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Published: April 14th 2018
Do you recall the movie – “The Ghost and the Darkness?” Some like it some don’t. It’s about the man-eating lions in Tsavo. I know, I know, - the movie was not made in Kenya…probably in South Africa or somewhere else. Like many others. But that’s not my point. The movie was made to tell the story of the vast sub-Saharan Tsavo plain that was once famous for the notorious man-eating lions.
When the Mombasa-Uganda railway line was being built in the early 1900, the line passed through the vast Tsavo plain. Many Indian and sub-continental workers were killed by the man-eaters. Many years have passed since then, but I wanted to witness the historic Tsavo National Park, hoping to see some of the lions, may not be man-eaters like their predecessors, but at least they would be the famous Tsavo lions after all. So the dream comes true when we headed towards Tsavo.
Tsavo is a long journey from Nakuru. So, we needed to top up our supply – bottled water, breads and other odds and ends. On the way to the groceries, I stopped to the ATM machine. Damn, my prepaid VISA card from Canada
was declined. It happened twice and I was getting pissed off. Anyway, I tried another card that fortunately worked. I needed some cash. I found that US Dollars are not an easy sell in Kenya and local Shillings are preferred.
Our Rover rolled away the second time from our home in Nakuru. No, we didn’t carry the trailer and the tent this time. Tsavo is rugged and hostile territory as compared to Mara and no facility for camping as such. Tsavo is also bigger area than Mara. Hardev is familiar with the terrain and I knew he knows what he was doing. I was just going with the flow. It’s a long drive, it’s about six hours drive in clean traffic to Makindu along the Mombasa Road. But driving in six hours was next to impossible due to multiple check points and heavy traffic. We headed out A104 towards Nairobi and once we reached Nairobi, Hardev bypassed the City Center and picked up the Mombasa Road A109 towards Makindu. The plan was to stay one night in Makindu in a Sikh Gurdwara and head out to Tsavo the next morning.
“How on earth do you know that Gurdwara,”
I asked Hardev.
“Been there. I know the management,” told Hardev while keeping an eye on the traffic. A109 was horrendous with endless trucks on both directions.
“You see, Mombasa is a port city and main entry point of goods; so the trucks are heavy,” Hardev was telling me while navigating the traffic. When we arrived in Makindu, it was late afternoon.
Makindu is a non-descriptive town with some shops and shacks scattered around. But the impressive Gurdwara stood on a sprawling compound. The sentry opened the gate for us and after parking the Rover, Hardev walked to the temple office. I looked around. And it’s a real ‘Wow”. The manicured garden, the majestic temple, the living quarters, everything has been meticulously planned. Even they have a small tractor for small earth work. “How the hell do they manage their expenses,” a thought naturally crossed my mind.
“The management is not around,” Hardev came back…”Let’s go to the shrine for pray; put the head scarf on.” I never stayed in a Gurdwara before, so I was not familiar with the rituals and followed Hardev’s advice. After we attended the shrine for 10-15 minutes, we went for
lunch. I knew the lunch would be free in Gurdwara and I am a born free-loader; if anything free, I am game! So, I followed Hardev delightfully.
Hardev got his room key from the management after the lunch. It’s hard to believe that even the staying was free. “How do they manage the expenses, man?” I was baffled!
“They get donations from everywhere…even people from North America. You see, today the Gurdwara is empty; come in the weekend, you won’t find a room. People come from all over the places and they live free for the weekend.” Hardev explained to me.
“How do you know them?” I was still baffled. Hardev smiled…I knew he has a large network in Kenya, I found it from the time I arrived, and so it didn’t surprise me much.
“Come here, take a look,” He showed me a one pager history of the Gurdwara hanging from the wall. The place was first built during the days when the railway line was being built. The Sikh construction workers built the Gurdwara primarily for themselves. Once the railway line was completed, many left but the Gurdwara stayed; and the locals continued to
maintain. Now-a-days, people from all across the globe send donations to the Gurdwara and it runs from the charity.
I was surprised to see the rooms. Every minute detail has been taken care of…fresh hand washing soap , extra soap for the shower, hot water, fresh towels, bed sheets, pillow and blankets- each and every basic necessities like a hotel room. And all is free! Wow! I didn’t know who should I thank, - Hardev or the Gurdwara; I think the both. Impressive indeed!
We left around 8-ish in the morning; the Tsavo entrance is not too far from here. But we screwed up. Hardev wanted to get inside the reserve through the first exit from the highway to Tsavo East. We planned to spend the first day in Tsavo East, do some safari, spend the night and then get out from the other end of the reserve and drive to Tsavo West. Well, we missed the sign and continued to the highway towards Mombasa. When we realized, it was too late and we reached the gate where we originally intended to exit. Oh well, we entered the park from the opposite direction; we knew that
we were backtracking towards Makindu. The bad part is we had to abandon the plan to travel Tsavo West. Anyway, ‘it is what it is,’ I told myself…and we decided to do the most of it.
The landscape of Tsavo is totally different from Mara. Mara is vast grassland and the soil is grey which gets sticky when wet. On the other hand Tsavo is dry and the soil is red. The red dust from the road made a mess everywhere, - car, clothing, shoes everything. In many places, roads are pretty much non-existent, full of ditches and boulders. This part of Kenya has large Baobab trees. Baobab and acacia are scattered everywhere and the landscape is covered with thick bushes. The region was volcanic in the past…the black lava rock are scattered under the bushes and trees. It is a perfect ambush for wild animals that can easily camouflage and hide in the bushes. “Keep an eye for wild life,” Hardev told us while carefully driving the Rover at a moderate speed. As soon as he said it, John spotted a giraffe eating some tree tops by the road side. I missed it spotting from the front seat.
I couldn’t believe how I missed such a tall animal so easily. If I could miss a giraffe so easily, I wouldn’t stand much chance against a Cheetah or a Lion that can easily hide in the bushes or behind a large lava rock. “Hmmm, be careful,” I told myself.
“Look, look there is an elephant,” John told us from the backseat. I missed again, but the trained eyes of a Kenyan origin didn’t miss much. Hardev pressed brake and slowly backed up. There was an opening through the bushes on our right hand side. I saw a bunch of elephants playing in a small pool of water. The water was muddy and red due to the soil and the elephants were turned totally red. Hardev turned the Rover through the opening and stopped at a safe distance after turning the car around facing towards the road…just in case. I pulled my zoom and didn’t move my eyes from the view finder. I was in a slightly disadvantage position as the elephants now are on my right and that means I have to reach on the driver’s side to get a clean shot.
“Can I just get down
getting a better angle?” I asked Hardev. He fixed his eyes on me,
“You kidding? Do you know how fast they can move? Just like a hippo, they will be all over you before you realize.” I was a bit disappointed because I still couldn’t get a good shot after extending the zoom further.
“OK, hang on, I will move the care a bit so that you can get a better view,” Hardev parked the car in a slight angle so that I could have a much better view through my side window. First, the elephants were a bit apprehensive when they saw our vehicle. Unlike Mara, there are fewer tourists here in Tsavo, so it was not surprising that the animals are not that used to seeing the vehicles that often. Anyway, when the elephants didn’t see much movement of our vehicle, they seemed relieved and resumed their water game. We watched them for a while…the elephants now have turned totally red while playing in the mud. Hardev started the Rover to leave, the elephants now were accustomed to our presence, they didn’t show slightest interest when we moved our car, nor they did care at the
sound of our vehicle. “Let’s head to Mzima Spring,” Hardev spoke while turning right on the unpaved road.
“What’s in there,” curiously I asked.
“We haven’t seen any hippo yet, not in Mara at least. Mzima has lots of hippo. Also, Mzima caters the drinking water needs of Mombasa. Totally.”
“Have you been there before?” I asked Hardev
“I sure did…few years ago was the last time I came. “
“Cool, let’s find out where it is.”
And we drove through the uneven roads of Tsavo, leaving a cloud of red dust behind our car.
There were road signs at the intersections; I couldn’t make out much from there, but Hardev was comfortable. He left the track, took a turn to a side road hoping to take us to Mzima. One needs a good bone structure in body to travel such a track full of boulders and lava rocks. I know Hardev is used to driving his Rover and thank God for that….I couldn’t handle the vehicle there. From there, the car took a left turn and suddenly we found a safari van was stuck in a ditch. The poor driver was trying
to get out of the hole and the driver of another cruiser parked close to him was trying to push the vehicle out. No way were we going to leave them there stranded; they needed help. It’s not Mara that help comes fast. This is rough terrain. We got down from the car. OMG, - a couple was sitting inside the vehicle! What kind of idiot can sit inside a broken vehicle when one helper from the cruiser was trying to push it? They had no idea that they were adding at least 100kg to the weight of the vehicle when someone was trying to push it. And what the hell were they thinking, - ‘oh yeah, it’s just a small mechanical glitch, no worries, the driver will pull the vehicle out.” Did they have the slightest idea that they were stuck in a dangerous area surrounded by boulders and lava rocks and bush and any animal could attack them? Did they realize that ‘safaricom’ signals are non-existent in Tsavo and there was no wifi. And where was the common sense? Instead of adding the weight, why didn’t they get out of the vehicle and help pushing. Did they have
the slightest idea that it is Tsavo and not their backyard; the place was once roamed by the man eating lions and even today, it’s not a very safe place to relax and walk around.
“Please get out of the vehicle.” We asked the couple. They sensed our tone and didn’t hesitate to come out. “Give us a hand to push the car, please.” We asked the guy. “And you, please stand aside, don’t step out far. You may not see them, but you may be watched.” We told the girl. Finally, we all pushed the car out of the ditch.
“Where are you coming from?” Hardev asked the man.
“Mombasa. And we rented the van from there,” The guy replied. Well, hopefully this experience would give them a lesson that Tsavo is not a cakewalk.
Once the van left, we were on our way to find out the Mzima Spring! We arrived the spring before noon. It’s hard to imagine that the spring caters for all the water supply in Mombasa which is far away. The spring is surrounded by the Acacia and Baobab trees that form a canopy to protect the place from harsh
African sun. A path travels on the side of the spring to a view point. Yes, we saw some hippos under the water and a croc close by. The hippos were elusive and we could see their nose bobbing in the water. We waited for a while, but the hippos didn’t have any interest for the photo-op . Oh well, if they don’t want to come out, there was nothing much we could do. Besides, it was lunch time and we decided to get the cooler out from the car to make some sandwiches. Needless to say, Hardev was meticulous to work out the logistics so well!. Yummy, the sandwiches were delicious; not even the monkeys were fortunate to get the last bits and pieces from us. We ate them all!
Sun was leaning towards the west. We were deep in the wilderness. It’s time to find out a place for the night stay! We started the Rover.
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