As a kid while growing up, I was always fascinated by the breathtaking photographs in the National Geographic magazines. Even though I never read the articles in detail to be very honest, I used to be awestruck and admired the pictures which in turn slowly had built a world full of imagination.
Journey to Africa, especially Kenya for the world famous Masai Mara National Reserve was always my childhood dream. I was inspired by the iconic novel Chaader Pahar by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay during my school days and always fascinated by the stories and folktales of Africa.. Black Mamba, Marsh lions and the Cheetahs along with the African tribes used to haunt me for years while growing up. I desperately wanted to visit at least once in a lifetime. I moved to Bangalore for jobs after my studies and slowly over I grew an acute interest into wildlife photography which made me travel to many national parks. But Africa used to haunt me..and I only could plan and plan.
After years of planning, finally, one day I pulled up my socks and made my dream come true! This time for Africa.
I scheduled my travel during the Great Migration time when thousands of wild beasts traverse from Serengeti to Masai Mara and cross the most prominent Mara river and Sand river.
I never wanted to travel via any travel agent as that is not what a true traveler does! So with butterflies in my stomach, the planning began and went on for months. I wanted to travel cheap, so planning and reading backpacker’s blogs were part of my routine those days. And Finally the day arrived.
As I mentioned, my objective was to travel cheap so instead of boarding a direct flight, I took a flight to Adis Ababa from Mumbai. Adis Ababa is the capital of Ethiopia. It was a brief stay at Adis Ababa, the city I had never heard of ! Next day, I took a flight to Nairobi, Kenya.
Unlike the popular belief, Nairobi was quite safe for me. It’s a bustling city that caters to the needs of every individual. Obviously you got to be careful and avoid dark lanes especially after sun down which somewhat goes true for any big city in a developing nation. Kenyans are generally warm but loud. I contacted one Ethiopian girl name Siyiee through AirBnB, who arranged my stay in her own apartment along with a Japanese lady who was travelling alone, a solo female traveler, travelling Africa..imagine!!
Siyiee was very warm, polite and gave us loads of suggestions which made our planning even more meticulous and rich.
Next day I woke up early and had sumptuous beef noodles prepared by Siyiee. It was cloudy and drizzling in Nairobi when our driver Tony arrived with his Land cruiser to take us to Masai Mara which is roughly 270 kms from the capital.
Road to Uganda, a diversion from this place takes us to Masai Mara.
The journey begins…it was life changing indeed. Traversing through the great Rift Valley and the amazing landscape is something to cherish for a lifetime. The Great Rift Valley is a series of contiguous geographic trenches, approximately 6,000 kilometres in total length, that runs from Lebanon in Asia to Mozambique in southeastern Africa (Source Wikipedia). The first 4 hours of journey till a small town called Narok was smooth. But after that, the final stretch to Mara was bone rattling! My bones were struggling to stay connected while the occasional glimpse of Zebras and Giraffes blocking our way making me stay alive. Remember, we were still far away from the National Reserve area !
Twilight had arrived and slowly the sun was going down. We lost track of our trail in no man’s land with no mobile connectivity. I could clearly see the tension looming over Tony’s face. Only some Masai houses in the distant horizon beneath the spectacular Savannah turned golden by the last sunlight were the signs of human existence we could see. It was then I had my first ever sight of the Marsh Lion of Africa sleeping beside the bushes…Welcome Masai Mara.
After 4 kms of aimless roaming and searching, finally the campsite people of Olumara Camp where we booked our stay saw us from their Safari vehicle and took us to their camp. We were finally relieved.
The camp was beautiful and rugged. A true African style tent that I had seen in the movie ‘Born Free’!
The local staff were all masai villagers guarding the camp site. They were ever smiling and was saying Hakuna Matata! Remember this phrase from our childhood nostalgic movie The Lion King?
“Hakuna matata” is a Swahili language phrase from East Africa meaning “no worries” !
Camping inside the game reserve with the giggles of African hyenas and occasional lion’s roar is an experience in itself. We rested for the night.
Next day with the rising African Sun, our game drive begins.
We reached near Mara river to check our luck for any river crossing for the ongoing Migration. But alas! Nothing…
After 45 minutes of wait we went to a highland area to get an aerial view of the savannah ! And what I saw, was life changing ! I was numb, awestruck !
The largest congregation of mammals in the world moving in the endless Savannah, the magnificent sights and the insatiable orchestra from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara – Witnessing The Great Migration, an electrifying phenomenon. The Mara grasslands have become The Mecca of wildlife! Finally a dream from childhood (since when Jonathan Scott presented the legendary Big Cat diary back in 1996) has come alive!
The rest of the day was spent witnessing magnificent wildlife in its natural habitat.
Next day we went to a Masai Village. Met the local tribe and learnt their way of life.
The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people inhabiting southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are known as the Lion fighters..One myth about the Maasai is that each young man is supposed to kill a lion before he is circumcised. Now slowly this tradition is being abolished.
Being part of a Masai dance was the highlight of my visit to their village
Inside the Inkajijik (The Masai tribe house)..
The Inkajijik is constructed by women. The structural framework is formed of timber poles with a lattice of smaller branches, which is then plastered with a mix of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung, human urine, and ash. The cow dung ensures that the roof is waterproof. Within this space, the family cooks, eats, sleeps, socializes, and stores food, fuel, and other household possessions. Small livestock are also often accommodated within the enkaji..!
Masai women performing the ritual.
Like most poor women in African nations, the majority of Maasai women are destined to live a life of poverty and cultural oppression.
Next day was quite thrilling and something that I had never imagined.
We met the iconic Cheetah family, Malaika and her 5 cubs! Malaika has been featured in BBC and NatGeo many a times for her unique habit of climbing the tourist vehicle. It was a moment of sheer goose bump witnessing the Cheetahs climbing your own vehicle and the vehicle in front of you which I photographed. Cheetahs do not harm humans unless provoked. Humans are never their natural prey. What I learnt from the local naturalist that they climb the tourist vehicles just to have a view of the distant area in the savannah because they can’t see their prey due to the long grass.This was life changing and an unforgettable moment.
Evening was arriving..The African sunset was breathtaking over the golden savannah. We had to leave. Mara was unforgettable something I will cherish my whole life. Next day we left for Amboseli with a hope to witness Mt. Kilimanjaro, though that’s another story and require another travelogue.
I was returning back to the camp with life full of memories, I will come back again, I promised myself. The sky was turning pink from golden…..a marsh lion was patrolling his territory. It was silent, it was magical, it was Africa.
The author is an avid traveler and wildlife enthusiast based out of Bangalore. Follow his instagram handle “@iam_d_g” for photos and updates.