Tag Archives: Travel

A walk in the wild

Exploring the grasslands of Masai Mara

The time was 7.00 p.m. We had just stepped back into our cream colored tent, our secret getaway for the next three days. Although the staff insisted that the furniture and the setting that surrounded me were truly African and quite characteristic of the Masai tribe, I felt more like an Arab princess amidst its high-rise fabric roofs, embroidered cushions, ornate carpets, leather trucks and antique lanterns that I often associated with tales straight out of Arabian Nights. I had just put on my little black dress and was all looking forward to a quiet romantic bonfire dinner with my husband. I was about to grab my jacket as the weather was slowly starting to get a bit chilly when I heard a knock on the door. It was a bit unusual because it was rather late for housekeeping and we definitely hadn’t ordered any room service. “Maybe we are getting a complimentary bottle of wine,” I joked to my husband.

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When I opened the door, I was surprised to see a lean old Masai standing outside, his expression almost unreadable yet somewhat menacing. He held a spear in one hand and with the other he supported the red-checked shuka (the Masai blanket) draping his boney frame. His skin was wrinkled with a huge scar that went straight from his lips all the way up to his cheekbones. He was unlike the Masai who had greeted us at the hotel lobby or unlike the pleasant English-speaking Masai who had acted as our guide a few hours ago. He didn’t even look like any of the Masais who had eagerly waved at us as we passed by them, signaling us to stop for a lift or simply to take a picture with them. This man at my door…was probably the oldest I had seen yet. With blood shot eyes, there was something ominous in the way he stood by my doorstep gesturing us to hurry.

He told us in his broken English that he was there to escort us to the restaurant which was just a few minutes’ walk from our tent that was cut off from the rest of the hotel that housed the restaurant and the main lobby. We had specially opted for this tented accommodation located right on the Savannah. The tents had no boundary walls surrounding it and one step outside and you could see the grasslands of Mara stretched out in all its glory right in front of you.

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We were a bit surprised and even a bit annoyed as we weren’t expecting company at the time and we definitely didn’t want anyone telling us what time to exit the room for dinner on our holiday. As we stood there staring at him, not budging a bit without having given an explanation for his strange appearance, he simply smiled at us and pointed his spear at something moving in the grass outside.

“Lioness,” he said… “Three of them…they are out on their hunt.”
I peeped outside to see what this strange old man was talking about.
And there right before my eyes, on the grass, at the point where the artificially laid lawn of the hotel met the tall golden grass of the Mara lay three lionesses…majestic, peaceful and extremely beautiful…her golden skin almost shimmering in the moonlit night.

That’s Masai Mara for you…raw, untouched and extremely wild. Known for being one of the finest and the most popular game reserves in Kenya, extending to an area of over 500 square miles, in the grasslands of Mara spotting a lioness relishing a wildebeest or hyenas dragging a kill to its den is nothing out of the ordinary. Vultures preying on a left-over gazelle or a pride of even 15 lions consisting of cubs and lionesses taking an afternoon siesta, quite oblivious of the safari vehicles surrounding them, are all common sights here.

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Situated at a mere 140kms from Nairobi, the best way to get to this game reserve is to rent a four-wheel drive from the capital city as the roads leading to the game park is far from smooth or welcoming. And there is no doubt that the best and the most sought after period to visit the magnificent Mara is during migration, also referred to as The Great Migration. From July through October, every year almost a million wildebeests, thompson gazelles and zebras cross over to the Mara from the Serengeti in search of sweeter grass that is specially found in this region during these months. Thousands of wildebeests and zebras grazing on the grasslands of Mara make for an absolutely breathtaking view if you travel to the National park during this time. Though the price you pay can be rather steep, having a packed lunch at a specified picnic spot amidst the countless wild animals makes it well worth it. If you are lucky and you make it at the right time when the animals cross the Mara River you may even see them fall prey to the large number of crocodiles and other predators that anxiously await their arrival this time of the year.

Though there are several game lodges and hotels to enjoy a perfect blend of luxury, elegance with a splash of adventure opt for the several tented options at Mara that offers a little something for those wanting to enjoy nature in all its rawness. If you are staying in one of these luxury tents or camps situated near a water hole and not protected by any boundary walls, you are sure to see a hippopotamus grazing in the night or even a herd of tuskers by simply peeking through the drapes of your tent. Here you are also sure to see a family of baboons fighting over a fallen fruit, watch a single tusker quench his thirst at the river or catch a glimpse of the Masai giraffe nibbling at the acacia while you lounged around in your king size bed, or while savoring a five course gourmet meal at their fancy restaurant or enjoying a rejuvenating massage at its tree-top spa.

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Apart from the big five, Masai Mara is so famous for that include lion, leopard, elephant, black rhino and the buffalo, it is also home to plenty of others like the hippopotamus, gazelles, topi, eland, giraffes, crocodiles, cheetah and zebras amongst many others. Mara also sees several birds mostly raptors like the vultures, long-crested eagles or migratory birds like the hornbills, crowned cranes and African pygmy-falcons.

A sneak-peek into heaven!

Exploring Ngwe Saung, a destination like no other

Sorry love, but we can’t go now?’ My husband sat beside me, a sense of sheer disappointment splattered all across his face. I lay half asleep and through our white curtains I could see that the sun had slowly started to rise. In a few hours from now we would be on a flight for our annual beach holiday. In a few hours from now we would be sun basking on the warm crystal sands of Pattaya sipping frozen margaritas out of fancy swirly straws. Our suitcases lay packed right next to us and we were ready to go.

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It was only when I awoke the second time, a few minutes later to the sound of my husband calling his office to cancel our flight tickets and hotel reservations did I finally absorb it fully that our trip to Thailand had actually been cancelled due to the recent military coup. There wasn’t going to be the holiday that I had so longed for. I felt sad, let down but most of all I didn’t not know what I would tell my 6 year old once she woke up. I was unsure if I had the courage to tell her that she wasn’t going to be able to cuddle up with her mommy in a fancy four poster bed of our lavish hotel or splurge at elaborate breakfast buffets or swim in a glitzy infinity pool overlooking the sea. I looked at my husband and immediately knew that we both couldn’t do it!

It was then that we decided to head out to Ngwe Saung, a popular holiday destination in Myanmar. It was just a four hour drive from Yangon and fairly popular among the expats. But most importantly it had a beach and right now, that’s all that we really needed.

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I did have my share of fears and doubts as I exited the comfort of my lush green housing estate and into the chaotic, jam-packed and almost non-existent roads of Hlaing Tharyar industrial township. ‘What if we get lost? What if our google maps don’t work? What if we run out of water? Will there be any rest stops? What if the drive was too risky? I was nervous and who could blame me. I had heard my share of horror stories of people getting lost and taking 8 hours to cover a mere 150 mile distance.

‘We will be fine love,’ reassured my husband. ‘If we could handle the vast stretches of Masai Mara and the treacherous roads of Sikkim and Raniketh, this was going to be easy!”

And I was so glad he was right. So there were no highways and all you get were narrow roads stretching all the way to Pathen, the next big city between Yangon and Ngwe Saung and you were bound to have your heart skip a beat every time a truck hurtled at you at full speed or lose your patience every time you got stuck behind a slow-moving cycle rickshaw or unruly motorcyclists. But there was no better way to truly absorb the country in all it’s rawness and charm, quite a change from the craziness of Yangon. Be it the lush green fields stretching on either side of the road, the innumerable little tea stalls embellished by their neatly aligned colorful plastic chairs selling chai and fried local savories or the quaint thatched roadside shops on stilts displaying an array of Myanmar snacks, baskets loaded with fried fish and luscious fruits like guava, papaya and mangoes, Myanmar was so famous for. The short 4 hour road trip offered plentiful for our curious eyes to feast upon.

As my little family of three kept making a long mental list of all the things we needed to pick up on our return journey including a hand woven hammock, a cane stool and a basket full of mangoes and guavas, we were amazed to see a procession of women clad in a traditional neon pink Longyi, children in colourful turbans on top of horses and men blowing trumpets aligning the sides of the road. It had slowed down the traffic significantly and definitely added a few extra minutes to our trip. But we did not mind. Such temple processions were not rare on the culturally vibrant and pious villages located on the outskirts of Yangon, but it was our first time and it was well worth the wait.

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We reached our resort at around noon. Though the last 30km to Ngwe Saung was a bit of downer, courtesy the long winding road, we were beyond ecstatic to see the Bay of Bengal stretched out in front of us, in all it’s glory. Be it the breathtakingly beautiful coastline, the crystal clear waters that almost seemed to coincide with the Azure sky above us or the gigantic waves that almost seemed to mock at the calmness surrounding it. There was something about this particular beach that made me feel almost certain that I had somehow magically found my way into some kind of scenic artwork during our short drive from home.

I will agree, Ngwe Saung is nothing like your clichéd beach destinations. There are no bikini clad waitresses to serve you margaritas, no fancy street shops or open bar restaurants playing loud music. Here the only sound you would hear are the sound of crashing waves and the only shopping option would be a handful of stores selling hand made baskets, wooden trays, cloth bags, flip flops and shell bracelets.

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But Ngwe Saung is a beach like no other, worth visiting to soak up the sheer beauty of the Bay of Bengal or devour the exquisite local cuisine served in the non-glamorous roadside restaurants in the village ranging from barbecued lobsters, grilled whole fish in garlic sauce and Shark-fin soup to crispy fried soft shell crabs and my personal favorite the steamed fish in chilli and lemon.

So what if it lacked glitz and the glamor of a Miami, a La Jolla or a Phuket. So what if it didn’t have the noise or the sheer life that had made these a dream holiday destination across the globe, Ngwe Saung was special. She was raw, untouched, almost like a virgin. And as I dipped my feet into its warm waters watching the sky turn into scarlet orange, I knew that I had just gotten a sneak-peek into heaven!