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Stunning East Africa (Part 2 – Serengeti, Zanzibar and Brief Travel Guide for Kenya)


Serengeti in Tanzania

Wild dogs emerge from the grass in Serengeti, Tanzania

Wild dogs emerge from the grass in Serengeti, Tanzania

We headed out mid-morning and drove towards the Serengeti. Serengit means the ‘Endless Plains’ in the local language and why Serengeti is called so becomes obvious when you encounter 14,763 sq kms of endless, seamless grasslands.

Nesting rainbows and millions of healthy, happy animals oblivious to the world, the Serengeti takes visitors such as us in its stride as its creatures continue playing their daily game called ‘Survival of the Fittest’. It is just the way of life in this part of the world.

An Iguana lends color to the brown Serengeti landscape

An Iguana lends color to the Serengeti landscape

Having a great Driver Guide while on a Safari in East Africa is imperative, but having the best there is, is sheer luck. We hit the jackpot on that front. Wolfugan was an award winning, highly sought after Driver Guide and we were mighty happy about that.

Let alone the Big Five, this guy actually managed to show us three of the Small Five too! Yes – there is such a thing. The Small Five are Ant Lion, Leopard Turtle, Elephant Shrew, Rhino Beetle and Buffalo Weaver, each taking its name from the Big Five that it resembles.

Wolfugan pointed to a mound, behind which was a Cheetah inching towards a herd of Thomson’s gazelles. One of the gazelles was frozen in its tracks, eyes glued on the Cheetah. The big cat picked up speed and made a dash towards the gazelle. The gazelle picked up its own zigzag pace, trying to move away as fast as it could.

This went on for about 6-7 minutes, after which the Cheetah just gave up. The Cheetah’s body heats up very quickly and then he can’t run any longer.

The Serengeti grass is ideal camouflage for the Cheetahs

The grass is ideal camouflage for the Cheetahs

But Wolfugan had another story to tell and he asked us to keep watching the Cheetah. Wolfugan’s expert eyes and mind were telling him that the Cheetah already had a fallen prey safely hidden behind the mound and he was just working up an appetite so he could devour the concealed hoard. That is exactly what happened!

Evening had started to envelope the Serengeti rapidly and the action around was sensational. Prides of Lions, around 16 of them in one pride, had started out on their prowl, making plans and strategies to get that meal to the table. The Lionesses lead and hunt, the Lion protects the kills and the cubs are taught to tear and chew as blood smears their hungry mouths.

Just then high-up on a kopje / boulder we spotted a Leopard in a majestic pose, as though waiting for us to capture this impression in our cameras.

Barely had we begun feasting our eyes on the Leopard than a Cheetah came so close that it almost brushed against our van. We found it to be unusually lethargic, till we learned from Wolfugan that it was a pregnant female.

Leopards also find it easy to mingle in the African landscape

Leopards also find it easy to mingle in the African terrain

Out in the distance we noticed some lights and I presumed this would be our camp, the Lemala Ewanjan. In Tanzania, one is not allowed to fence the accommodation, be it a ‘No star’ or a ‘seven star.

Here we were at Lemala Ewanjan in the middle of literally nowhere, nine tents for guests and one common tent for wining and dining. The tents were luxurious – soft rugs on the floor, leather upholstered beds and thoughtfully stocked bath tents. This was going to be some adventure!

We were hungry so we headed to the mess tent, but not without the trusted Askari / Guard who escorts each guest to and from the mess tent, especially at night. We discovered the reason for this soon enough.

While the Masai tribe has become synonymous with East Africa, there are other tribes too

While the Masai tribe has become synonymous with East Africa, there are other tribes too

At dinner, we had the company of two pleasant Canadian ladies in their 60s. My daughter Aariya was tired, so she quickly had her dinner and lay down on a comfortable couch near the dining table. Conversation with the ladies picked up as we began sharing our individual stories of the wild from the day.

The first pause in our conversation was when the roars of Lions fell upon our ears – they seemed not too far away from where we were.

I froze, incapable of eating as my eyes kept reaching out to the tiny sleeping form of Aariya. One of the Askaris sensed my fear and reassured me that he would stand right beside her so I could eat in peace and he did.

The same Askari walked us back to our tent, telling us just before leaving “so long as the Lion doesn’t see you, he doesn’t know you exist.” That was it then. We were on our own. The thin walls of the tent our shields for the night, we tried to fall asleep on the crisp bed linen (I wonder how they manage to keep it that way in the middle of nowhere).

The wind blows hard on the savannahs especially at night. The time that is actually meant for whispers and soft pillow talk becomes a loud and scary musical. Only this one doesn’t play out in dear Disney’s animated world, but in the real claws of the Lion King!

With Zebras grazing outside our tent all night, Prasad kept busy taking their pictures. I was hardly able to sleep, worrying about my adventurous husband, who I dreaded might just want to stroll out into the action at night.

Zebras also migrate across Africa

Like their cousins the Wildebeest, Zebras also migrate across Africa

Morning dawned with its bagful of surprises. A zebra had been killed by the roaring lioness not far from camp and the Lion, having had his share, was now resting under the shade of a tree right outside Tent no. 3. We were incidentally in Tent no. 5, so Wolfugan had to drive up to our tent and take us for breakfast, lest we tempt the lazy Lion for another small snack!

Lemala Ewanjan was an experience of a lifetime and I would want to live it over and over in this lifetime. Extreme adventure is fun – like bungee jumping for instance – but that ends in a few seconds. Experiences such as these are lived over several nights and really require tons of grit!

As we flew on our last bush flight journey from the Seronera airstrip to Arusha, I suddenly realized we were going to miss our guide Wolfugan, who had been one of the most knowledgeable and friendly persons we had met. My heart knew we would remain friends forever.

ZANZIBAR

Zanzibar beach. Image credit - AfricaSafariExperience.com

Zanzibar beach. Image credit – http://www.africasafariexperience.com

The journey wasn’t over yet. Our last stop was Zanzibar.

The last few days on the shores of the warm blue-green waters of Zanzibar were much needed, as the Spa treatment soothed sore bodies post the excitement of an East African Safari.

At The Baraza Resort & Spa, one of the best properties on the island, the palace-like décor had us feeling like royalty.

Stone Town

A visit to the capital city of Stone Town is extremely interesting. It’s a mélange of various cultures – Indian, Persian, Arabic, African and European. The slave cells and their stories are poignant.

To find a Jain Derasar and a Ram Temple was a huge surprise. Standing in front of Freddie Mercury’s (from the band Queen) house gave me goose bumps. Discovering the vibrant marine life off the shores of Zanzibar was a truly soothing experience.

The last few days of our journey were utterly blissful, with great food and relaxation being the only items on my agenda!

I would head back to East Africa at the drop of a hat, whether in rain or sun. Such is the magnetic pull of that place that it continues to grow on you. You can never ever have enough!

Does this post make you want to visit the magical land of East Africa? Here’s some basic help for you –

 

BASIC TRAVEL GUIDE KENYA

How to reach Kenya?

Getting there is fairly easy –

Kenya Airways has two, daily non-stop flights from Mumbai

Every other Gulf carrier has flights from major metros like Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad etc. to Nairobi.

What is the Visa requirement?

  • Kenya: To be obtained before departure from India, it needs to be done Online
  • Tanzania: Can be obtained on arrival / prior to departure through the consulate in New Delhi

Do I need vaccination?

Yes. Vaccinations required are –

  • Yellow Fever (injection): to be taken minimum 10 days before leaving from India for Kenya. Validity 10 years
  • Polio (oral): to be taken at least 4 weeks (1 month) before departure from India. Validity 1 year

What is the money used?

  • 1 Kenyan Shilling will cost 0.65 Indian Rupees, so less than a rupee
  • 1 Tanzanian Shilling will cost 0.031 Indian Rupees. Much less than a rupee

Remember, you can pay in U.S. dollars too, so you don’t have to necessarily change your money to the local currency. This way you don’t get stuck with coins or cash to be exchanged again when you get back home.

What is the time difference?

Time Difference – GMT + 3 = 2.5 hours behind Indian Standard Time

What would the weather be like?

Weather – The whole of Kenya & Tanzania is almost 5,000 feet above sea level, so it is cool

What kind of clothes should I pack?

Clothing – Carry very comfortable cotton or linen clothing. Some basic warm clothing for the early morning and late evening Game Drives will do.

There is no scope for fancy dressing, so leave your stilettos at home. Carry sensible walking shoes.

 

Stories of Giraffes, Zebras and the Wildebeest migration

Our knowledgeable Driver Guide kept narrating stories and facts about animals that we had never heard of before. I thought it would be a good idea to share them with you.

Here’s why a Giraffe appears to be a very fickle animal and never eats in peace

The trees have a self-defense mechanism – they generate a chemical that makes their leaves bitter. But they don’t just stop at that – the wind carries the chemical to the next tree as well, so even before the Giraffe gets there, this tree’s leaves start turning bitter too. So, a Giraffe never seems satisfied with one tree and also almost always moves against the direction of the wind.

Zebra and Wildebeest – What is it with their migrations?

The Zebra and the Wildebeest appear like distant cousins with the Wildebeest a very poor version of the Zebra. Like they say in East Africa – God made all the antelopes and then made the Wildebeest, so the poor creature doesn’t score very high on the scale of “good looks”

But year after year, it’s the Zebra & the Wildebeest who complete the arduous 2,000 miles journey together, the journey that is famously termed “The Migrations”.  So what is this entire journey about?

It’s actually very basic – it’s a journey in the quest of food or water. These animals love fresh, rainfed grass, hence they keep walking throughout the year in a pattern. Dec-Feb, they are found in Southern Serengeti in an area called Ndutu. This is also the calving season, meaning they give birth to their young ones. Another reason for giving birth in Ndutu is that the grass that grows here, from the ashes of the Ngorongoro Volcano, is very nutritious for both mother and calf.

In March, they start marching towards the North. April and May, they are in the Central Serengeti. In June, they move Northward yet again. July and August is when they move into the Masai Mara in Kenya, oblivious to the fact that they are crossing International political borders!

This is when the ‘River Crossings’ happen, about which hundreds of wondrous documentaries are filmed year after year. By September, they start heading back to northern Serengeti, October is in Central Serengeti and November onward back to Ndutu where the entire cycle starts yet again.

Not all of them make it though. The journey is tough – a few die of exhaustion, many fall prey to big cats and crocodiles when they cross and yet others lose their lives to diseases. A daring migration indeed!


Edited by Vibha Ravi

ABOUT THE GUEST AUTHOR –

Renuka Natu is an experienced travel professional and has worked with the Kuoni group in India for several years. She currently represents tourism companies, properties and attractions in Africa and Switzerland. She has also written a book titled ‘Little Aariya Goes to Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar’.

P.S. The pictures featured here are sourced from Tourism Boards/properties that Renuka is affiliated with.

Special offer for readers of PixelVoyages Blog!!!!

As a special offer, Renuka has graciously agreed to give away the paperback (printed) version of the book ‘Little Aariya…’at a discounted price of INR 700 without shipping and INR 750 with shipping to the first 25 of this blog’s readers who place an order. The paperback is available for upwards of INR 2,000 on the Amazon India’s site.

You can write to pixelvoyagesindia@yahoo.co.in to request this book at the special price.


 

 

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