Call of the Mara

Avid traveller and documenter Vijaya Pratap loves wildlife, and her love for the subject recently took her to the great outdoors of Africa – Kenya, to be specific. Here are some highlights from her adventures.
Africa had been on my mind for a long time. From a distant dream, it slowly grew into an obsession. I simply had to go on an exotic African safari to lock eyes with a lion or a cheetah, and freeze the moment for posterity! That is when I set out to Kenya via Mumbai, equipped with credit cards, online reservations, and loads of advice from those who had been to heaven and back. For a wildlife enthusiast, Africa is nothing short of paradise.

I first landed in Nairobi, which welcomed me with open arms and its year-round pleasant weather. From Nairobi, I took a cute little caravan plane to the next destination. The aircraft holds just eight to ten people, and glides among the clouds but relatively close to the ground, giving passengers a breath-taking aerial view.

I reached the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Nanyuki and checked into the Sweetwaters Tented Camp, a retreat that is spread around a waterhole nestled within its own private reserve. As I looked around, I saw wildlife in the reserve as if they were domestic creatures. Giraffes, rhinos, elephants and gazelles scattered around where I stood – I was awestruck by their silhouettes! Though we stayed in tents built on stilts, they were extremely luxurious and charming. The food and wine paired wonderfully with everything around me. One morning, we were surprised with a ‘bush breakfast’, where we sat under the shade of a large tree, breathing in the wonder of nature around us.

The Ol Pejeta House is very luxurious, owing to which it is occasionally frequented by celebrities, stories of whom the Arab caretaker was happy to relay. The resort is all about comfort, with classy rooms and suites, swimming pools and barbeques! What caught my fancy was the huge willow tree by the balcony, home to a number of golden-yellow weaver birds that hung upside down. I fell in love with the visual feast before my eyes and never wanted to leave!

The Masai Mara brought back memories of all the wildlife movies and National Geographic images I saw growing up. We saw a couple of lions lazing around, bellies swollen from their recent meal; a lone cheetah basked in the warmth of the sunlight; towering Masai warriors walked as we drove to the Mara Leisure Camp. Draped in iconic red fabric, the surprisingly friendly tribespersons were herding cattle. Our camp lay beside the Talek River, with tents that sit on the banks of a steady stream. From my picturesque tent, I heard cowbells and a host of unique bird calls.

A hot-air balloon ride gave us a perfect view as the sun rose one morning right over the Masai Mara National Reserve. We got a rare glimpse of the beasts of the wilderness in their most natural of habitats – grazing, frolicking and hunting. One cannot imagine the beauty and pleasure of this extraordinary world. That memorable ride ended with an excellent champagne breakfast, during which we got to converse and connect with our fellow travellers.

As a documentary filmmaker, I’m fascinated by tribal culture, and curious about ethnic groups and their lives. The resort manager arranged for me to visit a Masai village. Armed with a translator, off I went! I spent an afternoon observing and learning about their culture and ways. The young men of the tribe welcomed me with their warrior dance, during which they jump high into to air, landing gracefully. The tribal chief adorned my head with headgear made of a lion’s mane (olawaru), a sign of respect. What an honour!
A few days later, I travelled to my next stop – the Lamu Archipelago along the coast. Lamu used to be a trading port for ivory, rhino horns and even slaves. I landed on Manda Island’s airstrip, from where I was taken by speedboat to my resort. Majlis sits on the stunning Ras Kitau Bay. I went kayaking and spent an hour at sea. As I sat watching the sunset in my hammock, I drifted into a reverie. The following day, I went snorkelling but, unfortunately, the lengthy boat ride on the tumultuous waters put me off, and I didn’t get to see much that interested me.

Lamu’s Old Town is one of the oldest Swahili settlements, and remains intact to this day. In fact, there are no cars here; the only way to get around is by donkey! I went back to Nairobi and spent another delightful day there, before returning to India with the hope that I will go back to Africa someday, when the call of the Mara beckons once again.                              – as told to Saloni