An Indian looking for adventure, wildlife, gastronomical delights and yet remain close to home? If yes, Kenya is your ideal destination.
Located in the East of Africa, Kenya offers exotic landscapes and different climates to satisfy your curiosities and ease your fears and enjoy the travel. Diverse wildlife, rich culture and infinite surprises were in store on my seven day visit to magical Kenya.
From the beautiful coastal cliffs of Watamu to the beaches of Lake Victoria, Mount Kenya to the Great Rift Valley, all are sure to make your travel to this magical destination that begins and ends in astonishing wonder! Described as the ‘pride of East Africa’, Kenya offers a range of tourist options – wildlife, beaches, adventure and mountains. For wildlife enthusiasts keen on close encounters in natural environs, Kenya is the best bet.
The fascination with Africa
In fact, Kenya is the place where “going on safari” started. In the last century, adventurers, explorers and visitors from all over the world, including US President Teddy Roosevelt, started travelling to Africa, lured by stories of multitudes of wild animals. There were more than three million large mammals roving East Africa’s plains at the time. Today, visitors continue to flock to this East African nation each year. Although humans have made their mark, Kenya still holds onto its pristine wilderness while Kenya’s tourism industry is the main source of foreign revenue.
On our arrival after a six-hour long flight from Mumbai by Kenya, we were packed in two sports utility vehicles and were at the disposal of Julius – our guide, friend and philosopher. Driving through the capital Nairobi gives you a feeling of being at home. One does not get the typical impression of a foreign land. A large number of Indians, from Gujarat and other parts of India as well, have migrated in the last century. Cuisines, Bollywood stars, sweets and meat from India are very popular here.
We reached Mount Kenya after a drive of five hours. Our arrangements for stay had been made at the Mount Kenya Lodge, spread over 45 acres and is run by Lornho Hotels at Nanyuki. Mount Kenya is an extinct volcano straddled across the equator, and is Africa’s second highest peak. The altitude ranges between 3352.8 metres and 5199 metres, with the highest peaks being Batian.
We literally experienced the Equator the next day in all its glory. Our vehicle was pulled aside soon after we left the lodge and all of us huddled around a painted line on the road. The line signified the Equator–with the northern hemisphere on one side and the southern on the other. Reminded of geography lessons in elementary school, some of us even felt like David Livingstone who explored Africa in the middle of the 19th century. Soon we were seen taking photographs to record our discovery for posterity.
A local placed a bucket before us to show an interesting experiment. It was full of water with a hole in the bottom and a matchstick floating on the surface. As the bucket drained, the matchstick rotated one way and then the other – depending upon whether the local had walked a few steps on either side of the equator. When he placed the bucket directly over the equator, the matchstick stayed still as the water drained out with no swirl or rotation at all. Wonderstruck, we debated it for some time on our way back to the the lodge.
There are seven African countries that are on both sides of the Equator. The Equator passes about 4 miles south of the town Nanyuki in Laikipia County in Kenya. Other African countries on both sides of the Equator include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and Uganda.
In the company of the wildlife
Used to enjoying to wildlife documentaries on Discovery, National Geographic and Animal Planet, I now rode into Samburu Shaba National Park to witness it all before me. Some of Kenya’s major national parks are the Amboseli, Lake Nakuru, Aberdare, Tsavo, Meru, Nairobi and Mt Kenya. Game reserves are very comprehensive in Samburu, Masai Mara safari, Laikipia and many smaller conservancies.
Shaba National Reserve is a protected area in northern Kenya to the east of the Samburu and Buffalo Springs national reserves. Together, the three reserves form a large protected area. Home to the endangered Grevy’s zebra, reticulated Giraffe, and Gerenuk and the rare Williams’s lark, Shaba was the setting for the book and film Born Free by Joy Adams in 1960’s, based on a memoir by the Danish author Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke in 1937 and for the reality show Survivor: Africa.
Endowed with natural scenery – rivers forests, scattered woodlands and dry grasslands and a volcano – Shaba is a picturesque delight for any nature lover. At one place, we saw a lion resting all by himself, probably after a hearty meal. Leaving him to enjoy the afternoon siesta, we went ahead and a herd of elephants crossed us. Obeying the national park’s dictum, we stopped and allowed them go through – all in pin drop silence.
On the third day, we drove for a game drive. We watched elephants accompanied by their calves as they sought solace in the waters of the Uaso Nyiro river. We also saw the location where Lion King, the Walt Disney animation musical, was shot in the jungles.
Next day, we left for the 24,000 acre Sweetwaters Game Reserve at Ol Pejeta conservancy that has an abundance of wildlife and tropical vegetation. It boasts of the “Big 5” game – Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Elephant and Buffalo. And of course, the Chimpanzee that are kept in captivity here.
Chimpanzees, the humans’ cousins
The Chimpanzee Sanctuary at Sweetwaters, situated between the foothills of the Aberdares and the magnificent snow-capped Mount Kenya, houses about 41 chimpanzees. Thanks to legendary primatologist Jane Goodall, Lonrho East Africa, and Kenya Wildlife Services, a colony was set up in 1993 here where chimps could be introduced, rehabilitated and taught to fend for themselves in an area similar to their natural living conditions. Most of them were facing a miserable existence in different parts of the world. Not very long ago, there were one million chimpanzees in the wild. Now, as a result of hunting, poaching, and habitat destruction, their numbers have plummeted drastically.
Poco, 12 years younger to me, particularly fascinated me. Born in 1980, and having spent nine years of his life imprisoned in a small cage suspended from the roof of a garage in Bujumbura in war-torn Burundi, Poco walks on his back feet only rather than using his hands as well. This is because there was only 100cm for him to stand in his cage. Now Poco is a handsome, content chimpanzee, able to explore his habitat, climb trees and interact with his many fellow companions.
Unlike many of the primates that we see, chimps are different. They are somewhat like human beings. On my visit I found them in small groups trying to hold each other, caring and playing among themselves. Do they socialise? “Yes, a great deal,” says David a caretaker. They touch each other and would kiss when they meet. They also hold hands and groom each other. An adult chimp has a special companion with which it spends a lot of time.
Taking us around the sanctuary, David tells a group of Indian tourists that like humans, chimps are noisy, curious, intelligent and social. According to him, they use a complicated system of sounds to communicate with each other. They hoot, scream, grunt and drum on hollow trees with the flat of their hands, sometimes for hours.
In East Africa, the chimpanzees are found in the wild in Tanzania and Uganda. In Kenya, they are found only in captivity. Eager to hear more, I asked David whether any of them were naughty. “All the chimps have given a tough time to wardens here at one time or the other,” he replied.
But Ezo is a step ahead of other mischief-mongers in the sanctuary. After arriving here in March 2003 from southern Sudan, he has time and again tried to jump over the fence despite a missing index finger on his right hand. “After we realised it we erected a bigger fence. But he keeps trying,” a warden added.
Queries about chimps enlightened me, much to the chagrin of my fellow travellers who were eager to be back for free drinks and dinner. Staying in the tents of Serena Hotels, laced with all modern amenities was a different experience. At night, there was dead silence interspersed by hooting, howling and an occasional roar from some animal or the other. Scared to venture out of the tents for fear of ending up on the dinner plate of a wild beast, I held the bed tight till sunrise.
Blessed are humans
Our destination the next day was Lake Nakaru. Established in 1961, Lake Nakuru National Park has a huge flamingo population. Other avian attractions are pelicans and cormorants. On the way, we came across the Great Rift Valley, mostly known in Kenya as the East African Rift Valley. It was formed between two and seven million years ago and is the longest rift on the surface of the earth. The Rift Valley stretches from Jordan, Middle East, and runs through Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, Malawi, and ends near the coastal town of Solada in Mozambique. It is approximately 6,437 kilometres long and 56 kilometres wide. It was formed due to geological tension in the earth’s crust that caused a deep depression, while probably forcing the sides upwards. The floor of the valley is below sea level.
On the last day, we put up at the Elementaita Lodge and visited the Ostrich Park. Over four dozens of beasts and birds can be sighted in Kenya. But a lot of it depends on the drivers like Julius who act as guides during the tour. And a bit of luck!
Though there is plenty for non-vegetarians to experiment around,vegetarianism is not alien here- thanks to the Indian population, especially Gujaratis. Many restaurants in Kenya serve Gujarati and Indian vegetarian fare. Well connected with flights to Nairobi, Kenya has a lot more to explore as it an enlivening paradise of natural wildlife, white sandy beaches, rivers, lakes, enormous tea and coffee estates. An observation that I made during the course of the adventurous journey was how Indians under tipped the guides who drove them around.
The learning from the African Safari is a remarkable experience that evokes two different yet equally powerful responses. A safari is a reminder of earth’s spectacular abundance of life while also illustrates its vulnerability. I also realised that being in the African landscape is an unforgettable experience and that mankind has been endowed in a fine setting.
How to reach
Several international airlines such as Kenya Airways, Etihad, Emirates, Egypt Air, Ethopian Air, India, Air Arabia, KLM and Air France are linked to Nairobi. Being one of the busiest routes in the regions, it is advisable to plan your holidays in advance.
Where to stay
Travellers have the liberty to opt for lodging and boarding, depending on their taste and budget. Tourism is well developed in Kenya and the options range from seven stars and five stars to budget hotels. Book in advance to get discount. There are also packages offered by several tourist operators who look after you right from the time you touch down in Nairobi. Enjoy your safari!