Marvels of my Heart - Africa Calling

Miles away, back in the midst of a million emails, overflowing paperwork, I look up to the window, wondering where’s life within these concrete walls. Where my thoughts truly belong, maybe Africa means something more - something I am yet to understand. Maybe it's serenity, its air and its wonders are something I am not able to consciously perceive. I'm drawn across like a firefly towards light, towards God’s creative marvels. Africa, it changes you, it keeps your heart, never to let go.

Very few places steal your heart and leave your body to wander alone; I'd say Kenya was one of them. I took the exotic route of going to Kenya via Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. With its bustling marketing and people with their interesting hairdo, Addis was a lovely place to see. A few hours at the airport, I kept looking at the huge glass window overlooking the tarmac, where the Boeing 737 was parked for departure. Exactly at 1:45am in the middle of a chilly night I landed in Nairobi's, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
I was finally in Kenya.

Greeted by Patrick from Natural Tours, we both drove down to the sweet little bedroom space arranged at Syokimau. Catalyne was her name, a sweet little girl who sacrificed all her sleep just to make sure we comfortably, had ours. After a good night sleep, we were woken up with a lovely breakfast early in the morning. I later came to know that poor Catalyne had slept only for an hour, just to make sure our breakfast was up and ready by early morning.

It was a lovely sunny day across Nairobi, we slowly headed North along the A104 highway to Mount Kenya and the Olpejeta game sanctuary. Oh Africa, how do I even start talking about you. With winding roads and never-ending valleys, we drove across till we reached the Olpejeta park. The game drives began. One by one we started seeing the famous animals we once saw only on Nat Geo channels. The wildebeest was truly one of a kind as they always said it to be. The locals called it a ‘Spare part of all animals around’, meaning, there is no other antelope like the wildebeest. It looks like it was assembled from spare parts – the forequarters could have come from and ox, the hindquarters from an antelope and the mane and tail from a horse. The antics of the territorial bulls during breeding season have earned them the name “clowns of the savanna.”

For when I saw these wild land I grew into a child, a child of my own, to be fascinated and wondered by all of God’s glory and marvel at his miracles. Africa carried a soul like no other. Miles of wilderness and plains, roaming animals and mountains to a thousand miles. The only thing which I felt alien was mankind. I was spellbound by the number of animals I saw over here. It was like how God told Abraham when he was about to kill his son Issac, “You will have children as much as the stars above glistening in the galaxy”. So much animals, so much life in one place and I had to words to describe.

We saw as much and slowly headed towards the evening, when we got transferred to the famous Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari club, which was exactly under the foothills of Mount Kenya. The view was as glorious as the mountain ahead of us. With a snowcapped peak, Mt.Kenya was right under God eyes, with so much glory and clouds gently caressing her by. The Fairmont is quite special because it was once the summer retreat of Hollywoods famous actor Willian Holden. Holden, who fell in love with Kenya on hunting safaris in the '50s (he died in LA in 1981), was known for his active animal conservation in his later years.

When asked about Africa, Holden said “It is the sheer beauty of this stretch of land that sits at the base of Africa's second-highest mountain. This is the most beautiful place in the world," recalls expatriate American Don Hunt, Holden's close friend and chairman of the Mount Kenya Game Ranch, a conservation project set up next door to the club. Fairmont was paradise for me. In the nights that we stayed we could sometimes hear the animals talking to each other, the remote sounds of the sheer wilderness, after all we were within one of natures greatest places, what else can we expect.

A couple of days later, we again took the way up north towards the once active volcano Mount Longonot. Rising from the floor of the Great Rift Valley like a monolith its an amazing sight to watch it as we drove by. It’s unique feature, which is a thick forest that lies within the crater of the mountain. The crater rim also provides great scenic views across the beautiful Rift Valley all the way to Lake Naivasha. A scene to behold when you feel like your on top of the world standing on the crater rim and watching the miles of never ending lands across the Great Rift Valley. This is surely for everyone. If your fit enough and wan’t to have a glimpse of paradise after a 2 hour long trek, I’d say do this, you will never ever regret it.

We reached Lake Naivasha that evening and checked into our amazing property, the Lake Naivasha Country Club. The property is the oldest one still standing after a glorious 96 years. The resort dates back to the 1930s and has since been transformed into a sprawling 55-acre property with special suites close by the lake shore. Lake Naivasha Country Club became famous in the 1930's as a staging post for Imperial Airways' flying boat service from Durban to London. The Old Colonial architecture is solid and comfortable with accommodation in rooms and cottage set in 12 hectares of green lawns shaded by mature acacias and spreading fever trees. In the evenings we had the chance to see water bucks and zebras walk over to the lawns for grazing and in the night, we even had a good glimpse of hippos grazing by the side of our suites.

The manager at the property Mr.Kamal was a true hospitality ambassador, he was up and running all the way from 6am until the dinner at 10pm serving the guests with an evergreen smile and going out of the way to make people comfortable. It was Kamal, who arranged us to spend our night at the presidential suite which was right by the lake shore and there couldn’t have been anything more beautiful than that. We had a lovely boat ride across the lake and Martin who took us out, told us how the water from the lake had slowly seeped into the volcano and made it dead to what it is today. He also made an extraordinary stunt when he told us to watch out for the fishing eagle which would swoop down to take the fish from him. Even though we were quiet thinking unlikely of it, our hearts skipped a beat when the huge eagle flew in from its tree as soon as Martin gave the whistle. Martin was amazing and so knowledgable in his own right. A local of Naivasha, born and brought up, he had his pride close to his heart.

With the colonial style architecture and sumptuous meals and extraordinary service from the staff, the Country Club was truly a serene experience to gather when in Lake Naivasha. In the end, when it was time to leave the place to proceed further to the Masai Mara sanctuary, I felt, there's so much more to Naivasha than meets the eye and it’s well worth more than just a one night's stay.

We hit on our way to our next destination, where the worlds greatest movement of all time was beginning to happen. Where hoofs thunder down on earth, where sandstorms uprise from the gallops, where a million calls hear up to the sky. We were heading to see the great migration; to the Masai Mara. We drove through some of the most treacherous roads I’ve ever seen in my life. Miles and miles of dust trodden, rock battered roads which ran across the widest fields man had ever seen. Here and then I saw a few small towns which people sitting over rocks leading their normal lives. We crossed the final frontier to reach the edges of the Mara River. There we settled up by the Mara River Lodge. A cozy set of cottages and tents nestled by the edge of the lake with a great view of the adjoining cliffs. The Mara River lodge was an amazing place if you want to have a quiet side of life by the Mara sanctuary. The tents give you basic amenities, but thats pretty much all that you need, knowing your staying at the heart of the wilderness. We all sat down for a good cup of coffee by the evening watching as the river slowly moved across its bends passing through the grunting hippos and the evening sunset glittering on its surface. I thought about my life back in the bustling city, one where it fills your heart with nothing but tall skyscrapers, fast cars and busy minds. Concrete and metal don’t hold life. Life is here, life is as we see, life is this… rightly to what the famous author Arundhati Roy tells in her award winning book - God of Small Things. And in it she says “I think the kind of landscape that you grew up in, it lives with you. I don't think it's true of people who've grown up in cities so much; you may love a building, but I don't think that you can love it in the way that you love a tree or a river or the colour of the earth; it's a different kind of love, a love which belongs deep down to the heart”. I see what she says, my heart always belonged to the wilderness, a place where water, animal, earth and fire come together, a place where life meets death and everything in between is magic. Wandering this earth with so much wonder.

That night while we were pondering our Africa thoughts with wine, I felt the grass move on the other side when I took my flashlight and hit it on the trees to see what was happening. A big old tusker was standing there as quiet as possible under the moonlit sky. We all stood up to see how gorgeous he looked with his tusk. Elephants are a true wonder to this world. Nature's great masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing. It’s such a shame, the world has lost so much of it. A shame that mankind, out of all its glory has lost to understand the the beauty of life and its origins. Sometimes I wonder why God made man, did we ever serve our purpose, or would we ever will. Poaching is destroying Africa in ways I cannot explain. It has saddened me beyond words every time I have seen animals die, ripped apart for nails, tusk and skin and often wonder, where has humanity gone. I wish mankind understands it before its too late. Before this world destroys itself.

“I saw a dead elephant in one of Kenya's natural reserves. Around her were footprints of her baby elephant. This was just so sad, perhaps the mother was still taking the baby around to play and to drink water. In her mind, she probably was thinking they had a life of decades to be together. However, poaching happened, it wiped their memories away. Without the mother, the baby elephant is dead too. That moment changed me.”  - Li Bingbing

We went the next day to some amazing game drives, wandering through the top off jeep waiting for nature to run its course. We saw everything from gazelles, to a million zebras and wildebeests and then we saw the lions and cheetahs and the hyenas. I realized how small we are in this world, how minuscule a presence man kind has, the glory of the creator, his infinite wonders. As far as my eyes can see there was Africa. And I didn’t know how to put this whole dimension in words. It’s just so beautiful and you wouldn’t know until you step on her hands and breathe her air.

Very soon, it was time to leave Kenya and head back into the concrete jungle. We bid goodbyes to Mara Lodge’s staff, for they were so special in everything they did. And from there, we again hit the never ending dirt roads to finally reach Nairobi to catch our flight back to Dubai.

I left Africa behind by sight, but will hold on to it as long as I can in my heart. For Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just ‘the cradle of life’, once where it all began.

Miles away, back in the midst of a million emails, overflowing paperwork, I look up to the window, wondering where’s life within these concrete walls. Where my thoughts truly belong, maybe Africa means something more - something I am yet to understand. Maybe it's serenity, its air and its wonders are something I am not able to consciously perceive. I'm drawn across like a firefly towards light, towards God’s creative marvels. Africa, it changes you, it keeps your heart, never to let go.


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