Having often described myself as a '4x4 among women', I feel a great affinity for the Basotho pony!
The Basotho pony is an extraordinarily resiliant breed that is renowned for its endurance and sure footedness - both qualities that make it ideal for negotiating Lesotho's challenging terrain. They are small, stocky animals with small hooves and stoic temperaments, and little seems to faze them ... absolutely ideal for first time riders!
The pony was first introduced to Lesotho by the Xhosa tribe from the Eastern Cape in the early 19th century, and they were enthusiastically embraced by the Basotho for the greatly improved mobility that they lent. The Basotho have an absolute passion for their ponies and are talented and enthusiastic horsemen.
For some half baked reason, an expat advisor to the Department of Agriculture in the 1940s made the recommendation to 'improve' the Basotho pony and imported thoroughbred stallions for the purpose. It's hard to fathom why anyone would seek to graft the design features of an equine Ferrari onto a Land Rover - especially in a country with an almost complete absence of flat land - but over the last couple of decades, the Basotho (with aid from the Irish government) have embarked on a breeding programme to try to restore the Basotho pony bloodstock.
There are many pony trekking options in Lesotho, starting with a gentle hour's trek where inexperienced riders can opt to be lead by the reins. At the other end of the spectrum, it's possible to do extended treks into the mountains on Lesotho's extensive network of bridle paths: I once did a five day trek to the Leribe Falls near Semonkong, and twenty years on, it still remains one of my most treasured travel memories. For more information, see my tip on pony trekking at Sani Top.
No, this is not a joke - the blanket really IS Lesotho's national dress ... and once you've spent any time in the mountains, you'll realise why!
Young Basotho men are sent out into the mountains to serve as livestock herds, often spending months at a time away from their home village. Given this itinerant existence, they have to limit their possessions to an absolute minimum, so wearing their bedding as an article of clothing makes a lot of sense (as well as keeping them warm in the harsh climate). They tend to accessorise this with fetching balaclavas, rolling up the section which covers the face to create a sort of bobble hat in warmer weather - and looking like they're about to rob a bank when it's colder!
In the villages, women tend to wear their blankets secured around their waists as a sort of heavy overskirt.
If this subject interests you, then follow the link below to a wonderful write up on the rich and fascinating history of the Basotho blanket (and my thanks to Gerald_D for drawing my attention to this).
Being irresistably attracted by trivia, the phrase 'traditional dress' of course makes me think of the opening part of the Miss World and Miss Universe beauty pageants, when the contestants appear in national dress. Does this mean that Miss Lesotho struts her stuff in a blanket? A quick Google confirmed that Lesotho again fielded a contestant in the Miss World pageant in 2011 (having been absent from the competition since 2003), but I have as yet been unable to turn up an image of a blanket-clad Basotho beauty! Sorry - I did try!
Since 1995 the Mountain Kingdom is brewing its own beer which is Maluti Lager. The Maluti Mountain Brewery brews the beer in the Kingdom and the beer has gained a number of awards. If you like to try something local try a Maluti!
You will notice that many of the homes have flags flying on a pole. The various colors represent what that home is offering for sale. Though, I cannot remember all of them, know that white colored flags normally have a large gathering. Unfortunately, it is due to a homebrewed concoction, that resembles curdled sour milk, some herbs thrown in for appearances and served in a big tin cup. It was utterly disgusting to me, but hey, others seemed to enjoy it. With alcoholism at very high levels in Lesotho, I certainly would not support this endeavor, but I am always up for trying anything, and so I did. Because I only had a sip, I could not rate the potency for you. Though, judging from this guy in the picture, it would be quite high.
Most of the time you see the Basotho people with their blanket. This blanket is very useful for the cold evenings and nights.
Another striking feature of the Basotho dress is the Basotho hat or mokorotlo.
This hat has a conical form and a special adornment at top. It looks like the Qiloane pinnacle, the national symbol you can find near Thaba-Bosiu, the fortress of King Moshoeshoe.
Picture: Qiloane pinnacle as inspiration for the Basotho hat.
You can find true Basotho people dressed in the typical style in the small village in the central highlands. They always wear a blanket because temperatures drop in the night. They usually wear a grass-made hat (basotho hat) and a stick to help themselves walking in the mountains. They really dress this way in the real villages.
They are VERY VERY friendly. As soon as you arrive to a small village, children run to the car to say you “hello” and sometimes to ask you for sweets… They are helpful although in the very small villages it is sometimes difficult to find adults speaking English. Teenagers are the best English speakers of the country!!! A great help!!
The Colouful Blanket in the middle of summer;
do not be shocked,
it's not only aninsulator against heat,
also indication of adequate night protection;
the newness also indicative of ability to purchase.
Women wear dresses or skirts. Pack light, summer in the US is winter in Lesotho with temperature getting to 35 degrees.
The best restaurants were the European restaurants. Tip is the normal 15 % Food great
The local beer here is Maluti. I wouldn’t say that it was something excellent but surely good enough for this remote place especially after a day up in the mountains, the Maluti just feel great.
The Basotho people have a unique system of knowing where to shop, look for these flags at thier huts to know what you can buy there:
Red -- meat
White -- beer (local brew)
Green -- Vegetables
visit the anual Morija Arts & Cultural Festival.
Every first Thursday to Sunday in October
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