If you would like to learn how to preserve your natural heritage and pass it on to the future generations to cherish, then the game parks of Africa are surely places that offer a great many – and thoroughly enjoyable – lessons.
My trip to Kenya, at the end of August, was a little over a fortnight long. Landing in Nairobi I did not quite know what I’d be doing there except meeting my daughter Karishma who had preceded me by a month to set up office. Located approximately 5900 ft above sea level, Nairobi, the capital, is a cool city with temperature ranging between 10 to 24°C through the year. The people are very polite, speak English fluently and are easy-going. There are good clubs and eateries. Explore all you like. However, after dark play it safe; do not move about alone but always in company.
You are not here to shop, so forget the malls. At any rate, everything is too expensive. Save your money for food and sightseeing. You will need it all! Go check out the Elephant Orphanage. Those cute, not-so-little babies have been brought in from the neighbouring parks. Some have permanent injuries; others are on the road to recovery. The tour organisers said if people were resolute about not buying from poachers they would have nothing to sell and that would save these animals from this torture!
Another must-see is the Evolution of Man at the National Museum and one would do well to spend at least three or four hours here.
If you are a meat-eater, ‘Carnivore’, is a must-do. It serves all sorts of barbeque meats till you say stop! The coffee in Kenya and that from neighbouring Uganda is really good. If you must shop, buy coffee. And head out to the Sunday Masai market! It’s like a village bazaar. The stuff is good and you can get a good bargain. But remember, you do need to carry it home and that will be quite a task. As I discovered, when I bought two wooden giraffes!
After Nairobi, Adrian and I, along with some friends, headed for a tryst with nature in a large 4x4 Toyota with a pop-up roof.
Of the many parks we selected four -- Masai Mara, of course, Nakuru, Naivasha, and Amboseli. The parks are all about viewing the Big 5 – Masai lions, and African leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo. But the giraffe, zebra and Tanzanian cheetahs are a sight to behold too. You will also get to see many species of birds – vultures, marabou storks, secretary birds, hornbills, cranes, ostriches, eagles, falcons, flamingos and the lilacbreasted roller.
Of the four parks, the Mara will give you your fill of the majestic King of the Jungle – the Masai Lion! Your safari guide-cum-driver knows where to spot lions and his radio keeps him well updated. There is one rule – you cannot leave your vehicle. Look at the lion all you like, even from a distance of a few feet! But until you step out, he doesn’t see you as prey! So you are safe.
The Great Migration is one of the most impressive natural events. Each year, in July, about 13 lakh wildebeest, 5 lakh gazelles, 97,000 topi, 18,000 elands and two lakh zebras migrate north from the Serengeti Plains into the Mara in search of fresh pasture. They return south around October. Through the day you will see these animals move in thousands towards the river. By afternoon, groups start congregating along the river, checking out various crossing points, regrouping often. Along their migration route, they are stalked closely by lions, hyenas and jackals on land, and the Nile crocodiles in the river.
Sometimes, the migration is aborted for the day. Patience is the key. You have to wait in the open grasslands, with no tree cover and the sun beating down on you. A few hours of waiting and with a little bit of luck you will have the experience of a lifetime. And we were lucky.
We then drove to Lake Nakuru inside Nakuru National Park. It is an alkaline lake in the Rift Valley of Kenya. Lake Naivasha, a freshwater lake, is a few hours’ drive away. Both lakes are part of breathtaking geography. Many rhinos, hippos and big buffaloes keep well away from the track; what really stand out are the flamingos in large numbers! It is a sight to behold.
Other places not to be missed in these parts are the Menengai Crater and Hell’s Gate. Menengai Crater is one of the biggest calderas in the world. Volcanic activity continues and the huge Crater Valley is used for geothermal power generation.
Hell’s Gate was formed by two now-extinct volcanoes and is lined with red cliffs and volcanic plugs. The gorge has hot and cold springs and the area makes for good trekking since the big five are not present here. Amboseli was our last stop.
Ten days spent touring the game reserves of Kenya hunkered in vehicles on terrain mainly dry grassland and days in the heat and sun, fairly cold evenings, all amounted to a truly memorable experience. ..... Savita