Someone had mentioned on the flight to Ghana that the Prime Meridian and the Equator intersect at a spot near Accra. It is considered the centre of the earth based on imaginary lines that crisscross the globe. The idea was inexplicably fascinating; the spot exerted an incredible pull on my imagination. Once I landed in Accra, the capital of Ghana, the urge to visit that legendary spot never left me.
‘Akwaba’, the word for welcome in the Akan language, is visible all over the city — on buildings, posters and hoardings. Situated on the shores of the lively Atlantic Ocean, the city of Accra has been the capital since 1877, when the region was called Gold Coast under the British. Today, Accra is a bustling economic and administrative hub and is a good starting point for touring the rest of this large West African country.
Although I remained pre-occupied with finding that spot, the one thing that stood out in Accra was its cleanliness. Early in the year, beautiful flowers of many hues were blooming on sidewalks and pathways. The drive near the Atlantic provides a scenic view of the old city and the surging ocean.
Being a long-standing capital, Accra is a city of buildings and structures. One of the buildings with a distinctive architecture style is Jubilee House, the new Presidential Palace. Built with Indian assistance, by an Indian architecture firm, the graceful structure uses lots of natural light and displays many African motifs as murals. There is also the National Museum to explore, the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, and the interesting national theatre building.
Around Accra there are a large number of resorts on the shore of the Atlantic. The Shai Resource Reserve and the Coastal Delta sites are in the Greater Accra region for those interested in wildlife and nature. As one drives through Accra, brightly attired women in traditional African gear accost the car. You can buy water, peanuts, even fruits in the midst of busy roads, as women stand patiently under the relentless sun with their wares on their heads. Often their children are tied to their backs, sleeping with abandon amidst the traffic chaos. Women are the main sellers at the Accra Arts Center, which we visited looking for the famous Ghanaian beads. Bead necklaces and earrings of vibrant coolers and interesting shapes are worth picking up from Accra.
The Arts Center is a covered bazaar full of colorful beads, artifacts and fabric. The women shopkeepers can be very persuasive and bargaining is the norm. Apart from beads, Ghana is famous for its chocolates and cocoa, with gold being its primary export.
On the food front, Accra offers good Indian and African food. At the Kohinoor restaurant, the lady proprietor was a long-standing resident of Accra, but that had not diluted her Punjabi character at all. To the accompaniment of latest Bollywood music, the food was authentic north Indian.
The next day, in the blazing African sun, we decided to try West African cuisine at the Home Touch restaurant. Despite the heat, it was full of people. The food our host ordered was delicious with interesting names. Palava sauce, a delicious stew of spinach, along with ‘red red’ a dish of cowpeas (black eyed peas) served with fried plantain, and rice with chicken was a refreshing change. The food was not strange or foreign, but seemed similar and familiar.
As the sun set in Accra, I was thinking about my desire to see the centre of the earth, when some movement in the sky caught my eye. Circling above were thousands of bats, darkening the skyline while animating it with their flight. There is a huge colony of fruit bats in the Neem trees that surround the 37 Military Hospital in Accra. In a bid to fight the menace of mosquitoes, the British planted the Neem. According to legend, bats followed a sick tribal chief to the hospital, and he died there. They waited to go back with him. In this endless pursuit, every evening, scores of bats fly out, conquering the skyline of Accra giving it a Gothic edge, inspiring a sense of timelessness.
Throughout my short stay in Accra, I had asked around about the centre of the earth. Most people had heard about it, but no one knew the exact location. Some said it was 25 kms or 15.5 miles north of Accra, others 50 km or 31 miles south. As it often happens with such places, I came back with my wish unfulfilled. On return, the Internet resolved the mystery. The imaginary centre of the earth lies at some point in the Atlantic Ocean, south of Ghana.