Traveller's Diary

Masai Mara

A visit to Serengeti, Maasai Mara and Amboseli forest reserves is stuff that dreams are made of. It was a dream that came true for our member Ms K. Roy Choudhury and her husband, Mr R. Roy Choudhury. They had planned the trip meticulously and enjoyed it fabulously.
The land of the Maasai presents one of the most breathtaking natural vistas. The abundant wildlife and endless plains in this world of the ancient Maasai, who travelled down from the Nile basin, make for eternal memories. Mara means “spotted”. Sure enough, the landscape is dotted by innumerable short bushy trees that so enthralled the Roy Choudhurys on their trip to East Africa.
There they primarily experienced the many splendors of the Serengeti, Maasai Mara and Amboseli forest reserves. They had planned the trip well and did not need much help in terms of what to do and where to visit once they landed in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, from Mumbai.
It was the Serengeti National Park, in Tanzania, which mesmerized them along with the Amboseli National Park, crowned, as they were, by the towering Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s Mesmerized by the Maasai Travel Dairy highest mountain. Apart from the sheer vastness of the region, it was the action- packed lives of its fascinating animals, which included the annual migration of the wildebeest, which took their breath away.
For those unfamiliar with the creature, it is a gnu, an antelope, and belongs to the family Bovidae, which includes antelopes, cattle, goats, sheep, and other even-toed horned ungulates. It looks like a thin, muscular cow with a large, sloping back, curved horns and striped bodies. The fascination of Serengeti increases manifold when more than two million wildebeest, zebras and gazelles move through the Serengeti and Masai Mara ecosystems in search of green pastures, every year.
The Roy Choudhurys watched with bewilderment “the wildebeest, the most unusual of species, and their migration from Tanzania’s Serengeti to the south of Kenya’s Masai Mara in search of lush grazing grounds and life-giving water. Their virtually endless journey is dictated by the seasons and follows a pattern. They all move in a line and a group”.
Interrupting this amazing sight was a shocker. A crocodile caught hold of a wildebeest’s leg and tried to drag it away. However, the wildebeest managed to “flee with an injured leg”. Strangely, the other members of the flock were not “bothered about the attack. They kept moving towards their destination!”
Every aspect of the trip remains etched in the Roy Chowdhurys’ minds. The sturdy tourist vehicles took the uneven terrain in their stride, crossing streams without a qualm. On the way back from the forest tour, however, the waters from the higher reaches of the mountain, which had experienced a heavy shower, had gushed down and the streams looked like hissing spurts of water threatening to wash away the vehicles. The drivers stopped as the passengers cringed with fear.
Matters were resolved when the hotel sent a big bus to rescue its guests. “Everything was well managed but that hour-long wait was quite frightening”.
Our members had planned a night halt at Amboseli en route to Maasai. It was yet another exciting night with the hotel almost inside the forest. The guests were told that the wildlife often made nocturnal calls and, if they did, the guests would have to stay calm and not make a noise. There was a focus light that was switched on after sunset and a piece of flesh was kept near a stream of water to satisfy any marauding animal. There was a tunnel through which the younger and more daring guests walked to where the animals came. Ms Roy Choudhury chose the safety of distance, but did manage to spot the cheetah coming to consume the meat.
On to the Masaai village the next morning. There they witnessed the interesting customs of the semi- nomadic tribe that was coming to terms with modernism. Their children went to schools and even colleges. Things were a-changing, albeit slowly, for the Masaai. “I was amazed to see cars parked outside few of the houses and learnt that some of the children attended schools and colleges in nearby cities. They wore normal clothes there but, back home for holidays, they wore their traditional costumes”.
The vernacular architecture is interesting too. The Maasais traditionally rely on readily available materials like mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and cow’s urine. They use indigenous technology to construct their unusual and interesting houses, built by the women mainly. The friendly Maasais, with distinct traditions, customs and dress, heavy ornaments and their easy interaction with tourists, made for indelible memories.
Traveller's Diary

Amazing Amazon

The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s richest biological reservoir. The region plays host to several million species of insects, plants, birds and other forms of life. Many are yet to be recorded. It was to this world of tarantulas, piranhas, alligators, sloth bears, macaws and many more that Ms Chatterjee and a group of friends went.
The group flew from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires and then to Manaus in Brazil in a small plane, before embarking on a boat journey along the mighty Amazon. The sheer thrill of the journey, the fascinating sights of the locals fishing on their canoes, passing through the forest-covered banks of the river are imprinted in her mind.
The group embarked on a ship that offered double-roomed cabins. “We were briefed on how we would have to get ashore at regular intervals for rainforest walks with our guide, who was a naturalist.” Just after sunset one day, the group got on to a smaller boat for alligator-watching in pitch darkness. The forest was dense on both sides of the river, making the journey both fearful and fascinating.
Even more surreal were the bright, shiny eyes of the alligator and what the guide did with these creatures. In a flash he caught a baby alligator from the congregation, bringing it to the boat for a photo session. That done, he threw it back to where he had picked it up from. That was enough excitement for the night and the rest of the journey on the ship was mesmerising.
They were in midstream, in a pristine location with a sky full of stars and unusual calls and sounds of the night from the ship’s deck. “It was breathtaking to gaze at the sky and watch the bright twinkling stars. The area was pollution-free and we sat on the deck dreamily”.
The morrow had new excitement in store. The group was taken on a trek to a Red Indian village. They first took a small boat and then walked on foot through the dense forest, with the guide literally cutting the branches to make a pathway.
“Suddenly someone in our group screamed and there was a cut on his shoulder. He was bleeding profusely. We were horror-struck!”
The guide did not bat an eyelid. He “just cut a bark from a tree and applied the sticky gel on the wound. The bleeding stopped almost immediately.” One member of the party, however, began to panic and pleaded with the guide to return to the boat. She was somehow persuaded to come along to the village.
“The Red Indian homes were made of timber and mud. The house the group visited had a big glass jar in the verandah with a big snake coiled inside. Was it the household’s lunch?” we wondered. “The villagers were very friendly and had painted their faces with red paint made from seeds. This was a century-old tradition”. The wonderful experience came to an end with a memorable group photograph.
Ms Chatterjee’s cabin mate was a bit too tall for the bunk bed. So they were shifted to a flotel; a floating hotel anchored nearby. Surprised to see a swimming pool in the floatel using mineral water, they realized that the regular water was absolutely black. The hot, humid weather decomposed the organic matter very quickly and it was absorbed by tree roots and fungi. That rendered the water unfit for use.
Next on the agenda was “Piranha watching”. This proved to be exciting because these misunderstood fish made for a delicious meal. “We had the one that we fished”. The guide attached a large chunk of meat to the hardy fishing rods and asked the visitors to make a noise in the water by moving the rod up and down. The smell of blood attracted the fish that came in groups. Capturing the fish, frying it and having it in that wild environment was quite an experience.
En route, the group encountered leaping movements of monkeys, sharp-clawed woodpeckers, sloth bears in search of food even as they sought to escape from predators. The sloth bear rarely needs to come down to the ground. So the guide suddenly jumped off the boat and caught a baby sloth and brought it for the guests to examine. The lazy animal continued to sleep without moving! After the group was satisfied with a photography session, the guide simply hung the sloth back on the branch of a tree.
“One popular activity that we did not venture into was anaconda- spotting”, which is best done in the dry season when the water level is low and the snake has fewer places to hide. Also, the best view is from under water, while snorkeling, because the anaconda swim past humans without realizing that it has let go of a possible prey.
The group did not mind missing the anaconda because the alligators and snakes and other animals had made for an enriching experience.
Once back home, television channels interviewed her and she shared her encounters with a world unexplored by many.