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Published: March 24th 2018
After the dinner I posted my day pics in social media. It was around 9:30pm. “You coming?” Hardev asked. You kidding, I thought! Of course I was not going to do the same mistake as I did the last night. I joined them walking to the tent. “Keep the headlamp,” Hardev handed me the LED headlamp. I was grateful. The path to the tent was muddy due to the afternoon downpour and I was making my way slowly in the light from my headlamp. It was pitch-dark around the tent, I could see only the silhouette of the silver white tent under the tree. We went inside and I entered my net-cabin taking the zipper off from the nylon door and slid under the sleeping bag. We were tired and soon fell asleep. Hardev and John were not going to join me for the balloon ride in the morning, I was the only one and the jeep will come to pick me up at 5:45am. I set a mental alarm to wake up early. I asked the girl in the dining hall if they can open for a cup of coffee around 5 am. “No problem,” told the girl. We called
it a night, turned off my head lamp and it all went pitch-dark.
I usually have light sleep and suddenly I woke up in the dark. I could feel a heavy breathing near my neck. The sound was coming from just outside the tent. My pillow was touching the vinyl wall of the tent and I must have slipped further at the edge of the tent in my sleep. I heard a faint coughing sound outside and something was moving just outside the tent vinyl wall with cautious steps. I checked my watch, it was 3:30am. Hardev and John were deep asleep on the other side of the tent; I could hear their heavy breathing. Whatever the animal was breathing over my neck must have been baffled by the vinyl wall of the tent, but the vinyl wall was not a safety barrier if someone wants to force inside. No, I didn’t have a desire to get up and check out. I will tackle it if the animal tries to enter the tent. So, I slid inside my sleeping bag to catch a snugly sleep. I have to wake up soon anyway. Soon, I fell asleep. Around 5:00 am
I woke up and listened for the sound…no it was gone. I slipped on my jeans and put the head lamp…Hardev and John were deep asleep. I unzipped the tent and came out with my tooth brush and tooth paste. I looked around…what a serene and peaceful sight. The grass was still wet from the rain during the previous day. It was dark outside but the sky looked cloudy as there was no moon. I went to the washroom crossing the wet bushland. The lagoon that forms the whirlpool near the river is further upstream. Sightings of hippo are not uncommon here, but I brushed off that idea. A quick shower was perfect to wake me up from the early morning rise. I checked my watch…it was 5:20 am. I still have time for a cup of coffee from the dining room. I worked my way through the muddy pathway to the hall. Damn, the dining hall was dark, not a soul around. The girl gave me a bluff last night, I have to complain later. I managed my way back to the tent where the pathway makes a Tee. One goes towards our tent and the other goes towards
outside the bush-camp. Suddenly I had the urge to check outside the fence. Shall I go and wait there for the pick up? The next moment, I restrained myself. No, don’t take undue risk in this dark. I waited near the tent. Soon a pair of headlight illuminated the pathway…the jeep pulled right on time. It was 5:45am.
Another drive through the dark reserve to the balloon ride! We reached the spot after five minutes drive through the reserve. The sky was still dark. The crew was already setting up the two huge balloons using the huge torch lights and lantern in the pre-dawn darkness. One by one all the vehicles pulled up with the riders and soon the area was full with people. The burners were glowing and filling up the balloons with hot air and soon both the balloons were ready. The first balloon went up carrying nine people and I made my way to the second balloon with fifteen other people in the bucket. The dawn was slowly breaking over Mara when we had the lift-off. Unfortunately, the sky was grey and I wish it was brighter. But you cannot fight with the Mother Nature and
I settled in the bucket with my camera ready. The balloon went up pretty high and we could spot the other balloon at a far distance. The pilots of both balloons were in constant touch over radio informing each other of the wild life locations. “A herd of elephants are close by” the pilot told us and the balloon changed the course to find that location. Within ten minutes we were over a bunch of wild elephants. The herd had around six to seven elephants with a baby. Suddenly, a huge tusker left the gang and started moving towards the further grass land. Unusual…what’s the matter? The pilot pointed towards the far away grass land where a lion was sitting down and the large elephant went to drive it away. I couldn’t see the lions in my naked eyes. I trained the zoom. Now I could spot both the lion and the tusker with my zoom and it was amazing how the leader elephant protects its family. The lion fled, but the large elephant continued to chase it further away from the area to make the family safe. Simply amazing! To be honest, we could only observe the whole episode
because we were high up in the air; it would have been almost impossible to watch that from the ground. The balloon changed its course again and we spotted a pair of lion & lioness at a distance. The pilot brought the balloon lower for a better visibility. We watched them from the top for a while, but they just didn’t care; we finally drifted away. Then it happened! We crashed!
“We are going down; we have a little mishap.” The pilot announced and pointed up.
The top part of the balloon was held with a Velcro that came apart; so there was a gaping hole. The ride was for an hour and fortunately it happened near the end. Well, there was no choice and we had to land. I wouldn’t call it crash landing as the volume of air inside the balloon was huge and a gaping hole is not enough to suck the air out immediately. But we landed not too far away from where we spotted the lion. Crap!
“Can the lions attack us? There are two of them,” my thought process already running overdrive. “Let’s see, we are sixteen people in the bucket.
So, what is the probability that the lion will grab me from the gang? Very low, right! Hang on, there are two of them– the lion and the lioness. That doubles the chances of attack. Well, it is still low. And possibly I could hide behind a taller person to reduce the risk factor further down, bingo…there is the solution,” I laughed myself. Nha! Nothing was going to happen. The pilot radioed the crew and three cruisers arrived little later to pick us up from there. It was a good twenty minute drive to reach our champagne-breakfast spot. The finale of the episode with well served breakfast and a glass of champagne cheers concluded the ride with happy ending! I was dropped to my camp in the mid-morning.
“Let’s go out for a walk in the bushland,” Hardev was talking to the Masai in the campsite. Great, I thought. I was curious to survey the no-man’s land in the daylight. We crossed through a number of dense bushes. The rain on the previous day made it difficult through the red muddy bushland to navigate. But unless one treks through the bushland, learning remains incomplete. It
is not a cakewalk, dead brunches from the sharp thorn bushes reminded me of the danger at every step. We walked along the shore of the Talek River. The river was now swollen from the yesterday’s rain. We spotted the Mama croc on the river side, possibly the mother of the baby croc that has become our daily companion in the last two days. The footsteps of many animals are clear on the mud; that means they were in plenty last night. No wonder, it was off-limit to us after the sundown. We stepped in to an open grass land surrounded by bushes. A warthog family saw us and quickly vanished behind a bush. I was studying the footsteps of dik-dik, suddenly Hardev whispered, “Look, look there is an eland.” An eland was eating the plants close to where we were. Oh, what a gorgeous animal! We followed him for a while and then we left the track and came to the main unpaved road outside the camp. The land around the bush camp and the footprints gave me a good idea of who are the animals roaming around there after the dark. I thanked my stars that I safely
returned to the camp site in the first night when I lost my way to the tent and landed up outside the camp in total darkness.
The sky was turning grey. That means it would rain again. This is unusual this time of the year. Monsoon was over and that was the time when the wildebeest migrate south. As the climate has changed, these unusual rains were making the wildebeest confused. Many were turning around. With rain and mud it was not going to be fun driving around for safari the next day…we already had a taste of that when our cruiser broke down last night. We decided to wrap up the Mara trip and wind up our camp the following day in search of a dry pasture. Hardev was the Master planner; I was just going with the flow. So, that is it, I thought! We are done with Mara! I felt sad. I have fallen in love with the place in the last three days. The vast, open Nature has shoved away my years of urban culture that I am used to. Innocent eyes of the gazelles, the curious look from the giraffe, and the sleek walk
of the cheetah made me fallen in love with the vast plains of Africa. I went for dinner with a heavy heart. After the dinner we sat down in the patio by the river side. We all sat quietly enjoying the darkness. We couldn’t see anything in the dark; the sound of rushing water in the river was dripping in my ears. The sound of silence hovering across Mara was gripping me slowly. I didn’t know where the baby croc was sleeping tonight. I gave her a name – ‘Crocolet.’ I have to say goodbye to Crocolet tomorrow morning. Tonight would be my last night in Mara! I went to sleep with a heavy heart!
The next is Lake Nakuru National Park. Stay tuned!
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