Travel Attitude!

Travel Attitude

We often get asked about how we manage to travel so much. TBH, we don’t think it’s ‘much’; we would love to travel at least twice as much as we do now. But, returning to the point, we realise we cannot give ‘tips’ for we are not experts.

What we can do is share our ‘habits’ that make our life fuller of travel than most.

Habit #1 – Holiday Calendar

If you work in the corporate sector, your organization would send you a holiday calendar in the second half of December or latest by the first half of January.

This is our first step. The moment N’s holiday calendar comes, we begin our holiday planning. (P does not work in the corporate sector; so, she works around N’s calendar.)

These days, organizations give holidays closer to weekends – Monday/ Tuesday/ Thursday/ Friday – so that by taking just one leave (or no leave at all), you are able to get an extended weekend. We utilise this provision wholeheartedly.

For most people, we have seen they do not pay attention to the holiday calendar. One day before the holiday, they go to ‘HR’ & ask – “Is tomorrow a holiday?” Well, if you are going to be a last moment person, then you can certainly not plan a holiday.

If you do not work in the corporate sector, you can work out your own holiday calendar. By November, the internet is flooded with the list of holidays for the next year. Just a matter of then deciding which dates suit you the most.

Pay attention to the holiday calendar & mark out the dates which are long weekends or those which can provide opportunities to travel. A short trip does not need more than three days.

We all get opportunities equally; depends on what we make of it…

Habit #2 – Long Voyages

We have a few thumb rules, the biggest of which is – More shorter holidays, fewer longer holidays. In a year, we take off for a long holiday only twice.

Once is during our anniversary where we take a week off & try to make it an international holiday. The second is sometime during the middle of the year where we can get five days off comfortably.

For many years, this second holiday has fallen around 15th August which is a great time to take off in India, especially in a larger group, as everyone has a holiday around this time.

Both the longer holidays are meant for destinations not close by. Over the last few years, we have covered Bhutan, Singapore, Australia, Italy, Ladakh, Malaysia, Kashmir, USA, China, United Kingdom, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Indonesia, Indian West Coast, Kenya, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Maharashtra.

We work towards making everything revolve around our holiday, rather than the other way around.

Habit #3 – Short Drives

We find these trickier than longer ones. Our short breaks are over an extended weekend. Every single time, it’s a bother to ascertain how to fit the most in the limited time, while also accounting for the travel time.

We’ve another thumb rule: if it’s a three-day break, we don’t go beyond 300 kms. Living in the NCR, 300 kms translates into the Himalayas in the East & Rajasthan in the West.

If we want to exceed the 300 kms limit, we opt for places that are easy to get to. Places which are a flight/ train/ bus hop away. In the last few years, we’ve covered –

We hear folks say they don’t get leave from work. We find it hard to believe that taking ONE day off can be such a challenge.

Habit #4 – Seasonal Travel

We plan our travels around seasons which means we opt for the off-season for most places. This helps in avoiding crowds & getting value out of whatever we spend.

E.g., we will never go to a Goa during the peak winter season in north India. But this also doesn’t mean that we go to Ladakh in January or Rajasthan in May! (There are perks of this kind of travel too – like spotting tigers in the peak of summer.)

In extreme weather conditions, we opt for off-beat destinations, like a Rikholi over a Mussoorie.

Habit #5 – Research, Research, Research!

Before embarking on any trip, we carry out extensive research. What to see, where to eat, where to shop, best sunrise/ sunset spot, best local cuisine, mode of transport, hidden gem & so forth!

We try to make the best of our visits because we usually don’t intend to return to the same destination. Life is too short for repetitions! 😀

Habit #6 – Day Planning

Thanks to the above research, we manage to plan each of our travel days. This ensures we don’t waste time once we reach in figuring things out. When we’ve travelled in groups, & where we’ve let go of our obsessive planning tendencies, we’ve realised that groups waste a huge amount of time in just ascertaining what to do on a particular day. By the time they decide, half the day is already gone!

Habit #7 – Expect the Unexpected!

Like we said above, we always have a plan about what we want to see but we also allow for surprises. E.g., in Daman, we had our minds on the beaches & forts but also managed to chalk out one day to drive south, along the Arabian Sea, to the twin seaside towns of Bordi & Dahanu.

Habit #8 – Ditch the Lethargy

We hear folks say ‘we just want to rest over the weekend’. It’s surely tempting to sleep in over a long weekend but we know this time isn’t returning. There’ll come a time when we’ll be forced to stay within the four walls of our home; so why not make the most of ‘now’ right now?

So, don’t be lazy! Go watch stories unfold!

Habit #9 – See Local

We try to get locals to show us around the destination. In Jaipur, we had our City Palace, Amer etc. lined up, but we also got a ton of recommendations from our homestay owner. That made all the difference to our trip!

In Melbourne, the hotel concierge suggested us to walk to the Hosier Lane to see the street art. We weren’t disappointed!

Habit #10 – No Herd Mentality

There was a time when everyone was making her/ his way to Greece or Kasol closer home. Not us! We dislike flowing with the tide for the simple reason that tourist hype ruins experiences.

So, if the world is heading east, you’re sure to catch us heading west!

Habit #11 – Method in Madness

When we embraced the travel life, a lot of people would constantly express shock about our need to travel frequently. The same people now themselves travel whenever they can!

Travelling every month (or at least trying to) may seem absurd but our explorations have left us more adaptable, more contented, wiser and better human beings.

So here we are – an open book! We hope we’ve inspired you to get out more.

Masai Mara National Reserve – All The Practical Stuff!

sunset, bird, lilac breasted roller

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 Mara.

‘Spotted Land’

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.

big 5, cape buffalo
Our first Big 5 sighting! The Cape Buffalo, a distant cousin of our very own Bhainsa!

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.

african bush elephant
It’s said the African Bush Elephant has ears resembling the map of Africa. We can see why it’s so…

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.

Suckers for sunsets – that’s what we are!

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.

african hoopoe
The African Hoopoe asked us to say ‘hi’ to the Eurasian Hoopoe found in India.

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.

We availed the services of Kiboko Kenya Safaris; read our review here.

masai giraffe
“Where are you going sister?” “Don’t you know? There’s a sale going on in Zara!”

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!

We stayed at Sentrim Mara -& had a great time there.

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.

A rhinoceros crossed the road & attempted to climb back up on the other side. It was a struggle for the rhino, but for us, it made an amusing sight…

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.

migration, wildebeest, zebra, tanzania, kenya
Wildebeest & zebras had started making their way from Tanzania to Kenya. Zebras are the smart/ opportunistic ones in this scheme… They follow the wildebeest’s lead to get to Kenya, & once here, abandon the wildebeest (who have the memory of a goldfish & sometimes end up going back the way they came)!

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.

cheetah, grassland
See the cheetahs lazing in the grassland…

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 easy.

There’s no bigger source of GK than travel! We figured how a Land Cruiser could be converted into a safari vehicle, with a detachable top.

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.

african pied wagtail
An African Pied Wagtail refuses to turn its head.

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.

lion, lioness, grassland, camouflage
Quite difficult to ascertain lions & lionesses in the grasslands, so perfect was the camouflage

i. Birds Spotted – African Pied Wagtail, Yellow-billed Ox-pecker, Common Ostrich, Rufous – Naped Lark, African Wattled Lapwing, Cinnamon-Chested Bee-Eater, Greater Blue-Eared Starling, Yellow-Fronted Canary, Slate – Coloured Boubou, Hildebrandt’s Starling, Egyptian Goose, White-Bellied Bustard, Scaly Francolin, White-Backed Vulture, Lilac Breasted Roller, Red-Cheeked Cordon-Bleu, Superb Starling, Abbott’s Starling, White-Faced Whistling Ducks, Yellow-Billed Stork, Maribou Stork, Lappet-Faced Vulture

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

yellow billed ox pecker
Yellow-billed Ox-pecker neighbors look on enviously

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.

i. Birds Spotted – Lilac – Breasted Roller, Superb Starling, African Hoopoe, Tawny Eagle, Ruppell’s Vulture, Bateleur, African White-backed Vultures, Ring-Necked Dove, Anteater Chat, Yellow-Throated Longclaw, Bare-Faced Go-Away-Bird, African Wattled Lapwing, Little Bee-Eater

ii. Mammals Spotted – African Bush Elephant, Plains Zebra, Masai Giraffe, Wildebeest, Common Eland, Cape Buffalo, East African Lion

rufous naped lark
A Rufous – Naped Lark ready to take off

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.

cinnamon chested bee eater
A Cinnamon-Chested Bee-Eater had to be clicked!

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 our knowledge.