Thanks to the lousy day we had yesterday, we have been trying to escape mentally to the mountains. If you know us, we feel ourselves at home in the mountains. 2021 has been difficult for all of us but we have managed to cope on most of the days. However, occasionally, like yesterday, it gets tough.
As we process our thoughts, we seek solace in travelling back through memories. Why we dreamt of the mountains when inundated with sad emotions is something that made us curious. We narrowed down to 10 reasons why we love the mountains so much.
The mountains were a part of our childhoods, from road trips on the winding roads of Nepal to scaling gravity defying inclines in Darjeeling to trying yak cheese in Gangtok. As young adults, we remember freezing in the chilly winds of Chail & viewing surreal sights in the Scottish Highlands.
Our honeymoon was in Italy, but the standout memory is of viewing the Alps as we flew from Paris to Venice. We are lucky to have visited some amazing places & will continue to make more such memories.
We are not keen on adventure sports, but walking & hiking are a part of us. When a hike takes us to a vantage spot, the adrenaline rush is exceptional. We get drunk by that sense of achievement. Physically we may say ‘no more’ but in our hearts, we know we will do it again.
Oh dear! This is triggering a major nostalgia. Mountain food is dainty! We always opt for the local cuisine & have seldom been disappointed. The steaming thukpa of the Tibetan – influence regions to the rajma – chawal (Indian style kidney beans with rice) of the lower Himalayas, we have always had a plethora of options when we visit the mountains.
& how can we not mention the freshly baked goods of hill stations which were home to British colonists!
When we have stood on the top of a mountain, freedom has been our dominant emotion. For those of us who live in the Indian plains, the warm Sun on our cheeks is welcome for a change. As we inhale the fresh air, with every breath, we exhale the word ‘freedom’.
There can be much to do in the mountains but there is always an option to relax. We love the fact that there is no pressure to dress up & complete a checklist of sights to see. There have been mountain trips when we have just lazed in the gardens of our accommodations, looked at the sky change colours, & listened to the birds chirp.
The pace of life for the locals is easy-going too & that can be infectious!
For those of us who live in Delhi NCR, the Himalayas are our chance of awesome panoramas. There is no better way to escape reality in our opinion. When we are in the mountains for a break, we are in awe of life every single day.
If dramatic scenes do not make us believe in the beauty of life, we doubt anything else can.
OMG! We could write pages on this. We have met such beautiful people in the mountains. Their life outlook is different from ours & something to take inspiration from. They know the value of life & they do not take anything for granted.
We cannot forget the ladies we met in Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh – the friendliest people we have ever come across.
Be it any season, the mountains remain extraordinary. The breeze of spring, the rivers of summer, the yellowing leaves of autumn, the bone chilling cold of winter – each season has a distinctive vibe & must be experienced.
Our appetite for the mountains has taken us to impressive places – high altitude deserts of Ladakh, lush green hills of Satpura, rainfed forests of Western Ghats, umpteen hamlets of Himachal, warm hospitality of Bhutan, birds of Uttarakhand, Rift Valley of Kenya, safety of Sikkim, rice fields & volcanos of Bali, spooky Scottish Highlands, Great Wall in China, mountainous island of Kauai, undulating streets of Hong Kong, breath-taking valleys of Kashmir, cable car rides of Langkawi, vineyards of Chianti, Blue Mountains of Australia…
To each of these places, we have said, ‘we will be back’ & we do dream of returning but we also realise life is too short to keep seeing the same places. So, we continue to revisit these places in our hearts!
Every day we dream of the mountains. Every day we envisage our forever home in the mountains. This becomes more pronounced in the summer when we feel ourselves melting under the Sun. & also in winter because the very thought of snow surrounding us is delicious (even if inconvenient).
We do not know if & when our forever mountain home will materialise but that does not stop us from daydreaming.
It may take a while, but we will be back in the mountains at the first safe opportunity. Breathe in that fresh air & make those memories again. Till then, we are staying home, staying safe, & hope you are too!
When we began our research for the Masai Mara National
Reserve, we found information to be scattered across the Internet. Climate
information at one place, visa at another, what to carry at yet another… We
made a mental note then itself that we would list down the useful bits at one
place when we got back!
So, without much preamble, listing down the top 10 things
you need to keep in mind if you are planning a trip to the beautiful Masai
1. Best Time to Go – We will not get into what the Great Migration is. But just suffice to say that it is the BEST time to visit the Mara if you want to see thousands of animals. July – September is the time when the wild beasts move from Tanzania to Kenya; they return to Tanzania in January – March.
Jul – Sep is the busiest time of the year for the National Reserve. So, make your bookings well in advance. The costs will be inflated in this quarter, but if you delay, there is a likelihood of not getting accommodation/ vehicles at all. We finalized our trip in June to travel in August! <facepalm>
2. Getting There – There is no direct connectivity to the Reserve. The closest international airport is Nairobi. For Indians, while there are direct flights from Mumbai to Nairobi, this does not hold for New Delhi. There are innumerable options available for hopping – either through Mumbai or to one of the many cities in the middle east.
We chose the route of New Delhi – Muscat – Nairobi by Oman Air.
3. Visa for Indians – Kenya has a convenient e-visa system. Go to the visa website, create an account, fill out the application form, & pay the visa fee online. Once your e-visa is approved, you can download the PDF on your handheld device to use during immigration.
As a tourist, you will be eligible for a Single-Entry Visa.
4. Yellow Fever Vaccination – The Yellow Fever Vaccine is needed by those traveling to certain African countries. There are specific places that are authorized to give this vaccination – a simple google search will throw up the names. However, note that each of these places have either a booking system or a specific day/ time when they give this vaccine. So, it is not like you can simply walk in & get this done.
We got ours done at Public Health Lab
Building, Delhi. There is a registration window lasting till 10:30 AM; the
vaccination begins at 11 AM. If you are aware of your allergies (especially egg
– related allergies), please let the officer-in-charge know upfront.
Please note – you have to carry your passport for the vaccination.
5. Weather – Being close to the Equator, the weather is cooler from July to September. It is cold in early morning & late evening. For our sunrise & sunset safaris, & for our dinners, we would step out with a jacket.
We recommend carrying a light jacket at
least; it will be useful in the Savannah (the temperatures can be even lower
there). Typically, these months also see a bit of rainfall but we were lucky to
have avoided it.
The Jacuzzi looked inviting as the Sun shone overhead. But the moment we got in, we froze to our bones & emerged promptly with chattering teeth.
6. The Sun – The weather is pleasant but the direct Sun is strong. Walking in the Sun made us sweat like pigs. But the moment we entered the shade, it became nippy. Also, the wind was never hot. We recommend carrying a cap/ hat & sunglasses.
7. Travel Agency – As it was our first trip to Africa, we were unsure of what to expect. We felt it practical to use a travel agency. We found agencies ranging from INR 3L to INR 10L! So, irrespective of your budget, you will be able to find an agency.
8. Accommodation – There is no dearth of accommodation in & around the Masai Mara National Reserve. Unlike India, where staying inside forest reserves is not allowed, the Masai Mara has plenty of options inside the reserve itself. In terms of quality, there is no difference. However, the camps/ resorts within the national reserve come with an added bonus of animal noises at night!
9. Food – A complete nonissue! Many people are wary of traveling to Africa as they have preconceived notions about the food. If you have any such notions, dispel them immediately. We did not have any problem of finding food suitable to our palate. African, European & Indian foods are available aplenty.
Kenya has a sizable Indian diaspora; thus, Indian food is extremely common. Plenty of vegetarian options available too!
10. Clothing – Like with any wildlife safari, it is better to wear earthy, muted tones. Wear fully-covered clothing to prevent insect bites & sunburn/ tan. We wore full-legged pants on all the days, yet got bitten by microscopic insects.
11. Bio Breaks During Game Drives – We were worried about the loo aspect as we are high water drinkers. The sunrise/ sunset safaris last for two hours typically. That is a manageable time for not using a loo. In a full day game drive, the driver makes two stops, at intervals of about three hours.
For us, one of the stops was in a lodge
where the loo was clean & easy to use. The other stop was in a public
facility, which was basically a hole in the ground! We dehydrated ourselves a
bit to avoid getting our bladders full.
But we will advise against not drinking water at all, because the Sun will compel you to. Drink in moderation, so that you do not end up uncomfortable.
12. Safety – We traveled during daylight hours. Our driver stopped at respectable places. Safety was not a challenge for us, neither should it be for you.
In the reserve & the camp, pay heed to security warnings issued by the guide/ management. You are in wildlife territory. Leopards & hyenas are known to wander into human areas. Maybe they are as curious about us as we are about them!
13. Game Drive – Drives are carried out in two kinds of vehicles – vans & Land Cruisers. While both are customized for game watching, we feel the Land Cruiser is a more comfortable, more spacious, & thus, a better option.
Also, you can opt for a dedicated vehicle
or a shared one. The dedicated vehicle is expensive undoubtedly, but it is
value for money. We had a dedicated vehicle with just the two of us in it! It made
our movement within the vehicle to take photos from different angles extremely
There are three kinds of safaris – sunrise, full day & sunset. The sunrise & sunset game drives last for a couple of hours. The full day drive is from 8 AM to 3 PM.
a. Sunrise Safari – You enter the Masai Mara National Reserve a little before the sun rises. Witness the sunrise against a backdrop of wildlife & acacia trees. The hot air balloon rides take place at this hour, & make for pretty photographs.
The sunrise game drive is the best time to see the big cats in action, as well as nocturnal animals heading home. We saw a hyena, a jackal & a serval cat slinking away after a night of notoriety. We then saw a display of ‘Might Is Right’ between a honeymooning lion & lioness, and a cheetah. Read this story here.
i. Birds Spotted – Common Ostrich, Yellow-Fronted Canary
ii. Mammals Spotted – Plains Zebra, Cape Buffalo, Thomson’s Gazelle, East African jackal, African Bush Elephant, Cheetah, East African Lion, Masai Giraffe, Wildebeest
b. Full Day Drive – Alfred got our lunch packed & we headed out for a day of wildlife spotting. This safari is great to see the most number & variety of animals.
ii. Mammals Spotted – Thomson’s Gazelle, Black Rhinoceros, Impala, Plains Zebra, Wildebeest, Hippopotamus, Common Eland, African Bush Elephant, Olive Baboon, East African Defassa Waterbuck, Warthog, Coke’s Hartebeest, Masai Giraffe, East African Lion
iii. Reptiles Spotted – Agama Lizard, Nile Crocodile
c. Sunset Game Drive – This afternoon/ early evening drive is the time when birds are returning to their nests & herbivores have stuffed themselves full! The afternoon Sun is not conducive for the Big Cats; you find them hidden under bushes (lion), hidden in the tall grass (cheetah), or plain hidden (leopard)! So, do not expect to see great action from the Big Cats now. However, the sunset hour is a good time to see raptors.
ii. Mammals Spotted – African Bush Elephant, Plains Zebra, Masai Giraffe, Wildebeest, Common Eland, Cape Buffalo, East African Lion
14. Road Condition – From Nairobi, if you take the road to the Masai Mara National Reserve (the alternative is an aircraft), be prepared for bad roads. When we say bad, we mean ‘India of the 80s’ bad. The last 50 kms to reach the Masai Mara are nightmarish.
Kenya is sparsely populated. So, you do not
see many human beings, but certainly Chinese trucks. Thanks to the rapid
construction, trucks ferrying goods can be seen. You can spot under
construction highways, railway lines etc.
While we did not see any animals on our way to the Mara, but the day we left from there, in the early morning hours, we kept spotting wild animals for many kilometers, even after we had exited the reserve area.
15. Tipping – Kenyans expect a tip, & can be blunt about asking for it. Ensure you have adequate change on you.
Phew! We believe we have covered all the practical aspects
that we wished we knew before going. If there is anything more you would like
to know, please feel free to leave a comment; we will answer it to the best of
For somebody who has grown up watching the nature &
wildlife channels on television, the Masai Mara National Reserve was a
must-have on the bucket list. Thus, when an ex-colleague, now working in
Nairobi, asked us to come over, specially as the migration season was on, we
did not have to think twice. It also meant that our planning & reservations
were being done at the last minute, implying fewer options and/ or higher
fares. But we knew we might not get a chance again anytime soon. Before we
could digest the fact that we were (finally) visiting the Masai Mara, we were
on a plane bound for Nairobi via Muscat.
Getting to the Mara from Nairobi is possible both by air & by road. We chose road as we have been lifelong believers of ‘the best way to see the country is by road’. But if you want to save time, you can choose the flight option. Tiny air crafts land on airstrips made inside the national reserve, giving a chance to see the vast land aerially. But, do note, as these are the small air crafts, there are luggage restrictions. Check before you book!
Within the reserve, as well as right on the periphery,
there are innumerable accommodation options available. The ones within have an
added advantage of the visitor being able to sleep amidst the wilderness, listening
to the wildlife sounds all night long. We chose a camp at the periphery, thanks
to, well, our last-minute booking. But we do not regret it, as our hearts were
full with all that we saw during the daytime. Speaking of accommodation, camps
are available in both luxury & mid segment, to suit all budgets.
With the details out of the way, let us come to the Masai Mara National Reserve itself. Imagine an unending stretch of land in front of you, with golden grass swaying in the breeze, a blue sky overhead, and here & there a spotting of acacia trees! Turn left, or right, or around, & the same vista greets you. The golden grass reminds you of wheat fields. The clouds twist & turn into different shapes. And a giraffe chomps on the thorny leaves of the acacia tree! Remembering our first sight of this vast grassland, & writing about it, still gives us Goosebumps!
So, Mara stands for ‘spotted land’ in the Masai language.
Rightly so, as the monotony of the flat savanna is broken by the spotting of
the flattop acacia trees. When the light is right, clouds cast their shadow on
the land, causing a spotting of a different kind. And when the migration is
underway, animals spot this gorgeous grassland.
Enough & more has been said about the Masai Mara. So, instead of the generic, we would like to share a few experiences we had.
A leopard had hunted a wildebeest & hung it on a tree for some leisurely eating later. As the day was too warm, the leopard had receded into the shade. When we chanced upon the carcass hanging from the tree, we noticed a White-Backed Vulture sitting next to it. Around the vulture flocked many Lilac-Breasted Rollers. But none of the birds touched the carcass. The birds were waiting for the leopard to finish eating the wildebeest. When pieces would fall on the ground, the vulture would snag its share. And when the carcass rots, the rollers would move in to eat the maggots. There could not be a better example of animals working on the principle of symbiosis.
The second realization for us was the ‘survival of the fittest’. Such an oft-used term, and still when we saw it being played out, it gave us chills. Once July begins, the Kenyan side of the Mara River becomes greener. Herbivores cross the crocodile-infested river and come over to the Mara to give their young ones a better chance at survival. This phenomenon is called The Great Migration. Now, imagine, a river teeming with brutal, hungry Nile Crocodiles. A herd of wildebeest anxiously stand on the edge of the river, debating whether or not to cross. The choices are being eaten by the crocodiles if they do, and death by starvation if they don’t. They take a chance & dash through the river. In the process, the slow and weak ones get snapped up by the crocodiles, & a few get caught in the stampede. But most cross! Nature eliminates the weak, & the fittest survive. Ruthless, but natural!
On a sunrise safari, we missed a hunt by a few minutes. A cheetah stood tall over a dying impala. Ideally, it should have sat down & feasted. But its ears were pricked up. The cheetah was, rightly, on high alert. A lioness had smelt the blood and was making her way towards the cheetah. The fastest animal in the world was no match for the Big Five member. It scooted, leaving its prey for the lioness. She staked claim on the impala, lapped up a little blood, but did not eat either. What was the matter? It turned out she was on a honeymoon, & was waiting for her mate to partake the food first. The king of the jungle walked in with a swagger, & dragged off the impala into the bushes. The lioness looked on, forlorn. At a distance, the cheetah rested its tired limbs, brooded over losing its meal, but glad to be alive! We had heard stories of the dominance of the Big Five; we now had one of our own.
There were so many more such eyeopeners. The ink may run dry, our national reserve stories would not. Stories of the Elephant calf mocking us, the Rhinoceros casually strolling on the path, the beautiful Zebras running along with our vehicle, the Giraffes cocking their ears at us, the Wildebeest walking in a straight line, the Ostrich looking for water, the Lion cubs cuddling, the uncountable varieties of birds posing readily for us, the Hippopotami sunbathing, the Agama Lizards darting around us, the Warthog hiding on seeing us, the East African Jackal being curious about us, five Cheetahs popping out of the grass when we expected only one…
If you have the time, try to go for all the kinds of game drives – sunrise, full day, & sunset. Each has a USP. E.g., the sunrise drive is the best time to catch the Big Cats in action. The sunset one is most suitable for seeing the raptors. We also chose a private vehicle, which meant we were the only ones in it. Sure, it was expensive, but we wanted an unhindered view of the savanna & the wildlife.
We like beings like these – bruised but not broken… Go Lioness!
Lastly, a visit to the reserve is incomplete without visiting the Masai village. You can meet the tribes people, understand their customs, see their distinctive outfits, buy traditional handmade beaded jewellery & participate in their traditional jumping dance. It is not something one can forget!
Ever since we returned, we have encouraged everyone,
specially those with kids, to go to the Masai Mara National Reserve. The
beautiful land can teach us a thousand lessons on why the environment must be
respected. The timelessness of the Masai Mara, the vastness of the grassland,
& the coexistence of different species – if these are not what dreams are