We were decisive from the beginning that we would visit Eastern Africa, Kenya and Tanzania where we can stand on the Equator, drive through the Rift Valley, can have world’s best safari experience at Masai Mara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and lastly get the majestic view of Mt.Kilimanjaro. We contacted F.C.M Travel Solution in Kenya and tied up our two week tour programme with them. They made a hassle-free and comfortable tour for us .Here our journey started to ‘The Cradle of Humanity’ where our ancestors dwelled.
In Swahili (Language of Kenya and Tanzania) ‘Safari’ means Journey and a trip to observe wild animals in East Africa. Our safari started on 10th July, 18 and on 11th we set foot in Nairobi for the first time. This trip had all my firsts in this part of the world. My first visit to Africa, my first safari experience, my first encounter with the wild animals and birds in the wilderness, my first balloon ride, my first eye contact with the ‘Big Five’ (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, ,Hippo and cheetah )within two metres and the list of my firsts will go on if I enumerate each experience I had in Savannah. On 12th we started our journey from Nairobi to Amboseli. When our van manoeuvred on the highway, we saw a sea of wild white flowers stretched in miles and merged with the hills on the Horizon
The glorious sight lifted our hearts. Slowly we left the highway and Peter (our guide and driver in Kenya) drove us through the dusty red track of the yellow savannah and my curious eyes peered through the window pane for some extraordinary surprises. Just then a light of excitement sprung up in me when a pair of giraffes within a few metres on our right side welcomed us with a warm stare and on the left a herd of fifty Thomson gazelles and calves led by a single male with sweeping horns scampered away through the golden grass. Hundreds of wildebeests were grazing here and there, breathlessly I noticed a stately male eland (the biggest antelope) was standing on a termite hill. This initial overwhelming feeling for few hours was just incredible.
Suddenly Peter stopped the van and we came across the biggest and the most impressive of African big fives – a family of huge African elephants were tearing and pulling the grass from the swamp right beside the track. Then a giant male tusker crossed the track almost dashing our van reacted to my gawping with least interest and we resumed our journey after this unique break. It was such an eye pleasing view of savannah dotted with acacias and the pendulous nests of weaver birds hanging from the branches of all the trees. And rows of pink lines of flamingos on a lake at a distance seemed as unreal as heaven. We were admiring the great vastness of the Savannah and our van ran on the bumpy track leaving a cloud of dust behind us….In a treeless distance the water gleamed on a swamp and a sombre light refracted from the water where two gazelles were staggering ……..in silhouette they looked brilliant.
For a while they slowed down their pace and stood still beside the bush, creating an opportunity for us to take a perfect divine shot. Slowly the dipping sun invited the night to the grassland and we retired deep in to the forest to our hotel Amboseli Serena, thinking how soul nourishing the wonder of Savannah is !
Next morning on 13th, we went from Amboseli to OL Pejeta. This is a wildlife conservancy in Central Kenya. On the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee sanctuary great apes can be seen. Here the conservancy also hosts the “Big Five Game”. We halted a night in the Serena camp It was a relaxing sojourn for us.
The property boasts a beautiful garden fenced with electric wire, beyond the fence we saw a herd of bushbucks grazing in the veld and in the cool morning hours we took incredible shots of elephants, water bucks, hogs, herons. And it was a jaw dropping moment when we saw the blue ball monkey for the first time .They are only found in east Africa
Next day while coming to Aberdare N.P we stopped on the equator. It was a great feeling when we were standing on the two different hemispheres, simply divided with a concrete line. Is this the manmade imaginary line that divides the Earth into two halves? Just unbelievable.
At 12 P.M in the afternoon we reached the Country Club in the Aberdare N.P en-route to Ark. The club nestles on the slope of Aberdare range, a part of the Great Rift Valley. This extremely manicured property is set up in a natural ambience. We stayed there for couple of hours and unknowingly created a lifetime memory.
We reached Country Club earlier than the scheduled time. So the staff of the club offered us two options,
1. We could stroll around their lush property or
2. We could walk for 5 km. through the unspoilt terrain.
With mounted excitement we selected the second option. Gerimiah, a Masai guide with a small staff in hand escorted us to the forest. Whilst walking in the wilderness he shared with us his knowledge about animals’ behaviour with human beings. We saw hundreds of zebras were grazing in the open field.
We saw hundreds of zebras were grazing in the open field. It was like a movie shown on a natural setting. Before realising the fact that we were completely sharing a space without any barrier between us, the zebras started running around. The splendour of the nature awed us in silence .As we walked deeper into the forest suddenly we noticed a few long necked heads popped up over the acacias… More we had approached towards them more of heads appeared, when just ten metres away, sixteen of them came out from the forest and stood still, gazing at us with astonishment. They sensed no fear in us, neither we did in them .Standing still and gazing at each other we exchanged trust and respect amongst us. Jeremiah admitted that it was indeed a rare moment as very few visitors can experience such an intimate encounter. Feeling a perfect coexistence of peace between man and animal, we left them behind. A soul touching moment that still gives me goose-bumps.
The drive to the ARK is very interesting. The ARK hotel is designed as a “Noah’s Ark”. It is set in the deep forest of Aberdare N.P. no jeeps or vans are allowed to go up to the ark. So they take the guests by their own vehicles. One has to walk through a long suspended wooden bridge to reach the ark. It is a quirky place overlooking a waterhole and a salt lick where animals can be seen while relaxing on the glass deck. In the twilight we had a rare experience with them. The place is quite expensive but worth spending.
On 16th we continued our journey after a soulful breakfast at Sarova Lion Hill lodge.
This is one of the best hotels of Kenya. We stopped at Great Rift Valley view point. A
beautiful stop over for taking panoramic photos of lush green farmland on the valley. We
met Kenyan children when drove through the arable floor of the GRV. They were harvesting
vegetables. A short sweet interaction made our day .On our arrival at lake Nakuru, we
embarked on a game drive round the Lake Nakuru. It is among Kenya’s finest national
parks and also one of the Rift Valley salt lakes.
Peter assured us that definitely here some kings of the forest would fulfil our desire to see them . The forested area below Flamingo hill is a favourite lion spotting point. Peter drove us to the spot where other game drive jeeps were standing. There we saw two young lions sitting on a huge rock like the production logo of Hollywood film- MGM. We waited there for their coming down to get a closer look. They did not let down our desire to see them close at hands. Dumbfounded we watched the two brothers playing just beside our van. Thereafter we saw them in every park lazing in a pride or alone. Here for the first time we saw black and white Colobus monkey. It was sitting on a high bough and its long white hair tail left us in awe.
This was the most fascinating experience we had. Here we stayed for only one night at Enashipai Resort, on our way to Masaimara. The location is serene and relaxing and fantastic place to watch, spot and photograph water birds, hippos, water bucks, zebras and other animals around the shore. Hundreds of pelicans, herons and cormorants perched on the tree stumps. We took a boat ride on the lake to get a closer look at the birds and hippos. Hundreds of white pelicans were perching all around .We witnessed a spectacular display of birds’ show ,when a white breasted fish eagle swooped down in the water and caught a tilapia in its beak…..cormorant chicks were cawing from the nests on the tall tree stumps while we were enjoying the grunts of the hippos which were submerged in the shimmering lake. As we went near the tree stumps to get a closer look at the pelicans, we found some crouched on the water waited for the intruders go but the sound of the boat stirred them and they sprung away into the blue sky like arrows scattering with high bounding silver splashes…..
Next we went to the south-western part of Kenya from the central. Entering into one of the greatest wilderness of the world gave us a surreal feeling that was persistent till we had ended our journey. I can’t put it into words how excited I was in Mara! It offers a magical destination in terms of wildlife, landscape and its indigenous people And the first sight of a Masai gave me an ancient feel of our long lost past. They looked so different from the rest of the races of the world. So distinctly unique on their own. Later we had an intimate interaction with them in their village.
Mara is a beautiful grassland with acacia grooves teeming with zebras, giraffes, lions, elephants ,wildebeests, buffaloes and many more known and unknown birds and animals. Witnessing the greatest migration of zebras and wildebeests on the field of savannah was a awe inspiring moment for us. In the Masai game drive we had almost seen all the gems of Mara. In the late afternoon beyond the Kopjes (huge granite rocks) we saw two huge lions and the lioness lay on a kill, their upraised heads in the setting sun were amber brown. With their grim visages and flat glazed eyes the beasts looked ominous.
On the 2nd day, we had an amazing experience of riding a hot air balloon on Mara river and its surroundings. We were picked up at 4.30 a.m. from Mara Serena lodge and driven to the location. It was a short one hour drive on bumpy tracks .Some ground crew were inflating the balloon in the faint light of the early dawn and once the massive balloon was totally inflated the crew helped us to aboard. Our anticipation built high while lying in the basket. Slowly the ground slipped away and we started ascending steadily and the beautiful nature started to unfold its secrets under the first light of the sun. Witnessing a gorgeous sunrise we floated over the meandering Mara river, fields and trees. We spotted many animals and saw the half submerged hippos basking in the soft light of the sun… We enjoyed the magnificent bird’s eye view of the wild game reserve but our thirst for seeing more wildlife remained unfulfilled . Although we realised that this is luck of the draw more than anything. On landing we were taken to a site setup for a champagne breakfast in the middle of the savannah .Our lifelong experience of hot and expensive ($450/person) air balloon ride lasted for only one hour but the long lasting fruity fragrance of champagne elevated our spirit for the rest of the day.
We were seduced by the Mara Serena’s comfort and goodness in the deep forest. It is set on a hill overlooking Savannah .Relaxing on the verandah , we were sipping a hot cup of coffee and watching at a faraway several herd of animals like wildebeests, gazelles and elephants standing by the bank on the southern side (Serengeti) of the Mara river. Under the setting sun they looked marvellous and picture perfect .
On the same day in the late afternoon on Mara game drive, we thought we were lost in search of leopards. Peter drove miles after miles for hours in the emptiness of savannah and we were sitting silently with a strange feeling of being lost…. No animal or jeep was visible and we realised that it was not our day… Slowly the brightest star sunk in to the blue and our van ran fast on the deep ruts, tearing the peace and silence of the wilderness. With a weird uncanny feeling we were anticipating to see some lights of our hotels in the darkness ….at that moment the track edge glittered with night eyes of jackals, hyenas, mongoose and gazelles. After a while in the pitch darkness the lights of the hotels speckled and twinkled on the horizon. We sighed with relief .But Peter was sick at heart as he could not make it happen for us .
‘Serengeti shall not die ‘is a 1959 German documentary film’ a synonymous to Serengeti ,the national park in Tanzania .So worthy of a name. Serengeti is an array of plains ,woodlands dotted with glorious animals of every type and size. This plain is truly endless as they stretch far and beyond of one’s eyes could see and one’s mind could fathom. No place on earth has so large concentration of wildlife . Here we have seen almost all kinds of animals and birds. like Peter in Kenya Gift was our guide and driver in this part of safari in Tanzania .These guides are well aware that every safari goer should fulfil their hopes to see the ‘Big Five’ and takes the perfect shot .
Eventually they do everything to make it happen. They have unique navigation skill and tracking ability to locate animals from a miles away .He showed us a leopard at a distance stretched on a tree limb all four legs hanging and a gazelle hung by the neck on a branch near it…..that was our first encounter with a leopard .We left it behind and went on for another search for cheetah ……driving off track is prohibited in the national parks but we saw two jeeps were standing off the track. Gift sensed some cheetahs might be there .Soon he took the risk of driving on the off track grass and drove us very close to the spot. Under the acacias and beneath the whistling grass three cheetahs were feasting on a kill. Half of the entrails of a sacrificial animal was torn apart …under the broad daylight we witnessed a gruesome customary event of nature ……….then a soft hooting of a dove iin the late afternoon made me sad for that mother doe who witnessed the execution of her calf.
While returning we witnessed a traffic jam of at least twenty cars on the red track ….Going close to the spot we found one female leopard with two cubs were hiding under the tall grass .After a while when they came out, the cars with their roaring engines barricaded their path, frantically the cubs left their mother and hid under the tall grass but the mother leopard quietly and calmly crossed all the vehicles paying minimum attention to the intruders, it went straight to the kopjes . Giving stunning postures to all the game viewers, it sat beside the huge branch of a dead tree.And we were overcome by the beauty and amplitude of savannah. Before our safari in Serengeti I hoped that I'd spot few large lions , one or two shy cheetahs and an ever elusive leopard or two , if I was lucky I would see them sitting on a kill but little did I know what Serengeti had in store for me!!!!
The two days we spent in the Serengeti were full of incredible experiences. On the last day, early in the morning as I pulled the curtain, saw in the faint light of the early dawn , a majestic eland was grazing just the other side of the window pane . It was a sight that filled me with awe and reverence.
We woke up early and resumed our journey for our last destination .Gift drove ceaselessly over the bumpy tracks while we were taking the last glimpse of Serengeti. Thinking how I had dreamed that one day I would travel on this breathtaking space of the Rift Valley and then we were almost on the last leg of our two weeks tour! One thing I realized that in comparison to the other part of the world Africa stands apart as this ancient land oozes an artless charm with its very own ingenuous spirit in an unsophisticated way .Its indigenous culture and beauty of nature is so outstanding and captivating that it can claim to be the best place in the world.
In the late morning we entered into an area where land is suspended in time. And slowly we ascended to the uphill and took a glimpse of the largest inactive and intact caldera, Ngorongoro crater. It’s very difficult to grasp the idea of a big hole of 260 square km with 610 metre high walls of mountain like natural enclosure at a height of 5900 ft being home of thousands of wild animals and birds. This is a magical place with mountains, lakes, birds, predators and preys. Lions are strewn everywhere.There we saw three female ostriches fluttering their wings dancing on a flat dusty floor of a grassless land….. We were just blown away by this rare sight. Here we chased a secretary bird for a long time and took plenty of pictures of its different postures. Another bird that stole our heart was the grey crowned crane .It’s predominantly grey plumage contrast sharply with black and white wings and a crest of golden feathers on its head and a bright red pouch on its neck gives it an extraordinary beautiful appearance…. Hundreds of buffalos and wildebeests trotting around with their young ones and some crossed the red track .Sitting silently we listened to the constant sounds of their hooves …. their sheer number and the intrinsic rhythm left us in awe. These massively built buffalos were ominous but their symbiotic relation with the small ox -pecker birds are just amazing. With a feeling of wonder and respect we watched the mighty beasts at a such so close distance that we could even smell the strong odour of their bodies .But seeing a doe suckling its baby melted our hearts. … Towards the dawn we saw a pride of lions on the track. A pair of lioness and their cubs were lazing on the track and some males crouched off to our side .waited there till they gave us a way to continue our journey…..
The sights and sounds of African wildlife are intoxicating and will stay with you long after you return. Everyday after having 8/9 hours of game drive when we retired into the hotel they used to make a tasteful impression with stunning gourmet presentation in front of their guests. It was just a mind blowing celebration for us Ugali ,Sukuma wiki , Grilled tilapia in white sauce, collard greens sautéed with tomato n onions ,Nyama choma ,the most beloved slow grilled lamb ribs were cure for our wired feet and bruised souls.
While returning the profile of the hills at a distance seemed familiar and as contemplating on the scene that lay before me I thought how richly our life got enriched in this journey … soon I felt a profound feeling of happiness within me that we have had our dream. Leaving a cloud of dust behind I had returned home with an everlasting memory.