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Etosha Pan: A Heavenly Inferno

This eerie wasteland of salt-encrusted clay stretching away to distant horizons is known to the Ovambo people who live there as Etosha - 'the lake of mirages' or 'the place of dry water.

Inferno

Seen from the air it appears as if Nature, in some unaccountable fit of rage, had banished the spirit of the land, leaving only its carcass draped lifelessly across the subcontinent.

The earth is blistered and cracked, gaping forlornly at dust devils and whirlwinds that scurry across its surface. A capillary network of game trails crisscrosses the pan, converging in the distance on various scattered oases - incongruous islands of gree.

Heaven

These oases in the salt desert of Namibia are the permanent springs and life-sustaining water holes for one of the largest concentrations of wild animals on Earth. In the dry season, which stretches from May to November, great herds of wildebeests, Zebras and antelopes must run the gauntlet of lions and other predators to reach them.

Heaven

The pan is part of a much larger phenomenon - the Etosha Basin, which, together with the Okavango Delta in Botswana and numerous other smaller pans and lakes, once formed what geologists believe to have been the largest lake in the world.

Millions of years ago, the rivers that fed this lake dried up. Deprived of its lifeblood, and continually exposed to evaporation and seepage, the lake itself eventually disappeared. Today Etosha survives as a small sample of its former self - a white slat pan 80 miles (130km) long and 30 miles (50km) wide. Lying at the heart of the Etosha National Park, one of Africa's greatest game parks, it is a landscape that undergoes phenomenal changes every year.

Inferno

Scorched, dusty and dispirited in the dry season, the Etosha Pan undergoes an extraordinary transformation when the rainy season starts in December. Towering clouds mass along the eastern horizon, then roll in with their cargoes of water.

Sheets of rain descend on lake Oponono in the north, filling it up and sending life-giving water along the Ekuma and Oshigambo rivers to the parched perimeters of Etosha.

Vast and Tranquil Lake

Heaven

The baked earth steams millions of tons of water pour in, transforming the pan into a vast and tranquil lake whose ephemeral waters spread away to the far distant horizons.

Nature Celebrates with a series of extraordinary events. Millions of grass seeds, which have lain dormant for months in the dry earth, suddenly spring to life, covering the land with a coating of luxuriant green.

Inspired by the smell of rain, one of the great animal migrations of Africa begins. Tens of thousands of zebras and wildebeests stream in from their winter feeding grounds on the Andoni Plains to the northeast. As the migration begins, the primitive sounds of Africa start to fill the air.

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