; you can even do a three-day 40-kilometre trail across the ‘roof of Africa’ into Ts’ehlanyane National Park further north.
All this means visitors to Lesotho may want to make use of Bokong’s facilities.
And therein lies the problem.
We were happy to pay R10 per person entrance fee until we saw that there was nothing much there but some rather sad-looking efforts at taxidermy and a sprinkling of sun-faded info boards, dwarfed in the large space available, telling us that the reserve has creatures like Smith’s red rock rabbit, ice rat and black eagle.
We tried to order milkshakes or cold drinks from the kiosk but they only had tea or coffee (not even a biscuit) and looked reluctant to go to the effort of making it.
So, essentially, we paid R10 each for a great view and a clean toilet. What a lost opportunity to get us – and other visitors – to part with holiday cash and inject it into Lesotho’s economy.
But it’s behind the visitor centre where you’ll find the saddest lost opportunity. A row of beautiful chalets perches on the hillside overlooking the reserve, the river valley and the waterfall, which freezes into a column of ice in winter. But they aren’t about to open any time soon because money to finish them has dried up. Apparently, they’re gorgeous inside, with granite tops and plush carpets, but the rain has got in and ruined carpets and curtains. Some of the front windows were boarded up.
I feel mean-spirited criticising a country I love so much, so I’d really like to hear from anyone who can confirm that the Thaba Bosiu cultural village and the Bokong chalets have at last been opened.
[Note that a reader has confirmed that the Bokong chalets were open when he stayed there in May 2016 (see comments below).]
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The secret of Basotho blankets
Caves, cannibals and kids in Lesotho
12 things everyone should know about Katse Dam
The truth about Katse Lodge
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