Travel

Experience the African wildnerness at Maasai Mara

Leena Mariam Koshy recalls her trip to the popular Kenyan game reserve.
By Leena Mariam Koshy

The Maasai Mara National Reserve in south-western Kenya is located 275 km away from the capital city Nairobi. Way off the city limits, the driver stops at a viewpoint where the highland road dips for the final time to meet the Rift. By and by the tarmac ends, and the bumpy dust track begins. Before long you sight groups of zebras on either side. In another few yards, hairy-faced charcoal grey wildebeests graze, mingling with every hue of antelopes, gazelles and deer.

If the game is so abundant here, can their predators be far behind? Yet the tall, athletic Maasai herdsmen tend to their cattle armed with just a spear. They neither fear nor plunder nature, be it the Big 5 or the lesser game. The young Maasai John said, “We are not afraid of lions. In fact, lions keep off seeing our red robes.”

As far as tasty deer and zebra meat went (as our Kikuyu driver David testified), the Maasais never ate game flesh. This nomadic tribe derived sustenance from livestock, drinking cow’s blood and milk for nutrition and strength, eating ugali and concocting their own medicines and perfumes from the vegetation around. It is a polygamous society and in the Maasai dance, the young men jump high to woo more women.

Within the reserve gates, it is pure savannah country. Clumps of acacia trees stand umbrella-like, every now and then. Right at the gates, the tall heads of five to six giraffes beckon. We rush to see them from close range. We see warthogs of Lion King fame, lemurs, baboons, African elephants out of King Elephant and again more zebras, wildebeests, gazelles, antelopes and deer, and different species of big, small and colourful birds. We sight small, brightly coloured birds as well as tall storks with exotic plumage, crowns and bills. We also sight different types of eagles and vultures. Keekorok Lodge, built in 1962, was the first game lodge to be built in Maasai Mara and is located near a hippo pool. With no electric fencing around, hippos, elephants, hyenas and baboons go in and out of the lodge some by night and some by day depending upon the habit of the species.

On our first safari, we saw a pride of African lions enjoying their afternoon siesta. Even though lions attack only when hungry, our dread of the powerful creatures inculcated since childhood make it a terrifying and awesome experience to be standing so incredibly close to them. It was truly humbling to see them lying like gentle, cuddlesome creatures bathed in the evening sun. On the way, we pass by ostriches and big and small herds of African elephants.

Two female elephants guided a very new baby the size of an exercise ball, feeling around with its long trunk and going between the legs of the elders, across our dust track to the field opposite. The mother elephant had its two-year-old bigger calf also with it; the whole group was trudging slowly for the little one to catch up. David told us that when the baby would want to sleep, the entire group would stop and wait till Little Jumbo woke up, refreshed and ready to resume the trek.

After the morning safari, at Keekorok, a Chinese group narrated excitedly the whole drama of a water buffalo being chased by two lionesses, and how the buffaloes chased away the lionesses in the end. We too wished hard to catch some action in the wild but knew we couldn’t organise a show. However, in the evening, we saw the same herd of 400-500 unruly, noisy buffaloes going up a small hill and we drove among them. A couple of the huge, powerful creatures seemed to be contemplating whether to charge at us.

When we were driving away, we spotted a really perked up lioness resting upon an anthill; David drove to within 2-3 metres of Lalla (as we named her). In a little time, we realised that Lalla was extending her neck to look beyond our van.

We also looked in the same direction and saw a 10-12 strong pride of lions walking stealthily through the tall grass looking straight at the buffalo hill. Lalla too was preparing to join them. Meanwhile, some spotted hyenas were gathering in another inconspicuous corner of the buffalo hill. That night, a buffalo kill was a foregone conclusion.

The foiled attempt in the morning had made the lions strategise; this time, they would wait for darkness when the buffaloes could not see well. It was a surreal sight when the army line of lions crossed the perpendicular line up of our vans. Night was falling very fast and reluctantly, we left the scene.

We bid goodbye to Maasai Mara to go to Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru the next day. Hippos lay submerged on lake Naivasha’s edges and flocks of pelicans swam in the water; looking up from the boat, we saw the long legs of storks stretched backwards in flight against the billowing clouds. At Lake Nakuru, we saw the black rhinos, the pink flamingoes and even the first hand mating of lions.

It was evening. Our last safari was also done. We got out of the SUV and walked towards the Nakuru lodge lobby not having had enough. We suddenly noticed the lodge staff pointing to a cluster of rocks a short way above the compound. Three young lions were peering down at the view below. We all stood and admired them till they faded into the night.

(Global India Newswire)

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