The desire to visit Africa seemed to stem from an unknown longing to return to where our ancestors came from. Or perhaps it might have been a memory of migratory birds flying home.
Whatever it was, I remember I had always dreamt of visiting Africa.
A love affair that began during my teens
Ever since I was a teenager, I was curious about this ancient continent where our species originated.
I wanted to know more about its history, wildlife and its people. As a child, I was always fascinated with the National Geographic magazine. I hardly ever read the articles in the journal but was forever captivated by the pictures of wildlife in Africa.
I vividly recall the day when I bought the book ‘Creatures Of The World’. It cost me a princely sum of Rs.88. In 1978, that was quite a high price to pay for a book, particularly when you compare that to the cost of an air ticket from Kolkata to Guwahati; this would set one back by INR140.
Needless to say, the book was part of my prized possessions. But buying such a book made me an oddity among my peers. But as my friends flipped through the pages and saw the beautiful wildlife illustrations, their interest grew too.
A dream that turned into reality
As for me, I had my book and my dream, and I clung to them. Those days people said travelling to Africa was more of a dream and almost impossible to visit. And so it was that I kept my dream in the casket of my heart for forty long years.
Time rolled by and I got married to Amitava. Fortunately, he was as passionate about travelling and exploring as I was. Post marriage, I visited many places with him.
For the first 17 years, we toured various places India since we were on a shoe string budget. But once we had saved enough, we decided to venture abroad.
John Lennon once said, “A dream you dream alone is a dream.”
But my dream became Amitava’s dream too! We both dreamt together of visiting Africa. We were decisive from the beginning that we would visit Eastern Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.
We wanted to stand on the equator, drive through the Rift Valley, and see for ourselves the majestic view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. And of course, we wanted to experience the best safari’s at Masai Mara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.
A journey to the cradle of humanity
We contacted a well-known travel agency in Kenya and signed up for a two-week tour to our chosen destinations. They ensured hassle-free arrangements and organised a comfortable tour for us.
In Swahili (the language spoken by the natives of Kenya and Tanzania) ‘safari’ means a journey or trip to observe wild animals.
When we landed in Nairobi on 11 July, our tour guide said ‘karibu’ — meaning welcome. I could hardly hold back my excitement! It was going to be a trip of many firsts for me.
It was my first visit to Africa, my first safari experience, my first encounter with wild animals, my first balloon ride, and my first eye contact with the ‘Big Five’ (lion, elephant, buffalo, hippopotamus and cheetah). If I enumerated each experience, the list of firsts would be unending!
The open landscapes of the savannah
After a night’s rest at Nairobi, we left for Amboseli a few days later. As Peter (our guide cum driver) manoeuvred our van on the highway, we saw a sea of wild white flowers that stretched for miles, and then merged with the hills on the horizon. The glorious sight lifted our hearts and felt like an omen of good things to come.
A brief while later, we left the highway and drove through the dusty red track of the yellow savannah.
My curious eyes peered through the vehicle’s window, hoping for some extraordinary surprises. Hope gave way to sheer excitement when we saw a pair of giraffes standing within a few metres on our right, welcoming us with a warm stare.
On our left were a herd of almost fifty Thomson gazelles and calves led by a single male with sweeping horns. They scampered away through the golden grass as soon as they saw our van approach. As we made our way, the landscape was dotted with hundreds of wildebeests grazing. Far ahead, standing on a termite hill, we spotted a stately male eland — the largest species among antelopes.
Peter suddenly stopped the van and we came across the biggest and the most impressive of the African big fives – the elephant.
We saw huge African elephants tearing and pulling the grass from the swamp right beside us. A giant male tusker crossed the track almost dashing against our van and reacted to my gaping expression with the least amount of interest.
We resumed our journey, and saw an incredibly pleasing view of the savannah. There were acacias all over and the pendulous nests of weaver birds hung from almost every branch of every tree. The sight pink flamingos, seated in rows, on a lake shore in the distance seemed surreal.
We were dumbstruck as our van sped across the bumpy track leaving a cloud of dust behind us. A far-flung treeless distance away, water gleamed on a swamp and a sombre light refracted from the water where two gazelles were staggering; in silhouette they looked brilliant.
For a while, they slowed their pace and stood still beside the bush, giving us an opportunity for a perfect shot.
As the sun set we retired deep into the forest to our hotel called Amboseli Serena. I recall thinking how soul nourishing the savannah was.
Watch out for this space next week when I take you through my journey to OL Pejeta in central Kenya.