Thursday, March 22, 2018

I dream of the Mara

As an Indian schoolgirl in the 80s the project that most made an impression on me was the study of the Masai people. I’m not even sure why we were studying the Masai - as Indian middle class school kids they were as far from our imagination as a possible trip to the moon. But the study of the peoples, their culture, traditions and clothing was in our curriculum and so study them we did. 

Ever since then I’ve wanted to visit Masai Mara, to see whether the bushmen actually wore the bright red clothes and herded their cows using long sticks. Added to the childhood projects are television wildlife programs such as BBCs Planet Earth and Nat Geo Wild which have shown us the great migration, the flora and fauna of this landscape and the wild animals that make it home. It holds mythical proportions in my mind and I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited by a vacation as this one.

Well, let me tell you: it was nearly exactly as I pictured it. M.a.g.i.c. - with plains as far as the eyes could see, its trees dotting the landscape, the view from above one of spots, giving it its name of ‘Mara’ (which means ‘spotted land’). We stayed at a tented camp at the base of the west wall of the Great Rift Valley and drove into the Mara each morning before sunrise. We would stop for a bush breakfast around 9am and our wonderful driver/ guide would find a scenic spot (with a rock or tree to mark our territory so to speak) and cook us eggs to go with bread. 6-7 hours later we would return to camp having seen herds of animals living their lives out in absolute freedom. From 4 lions seeking water right after a kill to the 30 strong herd of elephants, from the curious Masai giraffes to the wide hipped hippos wallowing in pools, from the ever watchful topis to the aggressive Cape buffalos every animal was in their home, living what could only be described as their lives within the circle of life. Families of warthogs, packs of hyenas, lines of gnus/ wildebeest, groups of rhinos, basking crocodiles, skittish Thompson gazelles, brothers mongoose, watchful Kopis, majestic Elans, bunches of Ostrich, stripy zebra. More animals than we could count. We would come back to camp for lunch and a rest and then head off again mid afternoon for another game drive. It was as far from a beach vacation of lounging that one could imagine and as wonderfully invigorating as it sounds. Also tiring! 

Beside the abundance of animals and the friendly, gentle people we met it was the landscape that blew me away. The sheer majesty of the plains and the walls of the Great Rift Valley sloping up from it. The acres of grasses and thickets of leopard and lion laden trees, all lit up with wide bright blue skies. I have so many excellent (even with just my iPhone) pictures of these landscapes that I’d be hard pressed to pick one I love more than the others. The light was bright and yet mellow and played with the clouds letting rays fall helter skelter, leaving shadows to play on the land. I don’t know how else to describe it but to say I felt at a loss for not being a poet or writer. I just didn’t have the words to accurately describe how it all felt. The wonderful freeing thought of the forces of nature being boss while all of us paled to insignificance. It’s been more than a month since we came back but the echoing sounds of lions roaring through the night and the sheer majesty of wild animals come to me in my dreams often. I will be an old doddering geriatric some day and I take joy in thinking these memories will light up my otherwise blank mind. I will ever forget this trip. 

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