Someone had mentioned on the flight to Ghana that the Prime Meridian and the Equator intersect at a spot near Accra. It is considered the centre of the earth, based on imaginary lines that crisscross the globe. And, once I landed in Accra, the capital of Ghana, the urge to go there never left me.
‘Akwaba', welcome in the Akan language, is visible all over the city — on buildings, posters and hoardings. Situated on the shores of the lively Atlantic Ocean, the city of Accra has been the capital since 1877 when the region was called Gold Coast under the British. Today, Accra is a bustling economic and administrative hub, and is a good starting point for touring the rest of this large West African country.
Although I remained pre-occupied with finding that spot, the one thing that stood out in Accra was its cleanliness and scenery. Beautiful flowers of many hues were blooming on sidewalks and pathways, and the drive near the Atlantic provided a scenic view of the old city and the surging ocean.
Being a long-standing capital, Accra is a city of buildings and structures. One of the buildings with a distinctive architectural style is Jubilee House, the new Presidential Palace.
Built with Indian assistance by an Indian architecture firm, the graceful structure uses a lot of natural light and displays many African motifs as murals. There is also the National Museum to explore, the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, and the interesting national theatre building.
Around Accra are a large number of resorts on the shore of the Atlantic. The Shai Resource Reserve and the Coastal Delta sites in the Greater Accra region are great for those interested in wildlife and Nature.
As one drives through Accra, brightly-attired women in traditional African gear accost the car — you can buy water, peanuts, and even fruits in the midst of busy roads. Women are also the main sellers at the Accra Arts Center, where we went looking for the famous Ghanaian beads. Bead necklaces and earrings in vibrant colours and interesting shapes are worth picking up from Accra.
The Arts Center is a covered bazaar full of colourful beads, artefacts and fabric. The shopkeepers can be very persuasive, and bargaining is the norm.
The Indian connection
On the food front, Accra offers good Indian and African food. The proprietor of the Kohinoor restaurant was a long-standing resident of Accra, but that had not diluted her Punjabi character! We ate authentic North Indian food to the accompaniment of the latest Bollywood music.
The next day, in the blazing African sun, we decided to try West African cuisine at the Home Touch restaurant. Our host ordered food with interesting names that was delicious too.
Palava sauce, a delicious stew of spinach, along with ‘red red' a dish of cowpeas (black-eyed peas) served with fried plantain, and rice with chicken were refreshing.
As the sun set in Accra, I was thinking about my desire to see the centre of the earth , when some movement in the sky caught my eye.
The legend of the bats
Circling above were thousands of bats, darkening the skyline while animating it with their flight. There is a huge colony of fruit bats in the neem trees that surround the 37 Military Hospital in Accra. In a bid to fight the mosquito menace, the British planted the neem.
According to legend, bats followed a sick tribal chief to the hospital, and waited to go back with him. But, he died there. And, every evening, scores of bats fly out, conquering the skyline of Accra.
Throughout my short stay, I asked about the centre of the earth. Most people had heard about it, but no one knew the exact location.
As it often happens with such places, I returned, my wish unfulfilled. Finally, the Internet resolved the mystery. The imaginary centre of the earth lies at some point in the Atlantic Ocean, south of Ghana.