Magical Masai mara

Magical Masai mara

May 13, 2017

The view of the Kenyan coast line from the window is one of the most welcoming sight and a treat to ones eyes. Masai mara, has always been a dream destination for me to go. From my childhood days, it was this land which made me get very close to wildlife and wilderness. When the opportunity came in 2010, i jumped.

One needs to travel to Nairobi and then from there proceed to Masai Mara. Convincing the Kenyan Air service personal on the excess baggage and hand carry can be felt only by hard core sales guys. The long serpentine queue to clear the immigration at Mumbai teaches any human to become patient. Then comes the customs. Usually the BP goes up here, but the compulsion to keep shut, gets out the artificial smile on ones face. The easier way is to fly Emirates, have a stop over at Dubai and then land at Nairobi. There are direct flight from Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. I’m sure the other major cities around the globe are also well connected by Emirates.

After customs clearance, i got some time for a much needed drink. The duty free shop at Mumbai airport sell very good stuff. From chocolates to liquor, this is one stop for all age groups.

The two english movies on the flight kept me awake for a while and the food helped me to close my eyes . The six hour flight to Nairobi, seemed to be a long haul as the excitement in me was growing. VISA is on arrival, but for the last two years, the Kenyan Govt is also issuing online VISA. I’m sure the VISA on arrival would stop over the coming years.

The best season to visit Masai Mara is end July to early sept. This is the time when the great migration takes place. In a relentless sequence of life and death, the wildebeest, along with the zebras and gazelles migrate from Serengeti to the greener pastures of Masai Mara. The highlight of the migration is when they have to cross river Mara where the crocodiles wait to prey on them.

As i got out of the airport i was greeted by the cold wind cos it was winter at Kenya. It does sound funny , but eight out of ten times i have been to this country, my driver’s name was Peter, but different humans off course!! One can reach the Masai mara game reserve either by road ( it takes 6 hours drive from Nairobi ) or fly from Wilson Airport ( which is highly recommended to save time and energy).

I generally recommend guests to drive to lake Nakuru or Naivasha for a day and then go to Mara if they are opting the road trip. This would make the holiday more relaxed.

Lake Nakuru, is a bird watchers paradise on the floor of the rift valley, surrounded by bushes and grassland. Including the greater and lesser flamingos, there are more than 450 species of birds. There are 56 species of mammals, including the white rhinos. The lions at Nakuru seem to have specialised in climbing trees. One gets to see the BIG 5 at lake Nakuru. For me it is the flamingos which drives me back to this place. There are about 550 different plant species including the unique and biggest euphorbia forest in Africa, picturesque landscape and yellow acacia woodlands.The view from the Baboon cliff down the lake is truly a magnificent sight. Lake Nakuru Lodge and Sarova Lion Hill Lodge are two very good places to stay here.

The small town of Narok en-route to Mara is a stop over to refill your provisions. One can buy a lot of stuff ( especially food items, snacks) from the new mall which has come up in this town. Mobile phone recharge is also available in this town. Talking about mobile service providers, the entire country of Kenya is well connected with service providers. Safaricom is the leading and the best in terms of connectivity. Airtel and Vodafone also come handy but lag behind Safaricom in connectivity. The best option is buy a prepaid sim card and get it activated the minute one lands at Nairobi.

As Peter, took the deviation from the highway, i knew it was going to be vibratory mode for me. The 4*4 Landcruiser seem to be made for these bumpy roads. Unfortunately, my bones weren’t. Though i was holding tight to the handle, i was made to recollect my Physics days and remember the meaning of ‘Vibration, a mechanical phenomenon whereby oscillations occur about an equilibrium point’. But when he braked at the Talek gate, i was beaming with joy. I knew the other side of the gate was my dream destination.

The first look of Masai Mara is breath taking. With the over head cover pushed up, i was breathing the fresh air of Masai Mara. The Giraffes and the Zebras are generally the first animals one get show up. Along with them off course the Wildebeests and the Gazelles are also commoners.

The greater Maasai Mara – is a continuous landscape approximately the size of 6,000km2 that forms the northernmost part of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem.

It is generally defined by the area used by the annual wildebeest migration and includes the Maasai Mara National Reserve, neighboring private and community lands and the adjoining Loita Plains.

It has been calculated that 30% of Kenya’s wildlife is in the Greater Mara ecosystem. The land at the reserve is owned by the Kenyan Govt, who in turn have leased/sold to the resorts and lodges.

>Some of the famous resorts are the Governer’s camp, Serena (which is very near to the major river crossing points of the Mara river), Keekorok, Sarova, Fairmont, Agamma etc. These resorts are very well maitainted and run very efficiently. Food is multi cuisine. In the recent years, they have started to prepare good Indian food bcos of the huge foot falls from India. Yeah, but the chapatis are rectangular in shape and small in size, giving them an appearance of a flattened ‘samosas’!!. The detox drink offered before breakfast should be tried. They are made of beetroot, apple and ginger or mango, pineapple and mint. The soothing effect of these drinks stay through the day.

The Mara conservancies protect 285.000 acres of land offering a guaranteed income to 3000 landowners and employing approximately 1200 people. 36 camps and lodges are welcoming tourist from all over the world in the already operating conservancies.

At the conservancies the land is owned by the Masai’s and they lease it out to the people who in turn put camps. These camps are very eco friendly and have no fences or power. They run on solar power. There are no permanent structures at the conservancies. It is mostly tents, but with luxuries. Here one gets to experience wildlife at very close quarters.

One of our guest found that the zip of his tent not functioning. It was pretty late in the evening, so it couldn’t be repaired. So the Manager had placed an armed guard to sit in front of his tent the whole night. Next day morning, the guest had two stories to narrate. One about the hippos who are crunching the grass just beside the tent, which he was already used to. But the second about the loud snoring of the guard, which he thought was a lion which scared him more!!

The game drives at the conservancies start very early unlike at the National reserve. This gives excellent opportunities for everyone to watch the wildlife at Sunrise. The game drives extend well into the night. The night life at these places are a must see. The predators who are awake and go for the kill. After the sundowners, we are returning to our camp, when our vehicle broke down. There was no way to pull the vehicle out of the slush. Jackson called for help and we were quickly shifted into another vehicle.

The driver, Machio, was very experienced and he knew the subjects very well. That late evening, the behaviour of the lion pride made it clear that they were out to kill. The poor eland which was targeted did not know the strength of the pride. The sub adult male lion which jumped on the antelope received the kick of his life, but the experienced Mama, got the eland down in a snap. Then it was feasting time. The sub adult male who’s ego was hurt was the last one to come and feed on the eland.

Sunsets are one of the best time at Mara. The colours and shades of the sky are so different and we do not get to see them any where else but at Mara. The open Savannahs during sunsets are a photographer’s paradise.

After spending two good days at Porni calm, we headed to the National reserve to check into Serena lodge at the National reserve. The first thing we all did is visit the kitchen for some hot piping chapatis, rice and dal. You bet, Indians have very clear taste buds. With our energies back with such a sumptuous lunch, we headed straight to the Mara river.

There are three main river crossing points. We parked at a very strategic position as our drivers expected the huge gathering of Wildebeest would cross exactly where we wanted. The river crossing is a wait and watch game.

The thirst and the greener pastures on the other side of the river make these angulates to cross the river. It is for this great show, the entire world gathers at Mara every year. The pressure which builds up on the banks of the river makes the first animal to take the plunge, then it is let loose. The whole scene is so mayhem and chaotic. The rivers are filled with crocs and hippos.

The male hippos are always on their foot to protect their territory and keep the pretty females with them. The tension rises as two similar size males come face to face. Usually there is a threat display rather than a real fight which happens.

The dominant male tries to chase away any contender by displaying his huge teeth. Wonder how big a tooth brush they would require for these large canines.

The hungry crocs swim beneath the surface of the water and grab the herbivore with lighting speed. They drown their victim and then start feeding. As the crocs cannot bite the flesh, they indulge in something called the death role. They hold they prey with their saw like teeth and role their bodies to cut away the flesh. They then swallow the flesh in full. Many wildebeest loose their life to these crocs and some get washed away by the current. The vultures wait for there chance to feed on the washed away bodies. There is enough food for every one.

There was so much of excitement at the river crossing that a client who was driving his jeep also went into the river to the amusement of all. Luckily no was hurt. Maybe the crocs don’t like human meat!

With the river crossing and our camera memory card full, we headed back to the resort for the much needed dinner and rest. The good thing about the drivers is that they plan the next day when we return to the camp. I had noticed a group of three Male lions with their ladies. So it was decided that we would catch up these guys during sunrise. Before i forget, the instruction the guards gave me at the resort that evening was, “ please keep the windows closed, or else you would wake with a Baboon sleeping next to you”. With no intension of sleeping with monkeys, i duly followed the orders.

Next day , with packed breakfast, we were early to catch up with the lions. Everyone thinks that the Lions are lazy, no ways. I think they just conserve their energies. The way they were making love early morning proved these guys were serious about their jobs!! With so much of love in the air, we bid good bye to the National park and drove back again for a couple of more nights at the conservancy.

On the way back , we were keen to get a sight of the fastest land mammal hunting. The cheetah runs at a neck breaking speed of 110 miles an hour. But it can run only for a few minutes cos their brain and heart heats up very fast. So they need to target their prey, get pretty close and then get to burst mode. They succeed it getting down their prey once in 8 to 9 attempts.

But even then things aren’t over. There are other predators like the Hyena who try and steal the kill. This being the case, the Cheetahs start to eat very fast after they kill. They are very suspicious during this time, always on the look out. There are three famous cheetahs in Mara. They are Malaika ( who is known to climb on the vehicles and use them as vantage points). She has now two tiny cubs like cotton balls. Musaira, who has got grown up cubs. Maybe the cubs would split end of this season. Nora, who has also has a grown up cub. She has moved towards the Sand river ( refer Mara map), on the Serengeti border. Cheetahs love short grass and are seldom found in the bushes. Since they hunt during the day, one has a very good chance to get them.

The Masai people have very strict rules. They do not drink and smoke till they are thirty. Most of us try to stop these habits when we reach that age!! Their culture allows the to get married as many times they want. In general, most of my Masai friends have three wives. I honestly congratulate them for their courage. The more cattle the Masai owns and more height he jumps, he stands to win over a women. As i remembered the famous saying “ Sometimes, all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage”

On this trip, we were lucky to witness a wedding in Masai style. This couple from US had decided to get married in Masai style.

They were first given Masai names, which i would seriously not remember and then the rituals started.

What started as a typical Indian wedding with the Barat, ended with the Father blessing the couple. This was the first time i became the wedding photographer. The couple are seated in the above pic, the fair Masai’s!!

We continued our evening drive to capture the animals at sunset. The wedding did have an influence in the animal world too, with the Thomson Gazelles were also busy making love.

We continued our evening drive to capture the animals at sunset. The wedding did have an influence in the animal world too, with the Thomson Gazelles were also busy making love.

Every one seem to be talking about their work and family back home for the first time in so many days!!

As the shower of sparks rose from the fire at the camp, the distant roar of the King of the jungle was my lullaby for the last night at Mara. Next day morning, we bid good bye to all our friends at the camp to catch our flight back to Nairobi and from there to Mumbai.

From the day i touched the open skies, learnt to love the rustling grass, my hunger for the bush with the Lions roar and the star lit camp will never die.. I’m sure i would visit this place more often in the years to come. And thats why i call it The Magical Masai Mara.

K.Chandrashekar +919845090014

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