It was barely three weeks to the Eid break and we desperately needed to break the monotony from the concrete jungle we were living in. We decided to speak the part of the world we wanted to visit on the count of three – we exclaimed “Africa” 🙂 and without much ado finalized Tanzania. Hooray, I was excited. I started day-dreaming about the big cats hunting the likes of antelopes, and watching millions of wildebeest cross the Mara river while some of them will become prey to the deadly crocodiles in that river.
I learnt that July is the best time of the year to visit the place and migration will be in Northern Serengeti by the time we reach there. However the best place to see the predators undoubtedly was Central Serengeti in this period. We had to choose one of the two due to paucity of time. After some quiet contemplation we zeroed down to Central Serengeti.
I researched and found there were mainly two ways to go on a safari. A Self drive or Tour company operated safari. After much discussion and thought we we booked Ahsante tours, a tour operator from Moshi and I am glad we did. We were going to be on a 5 day safari.
Day 1: Soon the day came when we were finally leaving for Tanzania. We were ready for the first leg of our journey. Dubai—> Addis—> Kilimanjaro. Just before landing at Kilimanjaro airport, somewhere above the clouds we got a glimpse of Mt. Kilimanjaro’s peak shrouded by a few clouds. I felt my heart race at the thought of the exhilarating journey ahead. Upon arrival at Kilimanjaro International airport, we were met with our driver-guide at the airport and we began our journey to Karatu Forest Tented camp – our stay for the night. En-route we were met with our chef for the duration of the safari. We did not see Mt. Kilimanjaro on our way as we were travelling in opposite direction, but we did see Mt. Meru (4,565 m)- standing tall in all its glory. Tanzania was building up our excitement levels.
As the sun set we ascended towards Karatu (elevation 1,558 m) and I began looking outside the window at the night sky, I could see millions of stars, more than I had ever seen (more than my Maldives or Madagascar star gazing experience too- which I thought were best so far). Sky was completely dark with no lights around, I could see a faint band in the sky. It is said that if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, the center of the Milky Way will be almost overhead. Unfortunately I don’t know how to capture the Milky Way. But yes it’s on my wishlist now..! My neck ached because of looking out of the small window for over an hour. The air was cold, roads were bleak and we were the only vehicle in sight. Finally we reached Karatu forest tented lodge and were greeted by welcoming hosts with a glass of juice and hot towel (just what I needed). Soon after we had a hearty meal. A carrot onion salad served on avocado with special sauce. An utterly delicious carrot soup. Beef curry, Mushroom curry, Radish leaves stir fry (mooli ke patte ki sabzi) served with rice. And watermelon for dessert which we happily skipped given how cold it was.
We discussed the next day’s plan with our guide and then dozed off to the sounds of the laughing hyenas in the vicinity of the tent.
Day 2: We got the luxury of a hot shower- I will call that a luxury in 10 deg C and tented camps. It was not just cold but raining too.
After a sumptuous breakfast of eggs, bread, baked beans and coffee we hit the road to Serengeti via Ngorongoro.
Today’s plan was to travel to Serengeti with game en-route. We stopped by the gate of Ngorongoro to do some paperwork formalities where I saw the pied kingfisher 🙂
I learnt that Ngorongoro is anomalously called a crater. It is actually a caldera formed by the collapse of a volcano thousands of years ago.
On our way we stopped at a viewpoint to take a glimpse of the Ngorongoro conservation area. From a distance and with our high zoom binoculars I could see herds of wildebeest and buffaloes. It was not clear. Anyhow we were going to return to the place on our last day of safari.
As we drove from Ngorongoro area to Serengeti Park, we saw many Masaai villages. We were told that the Maasai tribe saw lion hunting experience as a sign of bravery and personal achievement. They also hunted the lion because it took away their cattle. Cattle was most precious to Masaai. Around year 1959 Masaai were moved to Ngorongoro area and since then no human settlements (only camping permits) have been allowed in Serengeti National Park.
Soon the Masaai villages diminished and we saw more animals before entering inside the much awaited National park. We were entering the Ndutu plains now. I had watched discovery channel shows on Ndutu plains but the feeling of being there in person was surreal.
By now I was completely immersed in this spiritual experience, and I did not remotely remember the mundane noise of my city life. Time slowed down and I began to have a deep connection with nature.
As we entered the premises of the park we saw Ostrich, Giraffe, Gazelle and Zebra mainly.
I thought because of the landscape, we won’t be able to see any reptiles but when we stopped for picnic lunch, I couldn’t help but notice the colorful Agama lizards. Yay reptiles!!
This place also marked the beginning of my birding journey (except off course the Ostrich I saw earlier) in Serengeti game drives. Though I have written a separate post about the birds I saw in Tanzania, still I would mention them here in the order in which I saw them on my journey. No piece is complete without a mention of the birds 🙂
The entire main road inside Serengeti was of grit and gravel. It did little to bother me, as the views were spectacular. There was not a minute of monotony.
I was wondering where would the predators be at? That’s when we saw a lioness in the tall grasses basking in the sunlight.
And we were also thoroughly enjoying ourselves.
Vervet Monkey – Not much to say except that they have bright blue testicles. What a color choice by mother nature 😉
Soon after we saw the notorious baboons too.
No matter how many times I saw a particular animal I still had the same zeal when I saw it the “nth” time. Such is the beauty of the place. For instance, I saw giraffes countless times every 500 meters but did I get bored- NAY..!! The closer they were, more excited I was.
We were nearing the end of our game drive for the day as it was close to 4 pm and we had to pitch our tents too. When all of a sudden Rohit shouted “Cheetah”. There lay two of them enjoying the afternoon sun, preparing their muscles to hunt another day.
Our campsite called Seronera was inside Serengeti and we were greeted by a few zebra and giraffe in the vicinity. The camp was basically a small clearing with a few tents. Only two basic concrete structures. One was a kitchen with some slabs and taps, it had space enough to use it as a dining hall. Another one was a washroom. We took out the camping gear from the safari vehicle and pitched the tents. While the cook got busy preparing dinner.
The evening went by sharing campsite stories with our guide Leslie, followed by dinner. We retired early to bed looking forward to another exciting day. Our adventures in Serengeti continue – read in my new post Endless plains.