Monday, 29 April 2013

Sun....Surf....Sand!

Though I was born in Mumbai, which lies right on India's west coast,melding into the Arabian Sea, I am not, per se, a 'beach person'.Give me cool climes and hilly,rainy environs any day!(Did I just describe Nairobi?!) But children of all ages love the beach and so in our six years of living in Tanzania, we made many a trip to the beach!Living in the city of Dar Es Salaam meant that we just drove down to the beach on any holiday that the fancy overtook us.Certain beaches were reached by going across by the ferry,car,kids,plastic beach sets et al!For our daughter's ninth birthday, as a special last 'single digit' party treat,my husband booked an entire beach resort for the day and the party theme was, what else,the beach, of course!All the little kids (and their parents) had great fun taking part in the sand castle building and decorating competition that I had organized and there were surprise prizes for any symbol of the sea on your clothes too!(For the record, by the time our son's ninth birthday came around I had resorted (pun unintended!) to bribing him NOT to have a party!Eight previous occasions of rambunctious little boys running around had made me reach my party tolerance threshold!He had twenty kids over anyway,regardless of what I wanted or, in this case, did not want...)
After moving from Dar Es Salaam, my husband put in a couple of years of work in India's very own Goa and every vacation had the children and me commuting there from Pune,our hometown. So we experienced life on an Indian beach too and by the time we moved to Nairobi, we had had more than our fill of watching the sun dip into the sea.And hence we were in no hurry to rush to the Kenyan Coast!
The Easter vacation early this month was the last holiday the children had before the school closes for the year next month and we head home for the long vacation.We are nearing the end of almost two years in Kenya and so we decided to take the plunge and finally visit the coast!We were told that the Southern coast beaches are better and so we booked a holiday in one of the resorts there which had been highly recommended to us by our friends in Nairobi.My husband applied for and was granted a couple of days leave, which, combined with the long weekend, gave us enough time to spend in Diani, near Mombasa.
Our flight would take us directly to an airstrip which is a five minute drive from the resort but when we booked our ticket, we did not realize how small the air craft would be!We are all seasoned fliers, the children have been flying since they had been swimming around in amniotic fluid for mere days and we all enjoy flying! But one look at that twenty seater aircraft and both my daughter and I paled.What had hitherto  been just a matter of getting into the car for a day at the beach, suddenly became a life threatening proposition! With great trepidation we climbed up the minuscule ladder after having watched our luggage being loaded by hand!The pilots were already seated and just turned around and told us to fasten our seat belts. My heart was in my mouth.From the comfort of my home I had enjoyed reading about aviation pioneers in Kenya-Tom Black, Denys Finch Hatton, Beryl Markham.Now for the first time I realized what they had actually undergone in their tiny two seater planes, all to boost aviation in Kenya! I silently saluted them.
With a great shudder the tiny craft finally took off and we were air borne.Once at cruising altitude, the pilots relaxed and I could see them laughing, reading the newspaper and chatting!It seemed as if we were being borne along by the clouds and were buffeted by the wind alone and I sent a fervent prayer to the son of the Wind God, Hanuman!My son did not help matters by casually remarking that the plane felt like it had been programmed to crash!He nonchalantly munched the apple I had packed for him while my daughter and I looked petrified!
None too soon, I spotted a glistening stretch of water and soon we had landed safely!As we got off the plane, after having fervently thanked the pilots, I felt as if I had stepped back in time and was in Dar again! Diani had exactly the same hot,muggy weather and as we retrieved our luggage in the sweltering heat, rivulets of perspiration drenched us, something we do not experience in Nairobi even at the peak of summer!
Soon we were at Baobab Resort, named after the stately and exotic Baobab trees that dot the entire area around it! The resort grounds were impeccably and beautifully landscaped, tall green palms waved their fronds in the balmy air ,our rooms faced the beach and we could see the ocean, a stone's throw away and hear the soothing murmur of the waves as they crashed into the shoreline.It had five pools one of which was so placed that it looked as if it was spilling over into the ocean!It was packed with Europeans soaking in the sun and I felt as if I had receded into the past again, though it was Russia that came to mind this time and we felt overdressed just as we had then! Italian,Dutch,German,Spanish with some English thrown in were the predominant languages that we heard throughout our stay there.And I thought Europe was reeling under recession!
The chef in charge of Indian cuisine turned out to be from India's magnificient hill station Dehradoon, made famous by both Ruskin Bond and the Doon school.He was delighted to know that my husband was a fellow North Indian and specially made a very Indian dessert for him. Hospitality with the home touch! We had a vast variety of Indian vegetarian dishes to choose from at every meal, though we were greatly outnumbered by the Europeans.The package being all inclusive meant that the children gulped down ice cold cokes to their heart's content from morn till night without having to ask us for money first!Since colas are something I usually frown upon, I think this trip will stand out in their memory for all those soft drinks alone!
A walk on the beach had a surprise in store as I realized there was hard coral immediately after the tightly packed, clean,white sand tapered off!This was a new one for us and we could actually walk on this coral strip and wade out for quite a distance! The children enjoyed collecting shells and pieces of coral and tried to avoid the slimy seaweed which gives the water here it's gorgeous green hues.It is safe to swim in the ocean here if one can overcome the revulsion that clinging strands of seaweed evoke! We stuck to swimming  in any of the many pools!
We hired a glass bottomed boat to see the vast variety of coral that lies further in the ocean and were thunderstruck to see mountains of coral in the shape of potatoes,fans and hills growing on the seabed! We came across starfish, sea cucumbers, sea urchins and shoals of multicoloured fish, straight out of a 'Marine Life' book! We also snorkelled just off a huge sand bank right in the middle of the water! This was a first for all of us and was a 'not to be missed' experience!All of us frolicked in the water here as it was absolutely crystal clear and we were hammered by waves from all sides as we were literally in the middle of the ocean...
Walking along the shore every night by the light of a million stars, after all the sun worshippers and beer guzzlers were in bed, my husband and I, like King Canute before us, were overwhelmed by the power of nature, by the sheer force of the water as it pounded against the boundary that the ocean had chalked out for itself and if it crossed that, the havoc it would wreck!Neither of us drinks but the thought sobered us just the same!
 
                                                                    The tide is in!
                                                        The Baobab Tree!One of many here!
                                 What is this life, so full of care if we have no time to 'sit' and stare?!!
                                           The boat with a view!Glass bottomed!
                                                   Walking on Africa's Coral Strand!
                                                  A glimpse of the resort grounds!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Thrilling Trio-Treetops,Sweetwaters and Mount Kenya Safari Club

When my husband and I were based in Russia, my Dad was still serving in the Indian Army and needed the permission of the Indian Government to leave the country. This was not very easily forthcoming and so my parents were unable to visit us then. Fortunately my sister had paid us a visit and I had to be content to leave it at that!When we moved to Tanzania, my mother accompanied me when I took my two month old son and five year old daughter back there.So she managed a bit of sight seeing in Dar Es Salaam and a colleague of my husband's was kind enough to escort her to Zanzibar and back on a day trip. But she had not done any'animal safaris' because in Tanzania, unlike in Kenya, you have to travel overnight to see an animal! This was not an option for us then, as neither my mother nor my husband and I believed in toting a three month old baby around all over the countryside and upsetting his routine!
When my Dad visited us in Dar Es Salaam, it was with the primary purpose of escorting my father in law there as he was not well enough to travel by himself. Again it was impossible for us to go on safari with him, as my father in law had a stomach ailment and special dietary requirements.Couple that with a very active toddler- my son and a daughter who was in the third grade by then, in the Indian school there-which translated into tons of school work! So my Dad traversed across Tanzania's game parks alone and, needless to say, enjoyed himself in the bargain!
We had been in Kenya for more than a year by the time my mother finished her baby sitting duties for my sister's baby in Singapore. (This is something most Indian parents readily do!In fact,many parents pack their bags and wait for the call right from the day their children get married, in anticipation of the 'good news' as it is euphemistically termed in India..There is no logical explanation for this,it is deep rooted in the Indian psyche!) She had finally come back to India. By this time my father had also wound up his (post retirement) work commitments and they were both free to visit us!At long last!
We had timed their visit to coincide with the children's Christmas holidays and the first few days were spent visiting Nairobi's numerous tourist spots and many malls.A day trip to 'Elsamere' in Naivasha gave my mother a close glimpse into Joy and George Adamson's life and times as she has long been a fan of 'Born Free'  and Elsa, the most popular lioness in the world!We have all the books and the movies too! That particular day will surely shine extra brightly in her memories of Kenya!
We had left the 'piece de resistance' (actually three in our case!) almost till the end of the holidays and a warm,sunny January morning (remember the Southern Hemisphere has January summers!) found us driving to the world famous 'Treetops Hotel' in the Aberdare National Park. The check-in procedure for this particular hotel is in another hotel called 'Outspan' located in the little town of Nyeri. Hunter turned conservator Jim Corbett's cottage which was also earlier occupied by Baden Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement, is located in the hotel grounds. In our case,we threw out the bath water in 1947 but were left holding the twin babies -the boy scouts and the girl guides. Hence generations of school children even after India got independence continued to be a part of these,my mother included. So she spent a nostalgic hour in the cottage which has now been turned into a Scout's museum.
After a sumptuous and very Indian lunch of 'Paalak paneer' and rotis we were on our way to Treetops which is an hour's drive from there.Treetops, which had begun life in 1932 as a two room tree house constructed on a fig tree by an overindulgent husband for his beloved wife,skyrocketed to fame faster than fig trees usually grow when a young English girl went up a Princess and came down the next morning as Queen Elizabeth, the second!Her father, the King, had died while she was perched up there viewing game...
We, too, spent the night there,though we went up as commoners and came down the same way!Today, of course it is a huge hotel which just gives the semblance of being a tree house!The original structure burned down many years ago but the new one does have a Q.E II suite! The difference is that here we wait for animals to visit the salt lick instead of driving around to spot them as is usually done on a safari.We were fortunate to see a huge herd of elephants, a baby and mummy rhino out to slake their late night thirst, wild buffalo, wart hogs, deer and flocks of many birds.
After a continental breakfast the next day, we set off for the next location on our itinerary,Sweetwaters,which is a private game park.A regular game drive followed wherein we spotted  all the usual animals barring the lions! Our guide told us the mid day sun was too hot for them and so they had retreated into shadier areas!And who could blame the lions? The Equator runs right through this park....The rhinos here were enclosed in a particular area as poaching is very rampant in this park.In fact,some had even had their horns sliced as a preventive measure against being killed.How greedy can man get? An onsite animal museum was like an animal anatomy and physiology text book come to life and my daughter, whose life ambition, since the age of five, is to be a veterinary surgeon, was in raptures!Vertebrae and other bones of various animals including giraffes and lions, their teeth,skin,fur and the like were on display  and we were welcome to touch and feel everything.We also got a reality check of all the species that will soon be extinct if man continues riding rough shod over nature...She had to finally be dragged away from there as we were in danger of missing lunch at our final place of visit!
After the hectic schedule of the last couple of days. the Mount Kenya Safari Club was a place where we could just relax, walk from one hemisphere to the other (yes the Equator passes through!) and enjoy the food and the ambiance. Once a private home, it was popular among the rich and the famous from Hollywood and Winston Churchill was a visitor too!( Many years ago my husband and I had visited Mr.Churchill's residence in the United Kingdom,Blenheim Palace, and I could quite understand why he must have felt at home here!) A stone's throw from the town of Nanyuki and located at the base of the majestic Mount Kenya, the club is a true throwback to Kolonial times. Sprawling lush lawns, a quaintly shaped pool, catch and release fishing, even a Harry Potter kind of maze,an animal orphanage whose inhabitants included a baby Lama and had my Mom and kids in raptures,table tennis, a croquet lawn straight out of Agatha Christie and even a golf course!In short, if the Brits do it, you will find it here!Our twin cottages complete with fireplaces, were on the banks of a pond and we were visited by a variety of birds from dawn to dusk...
All too soon it was time to leave this enchanting place where we had stepped back into another era and we readied ourselves to face the modern world again! We were fortified by a very Indian breakfast of 'Upma'(made of spices and salted semolina)If the Kolonial shadow loomed over this particular hotel, could the Indian influence be too far behind?!!
                                          The grounds of Outspan...
                                           Part of the big herd at the salt lick in Treetops.
                                          The all new creeper covered Treetops!  
                                          Mount Kenya in the distance!
                                          The Harry Potter Maze!

Sheer Bliss!!

Helpful Houseguests Make Happy Hosts

No matter how much we protest, a time comes when our children go off by themselves to friends’ houses for short as well as long durations o...