I was nine when I went on my first school trip. More such school/ college trips happened when I was 15 & then 20. I traveled alone to attend my friends’ weddings in Kerala, Tamil Nadu & Uttar Pradesh when I was 25-26. Those same years, I visited Thailand & to Bordi with just my girlfriend.
I went on a solo trip to Australia when I was 27, to Gangtok when I was 32, & to Ladakh when 33. I visited Beijing with my girlfriends when I was 29, Bhagalpur with my mother when 31, & Goa with my niece at 32.
I roam around my city all the time for sightseeing, either alone or with my mother. Lastly, from the time I began my post-graduation till my early retirement from the corporate sector, I traveled alone for work.
Why do I list these?
Because, I acknowledge that a female traveling, in India, is still a big deal. A female traveling solo, an even
bigger one! An older male friend recently asked, “Why do women prefix their
trips with ‘solo’? Why can’t they just say that they are going on a trip? Like
I had not come across this
question earlier, but the answer hit me in a split second. It was because every
time I have mentioned – ‘I am going on a trip.’, the first response is a
question – ‘with whom?’ I guess so is the case with most girls, which makes us
want to #SoloTrip.
Women are brought up to
believe that the world is a dangerous place. That they are better off within
the confines of their homes, or only when accompanied by men. I have rebelled against this for as long as I remember. The world is
only as bad or as good as we want it to be.
In all my solo travels, I
have been treated with curiosity (sure) but also with awe & respect. Despite
being an introvert, I have got into more conversations with strangers when
traveling alone, than when in company. I have felt freer on my journeys alone.
More introspective. More at peace!
And I wish more girls
experience these moments
of exhilaration for themselves.
P.S. I thank my parents for instilling this independent spirit from an early
age. They never stopped me from undertaking any kind of travel. Also, my spouse who encourages (not ‘allows’) me to travel solo every
now & then.
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