Maasai Mara - an african Safari
Think about a pair of Lions sitting idle just in front of you within 10 feet distance, yawning sometimes too. Also think about beautiful mosaic printed Giraffes are having their lunch from shrubs and ignoring you even if you are very near to them. Imagine the same gestures from Rhinos, flock of Elephants and Cheetah. Now think of a place where you can see all these roaming free (not in a zoo or conservancy) in the wilderness. Yes, I am talking about one of the amazing savanna in the world- Maasai Mara: The wilderness for ‘Big Five’.
(Those of you already seen ‘The Lion King’ movie, probably they know them). The National Reserve of Masai Mara is situated in South-West Kenya, bordering with Tanzania’s savannah ‘Serengeti’. Kenyan part (Maasai Mara National Reserve) has an area of about 1500 square kilometers. Major rivers through this area are Sand, Talek and Mara rivers.
You might have noticed amazing video footage of Lions or Cheetahs running through the savanna in Africa, probably catching its prey in NatGeo/ Animal Planet TV channels. Or you might have seen the amazing video of thousands of buffalo crossing rivers all together in beautiful harmony. This harmonious crossing is referred as migration.
One of the most exciting happenings through Maasai Mara-Serengeti reserve is the Great Migration. Thousands of Buffalos, Wilder beasts maintain a migration route over the year in this ecosystem. In Mara, this migration usually starts in Sept-Oct and lasts till 3-4 months. So, many tour operators call this time a high season, but I disagree. Since I have missed the migration season, I don’t just want to take that ‘missed’ feeling as I haven’t regret a bit of my trip. In my opinion, if an off season can be so stunning, I don’t want to see the high part. So readers, if you happen to plan your trip in the ‘so-called’ off season, do not worry. You won’t miss the main attraction- The Big Five.
Let me just briefly touch who are the Big Five. If it was a question to be asked in ‘who is smarter than a 5-grader?’ game show, probably the kids could answer. Big Fives are the 5 huge animals that rule Maasai Mara. These are: Lions, Leopards, African Elephants, African Buffalos and Rhinos. They are called Big Five, as they are the most difficult game animals in Africa to hunt on foot. So if you can see these all during your trip, you won’t regret for your life, trust me. Additionally, as bonus, you will see cheetah, ample of giraffes, zebras, impalas, wilder beasts, gazelles, antelopes, hyenas and hippos. You will also find diverse birdlife including marabou strokes, vultures, secretary birds, hornbills, cranes and ostriches.
It takes about 6 hours through a mix of smooth and bumpy roads. From Nairobi the total distance till the gate is about 230 Kilometers. While traveling, you will have to kill at least one hour on your road to stop by the Great Rift Valley view. Just after an hour of ride, amazing view from thousands of feet above is breathtaking. Usually tourists also do not miss the chances to buy some Maasai Curio (handicrafts) from the gift shops around the observation points.
We hired a typical Safari van with a driver cum guide and loads of water with us. The specialty of these sorts of vans is you can open the roof during game drives (drives where you roam around to spot animals). We have booked a package with a local agency that included 2 nights full board (including all meals) at a 4 start lodge and transportation. Since we were planning for jungle, the ‘4 star’ thing was not really believable to us. So when after a tiring journey we have reached the gate of the lodge, we were amazed to see how beautiful the lodge is.
A warm greeting with steam towel and a hassle free check in, we entered to a nicely decorated cottage with all modern amenities. We were amazed to see how a world class accommodation and resort is exists inside one of the remotest and toughest places in earth. And we were told, there are many more like this. The lodge was equipped with a large swimming pool, spa facility, restaurants, gift shops and quality service.
By the way, I have forgotten to mention that while entering to the reserve two Lionesses were sitting just beside the road probably to receive us. It might sound very simple while reading, but that was the first time in my life I have seen a lioness outside fence. And you have to try it for real to understand the feelings.
After a short game drive at the afternoon, we went back to the lodge, freshened up and went for a dinner. During dinner we met the Masai tribe while they were performing their dances and yells. Maasai tribes are well-known globally. They have unique dresses and physical structure. This indigenous group of people comes from Tanzania and Kenya. It was a great experience to interact with them during dinner. Did I tell you that the dinner buffet had about 70+ items? So don’t think you will lose weight by doing safari in this sort of jungle experiences.
After the dinner, I developed a small wish to look around the lodge, see the lawn, swimming pool and enjoy the ambience of nature. So I went up to the guard standing in front of reception. I asked innocently if I can walk around as lights are on all around lodge area. He looked at me, stared for few seconds, and said, ‘maybe not today, as we are just chasing out one leopard who tried to break into one of the rooms.’ What can one expect to do after hearing that? I have requested the gentleman to escort us to our rooms. On the way, he let us know that this lodge (name of the lodge is Keekorok Lodge) is one of the fewest lodges in Kenya that doesn’t have boundaries. He added, a week back a pack of Lion came into the open places of lodge. Foolishly I wanted to know where it was, and the indifferent escort pointed a place just in front of our cottage! Thanks almighty that I had a good night sleep that night.
In this sort of game drive, if you want to see all of the big fives, you have to wake up very early in the morning and get out with your van before the sun rises. So the next morning we did so after having a cup of coffee and enjoyed the amazing view of sunrise in savannah. At a point it felt like my life is complete! After a while the theory proved right, we did see lions, buffalos, antelopes, impalas and many more. The guide took us to a long journey to the border of Tanzania. We went to the MaraRiver and enjoyed watching the bath of hundreds of hippos there. We almost saw all of the animals mentioned above.
There were few interesting parts in the whole game drive. We have learnt how to spot a lion in this vast field. You need to observe impalas/ gazelles/ antelopes closely. If many of their groups are standing still and staring at a single point for a long time, then you can suspect that something is wrong. Usually whenever they sense that any predator is around, they act like this. So we found couple of these scenes and saw one Lion gradually making moves to prey. We had a lucky chance to see one Cheetah playing with two cubs. We saw a small cub chasing a fox. But out of all the most interesting view was to watch leopard talking a impala on the tree with its jaws. It was one of most memorable moment from the safari we did. You may call it the ‘National Geographic’ moment of the trip!
It is hard to explain all the feelings of masai mara experience. So much happening at every moment and so much new feelings, just can not be expressed by writing. I hope these pictures here gives you some of the ideas. But if you ever go there, you must understand the limitation of this write up I am presenting today. So please excuse me for not explaining how empty it gets inside when you look at a single acacia standing over vast savannah, with an amazing orange tone behind from sky and some reflected lights in the air. Probably it can only remain in one’s organic celluloid, unexplainable.