I hit the panic button, when my scheduled flight from Masai Mara did not land at 11AM. This was because, my connecting flight was at 13.00 hours from Nairobi to Nanyuki.
Not showing my emotions, i was trying to enjoy the no-man airstrip of Olare conservancy. The sound of the glider was a treat to my ears. Leaving Masai Mara with a heavy heart, i closed my eyes replaying the the action packed wildebeest river crossings we had witnessed.
I bid good bye to our guests at the Wilson Airport. This small Airport caters to most of the game parks like Mara, Nakuru, Louisaba, etc ,beaches like Mombasa, Diani, Lamu etc and to major connecting towns like Nanyuki, Ukunda, Malindi etc. The highly energetic staff at Wilson, manage to handle the guests always with a smile.
The Wilson Airport and the private airliners operating out of there have made travel so easy for people. The Govt also need to be appreciated for keeping this Airport, separate and away from the JKIA international Airport. Wilson has been a very critical and major support for the development of tourism in Kenya. A lesson, other countries which promote tourism should learn.
After about 50 minutes of flying we landed on the air strip of a town called as Nanyuki. These small planes are fun as we start to guess the driver who has come to pick us up as we land. This slight confusion is because, all the drivers would have a smiling face, all would start to waive their hands, all would be standing near a 4*4, and no one carries a placard!! Peter, who had come to pick me up, suggested i have my food at the air strip restaurant as it would take more than a couple of hours to reach Sosian Lodge, which would be my home for the next two days. Spinach, Marinated Grilled chicken with a cup of rice along with a cold Tusker beer made my day. Quickly we were on the road to Laikipia. Nanyuki, is a fast growing town in Kenya. It deceptively appears sleepy as we enter but the centre of town is bustling with business. Pubs and butcheries are many, so are commercial sex workers and their clients. The presence of the British Army Training Unit soldiers has changed the fortunes of the town over the years. They have been here since the early 1970s. Nanyuki is a resort town that opens up to the greater Laikipia areas, famed for wildlife conservancies. TLeaving the town, we drive along the fenced British Army training land. The high way is quite busy. After an hours drive, Peter says, “ do you wanna make a call, this is the place, cos we would loose network for some time”. I did not know that some time would be for a hour and a half!! The ranches gives way to the forests, and one experiences a sudden change in the landscape.
The name Laikipia has its origins with the Laikipiak Maasai, who once moved through this area. They were defeated and dispersed by the ancestors of the modern Kenyan Maasai in a series of major battles during the 19th century. Today Laikipia is predominantly the land of the Samburu and some Western tribes belonging to the collective
The long conversation with Peter made him understand my interest in wildlife. This made him call for a 4*4 to pick me up mid way to show the most coveted painted Wild Dogs of Laikipia. The sight of the 4* 4 is the most welcoming thing for any wildlife lover’s eyes. Ambrose, the seven footer was introduced by Peter. His hand shake really shook me from the bottom. In hardly five minutes, me and Ambrose were off into the jungle of Laikipia country.
Ambrose, hails from Samburu and he has been working with Sosian lodge for more than ten years. For the last eight years he has been trickling the last remaining Wild Dogs of this region. He carries the antenna which one uses to track the collared dogs. Out of the 18 dogs remaining, 6 are collared. They are the old and matured ones who lead the pack.
We had many twists and turns and Ambrose on the bonnet every 10 minutes, but no sign of the wild dogs. Up he drove the hill to get to the vantage point. Once again he was on top of the vehicle , when we heard a faint beep. It was like hearing one’s own heart beat after a 100 mts run. He drove exactly to the p;ace where we heard the beep, and there were the Wild Dogs by the river. This was the first time in my life i had sighted them. Though they were down and far, i could feel my hands shaking. Quickly Ambrose turned the vehicle and waited along side a narrow path and said, “ get down and crawl, don’t worry, they wouldn’t do anything”. With all the excitement i jumped down with my 200-400 long lens. The mistake i would never forget. The dogs were so inquisitive about this Indian lying down, that they came so close to sniff my cap.
The dogs were hungry and they were in the hunting mood. They possess an excellent communication skill. Running into the bushes, they managed to bring down a Dik Dik ( the smallest antelope of Africa) and a Impala. We could hear the cries, but both the kills were finished before we could enter the bush. Leaving the dogs behind, we headed for the lodge.
Simon who owns this place was there outside to greet me. He seemed to be more happy than me cos i had found the dogs. The lodge is a beautifully restored African ranch house, which was built in 1940 by Italian artisans. The lodge is unfenced and wildlife roams freely across the open plains and forested riverrines. With a high altitude of 6000 feet, Sosian has not record of Malaria, which make it even more attractive for the families.
The lodge is well know for its home cooking. Breakfast by the veranda, pool side lunch and the dinner by the river side are very exciting. Activities include Game drives, Horse riding, Fishing, tracking and birding. Sosian lodge is very homely and is a must place to stay.
Next morning we were up early scouting for the Reticulated Giraffes and the Gravy zebras. These beautiful species are found in plenty at Laikipia. There are two rivers which flow across Laikipia. Eves Niro and Evaso Narok, both originate from Abadas and cut across Laikipia. They join here and flow through the Samburu National park. As it is cold out here, the crocs are found 15 to 20 kms upstream towards Samburu.
The elephants of Laikipia are a little more suspicious than the ones at Mara or Amboseli. I think this is because they live in a bushy terrain and they are surprised when they come across other species. Whereas at Amboseli, the Savannah is very open and plain and there are very few occasions one can surprise these gentle giants.
Laikipia is very rich in bird life too. Raptors like the Chanting Goshak, Augo Buzzard are commoners. The Vulturine Guineafowls are endemic to Laikipia and Samburu areas. They are very colourful birds and called so bcos of their necks. After filling the memory cards of my camera with these amazing species, i headed towards the river to join an young couple for a river side dinner. The setting was truly Hollywood. I had to satisfy their request to click some pics.Ambrose and me then returned to the camp. The cold breeze were making the lanterns outside my room dance. With thoughts of me standing on the Sotinyiro hill, tracking the wild dogs, i retired for the night listening to the distant roar of the King.
Places of Stay :There are many resorts at Laikipia. There are tented camps and resorts like Kicheche Laikipia, Il Ngewesi Tented Camp, Makena's Hills Tented Camp, Mukutan Retreat, Malu, Ngobit River Lodge and Colobu, Laikipia Safari Camp. All the camps are very well maintained and are very experienced in handling large clientele.
Cusine : Mostly European. One should try the fruits and the prickly pear juice. Definitely a great place for red meat lovers. All the resorts even bake their own pastries. The cookies after a long game drive in the evenings is a treat to the taste buds.By : chandrashekar k www.travelunbounded.com