August 25

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Few Pages from My Diary (Visit to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve)

It was very cold early morning of August 12th, we were on our way to explore Maasai Mara.  The Maasai Mara National Reserve (also known as Maasai Mara and by the locals as The Mara) is a large game reserve in Narok County, Kenya; adjacent to Serengeti National Park in Mara Region. I heard a lot about Maasai Mara on various TV channels especially on National Geographic, and now heading there personally in next few hours was causing lot of excitement in me.

I had been preparing myself for this memorable journey for last few days and made all necessary preparation ahead of time. We left home at 7 AM, though a bit early, we could already see a large number of people walking hurriedly on both side of road to reach their work places in time. Peter, our driver picked other passengers from city center and after a small welcome speech he drove speedily towards our destination. Within few minutes we saw Nairobi city disappearing, with occasional appearance of movable shops on both side of the road, selling furniture, garments, grocery, fruits and vegetables. Once we left the great city of Nairobi our car started climbing through serpentine hilly road leaving a deep valley on the left side and rising hills on the right side. After a short journey we alighted and were delighted to see the Great Rift Valley and parked our vehicle at the road side.

The Great Rift Valley is part of an intra-continental ridge system that runs through Kenya from north to south. It is part of the Gregory Rift, the eastern branch of the East African Rift, which starts in Tanzania to the south and continues northward into Ethiopia. The Great Rift Valley is approximately 6,000 kilometers (3,700 mi) in length, and runs from Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley in Asia to Mozambique in South Eastern Africa. We were at the height of approximately 1000 feet, and there were few shops selling handicraft items made by Maasai people while a few shops served hot breakfast. I was tempted to buy most of the beautiful handicraft items displayed there but decided to hold shopping for the end of journey. Roasted corn is the most popular snack you find sold everywhere in this area. A hawker with roasted corns in both of his hands approached me with a professional smile and amazed me saying “Namaste, Please buy some soft Bhutta (Hindi for Corn)”. It seems I failed to hide my Indian identity even in such large crowd.

I could see large number of tourist from all parts of world including a few locals. We boarded the car again and our driver briefed us about our next stop, Narok, which was around 2 hours away. After driving for 10 minutes time we crossed another smaller town with few shops on both sides of road. Roadsides were also covered with hoardings and banners of M Pesa and Safaricom, displaying very successful reach of these corporate houses even in such smaller towns.  As we moved further from Nairobi, weather and surroundings around us started changing at a fast pace. Nairobi has bright sunlight and higher temperature while its surrounding is hilly, very green and cold even in day time. After an hour’s journey large grasslands were visible on both sides of road in the lap of beautiful linear mountains with scattered plants of Acacia and Croton. Cattle herds and Maasai men, women and children, in their traditional bright red colored outfits were visible at the distance of every half kilometers. Occasionally you can see Maasai family sitting under a croton tree peacefully having lunch together, this sight so tempting we took our camera’s out and started taking pictures.

At 11:30 we reached Narok city, bought some snacks and started again for Maasai Mara without wasting much time.  Leaving Narok city behind us, road condition changed to bad and our drive became bumpy with dirt flying around. Driving was not smooth for Peter anymore. At several places we were blocked by cattle, shallow rivers without proper bridges on them and toll tax collectors around Maasai villages. Around 2:30 PM, we left dirt road, Peter turned left towards an open and large ground with kids playing nearby and shops around and within. Peter drove for a few minutes before stopping our car in front of an open restaurant with few chairs, table covered with tin shade and a small kitchen behind it.

Maasai Jonathan and Maasai William took no time in reaching closer to our car then greeted us and lifted our luggage to help us check in tents erected in the open ground. Jonathan and William are Maasai whom can be identified from a distance. They wear Shuka – the basic cotton fabric red in color with some designs over it. It can be worn in variety of ways depending on style. They were also wearing large earrings, bracelets, one leather belt with decorated beads, a razor sharp double edged long knife and long stick with one rounded strong end (rungu) hanging around. William offered us delicious lunch. After a brief rest, and a stretch we proceeded to our most awaited destination Maasai Mara Reserve Park.

It was close to 5’o clock whenit started raining just after we had entered the park. We were a bit disappointed but continued our journey, driving on the now slippery road. We could see hundreds of Wild Beasts and Zebras here and there making no effort to shelter themselves from cold wind and showers of rain. Although there was one wild buffalo making an unsuccessful attempt to hide her large mammoth body under the umbrella of small croton tree. As expected within 10 minutes the weather was clear and we luckily spotted a lion family playing with their cubs at the end of a slope. Peter changed the direction of the car and moved to the other side of the hill to capture a better picture of the most fearless and powerful animal in the area. To our surprise one of the lions, a male, started walking towards us, moving closer and making us breathless. Within seconds many other tourists’ vehicle carrying mostly foreigners greedily hunting for good pictures started arriving to the same spot. With a feeling of great pleasure, satisfaction and gratitude towards Peter we started moving to the other side of hill. We sighted a lot of wonderful things starting from Ostrich, Zebras, many Wild Beasts, chirping birds drying their feathers, decomposing dead bodies of wild animals that had been part of feast for carnivores, large mountains, plants of acacia and euphorbia, tiny bushes etc. Capturing all this with our cameras, we started moving back to our tents. While dropping us at our tents, Peter promised us a memorable game drive for the next day and advised William to ensure our comfort for the night.

The weather was very pleasant at dusk with slightly cold winds. There were small bushes scattered around with euphorbia plants here and there. This was accompanied by a mesmerizing scene of sun hiding behind hills spreading saffron glow to sky. I asked Maasai William to pull our chair to open ground and serve hot coffee for me and my friend. Sipping coffee, recollecting moments and looking in to the gallery of our camera at the photographs taken during the day. It was an unforgettable moment of my life. It was then I decided that I will come back here at least once again in future. After showering, we had our dinner and went to bed immediately to remain compliant with the deadline given by Peter of 7:00 AM sharp tomorrow.

It was around 8’o clock the next day when we entered the park. It was still cold, the sun was rising from other side of hill gradually spreading golden lights to wide open grass land of Maasai Mara. We were very hopeful of enjoying exciting game drive. All of a sudden somebody shouted loudly, “See Giraffe”, “Ohh……they are many, even baby Giraffe”. In park tourist vehicles were expected to drive on dirt road made by park authority to see wild life and avoid very close reach to animals. It was fun to follow thousands of wild beasts, Zebras, Beautiful Birds, Elephants, Black Buffalos, Ostriches, Jackals, Wild Pigs, Leopards, Cheetahs, Deer’s and many other animals while on open roof top vehicle. It was a large reserved area spreading hundreds of kilometers. We could see animals everywhere in park, most of the time not bothering to notice our presence. You could see lions some time even in large groups of 6-7, playing with their cubs, eating or chasing or sleeping at many places. Massai Mara is the best place to see lions. Nature has been very generous to animals life here, large grasslands, open area and smaller rives flowing within the park makes it ideal habitat for animals. It was at 1:30 PM, we were on the way to reach at the bank of Mara River to witness annual migration of animals crossing. Thousands of wild beasts, Zebras gathered at the bank of river and waiting for more to join them. We opened our lunch boxes inside the car and started eating while waiting for beasts to cross the river.

It took almost 2 hours and most of us started losing patience. Few of the animals were returning back to the fields and we grew skeptical of animal crossing the river that day. After such a good experience of exploring wildlife, going back without watching migration would be disappointing. Peter was constantly talking to other drivers through wireless phone, possibly taking their opinion and at the same time asking us to remain patient. We had no option other than to wait and hope to see it happening soon. “They are crossing“, Peter shouted and took his car very close to bank of Maara. Thousands of animals with hope of better life and food at the other side of Maara started crossing the river hurriedly. There were occasions when crocodiles and hippopotamus hiding in the shallow waters of the river killed animals as they crossed the river. Luckily I was not the one to witness to such horrific event. Watching and capturing images of these animals entering the river, speeding with each other to go to the other side was a wonderful experience. It was close to 3:30 PM when we started to return back happily towards our tents, a distance of 60 km from the bank of Maara. The temperature was cooling down, but there was still enough light to see lions, cheetahs, elephants and many other animals crossing our path, giving us chance to see them properly. It was indeed a very good day. The whole day’s journey made us a bit tired and by around 5 PM we were back at our tents.

Maasai Jonathan was waiting for us to take us to nearby Maasai village. Maasai’s are good people. They greeted us well with their Maasai dance and helped us to learn more about their culture. After taking delicious dinner we were back in our tents. Peter wished us a good night’s rest and let us know we were to leave by 8 AM the following morning back to Nairobi passing through Narok city again.                               **************************************************************

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