Fourteen people fell in love with the same thing at the same time. Toehold’s Sachin Rai facilitated this romance with Kenya through a Tour that packed it all.
As always the group checked in to a Nairobi hotel and stayed overnight, relaxing their tired bodies from the six-hour flight that had got them across the Arabian Sea to the Eastern edge of the great African continent.
Skipper Sachin Rai’s presence kicked in in the evening, when in his usual effervescent manner, he chaired an introduction session and delivered a briefing about the Tour to the eager ears before calling it an exciting day.
Next morning he marshalled the participants out of the hotel early after breakfast, wanting to reach Amboseli for lunch, which they did in about six hours.
En route the group understood the real sense of scale and ubiquitousness that’s associated with the wildlife of Africa, with zebra, gazelle et al dotting the wide-open spaces flanking the highway, even as the group managed some shots of a pale-chanting goshawk.
Their entry into Amboseli was welcomed with equal fervour, by a family of five cheetahs up in a tree.
The sensible amongst them were resting in the shade, while the other, more restive, subadults climbed up and down the tree and the mother scanned the surroundings with customary circumspection.
Some time later, convinced the coast was clear for her cubs to gambol sans fear of molestation, she sought asylum in the shade and slept, while the subadults now took up sentry duty to actively scan the savannah, and within minutes of their vigil, noticed something.
A sounder of warthogs.
Shedding their sentry uniforms, they promptly and seamlessly made the transition to hunting mode, but equipped with only clumsiness as their chief weapon, failed in their fruitless chase.
What’s worse, the next moment the hogs turned around and chased the them back to the tree, restoring their designation as watchers-on-the-wall with perhaps a slight deficit in dignity and a miniscule growth in wisdom.
All this action was too absorbing to abandon, but since the group had to answer the calls of their increasingly vehement stomachs, Sachin led them the lodge and checked them in.
The lodge is in a truly delightful location deep in the heart of the park with rows of rooms facing each other, a lovely swimming-pool and the back door opening into the bush where vervet monkeys and a variety of birds abound. Elephants can often be seen from the pool or the dining hall.
After feasting on the smorgasbord of culinary treats offered at lunch, the group set out on the maiden evening safari, which was pronounced ‘go’ by a panel comprising a ruffled female ostrich, a lanky Maasai giraffe, a comely Thomson’s gazelle, a sheepish spotted hyena and a lone Cape buffalo bull lending himself well to flattering portraits.
Then there was the secretary bird and the grey-head kingfisher, who heralded the mellowing down of the sun and preceded the godly sight of a pair of grey crowned cranes, of which the group made some beautiful shots against the light.
Then the sun reemerged and illuminated a glorious elephant bull in incredible light on green grass which revealed that he had a curiously short trunk.
Following this nasally inadequate revelation, they found more bulls and had their eyes full of pachydermal presence for that evening.
The amazing light and the green grass made for some delightful photography as the giants waded through the marshes, justifying Amboseli’s reputation as one of the best places in Africa to photograph the planet’s largest land-mammal. Calves gambolled insouciantly in the shadows of their protective mothers, as cattle egrets hung closely with the hanging trunks beneath the ubiquitous tusks. One youngster played with a tuft of grass, while another chased birds around. Yet another cantered aimlessly with a half-wet body, looking like a child in an amusement park.
Then it was time to fulfil the commonest dream of any Amboseli visitor – making images of elephants with the great Kilimanjaro in the background.
The perspective this offered was astounding, as even a huge elephant was dwarfed by the immensity of Africa’s highest peak, rooted in the earth but flirting with the skies high above the clouds with an ever-thinning snow-cap adorning its crown.
Then, they drove around and found a huge bull elephant with massive tusks in a marshy ditch just as the sun was preparing its daily plunge behind him. The golden sunlight, whitened by his tusks, gleamed off them, while everything around turned a fierce orange.
The group made plenty of wide angle images before returning to the lodge and enjoying an appetising dinner.
The next morning was very clear as the group feasted on the sight of more elephants. Then they saw a male Thomson’s gazelle in hot pursuit of a member of the fairer sex. Later, a herd of zebras flashed against the Kilimanjaro.
A coucal showed up afterwards.
Sachin then led his men and women to a Maasai village to meet some of its men and women, and the group had great fun understanding the cultural idiosyncrasies of this famous tribe.
After making several dozens of images, they were on the way back from the village when they found the same family of five cheetahs that had welcomed them so memorably the previous day, sitting now in the shade of a tree. Soon, they rose and walked through tall grass that concealed them perfectly.
But their intention was not concealed, and Sachin was equal to the task of predicting their migration path. He led them to another road in anticipation of finding them walking towards the vehicle – and sure enough, it wasn’t a fantasy anymore.
Then the cats commenced stalking, and duly chased all sorts of animals in decreasing order of homicidal feasibility, including Tommies, zebras and birds. Then the group left for lunch, leaving the cheetahs to pursue theirs.
Early in the afternoon they ventured out again and straight away found a pair of elephant bulls grazing right outside the lodge, which was a sizeably good start, before meeting some giraffe didn’t look like a tall order.
In the evening they saw their second pale-chanting goshawk of the tour, when soon after, they greeted more elephants with some lovely images of them against the light, their feet raising powdered gold from the aureate earth.
Then a Kori bustard, the heaviest flying bird on the planet, walked across the grassland, while a beautiful eagle-owl occurred just before their return to the lodge.
A hot shower later, Sachin delivered a highly illuminating session over tea, where he unhinged myths, tightened the basics and reinforced critical concepts to equip the group to make the most of the impending opportunities on the tour.
Early next morning they checked out and departed for Lake Nakuru, a Goliath heron on the way out reminding them of the exotic time they’d just spent and the exciting things yet to come.