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Heart of Africa

9 mins. read

Published in the Saturday Navbharat Times on 30 March, 2024

How close have you been to a lion? And I don’t mean the cubs that you see in zoos and attractions in some countries; I mean the real deal. I was very excited about the idea of a bush breakfast, but at the same time, I had no idea what it really meant. I got ready as usual for the game drive with a jacket in hand in the wee hours of the morning as our guide and driver expertly maneuvered the jeep through the jungle, setting off on a game drive. An African safari is always exciting, and with me was Duncan, my guide, a member of the Masai tribe who now worked in the jungle lodges and camps guiding people for a living. He drove us through the jungle, often setting the vehicle at the perfect spot for what I like to call nature's greatest show, life itself! He knew the jungle well, and the jungle seemed to know him too.

Usually, you set off for a game drive very early in the morning, and today was no different. What was different was that after we finished the game drive, we reached a clearing, and Duncan parked our vehicle there. You would never get out of the jeep on a safari in the forest, but this morning we were allowed to. Before we had stretched our legs, Duncan had laid down a pretty chequered tablecloth on the jeep and laid out our breakfast. There was no one in sight for miles. Well, not really a person, but as my eyes adjusted to the surroundings, Duncan pointed to a place barely some feet away. Lying there on his back was the king of the jungle, the African lion! "We’re so close, is it safe?" came my reflex question. Looking at the apprehension on my face, Duncan smiled and told me the lion's not interested in us. Pointing at his bulging stomach, he said, "Look at his stomach, he’s had his fill and will never hunt or eat when not hungry." And so, for the next few minutes, the lion and I shared the beautiful view as we both enjoyed our breakfast. It was a magical morning and an experience I can never forget in my lifetime. I do travel a lot, representing Veena World at many travel events across the world, meeting people from all over in different cities. But this was a totally different experience; it was part work, part holiday as I was checking out the lodges, camps, and reserves that Africa has to offer for our Veena World guests. But honestly, I think it doesn’t matter where you stay; it's more about what you really get to see. And the best way to experience Africa was to give yourself to it completely and immerse in it. For once you visit Africa, you will leave your heart behind; Africa never leaves you!

I finished off my coffee, and as Duncan started to wrap up so we could head back, I noticed an antelope had strayed into the area and was within feet of the lion, but the lion barely looked at his way. The antelope also seemed comfortable, and I admired the unspoken language of the Mara! Everyone understood each other, and there was a balance in nature. The simple bush breakfast turned out to be my chance to enjoy nature like animals do, free and wild and a life lesson for sure! Respect others and do not have greed!

When you are in Kenya and are short of time, then you can fly in from Nairobi to the Mara with a small plane. This flight is really interesting, as most of the runways are just pure clearings made in the forest with the cutest little airports. An alternative is to travel by road from Nairobi towards Mara, taking stops in between. And the best part in Africa is that every drive is a game drive. In Veena World’s tours, you will start from Nairobi and travel through Aberdares National Park and Lake Naivasha. A freshwater lake fringed by thick papyrus plants located at the highest point in the Great Rift Valley, well-known as a world-class birding destination. Nearby is a special place on earth! You will have the opportunity to pass through the equator, visiting both the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere at the same time. Isn’t it fascinating that we can actually see the effects of the imaginary lines on earth? Here, water spins clockwise towards the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise towards the southern hemisphere. These imaginary lines around the world are also on my bucket list. Along with the equator, I have stood on the Arctic Circle way up north in Finland in the Santa Claus village, and beyond the Arctic Circle is where you can view the northern lights. Recently, one of Veena World’s groups also completed the extraordinary feat of visiting the Antarctic Circle down south!

A visit to Kenya is an immersion in nature's grandeur, where one can breathe in pure air and witness wildlife in its authentic habitat.From the vibrant birdlife around the lakes to the majestic waterfalls and sprawling national parks, Kenya offers an unparalleled adventure. At its heart lies the iconic Masai Mara, a realm of untamed wilderness renowned worldwide for its breathtaking landscapes, diverse wildlife, and rich culture.

Named after the proud Masai people who have inhabited this land for centuries, the Masai Mara Reserve stands as a testament to the enduring harmony between humans and wildlife. Covering nearly 1,500 square kilometers in southwestern Kenya, this pristine ecosystem is part of the larger Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, celebrated for hosting one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth—the annual wildebeest migration.

Each year, millions of wildebeest, zebras, and other herbivores embark on a perilous journey across the Mara River, braving crocodile-infested waters and the threat of predatory lions in search of greener pastures. Witnessing this awe-inspiring phenomenon leaves an indelible mark, reminding us of the raw power and relentless beauty of the natural world.

Yet, the Masai Mara is not solely defined by the migration. Year-round, its extraordinary landscape teems with life—from the regal lions that roam the plains to the graceful giraffes browsing on acacia trees. Elephants, buffalo, cheetahs, leopards, and a plethora of other species call this wilderness home, creating a mosaic of biodiversity that captivates the imagination and stirs the soul.

Venturing into the Masai Mara on a game drive is a journey into the heart of Africa's wild beauty. For those unfamiliar with safaris, the term "game drive" originated from the historical practice of hunting wild animals for sport or food. Today, however, it refers to a guided excursion through national parks, reserves, or other wildlife-rich areas, offering visitors the opportunity to encounter and observe animals in their natural environment. Knowledgeable guides lead these drives, providing insights into animal behavior, habitats, and conservation efforts.

During my trip to the Mara, I witnessed unforgettable moments—an intimate lioness teaching her young to jump across a ravine, a pride of lions skillfully executing a hunt, and a visit to a Masai village, where I learned about the symbiotic relationship between the Masai people and nature. Moreover, I was treated to mesmerizing sunrises and sunsets, painting the African sky in hues of gold, orange, and red.

Of course, no trip to the Mara is complete without seeking out the "Big Five"—the lion, leopard, African elephant, Cape buffalo, and rhinoceros. These iconic animals, once the most challenging to hunt on foot in Africa, now symbolize the region's rich wildlife heritage.

Filled with unforgettable memories, I returned from Africa with my heart full and a longing to revisit. As the months of June to August herald the wildebeest migration in the Mara, the allure of this remarkable spectacle beckons me once again. Join me on this adventure to the Mara—it's an experience like no other!

March 30, 2024

Author

Sunila Patil
Sunila Patil

Sunila Patil, the founder and Chief Product Officer at Veena World, holds a master's degree in physiotherapy. She proudly served as India's first and only Aussie Specialist Ambassador, bringing her extensive expertise to the realm of travel. With a remarkable journey, she has explored all seven continents, including Antarctica, spanning over 80 countries. Here's sharing the best moments from her extensive travels. Through her insightful writing, she gives readers a fascinating look into her experiences.

More Blogs by Sunila Patil

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