Friday, 8 November 2013

Amboseli-In The Shadows Of Kilimanjaro...

We are blessed in the sense that wherever in the world we may be living, we never feel the need to get away from it all. By God's grace, we are perfectly content within the four walls of our house, be it in Pune or in Nairobi or earlier in Dar Es Salaam,St.Petersburg and Krasnodar. Pubbing,clubbing,partying, is not our cup of tea, though we do have delicious cups of 'masala tea' of course! This is not to say we do not travel or never go anywhere. We do, as my blog testifies, but that is more to expose the children to their surroundings and to make them appreciate beauty in nature and not because we have had it up to here at home! More often then not, all evenings of every week end or all day on other holidays finds all four of us with our noses buried in our individual books, surfacing only for lunch or dinner or, in my case, to cook as well. I do not get tired of cooking either nor do I feel hemmed in by my kitchen and the amount of vegetarian variety of food churned out of my kitchen would put a Michelin starred chef to shame! This, of course, would be true of any mother of Indian origin. As I often say, feeding our kids and making them study tops the agenda of Indian Moms, regardless of whether they work outside the home or are homemakers.
The last couple of months have been difficult for us. It is not that we are mall rats but I used to go to Westgate even to buy the flour I need for making chappattis for every meal and to buy the rice without which no Indian meal is ever complete. Considering that Westgate is exactly a kilometre away from our house, it was simply the most convenient place to shop for our groceries. The tragedy there left us, like everyone else here in Nairobi, completely stunned and questioning the very purpose of our lives. The pall of gloom that had descended over Nairobi affected each one of us because every one of us knew someone who was at Westgate that day and did not come out alive. It is as if the very fabric of our lives has been altered and for the rest of our lives there will be always a before Westgate and an after Westgate for us, no matter how much we may try to deny it.
The other issue we have had for the last few months was that my husband's permit was under renewal and it had got delayed due to the revamp that was taking place in the immigration department, after the change of government in Kenya last March. Our daughter is in tenth grade this year and our biggest fear was that if it did not happen soon and we had to return to India, she would lose an academic year as no student can join tenth grade in India once the session has begun due to the board exams that take place in this particular year. So we were under tremendous pressure.
Finally the permit came through after a three month delay and its arrival coincided with the School's 'Spring Break'(yes, we are at the onset of summer here!)  and a national holiday in Kenya, which meant my husband was free as well. So in the span of an afternoon he made the bookings and we were off the next day to Amboseli National Park, to 'get away from it all ' a feeling we were experiencing for the very first time in our lives!
This national park is located on the road to the coast but short of Mombasa we turn towards South and it is very close to the Kenyan- Tanzanian border. In fact, its claim to fame is the magnificent views of Mount.Kilimanjaro- the highest free standing mountain in the world and of course, the highest mountain in Africa, located not in Kenya but in Tanzania. But borders are man made and this glorious creation of nature towers above them all!
A four hour drive found us at the gates of Sopa Lodge where we were staying and a cool welcome drink of fresh mango juice washed away the dust and the thirst from our throats- for the drive from Nairobi had been hot and dusty! Soon we were escorted to our rooms,styled in the shape of Masaai huts, for remember we were in Masaai land again! Even the curtain rods were in the shape of Masaai spears, the curtains had elephants printed on them and the shower curtains had giraffes!All this set the tone for the week end! A very Indian lunch lunch of aalu mattar (peas and potato curry)  and parathas and then a siesta in our four star 'hut', with a lovely breeze blowing through the windows refreshed us and did not make us miss the lack of electricity at all. The lights ran on generators and came on only for a few hours at night. We did not mind in the least-our main aim was to leave the city behind! We were now ready for the first of our four safaris..
As our driver was buying tickets at the entrance to the national park, a number of Masaai women thronged around our van selling beautiful Masaai jewellery and other crafts. My daughter and I indulged in a bit of retail therapy by buying some charming beaded Masaai bracelets- a few for ourselves, others to give as gifts to friends and cousins in India.
Then it was time to spot animals! This, being the dry season, we were told, is the best time to visit this park. The grassland is dry and yellow, forcing the animals to come out and congregate near the few water bodies that have not run dry yet. We saw large numbers of giraffes, hundreds of zebras and wildebeest, impalas, frisky gazelles, more ostriches than I have seen in any other national park, hyenas, wart hogs and at one point we counted more than seventy elephants at a stretch! I was struck by one elephant in particular- he was a magnificent tusker but seemed young. He trailed at the end of the herd and appeared to be dancing by himself, embodying, as we say in French, an absolute 'joie de vivre'- a joy of life and living. He taught me a big lesson- he knew he could meet with a poacher's bullet anytime (when will people learn only elephants should wear ivory?), as humans can meet terrorist bullets anytime, even while simply having a cup of coffee or buying groceries, and yet he was completely at ease and just savouring life! And yes, elephants know. Beryl Markham, in her autobiography, 'West With The Night' clearly says that elephants began co relating her air sorties to spot tuskers with hunters coming on the scene soon after. The females used to quickly form a head to head circle around bushes, the minute they heard her aircraft overhead,  thus concealing the size of their tusks (African female elephants also have tusks) , confusing Beryl and giving the male elephants time to flee.
On the second of our game drives we saw two huge lions guarding their freshly killed wildebeest- we had just missed the hunt! They were there all morning, too lazy and content to move after their massive meal. And who would dare disturb the King of the jungle?! The scavengers had to patiently await their turn.
The lake had flamingos, many kinds of cranes, ducks and storks and the heads of thirty five submerged hippos, all enjoying the cool water on a hot summer's day. As the last volcanic eruption changed the salinity of the soil, it is not unusual to see palm trees thriving in the middle of Amboseli! So you have palms , golden Savannah grassland and fresh green grass by the swampland, a sight I have not seen any any other game park so far.
The setting sun threw light on Kilimanjaro, highlighting the snow on its peak. Its highest peak is also a dormant volcano. The last time it erupted, many millions of years ago, it changed the whole topography of Amboseli. Who knows what will happen next time it roars to life! Sadly the snow at the top is now rapidly melting thanks to global warming and yet the mountain stoically stands upright. Stoicism is what the world needs now, in the light of the uncertainty of our lives, specially in all the major cities of the world. Stoic is what I have to be as I catch a glimpse of the face of my son's friend on the school bus every morning, whose mother was shot and died at Westgate, even as he hobbles around on crutches due to the bullets he took in his legs. Being stoic is what helps when I happen to see the piles of burnt cars brought out and kept outside Westgate while passing by, even as I try to avert my eyes from the bullet marks that have gouged out concrete at the side of the building and where the window panes still lie shattered...
As we headed back to the Lodge, the disc of a full, orange moon hung over the sky. Used as our eyes are to the halogen lights of the city, we had to blink twice before we could ascertain that it was, indeed, the moon rise that we were watching! It was just the soothing sight that our jaded, weary souls needed. Nature, in her own inimitable way, had readied us to face life in the big city again! The shadows of Kilimanjaro had somehow chased away the shadows in our hearts....
                                                   Sometimes clouds have a golden lining!
                                                   Kilimanjaro- the life giving mountain!
                                                            The dancing elephant!
                                                   Game for the lions...
                                                  Our Masaai Kraal (Hut)!
                                                  Lions on guard near the carcass
                                             The varying topography of Amboseli.
                                                        Masaai essentials-masks, shields, spears..

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