Lesotho is a land of stark contrast abject poverty juxtaposed by stunning natural beauty. Text and photos by Bruce Fraser

Crossing over to Lesotho is quite an experience.

Leaving behind the quaint Free State town of Caledonspoort and completing passport formalities, one's senses are suddenly jolted awake by hooting taxis, haggling hawkers, masses of people making their way home for the weekend and an endless stream of donkeys and dogs.

One thing you learn very quickly when travelling through Lesotho is to drive slowly.

Animals tend to cross the road whenever and wherever they please and are a constant threat to motorists.

Our base for a two-night stay was the Katse Dam Lodge.

Previously the complex was used to house workers who were involved in building the dam but in July was taken over by the South African hotel chain, Orion.

Facilities, including tennis courts and a swimming pool, have been badly neglected and the rooms themselves can best be described as basic.

Each unit is divided into three bedrooms with the main bedroom having an en suite bathroom.

Though clean, the units themselves need a lot of money spent on them to bring them up to a standard to attract regular tourists.

"It is a joint project between ourselves and the Lesotho Highlands Development Association," said Tony Dowling, general manager of the resort.

"We are still exploring what market the hotel will target. Whether we go the adventure tourism route featuring quad bikes, rafting, climbing etcetera, or making it a family getaway type place based around self-catering."

Though Dowling claims the resort has been busy since Orion took over, a lot still needs to be done if it wishes to attract regular visitors from outside of the region.

The dam itself is an engineering masterpiece - 185m high and 710m long, it took six years to build, involving teams from Italy, Germany, the UK and South Africa.

The base of the dam is an incredible 60m thick.

"When construction began in 1991 it created 7000 jobs, which were largely filled by local people," said dam tour guide Makatleho Makhetha.

"Today we pump 18000 litres per second to Gauteng. This brings in roughly R20million per month."

Costing a staggering R3,9billion to build, it is seven times the size of the Vaal Dam and now offers permanent employment to 250 people.

What of the villagers who had to be moved to make way for the construction?

"Every person who was relocated was compensated.

"It involved several hundred people but at the end of the day everyone was happy," added Makhetha.

Travelling throughout Lesotho can generate different emotions.

The poverty of the rural folk is striking. Young boys still herd cattle in the same manner as their fathers and grandfathers once did.

Clad in the traditional Lesotho blanket, balaclava and little else, we were informed that the children often appear a lot older than their actual age because of the harsh conditions and malnutrition.

In contrast you have the beauty of the Maluti Mountains, with ice still evident in the higher regions, and scenery that no photograph can do justice to.

On leaving Lesotho one can't help but notice a sign that probably best sums up the country: "Lesotho is not for sissies!"


l To view a video on Lesotho log on to www.sowetan.co.za