Masai…

 

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Imagine the picture of a man wrapped in a bright red patterned shawl. In the middle of miles and miles of grassland, with the wind blowing against his shawl against the backdrop of the setting sun. A huge huge sun at that. This is my picture of the Masai Mara which I carried back with me, despite the many animals that we saw.

A trip to the African safari was a long held dream. With one child being an active animal enthusiast (from observing to eating them!) another who is the exact opposite, and a husband who loathes travelling long stretches, I had almost decided that this would be a trip to be put on my bucket list for my sixties.

But as the saying goes, “All the power in the Universe cannot change your destiny”, I was meant to go, whether I did plan it or not! A chance conversation with a friend snowballed into a plan, and before we knew it we were off!

The long drive from Nairobi to Masai through the rift valley was not one of my most pleasant rides (and that’s putting it politely), but the beauty more than makes up for it. Miles and miles of vast plains with golden grass gleaming in the morning sunlight makes for pleasant viewing.

Masai mara(Kenya)  and the Serengiti (a part of Tanzania), are the the same stretch of game reserve divided by man made borders. And though Masai feels so very huge(1510 km square), it actually is a very small part of what Serengiti  is (14750 km square)!

The animal sightings are obviously amazing as is the landscape. But what really struck me was the way the animals treated you. They may be used to seeing visitors gape at them and point millions of cameras at their face, but their attitude towards us is something at another level. They see through us and walk by majestically as if the jeeps around them are non existent. They are so close that you can look at them in the eye, but they do not seem to care. Humans put in their place. Check!

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Looking at us and through us

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In the beginning of the journey, a solitary wildebeest would make us pick our cameras and go berserk, till we saw the crossing. This will be one of the most spectacular sights of my life time. The migration is the most stunning display of animal behaviour where about 1.5 million wildebeest and thousands of zebras cross the River Mara to enter the Serengeti, and then the other way round. This happens based on the availability of water and grass, and the wildebeest follow their instincts in getting to a place where there is plenty of both.

In the process of migrating, they have to cross the Mara river. The zebras are apparently the scouts. Being the smarter ones of the lot, they gauge the best point to cross. Then, as if by telepathy, this gets conveyed to the herd and a few brave ones decide to take the plunge to cross. And then, the herd follows.

By herd, I mean at least tens of thousands of them. You can almost feel their anxiety of making it safely to the other side, without being eaten up by the huge nile crocodiles, or pushed around by lazy hippos or by sly lions waiting for their chance.

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A close up of the crossing

 

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Waiting…..

 

Though it is the way of nature, it was heart breaking to see a young lion successfully preying on a wildebeest. The others, half way through the crossing, frantically looked for ways to protect their young and flee, and eventually found their way out.  The rest of the herd, realised their folly,  stopped and went their way. Grazing. Waiting. Looking.  For another day and time to reach a place of bountiful.

Probably in their own way, giving us life’s lessons that a lot of times, things are not what we want them to be. Adjust, move on and repeat. Without missing a beat.

That is what Masai Mara taught me.

Picture credits: Dr. Pavan, Hassan.

 

 

A trip into a jungle.

I have often had the experience of hunting  for something very important or valuable all over the place, only to find that it was sitting just there, under my nose, all the time. You end up wondering why you had not even thought about starting your search there! This was exactly what I felt when I visited the Bhadra wildlife sanctuary.

 

the entry to the forest
the entry to the forest

Just about 32 kms from where I live (in Shimoga), nestled amid the Western Ghats,is the Bhadra wildlife Reserve, which gets its name from the river Bhadra, which feeds the jungle. It is accessible through a government jungle lodge, a breed which is getting popular for people who want to gel with nature, alongside basic but necessary amenities.It is now a popular weekend getaway, with the added attraction of water sports like banana boating, water trampoline and kayaking which was what made us venture there in the first place.

I have been to the resort many a times with friends of ours, to have a lazy lunch after a frenzied session of romping in the water with kids and hence, would have no time or energy to indulge in a safari on a hot afternoon.Luckily for me, last week, I was booked into the safari inadvertently, because my daughter refused to go without me. I climbed into the safari jeep cribbing at first, but by the end of it, I was so serenely, blissfully happy that I have made return plans ASAP.

Bhadra jungle reservoir lies on the border between the districts of Shimoga and Chikamagalur. It has a large water reservoir as a part of it and has been declared as a Project Tiger Reserve since 1998. The actual jungle is situated about 4 kms from the River Tern Jungle Lodge, which is named after the terns which throng the place for breeding. As the jungle is a part of the Western Ghats, there is an amazing amount of bio diversity.I can safely claim that I have never seen so many trees, animals, birds and insects ever in my life in a short span of two hours, apart from in a zoo!

The jungle is lush, green and so very silent apart from the incessant creaks of some insects interrupted by a burst of chatter by the monkeys. Trees are so densely packed, that  sunlight seems to be struggling to make its way through. And then suddenly there is a huge meadow in between left behind by the receding waters of the reservoir, where we sight upon a large herd of spotted deer.

a huge herd of spotted deer
a huge herd of spotted deer

Though we saw no tigers or elephants( I am told that you usually see the elephants  coming in herds of 60 to 80 all at once to drink water early in the morning-what a grand sight that must be!), we had our hearts fill with a hoard of smaller, unexpectedly cute, strange and interesting animals.Whenever I used to read in the papers that the western ghats were a hot spot of biodiversity, and home to thousands of species of animals, I used to be skeptical. A lot of what I saw of the ghats were of the road side view,when I traveled. Now, I know that human habitation and intrusion probably makes the animals decide to venture backwards into the heart of the forest, which again offers little solace as trees are being felled indiscriminately! I wish all of you people could come and have a look at the magnificence of nature, so we could protect it all before it is too late!

two huge gaurs looking at us
two huge gaurs looking serenely at us

 

We saw tree snakes aplenty, slimy, bright green and thin, but were too scared to click snaps when we saw them up close and personal! Spotted deer, giant red squirrels, serpent eagles, spotted owls, peacocks, marsh crocodiles, monitor lizards, langurs, and a wide variety of birds of all colors, supremely unperturbed and oblivious to our curious gaze  and hushed cries of excitement when we spotted them. It was nice to see that the animals seemed to be unafraid of our intrusion. We were glad to feel accepted by them.

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can you spot a camouflaged monitor lizard on the log of wood?
can you spot a camouflaged monitor lizard on the log of wood?

Some important facts you should know before you get there:

  1. It is about 300 kms from Bangalore by road.
  2. The lodge has no television, so if you bring kids along, get something to keep them occupied.
  3. Be careful as you can see snakes often all over, apparently most being non poisonous. This is not to scare you, but so you can get rid of your phobia before you visit!
  4. Information regarding the place is available on the internet.

Must see, must visit- definitely a worthy trip into the jungle!