The Mountain Kingdom

The first part of what I plan to be a six-part series on Lesotho.

Flag of The Kingdom of Lesotho
Flag of The Kingdom of Lesotho

Lesotho, dubbed the Mountain Kingdom, is the only independent state in the world entirely above 1 000 meters. The lowest point is in fact 1 400 metres above sea level. It is completely land locked by South Africa which was no surprise finding their malls filled with South African retailers; and South African commercial banks are the only ones visible with Standard Bank being the most popular, followed by Nedbank, then First National Bank.

South African R50 note
South African R50 note
M10 Lesotho Maloti Note
M10 Lesotho Maloti Note

Their currency is called Maloti and is used interchangeably with the Rand, which as confirmed by a friend I made there can make complications. Their M10 is red like out R50, this friend said he once tipped a parking attendant R50 thinking it was M10.

The majority of the Lesotho households rely on farming to make a living, the formal sector is made of factories sewing apparel (Timberlake, Levi’s, and others), mining mostly in SA, and government. We were lodging in the historical town of Morija 35 km from Maseru. It was the site of the first French Protestant mission in Lesotho founded in 1833. The town also houses the Morija Museum and Archives which still stand and are known for preserving valuable records and documents of Lesotho’s history, including the first hymnal book, Lifela tsa Sione (Hymns of Zion). Now I know why even today hymn books are in Sesotho, I always found it strange that a Tswana community conversed in Setswana but sang and prayed in Sesotho. There’s an annual jazz festival held each year there around September and we have invitation! This year they will be celebrating King Letsie III’s 50th birthday.

Mojira Art and Cultural Festival
Morija Arts and Cultural Festival

It’s about 400 km from Johannesburg to Maseru, a supposed 5 hour drive using the N1 and N8, which are both in excellent conditions except the bit of about 5 km of R708 that connects them, I dented a rim slightly. We got there in about 6 hours, made tons of stops on the way to refill and to withdraw money in case we had issues, which I guarantee you won’t have except for supremely high international ATM charges (it makes no difference whether the ATM is 6 hours from the SA capital, or half way across the world, the charge is the same, be warned!!). And surprise, surprise, petrol is about R2 cheaper in Lesotho. I wanted to kiss the attendant when I first saw that. A soar point is the situation at the border, no security whatsoever. Coming back was worse, no one searched the car or asked for documentation, hell we could have went through without passports no one could have checked. This is the case in both directions. Otherwise watch this space for more installation on my Lesotho getaway.

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