Iconic Uluru: It changes colours at different hours of the day (Source Sandip Hor)
A reddish silhouette warmly welcomes us, the moment we come out of Ayers Rock Airport and head towards the Desert Gardens Hotel, our home for the next few days to explore the treasures of Australia’s famous Red Centre.
Located in the central part of the island nation, the destination is only few hours away from East coast cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and invite visitors from round the globe to sample not only the “Red Nature”, but also to experience some true indigenous culture and lifestyle that can’t be so handsomely encountered anywhere else in the country.
The domain gets its name from the vast plains of red soil that characterize the landscape, however the touristy repute primarily evolves from a huge monolith sandstone rock, widely known by its native name Uluru. For the interest of number enthusiasts, it stands 348 meters above ground, 3.1 kilometers from east to west, 1.9 kilometers wide and 9.4 kilometers around the base, thus making it the largest single-rock in the world. And more interestingly this rock extends even further to a distance unknown below the barren surrounds.
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Statuswise it shares similar ranking with the Pyramids in Egypt or the Great Wall in China, the only difference being the former two are result of human endeavors, while this one being solely God’s. Perhaps that’s why it’s so piously worshipped by the indigenous population who are said to be living there for tens of thousands of years.
As expected, the rock dominates the open space but as a loner, as there is nothing around it other than some desert trees, flora and fauna. So it can be distinctly seen from a fair distance, even from our hotel which is part of lavishly spread Ayers Rock Resort complex dotted around 20 odd kilometers away from the iconic site.
My first glimpse of the much-hyped structure is from the top. While descending I spot through the aircraft window a huge, bacon-red protrusion, surrounded by red soil decoratively sprinkled with patches of green.
The second glance comes, still a fair distance away, from the balcony of our hotel room. The reddish looking figure strike like a giant elephant struck in ground, with nobody around to rescue. I sense an irresistible appeal to rush towards it for an intimate affair.
And finally when the moment of closeness arrives, I am simply awestruck by its hugeness, grandeur and colour combo.
From a distance the red mountain seems like concealed by a reasonably smooth surface, but when near its various curvatures, contours, splits and tears become evident. Visitors are allowed to walk around the rock and explore these valleys, deep gorges and caves some filled with indigenous art.
“If you go around the rock, you’ll learn twice as much about the people who use the rock shelter and the rock itself’, says Wille Gordon, award winning Nugal-warra story keeper.
That is very true. While losing ourselves in the vicinity in company of omniscient guides, we hear stories about the native Anangu people who are the traditional owners of the rock and the surrounding land, their ancestors believed to be living here for tens of thousands of years. They trust themselves to be direct descendants of the beings – which include a python, an emu, a blue tongue lizard and a poisonous snake, all of whom according to legend formed the land and other physical properties, including the rock, during the Tjukurpa meaning creation period.
Another great way of learning more about the indigenous history of the place is to visit the Cultural Centre at the base of the rock where an ensemble of interactive displays, video presentations and artwork presents the story through the eyes of its traditional owners.
Perhaps the most wondrous attraction of Uluru that strikes visitors passionately is its change of colours at different hours of the day, most spectacular being at the crack of dawn and then when the sun finally slips into the horizon. There are ideal locations to enjoy the natural light show.
At dawn as darkness fades, a range of magnificent colours zoom out of the uninterrupted horizon and slowly keep illuminating the greyish surface of the rock, with yellow, orange and soft red strips of light. The ambiance is naturally very quiet and serene; only occasional expressions like “wow” and “divine” from other viewers and constant clicking of camera shutters breaks the engulfing silence. First time in life I also sense that silence can have some sounds of its own.
During sunset the atmosphere is more vibrant and bustling with busloads of tourists gathering at vantage points to see how the dropping sun keeps adding different varieties of red on the rock till leaving it alone to enjoy its existence in the darkness.
The Uluru Rock, which was named Ayers Rock in 1873 by European explorer William Gosse after being the first European to see it, is not the only iconic site in the Red Centre; the series of 36 magnificently domed, conglomerate rocky formations of Kata Tjuta are of similar wondrous and cultural significance, the tallest dome being over 500 meters above the plain. Called Olgas by the natives, they are located around 30 km west from Uluru and hide a maze of fascinating gorges and crevasses. Here again the colour of the ochre outcrops changes as sun moves from East to West.
Australia is a land of many natural attractions, the Great Barrier Reef, Twelve Apostles, Kakadu National Park and Whitsundays are just a few to name from a long list. However after experiencing the nature’s magic at Uluru and Kata Tjuta and going through some of the indigenous cultures and their millennium-old feelings around it, I feel that if someone wants to see the heart of the continent, geographically as well as culturally, then journey may begin here at the Red Centre where god’s magical creations bubble mysticism and myths like no other place on earth.
Getting There – Air India (www.airindia.com) now a member of the Star Alliance group, operates daily direct flights from Delhi to Sydney/Melbourne. Virgin Australia (www.virginaustralia.com/au) and Jetstar (www.jetstar.com/au) have daily flights from Sydney to Ayers Rock.
Accommodation – Operated by Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, Ayers Rock Resort (www.ayersrockresort.com.au) offers variety of accommodation options to suit every possible taste and budget – from the award winning 5-star Sails in the Desert, and modern Desert Gardens Hotel, to the self-contained Emu Walk Apartments, the authentic Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge, and the Ayers Rock Campground, offering powered campsites and air conditioned cabins.
Dining – There are several eating options available within the resort complex which includes Arnguli Grill for fine dining, Ilkari Restaurant for a tantalising menu of international flavours and Geckos Café offering nice steaks, pizzas, burgers, salads etc in a relaxed family atmosphere
Must Dos – Trek through the desert soils on a camel (www.ulurucameltours.com.au), circle the rock by sitting on the back of a Harley Davidson Motorcycle (www.ulurucycles.com.au) and enjoy “Sounds of Silence” – a grand dinner under the sky.