Aishwarya Kumar

Johannesburg - There are a few neighbourhoods that will keep reminding you that you are surrounded by buildings and cement walls.

There are a few that will make you want to sit outside and take in the scenery. And then there is Soweto.

Beautiful greenish-yellow hills with big bright trees surround the township with quaint individual houses and small office buildings. A bus tour of the 2016 Old Mutual Soweto Marathon route was all that was required for me to realise Soweto was one of the most authentic South African townships I have seen so far. And I say this only because it has managed to maintain the essence of South Africa while still opening its doors for tourists.

Vilakazi road, with its beautiful South African art and craft stores, authentic restaurants and Mandela house, is one of the most touristy spots in Johannesburg, with people from Europe, India and the United States milling around the area.

But nothing on the road, or throughout Soweto for that matter, has been modified to suit tourists. You will find malva pudding with custard crème, South African clothes and jewellery and bright-coloured houses throughout.

The 42 kilometre route weaved through the neighbourhood like a giant python, winding uphill and then taking a steep downward slope before evening out on Chris Hani Road.

Irvette van Zyl, who won the SPAR Grand Prix, last month, along with Mapaseka Makhanya, who placed second in the Joburg lap of the grand prix, will look to make use of the hilly terrain to take control of the race on November 6.

Apart from Vilakazi road, the route also included views of Walter Sisulu Square, Regina Mundi Catholic Church, Winnie Mandela’s house and Hector Pieterson’s memorial.

Every marathon route is special for the athletes, what with the determination and the effort that goes into it. But the Soweto marathon has got to be one of the best.

I was moved by just sitting in the bus and taking in the heritage. Imagine running your heart out to place in the 42k, 21k and 10k events starting 6am on November 6.