‘The Kingdom in the Sky’ is the much reduced realm of the Basotho, who held out in this mountain fortress against the attacks of the Boers during the 19th century. It became a British protectorate until its independence in 1966 and is now a constitutional monarchy. The country is completely surrounded by South Africa. It exports water to its neighbour from the huge Oxbow Project; and traditionally manpower was exported to the mines, which had harmful social consequences but did bring in some income.
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Most of the country is a high and rugged plateau, linked to the Drakensberg Mountains in Kwazulu Natal. The scenery comprises great high plateaux and huge rocks, and there are some historic rock paintings too, but it can get very cold in winter. It is a great country for horse trekking – traditionally every Basotho had a horse. The population mainly lives in the lowlands in the west of the country. Maseru, the capital, is a laid-back place with reasonable restaurants and plenty of good handicraft products available, such as tapestries, angora wool and the famous traditional straw hats.
Tourism is vital to the economy, as the country has little cultivatable land and few other resources. Poor rainfall in recent years and the closure of several textile factories has worsened the already bad economic situation. The United Nations describes 40 per cent of the population as ‘ultra poor’, partly caused by the deaths of farmers from AIDS.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of friendly local people is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.