First international dignitary to visit Table Mountain, after it got official status

Just a day after the New7Wonders Foundation based in Switzerland confirmed that the Table Mountain here has been given the “official” status of one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature following a global voting process, President Pratibha Patil on Friday became the first international dignitary to visit Cape Town's famous icon, which is around 260 million years old.

It was extremely cold and windy, when Ms. Patil reached the Table Mountain located off the tip of Cape Peninsula, where the warmer Indian Ocean is on the east and the colder Atlantic Ocean is on the west.

True to its reputation, at the hour of her visit its flat top was draped in white mist, called “tablecloth,” due to the mixing of the thermally divergent water currents in the vicinity. It also rained while the President went round the place.

On World Environment Day in 1998, the then South African President Nelson declared the Table Mountain “a gift to the Earth.” While announcing its new status, Bernard Weber, Founder-President of New7Wonders, noted that “along with possessing a biodiversity that is exceptionally important, given its proximity to a major city, Table Mountain is notable for the historic role it played in helping Nelson Mandela cope with his long years of imprisonment.”

It is said the sight of the mist-laden peak provided Mr. Mandela the hope of a brighter future as he remained incarcerated on the Robben Island, some distance away.

Incidentally, the Table Mountain is the fifth site whose status as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature has been confirmed: the others being the Halong Bay, the Iguazu Falls, the Jeju Island and the Puerto Princesa Underground River, with the Amazon and the Komodo Island on the provisional list.

During her visit to the Table Mountain, Ms. Patil and her entourage were taken from the base station to the Upper Cableway Station, 1,067 metres above sea level, by a cable car, which traversed a steep 704-metre climb at 10 metres per second. The Cableway, started in 1926, has thus far ferried about 20 million people.

Billy Magan, a highly qualified volunteer nature guide, who teaches Textile Engineering in South Africa, guided the presidential delegation. He said the President was told about the rich history, ecology and geographical features of the mountain, around which warm air currents lead to amazing cloud formations in front of the eyes of the visitors.

A World Heritage Site, the Table Mountain is home to fynbos, a unique yet endangered collection of shrubs and plants. It also supports a variety of animal life. The commonest sighting during a walk around the rocky trails on its pristine top now remains the dassie (rock hyrax), which resembles a small rabbit but is actually most closely related to the elephant.

The mountain is also the natural habitat of venomous snakes like Cape cobra, puff adder, boomslang, rinkhals and berg adder, as also agama lizard. However, these are seldom spotted around the trekking sites due to the regular movement of a large number of visitors.

In the morning, the President visited the National Assembly, where she had a meeting with parliamentarians.

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