It’s fascinating how often we grow up with certain images that have stuck in our minds for years. About people and places we have heard and read about but never seen. And it is even more fascinating when we are finally confronted face to face with the sights and sounds of the reality of that person or place without often realizing how we have secretly been waiting for this moment.
Our trip to Kenya‘s legendary Masai Mara (also Masai Mara) earlier this month – my first in over 19 months, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic – as part of a team excursion to test new Nikon cameras led to such a turning point. And it came on the second day of our stay in the famous game reserve, when we went on a wild goose hunt in the late evening looking for a rhinoceros, the only member of the ‘Big Five Game’ that we had not yet been able to spot.
But when the rhinos did a rain check (and we ended up not even seeing a single one) we had a moment to enjoy life – that moment when a rainbow appeared over the distant horizon and out of the distant mountains as dusk fell and the calm of the night sky slowly began to sink into the expanse of a rain-soaked mara, as the locals like to call it. No flora, no fauna, no nothing. Just open up the vanilla skies in July and the enormity of one of the most famous grasslands in the world and the grandeur of it all to embrace with open arms.
Personally, this was my third time in Africa (after two previous trips to South Africa for cricket stakes) but only the first time I had experienced such a magical moment. My reunion with an Africa that I first saw years ago in an adventure fairy tale book I read in middle school – Chander Pahar (Mountain of the Moon), the cult novel from the early 20th century that set the story a young Shankar Ray tells Choudhuri, an ordinary young Bengali, eventually landed his dream job exploring the wilds of Africa while working as a clerk at a train station.
After a few months of track construction, he encounters the first of many dangers in Africa before the First World War: a man-eating lion. Later he takes a job as station master in a desolate train station in the middle of the Veldt, where he barely escapes a deadly black mamba before finally embarking on a huge discovery trail.
For us – the team and me – it was no less a journey of self-discovery, of learning, to connect with nature and its unleashed wild animals, to understand its quirks, its power and the beauty of its diversity, to know what that is Survival is all about seeing in the wild what it is like to hunt in packs and live in pride.
But if you are fainthearted like me, the killing by the predator you will see will haunt you well into the night, and the grunts of prey you hear will echo for as long as you remember. Ask me and I’ll tell you how images of the three cheetahs hunting a zebra (see photos) continue to permeate our minds over two weeks after we returned to our home in Dubai.
Do you know the Big Five game
In Africa, the Big Five wildlife are the lion, leopard, rhinoceros (both southern black and southern white species), elephant, and Cape buffalo. The Khaleej Times multimedia journalists on the trip were lucky enough to film everyone but rhinos. The term “Big Five” refers to the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot in Africa for big game hunters. Each of the Big Five is an example of Africa’s charismatic megafauna, which is prominently represented in popular culture. They remain Africa’s most famous large animals found in a wide variety of countries across the continent, including Kenya.
What is Maasai Mara?
The Masai Mara National Reserve is an area of protected savanna wilderness in southwest Kenya, along the Tanzanian border. Lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras and hippos are some of its most famous animals. A huge population of wildebeest fills its plains during their annual migration. What makes the Masai Mara special is its breathtaking scenery, highlighted by its grassy plains and rolling hills lapped by rivers like the Mara. It is on the banks of Mara where we had a sunrise breakfast while we saw hippos taking a majestic bath.
Maasai Mara, sometimes spelled Masai Mara, is known locally as The Mara and was named in honor of the Maasai, the region’s indigenous people who immigrated to the region from the Nile Basin. Mara means spotted in the Maasai language and comes from the many short, bushy trees that characterize the landscape, especially the acacia (see photo).
The Masai Mara is one of the most famous and important nature reserves and wilderness areas in Africa, world famous for its exceptional populations of lions, African leopards, cheetahs and African bush elephants. It is also home to the Great Migration, which is often viewed as one of the seven natural wonders of Africa.
The Maasais and their traditions
The Maasai form a community that stretches across northern, central and southern Kenya and northern parts of Tanzania. As shepherds, the church believes that they own all the cattle in the world. The Maasai depend on their land to feed their cattle.
Tradition continues to play a huge role in the lives of today’s Maasai, known for their tall stature, patterned shukas, and beadwork. Most of them have now moved out to work and earn a living, but some of them are maintaining their lifestyles and villages for the benefit of curious tourists, we found out.
How to get there
The Masai Mara is one of the most famous safari destinations in Africa. There are a number of tourist lodges and tented camps within or on the border of the reserve and within the various separate nature reserves that border the main reserve. There are several airfields serving the camps and lodges in the Maasai Mara, including the Ol Kiombo runway, which we used to fly to on a 14-seat SafariLink aircraft, one of the several airlines that fly scheduled flights several times a day from Nairobi and elsewhere . There are several flights including Emirates, Etihad and Air Kenya that connect the UAE airports to the Kenyan capital.
what you need to know
We flew from Dubai and according to the current protocols we had to present Covid-negative certificates before both trips and carry out a quick PCR test on our return to Dubai.
What is a game drive?
Game drives are the most popular activity in the Masai Mara, but other activities include hot air balloon rides, nature walks, photo safaris, and cultural experiences. But there is nothing quite like seeing a pride of lions languishing at arm’s length on the grassy plains during a game drive on a sun-drenched afternoon or a family of giraffes on their majestic morning stroll.