Lost in the Palace of the Lost City? Have a great time!
The Palace of the Lost City resort is both visually stunning and effortlessly engaging.
by Kalpana Sunder
Sweeping towers with gas lights glint a burnished orange, bronze gazelles and impalas with taut muscles stand tall spewing water at the entrance to this grandiose Cecil B DeMille movie set... where everything is visually stunning and in radiant Technicolour.
An ancient mythical civilization or the gates of Jurassic park?
Stone lions and cheetahs stare from the rooftops, there are colonnades, gigantic chandeliers and soaring arches, wherever you look. The theme is based on a legend of a North African tribe which built its city here and which was destroyed in a volcanic explosion- a lost empire which was re-created out of the dry bush veldt. Kitsch or luxury, the Palace of the Lost City in Sun City, South Africa (the brash creation of the South African tycoon Sol Kerzner), is meant to impress.
I open my windows to tribal- style cabanas and a swimming pool with a giant sun mosaic, water spouting out of seashells and waterfalls roaring from every corner.
As I trawl through the hotel with our guide Merriam, the details astound me: 6500 light fittings, 50,000 square metres of carpets, a table made from eight different kinds of wood costing 3. 5 million rand, tapestries woven by two women from Swaziland over two years and 3400 square metres of murals all creating a fantasy land of gargantuan proportions!
My publicity brochure tells me that the rotunda ceiling in the lobby with a jungle motif alive with animals and birds was created by five artists ‘in the same way as Michelangelo painted the Sistine chapel’.
I meander like Alice in Wonderland, staring at the faux elephant tusks in the Tusk Bar fashioned out of Indonesian wood, zebra skin chairs, a flooring mosaic with the animal theme in marble and granite (with 300,000 fragments in 38 shades) and hand carved timber doors.
I sit beside the most famous resident celebrity- a life- sized bronze model of Shawu, one of Africa’s most famous tuskers of the Kruger National Park re-created by the South African sculptor Danie de Jager. Shawu with his leathery skin and cracked feet had the most massive ivory tusks in Africa and died of old bullet wounds in 1982.
Mounds of cereals, luscious piles of fruits, quails' eggs, cheeses that could feed a continent, a waffle station - the breakfast spread in the massive over-the-top Crystal Court, is fit for a king. We chat with Savita Vig, the duty manager over an elaborate three course dinner with ostrich meat, about celebrity guests and tales of her travels in the African jungles.
We are amused by the stories of gate crashers at the Palace who simply want to ‘look around’ and have a glimpse of this fantasy realm. Indian tour groups with their farsaans and love for Bollywood flock to the Palace enjoying the water parks and the entertainment complex with its gaming arcades, casinos, shops and restaurants under a simulated night sky dome.
Shaun Wheeler, the general manager of the property tells me, “About 50% of the hotel’s guests come from abroad and India is one of the greatest emerging markets followed by Brazil.” The hotel is ready to woo the Indian tourists, especially the niche luxury market, with Indian chefs and an Indian television channel in the offing. The hotel has rolled out the red carpet for the Miss World pageant, Bollywood awards and film shootings.
Landscape artists have created a designer jungle with 1.6 million plants, with installed irrigation systems and mist sprayers. Ponds and streams and waterfalls thread their way through the resort with an artificial lake where you can indulge in water sports as well as a man made beach with surfing waves!
Looking down from the King’s Tower at the panoramic expanse of the resort, with its lush vegetation and water bodies, I find it hard to believe that it was a rocky desert-like plain twenty years ago!
Keeping yourself busy at the resort is easy: from ballooning and archery to quad bikes and elephant safaris, a water park of humongous dimensions called the Valley of Waves, a Cultural Village showcasing various tribes and the supersonic, longest zip slide, there can't be one dull moment there.
In the coming months, the hotel is unveiling Africa’s largest maze. Outside the perimeter of the resort there are experiences like ‘walk with the lions’ where you get to hold and stroke lion cubs. We take a Segway ride around the property, learning to balance and enjoying the views of the Gary Player- designed golf courses, one with leathery crocodiles sunning themselves in a pit at the 13th hole.
The Indian motif carries to the 550 square kilometre Pilanesberg Game Reserve just outside the resort, set in the crater of an extinct volcano, which gives us a glimpse of untamed and raw Africa.
Bart Swanepoel, our guide from Game Trackers with an insatiable passion for wildlife, gives us a lecture on the dos and don’ts of the game drive in an open van and warns us not to 'Chalo chalo' him!
We are cautioned that it’s best to have no expectations- anything we see here today is a bonus. We are incredibly lucky- we train our eyes on flocks of kudu, antelopes, zebras and warthogs. We are wowed by the giant kingfisher and the Grey Lorie called the ‘go away’ bird because of its loud call which seems to say ‘go away’.
The petite Steenbok antelope with its golden mane and large eyes and the white rhinoceros that seems to fade into the waist high golden grass makes for a visual feast. The crowning glory of the evening is the sinuous leopard, which we spot on the slender branches of a tree.
As Bart shuts off the engine and we wait in silence focussing our lenses on the magnificent creature, my whole Sun City episode seems like a surreal vision that I have dreamt and created out of the rubble of a lost kingdom...
The author is a Japanese language expert, travel writer and blogger based in Chennai.
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