Memories of Masai Mara

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Travel Features >> Memories of Masai Mara

Memories of Masai Mara

March 14, 2012

Masai Mara was the last place on my mind, when I made the list of must-see places before I die (a simple wish list of all the places that I could probably afford to go in future, ranging from rain forests of Brazil to the Great Barrier Reef). Then came the call from my manager in Singapore, "Would you be interested in joining the rollout team?" The rollout team is our monster-sized project that goes around the world preaching the project gospel and disappear once the formal sign offs are done. Well, that was how I found myself in the Masai Mara, some 1500 sq kms of virgin African grasslands.

Masai Mara - literally means "Mottled" - a reference to the patchy landscape, in Swahili. By the way, Swahili is the same language that gave us the lovely word, ‘hakuna matata’ (No problem!) Masai Mara is arguably the world's most prolific wildlife conservation area. The Masai's are a proud semi-nomadic cattle-rearing people with a fascinating culture, who inhabit these beautiful grasslands of Africa. It is the best destination in Kenya for viewing wildlife. With its rolling grasslands and wide-open savannah - the Masai Mara is the kind of African landscape that you probably see only in the National Geographic or Discovery channels.

A 5-hour ride from Nairobi will take you to the Masai town of Novak. Novak is the major town or trading point for the Masai's. They make beautiful handicrafts ranging from wooden sculptures to lovely paintings. But then the Masai market, which happens every Tuesday in Nairobi, is a better place to purchase any handicrafts. To buy in Novak, you better have a local friend to help you bargain. Another 2 hours of pretty rough ride through the trails in grasslands and we were reached our campsite.

The Mara Safari Club is set in the Ol-Choro Oiroua Conservation Area, bordering the Masai Mara Game Reserve, at the foot of the Aitong Hills. Surrounded on three sides by the Mara River, and fencing on the other side, you do feel completely safe from three sides at least. I was told that Kenyan conservation rules prevent campsites from putting up fences on the riverside. All tents have their own private river frontage, with basic electricity, and facilities. The main building, with lounge, bar and dining room is cantilevered over the river. There is also a resident naturalist, who made Mara his home and is living here for the last 30 years (and my parents think am the crazy one to be going to Masai Mara!). The talks he gives late evenings by the campsites are fascinating and very educational. The Mara River is famous for its crossings in October and November when thousands of wilder beasts, zebras cross across to Serengeti in Tanzania in search of greener grasslands and to give birth. Sadly I missed the rush hour, but still there were lots of animals around.

We had a 4D Cruiser at our disposal, making it really easy to go, practically anywhere in the reserve: ravines, waterholes, across streams. The park itself is huge - around 1500 sq km area and you have all the big 5 animals there in the park. Africans refer to the lion, leopard, elephant, cheetah and rhino as the Big 5 and I noticed that depending on place-to-place in Africa the list varies - like buffalo is considered and cheetah is not in some places. I saw all the big 5 except the leopard -that was the one predator I couldn't target (in my camera) through out my travels in Africa. The best thing about the camp was, my tent -perfectly located at a turning point of the Mara River giving me two views of the river. There were hippos and crocs in the river, just a few meters away from my tent, separated by few wooden logs - you think that was cool and exciting, me too! The adventure part was to come on the second day. The second day we were tracking a big group of African elephants, one of the elephants almost charged at us, there was a baby elephant, and it was probably as scared as we folks in our Cruiser: they say the Cruiser is nothing for an elephant that can just crush a Cruiser into smithereens. We were lucky to be alive to go on another ride in the evening and spot a big pride of lions, wow! There were two tiny cubs, who would soon grow up to be beasts of the jungle. Unfortunately it was quite late in night so couldn't get good pictures.

That evening we got a chance to witness the famous Masai dance. The Masai dance is awesome. You just watch with open mouths, wondering how they defy gravity to reach such heights when they jump - the dance itself is simple with just a few steps, but the ambience, the shouts, the bracing cool weather -all added to the magic. The final day was spent searching for a glimpse of rhinos and giraffes and there were some anxious moments with the rhinos. We had to walk up a hill to catch a glimpse of black rhinos. While I was taking pictures of two female rhinos, one of the rhinos came charging at me from behind, the forest ranger pulled me off the path of the rhino and then our sweet guide says to me nicely and slowly, black rhinos also kill boss (the moron should have told me before!)

I seek for words, when someone asks me about my visit to the Mara - spectacular, thrilling, awesome, beautiful, extraordinary, seductive, fascinating ... A kaleidoscope of memorable images.

-This article has been contributed by Aditya Vadaganadam

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