Journal Journeys: Paradise

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Tuesday, 21st October, 2014

We arrive here after three and a half hours of continuous trekking: the Great Himalayan National Park. We walked under the arch that demarcated the entrance – in a fit of grandiloquent ceremony characteristic of my dear brother – holding hands. Inside wasn’t much different – a few buildings indicating the civilization that had been absent the past ten kilometers and a large signpost, but the same trail was climbing up, up, up – A side note: we are at an elevation of 2,000 meters above sea level. And now we are eating lunch on a sun-warmed rock, and I do believe this is the closest one gets to perfection. The water is bluer than you could believe. Rocks, like the playthings of some giant, lie scattered about; the river dances delightedly around them, wreathing their granite surfaces with foam. The remains of a bridge bookened the rushing brook. On one of the banks, a variegated cloth shrine flaps maddly in the winds: the gods are present here, they whistle. And at its very mouth is a waterfall, cascading, throwing with white clouds about with alacrity, with a single rainbow curving delicately over the white froth and paying homage at the base of where an idol once stood. But the deity is no longer there, and so it prostrates itself before the stones, the water, the trees, the mountains.

Journal Journeys: The Balloon Ride – End

The sequel to the balloon ride. Aerial views of a place always provide a completely different perspective.

Monday, 21st of July, 2014

‘The sun is just above the ruler-straight horizon, an orange flower blooming into a brilliant blue sky, and beneath it, the grass glows gold. Up here, you can see first hand the sparseness of the acacias that, as large green-brown umbrellas, speck the plains. They cast long shadows that stripe the ground.

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A river meanders through it all: glistening like a stream of silver in the morning light, it is clustered in greenery, packed thick and tight in the brightest shades of lime, olive, and emerald.

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From above, you can see the harsh white rectangles in the center of the grove—a hotel.

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The rolling grass is gashed and scarred with roads that rip brown strips through it, neatly segregating the Mara into shapeless heaps.

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Everything is spread below us, a vast dinner plate for our eyes: the iridescent lily pads just peeking through the water, the glowing hyena silently trotting through waist-high grass, the still yellow heap of a dozing lion and the assorted vehicles gathered around it, the vast single-file of wildebeest slicing across the savannah that arbitrarily breaks into joyful gallop and spirals round and round in complex formations below us.

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Journal Journeys: The Balloon Ride – Beginning

Arguably one of my most memorable experiences of my Mara trip: the balloon ride. Hot air balloon rides across the Masai Mara are said to be the second best in the world. This did not disappoint. However, due to the length of this particular journal entry, I’ll be staggering this post across a couple of days. This, quite literally, is just the beginning.

Monday, 21st of July, 2014

The sudden bursts of flame above us that light up the garishly colored balloon are surprising, not to mention more than pleasantly warm – but even more uncomfortable is my position.

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I’m sitting on a bench at a 90º angle, my camera wedged precariously between my feet, my hands tightly gripping rope-holds above me. My entire body weight is on my back, which is resting on the closest thing that can be called a ground presently, even if it is woven and a few feet above the actual surface – shelved below me are four people similarly contorted.

The noise is deafening. There are at least four other balloons also being inflated and therefore four fans blowing gas at desperate rates, periodically interspersed with sudden wooshes of fire. But if I crane my head just so, and peer past the Japanese tourists clicking at a million miles per minute, I can see one teardrop-shaped balloon rising slowly and steadily into the just-beginning sunrise, and it is all worth it.

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Journal Journeys: Lion Pride

When one thinks of Africa, it is inarguable that the first image that comes to mind is that of the ‘king of the savannah’, the African lion– the classic Panthera leo. Adjectives used to define them encapsulate confident, proud, arrogant– but not vulnerable, or threatened. But that they are. Of the 100,000 in Africa in the 1960s, only 32,000 remain. With the growing human encroachment of their habitat, they hold a tentative future.

Sunday, 20th of July, 2014

The grass is golden, and so are the lions. They glow in the newly-risen sun, their stride confident, their head held high. The jeeps eagerly watching them are not even spared a disdanful glance.

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Image courtesy of Sarath Champati (sarathchampati.com).

The male that heads the pride, scraggly-maned and arched-back, walks with single-minded pupose; the lioness that accompanies him is his equal, if not superior, in style, poise, and grace.

Image courtesy of Sarath Champati (sarathchampati.com).
Image courtesy of Sarath Champati (sarathchampati.com).

She pauses not three feet from a jeep that resounds with the delighted clicks of at least ten animated shutters without a sideways glance. A small cub dogs her footsteps diligently, and following it are two more females and two more young ones. The cubs are ecstatic from their meal, now abandoned in a handy depression for the vultures that are already gathering. They burst into random sprints and stop abruptly, their full bellies wobbling precariously below them. One lioness, till then watching it serenly, mock-pounces the small lion.

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Its delight is obvious; it immediately rolls over onto its back.

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She licks its face, pretending to bite its neck– their play continues till the cub gets too boisterous and is silenced with a quick swipe of paw. Then they sit together, content, and survey their domain with a self-assured ease. The sun, behind them, is fresh and new in the sky.

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Journal Journeys: Standing

As I mentioned in my last post, our jeep got stuck in the mud and we had to get towed out: this meant that we likely missed seeing a cheetah and an entirely different side of the Masai Mara. On the other hand, it also meant we had the chance to destroy quite a few pairs of shoes in some really gloopy mud that seemed to have been created for the express purpose of sucking up objects never to be seen again, like the Creature from the Black Lagoon– and also, you know, gaze in awe and wonder at the beauty of the savannah. And it also meant that we had to rush back to camp without actually seeing much. But that was amazing, too. Pretty much everything involving the words Masai and Mara together are amazing.

Saturday, 20th of July, 2014

“The wind is cool and presses my shirt to my chest, my hair to my head, my eyes to the landscape, and my heart to the Mara. To my right are storm clouds: grey beasts striding across gently undulating plains, occasionally white lightning cracks through them for a jagged, perfect second. To my left is the sunset. Though hidden behind wispy clouds, the lone acacias that dot the landscape still glow golden. Our jeep, tumbling over the trail at breakneck pace, scares off wildebeest–they gallop madly out of our way, manes and tails swinging, and the adrenaline that fills me as they do is exhilarating. Perhaps I’ve lost some feeling in my numb hand that’s gripping the railing, and perhaps ripe drops of rain are falling sporadically on my face, and perhaps the clouds promise more, but I am standing in a jeep, watching the wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles against the sunset, in the middle of the Masai Mara, and there is no other word for it than ‘spectacular’.”

Journal Journeys: Dust Storm

The Masai Mara: the image that comes are of cloudless skies; of jeeps against bright landscapes, of bright colors and brighter birds… But the reality is, it rains about every two days. And there’s dust. Lots of dust. Horrible for hair, but when you’re seeing such amazing sights, who cares, really? One day we were fortunate enough to see a dust storm and the storm clouds rolling in. Well, fortunate depending on where you’re standing. After we had a chance to appreciate the stark beauty of it all, we went rolling off into a different section of the Mara, only for our jeep to get stuck in mud. We had to get out, and the other jeep had to literally pull us out. (Then again– how many people can say they stood on the ground of the Masai Mara National Reserve?) Needless to say, there wasn’t much time to do much after that, and we had to drive as fast as possible to reach our camp before Closing Time. Which was amazing. But that’s for another Journey…

Sunday, 20th of July, 2014

“It is a great brown beast that glides across the distant palns: though shapeless, it has a head that is raised high while the houses and groves of acacia trees below it are consumed in its dun mass. It is shielded by a thick grey sheet of strom clouds and veiled in indistinct, distant rain. The wildbeest watch it: without fear, without hope, without feeling.”

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Journal Journeys: The Zebras

Perhaps the most iconic animal of the African savannahs, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget our first glimpse of zebras foraging by the road on our way to Nairobi. Though to you, dear reader, staring at your screen a thousand kilometers away from them, they might seem comical, the truth is? You’re right.

Saturday, 19th of July, 2014

“They are portly gentlemen: even though that elegance and grace that infect them when they break into even the gentlest of jogs is unmistakeable, still their immaculate, coiffeured coats give off a faint aura of Victorian London.”

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Journal Journeys: The White Rhinoceros (Guest Post)

Another post from my dear brother Neel, detailing our encounter with a white rhinoceros. White rhinceroses are the most numerous rhinoceros species on earth: to give you an idea of what rhinos worldwide are facing– they’re listed as near threatened with steadily dropping populations. They are, also, however, determined to fight for their worth, and if jeeps don’t move when they want to cross the road… well, those tourists are doomed. Just sayin’.

Thursday, 17th of July, 2014

“Our car headed in the direction towards the huge Lake Nakuru. Our driver, Mwok, had told us if we saw something in the distance, which looked like a buffalo, it was always good to check if it was a rhino. I kept that in mind as we drove down the mud track road.

Even though we had just seen a wonderful leopard I still had that feeling that we would see something good soon. I rubbed my palms together in excitement. I looked around in the car. Everyone had that excited look on their faces.

Our car kept on driving closer and closer to the lake. Suddenly, Mwok took out his binoculars. He looked in one direction and then started off that way. I reared up onto my seat.

This safari was only getting better and better. A few vehicles had stopped. And bang in front of us was the rare white rhinoceros. I started thinking it was a black, but Sarath said it wasn’t.

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The rhino walked onto the road. This was good because we could compare its size with other cars stopped in front of us. The rhino stepped onto the road and it was literally has huge as the car. The rhino had two horns, one as big as a television. This safari had turned from a bad safari, to a good safari, to an amazing safari. Sarath said this was an amazing rhino. And it truly was in my opinion.”

Journal Journeys: The Baby Elephant

Aaand… we’re back! Well, I’m back. Well, my journal’s back. Well, in this post, a baby elephant’s back. Well, not back. Well, introduced. Well. Well. Well.

Water.

Maybe it’s best to stop my rambling and start the post. Best for all of us, don’t you think?

Saturday, 19th of July, 2014

We are leaving– the glint of our camp in the distance is visible– when someone calls, Elephants at 10 o’ clock: A herd lumbers across the vast, rolling plains, bulky females bookending two babies. As our jeep creeps closer, we see one glued to its mother’s grey side, solemnly chewing. Its tiny trunk curls and uncurls as it feeds; its small, trumpet-like ears are flat against the side of its head.

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The other is its opposite. Ears splayed out on both sides and flapping wildly in the breeze, looking for all the world like a pair of wings, it bounds between one female and the next with great, joyful leaps, providing a strong contrast to the slow, somber movements of its seniors.

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Image courtesy of Sarath Champati. (http://www.sarathchampati.com/)

Up and down, sideways and back, if elephants could smile, it would be a second sun. Our own beams are poor in comparison.

Journal Journeys: Hawk-Bird of the Ground

The secretary bird’s name has been a hot subject of debate for years now: some say it’s due to its black-and-white tail feathers which were used as quills by, possibly, secretaries, which, according to me, is a bit far off. The more likely theory is the Arabic word sakr-et-tari resulted in its name (oddly and quite inexplicably, it’s also known as a secretarybird), which means hawk-bird. What do you think? Or do you have some other theories about its name?

Monday, 21st of July, 2014

It walks with careful, mincing steps: every movement seems to have been debated extensively before being carried out. Its legs are long without being awkward or gangly, and indeed, the trousers it wears give the bird a distinctly humanoid feel. From its long tail- and crest-feathers to its striking black-and-white suit, it is immaculate and confident—hawk-bird of the ground, how could it not be?

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