How lucky can one be, revisiting heaven, with dreamy eyes in anticipation of what’s in store, a strong in search and craving to soak it all in…
I often take a personal oath to avoid comparing Serengeti and Mara – Even though, they share the same eco-system, they are like chalk and cheese. I fail to keep my promise and end up thinking about Serengeti while in Mara and dream about Mara when in Serengeti! I am sure, I will never be able to solve this puzzle ever in my mind…both being my two eyes.
It was about time for me to board the flight to Nairobi – I offered my prayers to all my gods for a great trip, savoured my last sip of coffee and Jambo! After a daylong flight, I land in Nairobi at around 20:00 hours, looking for my pre-booked cab and was in for a surprise- My cabbie wasn’t there and I was bloody furious. Dwindling my thumbs and battling my anxiety for 10 minutes wasn’t easy. Just when I thought of calling the hotel, one of the fellow-cabbies waiting there saw my plight and offered help. That’s Kenya for you! A light dinner followed by a sound sleep, I was awake much early to my schedule and could feel the excitement welling up inside every inch of my soul. I savoured a typical Indian breakfast (Thanks to The Monarch Hotel for accommodating my special diet requirement) plus my usual strong filter coffee, seated in the garden area while watching the over-cast weather and light drizzle…. My heart danced and rejoiced, wanting to scream out loud – this is exactly what I needed to start my day 1! At around 830am, Eric, my good friend, was there to pick me up to Wilson Airport. We chatted about politics, India, Kenya roads, traffic before being dropped for my chartered flight!
I love rains, especially light breezy drizzle that gently bathes the trees and refreshes one’s nostrils with the earthy smell – so soul soothing and at the same time quite intoxicating. Watching Nairobi getting drenched, with greenery all around, a brilliant spectacle by itself and after 45 minutes or so, landed in Okiombo air-strip; It looked all familiar and it is familiar. A homely feeling as I got down from my air-craft! Brother! Brother! I looked around to see Empaps shouting – A warm welcoming hug, jokes and laughter, and we were off to the plains!
Migration was still in progress. The big migration across Mara and a mini one across Talek! ; Hundreds and thousands of Wildebeests congregating from Tanzania, entering Mara plains by crossing “Blood River” – Mara has always been a treat to watch. Year after year, the cycle continues and that these iconic mammals wait for “that” time of the year to take the plunge. that time remains so closely knitted to their instincts, it remains a mystery like an unsolved puzzle, which humans can’t solve and I wish that stays that way. Empaps was as excited as I was; He knows this terrain excessively well. He had set up his jeep to suit my needs and boy was it good? I was bloody overjoyed. It was noon and neither of us couldn’t control our hunger as we headed to our Camp (Zebra Plains) for lunch and a mini break that was much needed.
The sun was sharp; it was a warm afternoon as we set out for our evening drive. It does not matter how many times I have been here before, as each time has the same effect on me - sense of nirvana, peace with myself, a feeling of serenity and being in my zone. Dark clouds that were playing hide and seek, came together. In no time, the sun that was blazing, hid behind his rival, while tried to ooze out his anguish in certain parts of the plains that glittered with golden spray. It was a spectacle by itself where on one extreme side, it was drizzling and on the other extreme end, it was hide and seek between the sun and the clouds with colour palettes up on the display. The 5 Cheetah coalition stood up from their deep slumber, giving us a sign that perhaps it may hunt. I could feel the plains coming to life and all the 30 odd Jeeps scattered to their favourite places with an assumption that the hunt would end up right in front of them. With time ticking, anticipating some action was nerve wracking. I told Empaps, Brother, they will not hunt today, its time-out. I turned back to check on anything else. Far across, a herd of Wildebeest walked across the horizon under a burst of cloud that had the dying light with orange and red oozing out. What a sight to behold! I told Empaps – this moment is worth to die for – Go for it! We both captured the brilliant moment and what a freeze that was!
Back in the camp after a sumptuous dinner, I knew, I was not alone (of-course there were other occupants in the camp) but Lions and Hyenas were not far from me! Couple of Hyenas were uncomfortably close but they didn’t bother me though. Lions roared through the night, in their own language, communicated with their pride, rivals and peers. In the middle of the night, I peeped through the fragile window, outside my tent to feel the night; Stars seemingly close to my eyes, cold wind brushing my face with lot of urgency and intimacy, silence that silent as though they were killing one another except the frequent roars and hooting of predators. I could easily sense a small move, I could feel the hollowness of the midnight – Burning stars and the moon, pretended as though they didn’t see me at all. Out in mid-night, A quick walk with one of the masai who was holding a machete, gave me the crazy but realistic feeling of being in middle of the plains with my heart just pounding so loud, I could record it using my phone.
The next morning kicked off with a freshly brewed coffee and a special cake for me … off I went! Empaps was at his best. A brilliant morning, beautiful sun rise (A tommy silhouetted against the rising sun), couple of Giraffe’s on the move as though one of them was drinking from a cup made of sun! Every time I look around the plains, I see the gift of nature. It has given us so much; Literally endless plains, far across, one could see the Serengeti Hills (it is on south of Mara) and animals scattered all over. When your eyes are stretched beyond its limits, you may just see lifeless plains but as you near, it is always with its subjects albeit here and there. That morning, great opportunities was gifted to watch and photograph, Loraine, the beautiful mother and her naughty little cub. Later, off to another end to spend the entire day with this gorgeous Cheetah and her six tiny cubs! I must tell you how lucky and blessed I was. I just hope and pray that these little cubs have all the chances to grow and make a good life out in the plains.
It rained that evening – Even when it rains, its heaven. To me, when it rains, it fills me with that unexplainable feeling of satisfaction, peace and tranquillity in my mind space. Watching the clouds, a thick outburst of storm on one side, splashes and poodles, lions shaking their heads to wade off the wetness, Antelopes out in the open, bending their heads as though offering respect to the rain-gods, cape buffalos standing heavy with an intention of not to be disturbed, the wetness in the air, giving me all the high I need in my life – This explains why I keep going back to the wild. It explains why my body, mind and soul has so much of that need to feel this again and again; A brief stoppage and the cold wind blew – It made me shudder, it made me shiver but It also made me feel very comfortable. The next few days, Empaps helped me to grab some superb images of Lions, Hyenas, Pride of Lions with loads of cubs, The Queen of Talek, Bahati (The Leopard) hunting down a wildebeest; Well, the list goes on!
A quiet dinner was what I wanted, but to my surprise, a group in the camp mistook this place as a pub or a hotel, literally transferred me to the concrete jungle with screaming and shouting all around. Well luckily, that was my last night in this camp; I slept well that night – Guess me moving into another camp gave me immense relief but I did give my ears to the continuous roars from the near-by Lion Pride all through the night. That morning I told Empaps that we should visit the “5 Brothers Pride”
It was one of the best mornings I had. I packed my bags, feeling good to have left the camp, more-so, because of the rogue crowd, with an earnest feeling and loads of anticipation to look at the Lions! Five minutes into our drive, Empaps said, rather, ordered – Get your Cameras ready! You are in for a big action! I obliged with a big smile – Two huge males out in the open and after few minutes, the third one appeared from the hillock. These brothers gave us the best of their time that morning! I have always been a sucker for head-on shots and when there are 3 lions begging to be photographed, why would I be quiet? Three young but strong males, looking straight into my eyes – I wanted to feel their strength; I kept aside my equipment – I wanted to look at them. They walked and Empaps screamed, brother – take pictures; I was frozen. I was just still. All three came so close to my jeep and the final look they gave, it literally gave me goose-bumps. That’s the magic, I feel, every-time I am here. Much later, when we were sipping coffee under a big acacia tree, with our hands and legs stretched, I could feel my hear-beat; I told Empaps – this is the reason - I keep coming here. It makes me so bloody emotional, it makes me go mad ... crazy. Unexplainable. I can’t measure or define or put in words what I go through – but all I know is, I will be back once again, another time … and another time…
I checked into my second camp, Olapa that was nestled right in a bush. In-fact it was difficult to locate. This territory belongs to Kabusu – the reigning queen and currently nursing her little one! Even though I couldn’t see her or photograph her, I was in her dream-land anyways! One step out of my tent, I could see the wildebeest, Cape Buffalos, Giraffes, Gazelles and few Hyenas trotting around! Holding a cup of Coffee, watching the savannah, clear blue skies – I have no regrets if I had to die early! (not that I know when would that be); Whistling wind, dry leaves falling out of the trees dancing to the tunes, changing weather, light drizzles and I was in my own zone! I was talking to myself – I don’t know how Heaven or Hell might be – but I give a damn! Because, right now, I am in heaven, a dream I often think and experience, I feel it; I don’t know about tomorrow neither unsure about hell – when it happens, let it happen. But right here, right now – my soul is overflowing once again with all the happiness, magic, joy, silence, peace, dreams …
It has been a great time, once again; I have had my share of missed opportunities from time to time. When I walked in, I thought of making some great images – I guess, I made some decent ones, but I also screwed up on many things – it could be with settings, it could be with my own overdose of emotions or at-times just being lazy. Yes, few costly misses too – those were once-in-a-life-time-opportunities but I know myself – I can be tough at times, there are times when I just wouldn’t move an inch – I don’t know what takes over me – And when I retire for the day, I kick myself for missing those events. Not the first time - but I do end up in thinking that – despite my own laziness, whatever I am destined to get, I would get it anyways. Today as I am penning these lines, I do have loads of regret, anger, anguish and sorrow of missing those great moments – it hurts me. But well, I am certain, when I am there back on the plains again, I will surely work on it more.
It was time to check-out from Mara. It was like a dream – filled with action, emotions, laziness, adventure and completeness. Great moments witnessed, good moments photographed, fantastic moments missed on my camera but experienced, met my friends out there; Superb hospitality, delicious food, out-of-the-World-Coffee and my friend and guide, Empaps for his wonderful guiding – it had to end somewhere. A Dusty air-strip lay in wait for me at Olare Olok and it didn’t take much time for me to spot “safari link” taking a turn to land. A tight hug to my friend before I got in – that ended this year’s solo trip to Mara.
At Wilson, my good friend, Eric waited to ferry me to the International Airport. We chatted all along, he was curious to check on my experience before I got down. Wishing him and his family, all the best, I walked into Emirates Departure Lounge, thinking about my next trip . I couldn’t thank enough - Eric from Olapa, Eric from Nairobi and my dear friend, Janardhan…to make this trip so memorable!
3rd Sep 2019 to 9th Sep 2019.