By Mallika Bhaumik
I had read the line, ‘there is no land that is foreign it is the traveller who is foreign,’ but it had little implication in my life till I visited Masai Mara in Kenya and particularly the Masai village.
Out trip to Kenya opened up a strangely beautiful and different world to us and we came back with warm memories of the place.
As we touched Nairobi, a clear blue sky and a brilliant sunny day greeted us cheerfully. After completing the formalities of immigration, we stepped out and were pleasantly surprised by a cool breeze blowing in spite of the dazzling sunlight. In a short while, a burly guy with a warm smile, Daniel, introduced himself as our tour operator. He collected us along with our luggage and drove off towards the city. We left behind a comparatively quiet airport, the Jomi Kenyatta International Airport (named after their much revered ex-President) amidst vast arid land with occasional acacia trees and gradually proceeded towards the main city of Nairobi.
Daniel proved to be a good guide giving us valuable information about Kenya in general. We learnt that there exist almost forty-three tribes and their dialects, while Swahili and English are the official languages. As we neared the city, we saw buildings, offices, parks, shopping malls and fast moving cars around us. Toyota (different models) was a clear favourite. There were trees lined up on either side of the road, their green being amazingly contrasted by the soft spray of purple-hued Jacaranda blooms. In the busy capital city of Kenya, this lovely sight was a sure treat for a nature lover like me. In fact, we also learnt that Nairobi is the only capital city which has a game reserve in it.
The following day we left for Naivasha, a two and a half hours journey from the capital city. It was a smooth journey, the condition of roads being very good.
‘Zebra crossing’ denoted road safety to me all these years. But it became a reality after viewing zebras literally crossing the road. In fact, zebras were seen almost anywhere just outside the city. Our tour guide Daniel stopped at a spot along the great rift valley, part of the intra continental ridge running from Tanzania to Ethiopia, for us to click pictures. We reached Lake Naivasha from there.
Lake Naivasha, a 1089 sq km large water body with crystal blue water, was in perfect sync with the brilliant blue African sky. Dead trunks of acacias stood defiantly in the water, giving the lake a stunning look. There were various water birds, some perched on the dead branches, others swimming and some others suddenly swooping down to catch fish. We spotted various species of birds like white-necked cormorants, marabous stork, egrets, Brazilian eagles, pelicans. Our boat stopped at a distance and our boatman and guide Nicholas pointed at some giant nostrils floating. A group of hippos were wallowing in the water; we heard their grunt and learnt that they were very aggressive and unfriendly creatures, aware of their territory. Our boat veered towards Crescent Island, a small island where we climbed up a mound to get a picturesque view of Lake Naivasha. There, adding much to our thrill, we spotted animals like waterbucks, deer, and giraffes and clicked their pictures from close. We came back with hordes of lovely memories, some captured in lens, some lovingly stored in the heart.
Our next destination was Nakuru National Park.
Lake Nakuru National Park spread across an area of about 188 sq kms roughly. The smell of vegetation wafted and different sounds of chirping, twittering, and shrill calls filled our ears, the moment we entered its gate. Luckily, we had booked ourselves in a resort (Sopa Lodge), situated within the game reserve. After a gradual uphill drive of about 30 kms or more, we reached our beautiful resort offering quite a panoramic view of the national park around and the rippling blue of Lake Nakuru.
The safaris were thrilling, to say the least. Apart from baboons, deer, wild buffaloes, we saw the big ones too. We saw a herd of giraffes taking long strides. A giant giraffe too stood in the middle of the path and looked down at the safari vans with curiosity. Four huge double-horned white (grey) rhinos crossed our path, unperturbed by the presence of so many safari vans. We spotted her highness (a lioness) too and like a true celebrity, she cast sidelong glances at the eager shutterbugs (read, paparazzi) and in regal strides walked across the open grassland with three cubs scampering at her heels.
The sky got tinged with the rays of the setting sun and we came back with hopes of viewing more of the royal family at Masai Mara. The cozy lights of the lodge and a hearty meal gave the much needed relief after a hectic eventful day.
The name Masai Mara had always lured us and it was a dream come true when we finally arrived at the gate of the game reserve after a long and strenuous journey from Nakuru. As our car stopped and Daniel went in with our papers and passports, since we were staying in a resort, Keekorok LODGE-Sun Africa, within the national park. Some Masai women came up to my window and asked my name and made other friendly queries. They had disarming sunshine smiles on their faces and wanted to sell their colorful knick-knacks. They wore beads of various hues that shone against their copper skin. They looked happy and vibrant.
We drove in and there lay Masai Mara basking in the golden sun. Masai Mara being so immensely and unimaginably vast might give one the feeling of getting lost. Miles after miles of savannah grassland lay dotted with occasional acacias or balanites savannah, standing like lone sentinels, though clusters of green could be seen in some places.
To me it appeared to be a land out of the fairy tales, a land of impossibilities, a land where the fabled birds ‘Bengoma and Bengomi’ of our Thakumar Jhuli (popular children’s book in Bengali by Upendra Kishore Roychaudhury) might become a reality, a land where the arch of the blue firmament stooped to kiss the earth, a land where animals roamed, played, ate, and bred freely. Masai Mara was nothing short of an exotic dream.
Far at the horizon, and probably farther, were rows of hills and hillocks, some on the Masai Mara (Kenya) side and some on Serengeti (Tanzania) side. Later we found that these two places of two different countries merged seamlessly, only a stone stood with initials of two countries written on it at the border. One could easily cross over like the animals, no visa, no gun-toting military guarding, no barbed wires.
Large herds of giraffes, zebras, gazelles, wild beasts, and buffaloes roamed/migrated freely. We took their pictures and finally reached for the big cats. There were five lionesses, taking a siesta after devouring a deer. The carcass still lay near a small greenish water-body. However, the icing on the cake was when our driver got some info about the royal couple sitting. We rushed to the spot and my boys jumped up saying, ‘Lion King!’ My sleepy memory was awakened to some scenes of my most favourite movie, Born Free. The King and the queen looked dismissively at us and yawned while we madly kept clicking the best shot we could.
As luck would have it, we sighted the fastest animal on this planet,the cheetah soon after. She was busy tearing the flesh of her prey, her cubs around her. As we were frightfully close to the cheetah enjoying the feast, it looked up. Its fierce look sent a shiver down our spine. We didn’t wait for long and took the route back to our resort.
Dusk fell with the sun sinking beyond the blue hills and I looked back to take a glimpse of the vast stretch of this landscape, which appeared beautiful and brutal at once.
The most colourful part of our trip was our visit to a Masai village, where we were welcomed by their jovial dance. My younger one, the most shy of the four of us, was taken along to match steps with them. He joined in and it seemed their boisterous spirit spilled over, as our quiet little one enjoyed the rhythmic movement with them as well. In the course of the dance, each one of them stepped out and did spot jumps. Being a polygamous tribe, the higher a man jumped the more number of lovers he was entitled to have. My husband was called in to join them and his evergreen spirit did hop skip and jump, despite his limited urban fitness.
The tiny tots of the village were too excited to share space in the same frame with us. Some came running from school. In fact, we learnt that education is free for all Kenyans till the primary level, and the Masais were particularly interested to provide education to their children. Boys and girls over four years attend school regularly.
We were taken around the village by Nick, a Masai guy (they speak proper English) and we learnt a bit of their custom, which though strange, bizarre or gory to some, is a usual norm to be followed by them. They boiled cow’s blood after extracting it from the veins (near the neck ) and consumed it in liquid or in solidified state for marriage and other auspicious rituals. Their dwelling places were tiny huts with small envelope-like openings (windows) to let in sunlight. They contained an inbuilt mud stove where the charcoal fire could be stoked at any time, and by the side of which the sleeping arrangement for the children was made. The sight left us with little doubt that nothing could be more spartan than this. They displayed their trick of making fire without matchstick and we were urged to buy few of their handcrafted items which as souvenirs.
The women folk too danced at the end, and I, with all my enthusiasm, joined them. Under an alien sky, in an exotic land, jiving to the rhythmic beats of an once nomadic tribe, all the differences melted away even if for a while, and their spirit of ‘hakuna matata’ (no worries) filled the air.
Our next trip to the picturesque Amboseli was dipped in tranquility. We sat on our balcony and watched zebras and elephants strolling and lost track of time altogether, while Mt kilimanjaro stood afar in its majestic splendour.
When we were finally dropped off at the airport and waved Daniel good bye, we felt we have seen more of the sky, felt more of sunshine, touched the ebb and flow of raw emotions crisscrossing within us. In short, we lived more of life during these few days as tourists.
Kenya will remain an unforgettable trip for various reasons.
Mallika Bhaumik’s poetry, short stories, article, interview have been published in e-mags like Staghill Literary journal, The Wagon Magazine, Cafe Dissensus, Oddball Magazine, Spark Magazine, Narrow Road, Ethos Literary Journal, The WomanInc, Learning and Creativity, Get Bengal, Glomag, and others. She has won the Reuel International award for her debut poetry book, Echoes, by Authorspress, which is currently available on Amazon.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
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