Big Cat Week
If you're a wildlife devotee, not many of them are better than photographing big cats undergoing alchemy from the ethereal light several hours each day, taking your dream scenes from the television in your living room to the endless plains of the real world, where it all unfolds before your eyes.
Not many of them are better than Big Cat Week.
How is the place?
To the green at heart, a mention of Africa evokes its primordial picture — plains, prey and predators teaming up to spawn the most spectacular wilderness site on the planet, where large animals still maraud wild, free and photogenically. And Masai Mara is its best showpiece; a miniature paradise with a flourishing population of lions and the rest of the Big Five.
A part of the Greater Mara Ecosystem and covering 1510km2, the Masai Mara National Reserve is home to what is effectively a bona fide wildlife symposium, with over 250 species of birds and the greatest show of mammals on Earth.
Such is the opulence of its natural treasures, that an infertile visit under Toehold's guidance at any time of the year is as unlikely as a deluge in the Atacama. And with local air transfers included so you land in the middle of the Mara and commence viewing wildlife from the moment you set foot on its soil, life can seem a nice, double-smooth ride.
How is the weather?
May marks the end of the first of the two annual wet seasons in Kenya. Nourished by the long rains, the grasslands and the woods alike spring spectacularly back to life and shine resplendently in verdant green.
This is also the time when the weather god is known to let His hair down. As the day advances, a dark grey curtain of clouds may hoist itself down the distant horizon ahead while behind you, the nomadic wind, never one to be stopped in its ceaseless flight, nudges the water-bearers, exposing for now the nearest star which seizes the moment to bask in its own glow by shining with full resplendence even as a rainbow graces the sky as a giant ornament.
In an instant, everything before you has turned into an impossibly exquisite canvas of golden éclat; and the essence of the Mara has just thrown open an opportunity to make light work of evocative images throbbing with drama and atmosphere.
Magic is an everyday occurrence in this season.
What you will see and photograph:
Chief exhibitor at the extravaganza is the apex predator and the very emblem of African Wildlife — the lion. Without a doubt, the imperious cat is the centrepiece of the wonderland, with the spotlight rightly on the emperor of all he surveys. And having thrived through the bounty of the migration, many females are rearing small cubs at the time of the Tour. But the relatively easy pickings of the Migration having now gone by, these custodians of the land must be mobile to earn their dinner, which keeps them on their toes.
This prevailing climate of profuse felinity thus spawns a great chance to photograph big cats to your heart's content. The many unknown facets of natural behaviour unfurl themselves on the plains each day as individuals of various ages and standing in lion society may be observed hunting, playing, grooming and resting on the picturesque open plains in spectacular light, all in the public gaze.
The Mara is also a land of terrestrial superlatives. The world's fastest land mammal — the cheetah — is often found sitting pretty on a termite mound, surveying the plains to locate breakfast, while the planet's largest land mammal — the African elephant — takes its size in its stride as it moves about in genial majesty.
The largest living bird on Earth — the ostrich — always likes things to be to its satisfaction. And to top all this, the giraffe — the world's tallest land mammal — uses its ground clearance to look down on one and all from the upper floors of its neck. Decidedly, the denizens of this system appear to love setting records.
Rather less ambitiously but with equal beauty, an impressive variety of antelope roam the rolling plains, while warthogs and hippopotamuses are always around the corner, and so are diverse birds such as the beautiful crowned crane and the magnificent bataleur eagle.
Clearly, there's only one thing that you have to do — be there.
Where you will stay:
If the Mara is a theatre of dreams, the camp we'll be staying in during the Tour is its hospitality box, providing quick and easy access to all the celebrated big-cat headquarters you've seen on the BBC's Big Cat Diary, including the Musiara Marsh, Leopard Gorge, Rhino Ridge and Bila Shaka Lugga.
Located strategically, the camp is the best possible base from which to launch your Mara dreams every night under the canvas of your tent, and set out in pursuit of their fruition the next day under the endless Mara skies.
The tents provide uninterrupted views of either the Talek River or the rolling plains of the Maasai lands as you relax in the verandah, and are stylishly decorated with a shower room that offers 24-hour hot water. Early morning tea and ginger biscuits are brought to our tents, meals are scrumptious and serving times are flexible so we won't miss lunch if we spent too long watching lions in the open 4WD vehicles that lend themselves beautifully to photography and ensure there's nothing between us and the infinity of the Mara.
Sachin has been documenting many of the less-known and little-noticed aspects of the wild and constantly perseveres to share his experiences with citizens and scientists, especially through his photography website which is an enriching resource for budding wildlife enthusiasts and naturalists. An active supporter of many conservation NGOs, Sachin invests a lot of his time in their outreach activities and has led several expeditions in search of rare species, even rediscovering a 'lost' species of frog 73 years after its first sighting and description. For his stellar work in photography, Sachin has been honoured with prestigious accolades, including the Photographer of the Year award by Sanctuary Asia in 2008 and the first prize at the DJ Memorial Photo Contest in 2013.
Sachin's work may be enjoyed on his website at www.landofthewild.com, and regular updates of his latest work can be found on his Facebook Page.
Read more about Sachin here.
WHY GO ON A TOEHOLD PHOTO TOUR?At Toehold, we are passionate about photography just as you are, which lets us understand your travails and needs perfectly. And we use this insight to specially design our Photography Tours so they give you a toehold to excel at the art and set you up for success.
The Toehold team at your disposal will keep you tuned and geared, so you come in empty-handed but go out with bagful of images and tales of an experience that is better lived than heard.
- A clinically organized tour with utmost attention to your comfort and needs
- An open, informal environment that promotes interactive learning
- A team that will strategize and work to a plan to optimize opportunities and ensure a great tour
- Practical, hands-on assistance in photography from the tour Skippers both in the field and off it
- A wealth of subject matter knowledge
- Individual interaction with the Skippers over general or specific issues
- First-hand learning from the masters in the art and craft of photography
These exclusive, informative and interactive sessions are -
TESTIMONIALS BY OUR PREVIOUS TOUR PARTICIPANTSPhotography enthusiasts who were a part of a similar Tour previously said:
We spent five beautiful days in this great place (Masai Mara), and were able to see all the three big cats. The highlight was the cheetah hunt, when five cheetahs charged and killed a male impala - It was a fantastic experience, and we really can't expect more.
The way the tour was organised and the places we stayed in were simply fantastic. Jayanth was a great Skipper. I was astounded by the way he could virtually read the cheetah's mind and put us in the best possible angle to shoot from. I learned a lot of techniques from him, and after this tour, can can safely say that I'm finally able to take a flawless photograph.
- Dr Senthil Kandeepan, Delhi
Rather than list a string of adjectives, let me share a short story that occurred during a recent Masai Mara tour, which typifies the reason I continue to go on photo safaris with Jayanth.
Early one morning Jay spotted a female leopard near the Mara River. Our Land Rover tracked her for the entire morning as she made two unsuccessful yet exciting hunting attempts. She was hungry, had cubs to feed and we knew she would make another hunt attempt. At 12:15 pm, Jay made a key decision: rather than break off from tracking Siri and driving 45 minutes back to the camp for lunch (which would have almost certainly resulted in our not being able to locate her in the afternoon), he radioed our camp asking them to send box lunches to us so that we could maintain visual contact with the gorgeous cat and not miss any photo opportunities. Jay did not want us to miss the rare opportunity of witnessing a leopard hunt.
This is the kind of client-focused decision that is the highlight of all of the trips I have been on. I hope to be fortunate enough to join Jay on future photo safaris.
- Tom Ori, Colorado Springs, USA
It was a 50th birthday wish for my wife to visit Kenya and she had decided on a photography tour with Toehold, led by Sachin Rai. I truly was not expecting the red carpet treatment considering their reasonable rates, and had prepared for the worst, but to my surprise the tour was well planned, executed with no issues at all (truly), because at every turn, our Skipper Sachin seemed to always be one step ahead of everything that was needed. The added bonus was the care and consideration this man took with his two rookies who knew little to nothing of photography. Here is a man that in less than three days had us shooting like pros, and even encouraged specific focusing on magazine-worthy photos while we were out in the field. I am pleased to say I have at least a few that I could not be more proud of due to his guidance.
No matter what stage in life as a photographer you are, this tour is well thought out, and plenty of room is provided, and you will not find yourself crammed in a vehicle with no room to spare. There was never more than three or four in a vehicle that seated nine. From sunrise to sunset, Sachin had amazing energy, and we could not have imagined a more incredible experience. Without doubt we will be seeing him again. He and his company gave us a journey of a lifetime.
- Raymond Solorzano Reno, Nevada
A small note to thank you for the great time I had on the two photo tours to Masai Mara and Rwanda. Your organisation was meticulous, something that many professional tour agencies lack in their approach. I eagerly look forward to more such tours.
- Ajith Pai, Mysore
After seeing five different prides of lions, two cheetah hunts, following a leopardess and six days of bliss in the Mara, I can safely say this is one of the best weeks of my life. All I have to say is: just go with Toehold; don't think about it!
- Siddharth Reddy, Bangalore
Highly recommend traveling to Africa with Toehold! Great learning for my kids and a very enjoyable experience.
- Manjunath H, Bangalore
I never imagined to see such professionalism and personal touch in a young company. My worries were laid to rest the moment I landed in Nairobi. Salute Toehold and thank you for this experience.
- Sanjay Sridhar, Chennai
First I want to thank you for making this trip a memorable one for me, I was really very happy with the kind of audience we had in this group and it was a pleasure interacting with most of them. It was a very good learning experience for me in the filed of photography and I being a novice I got immensely benefited with this tour
- Satish K, Hyderabad
I am constantly impressed by the efficiency, knowledge and quality of the Professional services offered by Toehold team. I was extremely satisfied with the arrangements done for our Kenya Tour which was conducted during May 2012. The Location of accommodation were very well thought over to save the time of travel inside the game reserve. Being a Vegetarian, I didn't face any problems in finding suitable food option in the buffet. No need to mention about the Skippers who were very cooperative and were guiding the participants with their rich experience. It was a totally Successful trip, where in I could take images of all BIG 5. Not to forget that this trip has helped me a lot in securing my ARPS distinction as well.
- Prasanna Venkatesh, Bangalore
Please click on any thumbnail and use the left and right arrow keys to navigate between photos in the gallery.
For the return on 3 June, please book your flight out of Nairobi after 4 p.m.
Onward and return domestic charter flights between the destinations are included, but international flights are not.
- DAY 1 29 May 2017, Monday: Nairobi to Masai Mara by Air; Afternoon Safari and Overnight in Masai Mara
Participants who have opted to arrive the previous night and stay in Nairobi will be transferred to the Wilson Airport after breakfast, and any participants joining us directly from Jomo Kenyatta Airport will be picked up along the way and everyone will then be transferred to Wilson Airport for a scheduled flight to Masai Mara.
Taking off at 9:15 a.m., we enjoy some spectacular aerial views of the savannah before touching down in Masai Mara at 10:00 a.m., upon which we are immediately transferred to the camp. After checking in and refreshing ourselves, we'll meet for a scrumptious luncheon around which we get to know one another better.
Post-lunch, the Skipper will brief the group about the park rules and facilitate a natural-history orientation, following which we venture out for our first safari, during which we acquaint ourselves with the topography of the region and get to know the many animals big and small we'll be getting to know better over the next few days.
After hopefully a productive ride, we return to camp, unwind and retire for the night.
- DAYS 2 TO 5 30 May to 2 June, Tuesday to Friday: Morning and Afternoon Safaris and Overnight in Masai Mara
Over the next four glorious days, we will enjoy memorable morning and afternoon rides in Masai Mara, photographing the big cats and the various other wildlife that teems in this paradise.
This is not a sightseeing trip or relaxed holiday. On this Tour the objective will clearly be to show you great wildlife and assist you in every way in getting outstanding images. Suitably, therefore, we will make an early start every morning to catch animals at first light. This is when big cats are at their most active and the light is at its best, so we seek to make some evocative images. We carry packed breakfast so we don't have to return to camp in a hurry and can stay out shooting as long as we want.
Each of our four-side open 4WD vehicles, custom-made for wildlife viewing and photography, will be shared by only four Tour-participants (only three if the Skipper is in the vehicle), to ensure ample space for everybody to stow their equipment and shoot from a comfortable angle.
Participants will take turns to share the vehicle with Skipper Sachin Rai to take maximum advantage of his experience. Sachin, who has visited Africa more than twenty times, loves its wildlife dearly and knows it intimately, will be at hand at all times to ensure that the vehicle is positioned ideally in relation to the wildlife to get the best images possible without unduly disturbing the animals.
All vehicles will be in constant radio contact with one another so nobody misses out on great opportunities. Meanwhile the Skipper will constantly monitor the situation and strategize with the drivers, who have been chosen carefully on the strength of their merit and experience, to make our time worthwhile.
Sachin and the drivers know many of the lion prides, leopards and cheetahs individually, and are in a great position to share some fascinating anecdotes of their encounters with them - all of which will help you relate to the animals and appreciate their individuality when you actually get to see them yourself, making for a highly personal experience and helping you connect with the wildlife to a profound degree.
There will be no fixed agenda as every day in the bush is different. We will go by the reported sightings of the day and decide either to stay put in one place waiting for the anticipated action to unfold, or roam around finding something on the go.
If there is an opportunity for exceptional images or a unique experience, we may spend several hours in the same place or travel miles to get to the right place. The Skipper will make these decisions as required, of course in consultation with you, with the goal of optimizing photo opportunities and helping you witness memorable wildlife moments.
In the evening we will stay right until sunset and pick a spot and an animal to try different images, including silhouettes, backlit and side-lit ones. This is when participants can pick Sachin's brain on all the technical and subtle artistic aspects of such photographs and make giant strides towards making images that stand out.
Back at camp, we'll be treated to the highly insightful and interactive ChaayaaChitraChaayaaChitra: Photography Techniques, Tips, Tricks, ChitraTantraChitraTantra: Photo Principles, Reviews, Critiqueand CharchaalokaCharchaaloka: Presentations, Lectures, Discussionssessions every day in the evenings, and depending on our schedule, afternoons too if possible.
These sessions impart a wealth of knowledge on all matters photography and natural history, and you can immediately put the knowledge thus gleaned into practice on the very next ride, making the experience truly progressive and enriching. And based on the group's consensus, these flexible sessions can also be customised to suit the preferences of the participants.
Amongst others, we will have a post-production session where Sachin will illustrate some important processing techniques, image presentations that will showcase some exemplary images and discuss various shooting techniques, from which you can learn and take inspiration, and an image-review session where Sachin will critique your chosen images so you know precisely how you can get better.
- DAY 6 3 May, Saturday: Checkout and Return to Nairobi
After a leisurely breakfast, we are transferred to the airstrip within the Mara on time for the departure of our scheduled flight at 10:15 a.m., and arrive at Nairobi at 11:45 a.m. The Tour ends after we're transferred to Jomo Kenyatta Airport for our homebound flight (usually at 5:35 p.m.), but your love affair with Africa has just begun.
MASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE
Frequently Asked Questions
- Who should participate in this Tour?
Anybody with an interest in wildlife, photography or both, and is over the age of 18 (unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian), is welcome to join this Tour.
I am not into photography. Is this Tour suitable for me?
You don't have to be a photographer to enjoy this Tour! Although it's optimized for photography, non-photographers will enjoy the Tour all the same because there's plenty of wildlife to see and learn about and the Masai Mara experience is sure to leave you in thrall regardless of your disposition towards photography.
I am a newbie in nature photography. Am I eligible?
Absolutely! This Tour is meant for fledgling as well as experienced photographers. Beginners get all the advantages of learning on and off the field from Toehold's eminent Skippers. In fact if you are a newbie, you should jump on this terrific learning opportunity and sign up right away!
What are the requisites for this Tour?
Other than good health and an interest for African wildlife and/or photography, the only other requisites are:
- A valid passport and other documents required for a Kenyan visa (issue of visa will be on arrival at Nairobi. The visa costs USD 50 per adult and USD 25 for children below 12 years.)
- Valid yellow-fever and polio inoculations, which is mandatory by law (taken at least 10 days prior to arrival in Kenya and within the last ten years) - speak with us to find out more about this.
- How many people can I expect in each vehicle on this Tour?
The Tour is designed to provide you a balance between unimpeded photography and your budgetary needs. Safaris will be in open 4WD safari vehicles perfect for photography, with each vehicle shared by a maximum of three participants (or three if the Skipper is in the vehicle). This gives you guaranteed window seat, more than one row of seats to work in, and plenty of room to stow your equipment.
- How sure are you about photographing wildlife on this Tour?
Considering the meticulous attention to timing we pay while scheduling Tours and the local expertise we leverage, we believe that it would be extremely unfortunate if our sightings and photography were unsatisfactory. The destination on this Tour has been chosen so as to yield maximum wildlife viewing and photography opportunities. However, since we will be in an uncontrolled environment, we do not claim that sightings are guaranteed.
- What equipment do you suggest on this Tour?
Masai Mara is a land of diverse opportunities, so a versatile quiver of equipment is recommended to capture it in all its glory. A wide-angle or normal zoom to capture landscapes or creative perspectives of wildlife, and a digital SLR capable of shooting at a high continuous burst rate (at least 5 frames per second) are suggested. For telephoto applications, a lens with a focal length of at least 400mm on a cropped-sensor body or 600mm on a 'full-frame' sensor body is usually essential, especially for birds. For mammals a zoom lens in the range of 100 to 400mm works well enough but longer focal lengths will yield intimate portraits.
- I do not have the requisite equipment. What do I do?
If you do not have appropriate equipment, there is no need to fret. Toehold offers an exhaustive array of cameras and lenses for hire, so you can always hire what you need. Click here to see what we offer.
- Date: 29 May - 3 Jun 2017
- Tour Cost:
Per person inclusive of taxes
Per couple inclusive of taxes
Per person inclusive of taxes
Single Occupancy: Masai Mara
Extra per person inclusive of taxes
- Skipper: Sachin Rai