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Now in the third installment let us talk about a real folk we came all the way to the Dark Continent to meet up with, our colourful four-footed cousins of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian varieties. Soumya takes us on a tour of the Masai, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Our guide asked us to guess, which member of the species we would meet first and we variously picked the lion, hyena, rhino, and cheetah. He bet on the elephant. However, the first encounter, except for the baboon of course who had invaded our rooms as I spoke about earlier, which we didn’t count as they came visiting us instead of visa versa, was the giraffe. The first sight of the graceful creatures silhouetted against the backdrop of the ubiquitous acacia trees was heart stopping. But our guide made little of it and said that we see them much closer soon. He similarly ignored our excited cries on seeing herds of zebras, gnus and various antelopes in the distance. He did, however, point out some Masai warriors with their herds of cattle grazing peacefully along the zebra but wouldn’t stop for photo ups as he said he had a surprise for us. The surprise was to visit a Masai village about which I had written previously.
We soon knew what the guide meant as herds of Zebras and Gnu were blocking our track and we had to gently nudge them aside to move on. It was an overwhelming sight. Thousands of herbivores gathering together to start the great migration north. It was a slow progress through them reminiscent of the cattle that frequently block Delhi’s roads and were as indifferent to our presence. We found a new meaning of the word Zebra crossing. Finally, we ran into the giraffes again grazing right next to the road and sometimes running in that ungainly giant strides to cross the track. It was a sight we could not tire of.
We learnt to spot the various types of antelopes. From the large ungainly Gnu to the comical looking Topi, the Grants Gazelle, the elegant Impala, the Thompsons Gazelle and the tiny mouse-like Diki Diki.
Soon we started tiring of the vegetarians and was on the lookout for the big five. The first carnivore we spotted was a led down as the leopard we saw was peacefully sleeping on a ledge in a rocky outcrop and persistently ignored both us and the herds of herbivores walking past.
We had stopped for a picnic lunch in an area marked out for this purpose and we presumed that this would be free from close encounters of the wild kind. But a short climb to a lookout spot revealed a large heard of elephants or Tembo in Swahili. One of them casually moved towards the tourists on the way to a water hole, causing momentary panic.
At the waterhole, there were a large number of zebras looking alert and occasionally stampeding away to move back again cautiously. Close investigation showed that there were crocodiles in the water and the drinking party was keeping a careful lookout. The slightest movement by the reptiles caused the panic retreat and thirst caused the cautious return.
Finally, a tree full of vultures indicated that there would be a kill nearby. This was within sight of the lodge where we were to stay in. As we drove close by, we had our first glimpse of Simba, the lion king sleeping in the grass. The cubs were playing close by. It was a peaceful family scene we have seen at home so many times. The older siblings roughhousing causing an occasional growl of irritation by the parent which quieten them for a short while only, and the younger kid trying desperately to join the seniors while being alternately ignored and bullied.
Photos by the author
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