Of Soul-Homes, Sky-Temples and Safaris: Part 4 – Masai Mara, Kenya

Of Soul-Homes, Sky-Temples and Safaris: Part 4

Masai Mara, Kenya

In the Jungle

Sexist lion
Sexist lion
I don’t know where we were, but for the first time since the beginning of the safari, we saw a sign of other human beings – a speck of white parked about thirty miles ahead, with ant-sized heads popping out from on top, looking with great interest at something in the grass. We made our way there. And as we approached the other jeep, we saw with our own eyes what it was that those people were gaping at.


Six lions.

Lolling about in the grass, barely a 100 yards away from us.
Ripping the flesh off what looked like a wildebeest carcass.

It was unbelievable. Nobody spoke anything – nobody even breathed. All you could hear was the sound of wind rustling through the grass, and the grunts and chomps of the lions as they devoured the wildebeest.

I was transfixed. It was possibly the most thrilling moment of my life. I was tingling. They were beautiful. They were terrifying, merciless, wild. I was hypnotized by them, watching them gnaw hungrily at the mangled carcass, their mouths crimson with blood. It was a fresh kill – the lionesses had pounced upon this wildebeest perhaps only minutes before our arrival. There were three lionesses, two cubs, and one male, a young maneless who was dominating the meal. He was a budding chauvinist, grabbing the meatiest morsels and snarling nastily at any one who tried to sneak a better bite. It was macabre, and gruesome, and fascinating. Fear had completely vanished from my mind, for fear is of the future, and at that moment there was no future – just the present, raw, throbbing, feral.

We had seen the first of the African Big Five.

Some people would think that a safari isn’t really such a big deal, when you can see all the same animals, and many more, at any good zoo. Now I don’t approve of zoos, or any kind of captivity for wild animals, especially predators. But admittedly, zoos are fun, and comfortable, and convenient, and safe. Not until this trip, however, did I realize how incredible it is to see the animals in their natural habitat. Their territory, their domain, not behind metal bars and man-made barriers, not controlled and dictated by our rules and requirements, but free, just as they were born, uninhibited. Man becomes insignificant in that world – nothing more than an odd, harmless-looking creature occasionally seen roaming aimlessly about the savannah. Not worth noticing, really (unless a lion happens to be really hungry, or the buffaloes are peeved about something, or the rhino is just being himself).

Of course, if you do something silly, like catcall a lion (pun unintended!), or scowl back at a buffalo, or heckle at a hyena (because they’re just so ugly and heckle-able!), or generally try to act cool with any of the animals, even the (usually) mild-tempered elephants, then you’re seriously asking for it – we have to remember that in the savannah, in the jungle, we are essentially powerless, at the mercy of the animals, as it were. It is that risk, that unpredictability, that very chance of anything happening, that makes the safari such an exhilarating experience.

Don't miss the solemn entourage
Don’t miss the solemn entourage
So even though we didn’t see all of the Big Five – namely, the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino – and I had dearly wanted to see the leopards (them being my second-most favorite big cat, after tigers), it didn’t matter so much – I just made up my mind that I would keep coming back here, again and again, until I did see them.

And, in all fairness to Masai Mara, we saw so many other things in that one afternoon, that even David was impressed, deciding that we were we were definitely a providential lot. For what do you think happened our way right after we crossed the lions?

A long, lean, strapping young cheetah, elegantly lunching on some juicy antelope. Compared to lions, cheetahs are rather sophisticated, civilized animals – a bit standoffish maybe (unlike lions, cheetahs usually roam about on their own, once they reach the age of 18 months, and only come together with other cheetahs to mate), but not half as vicious and bloodthirsty. That may have to do with the fact that cheetahs are not man-eaters, and, at least in my opinion, the real joy for a cheetah is the hunt, not the kill itself. As far as lions go, I imagine that they will attack anything even remotely edible, being excessively greedy animals. It doesn’t matter to them, whether it’s young, or sick, or defenseless, or even one of their own kind – they just want to feel powerful and get meat to gnash their teeth through.

Now cheetahs – cheetahs are just cool. This one was sitting there, calmly forking through his meal when we approached. He glanced up for a moment at the sound of the jeeps, saw nothing of interest, and nonchalantly resumed his lunch. He was a rather handsome fellow, that cheetah, and I think he knew it too – he’d stand up now and again, for no apparent reason, stretch his legs, pirouette, and then curl back up on the ground, making sure he was photographed from all angles. But the funniest was the cheetah’s 12-membered vulture entourage, positioned in a semi-circle at a respectful distance. This scavenger-convoy accompanies cheetahs everywhere, dutifully clearing away leftovers while the cheetah catnaps for a few days (pun unintended, again!). And so we left the cheetah, snoozing contentedly in the cozy winter sun, the birds already at work, and the rhythm of nature uninterrupted ever since the world began.

Cute baby elephant
Cute baby elephant
We saw families of elephants, complete with moms, dads, babies, and various friends and cousins, strolling right up to our jeep without a fear in the world; we passed through a sea of enormous black buffalo (which was probably the scariest part of the whole safari), staring at us glassy-eyed like they needed no encouragement whatsoever to attack (in fact, David told us, when it comes to humans, buffaloes have a history of being even more aggressive than lions!) We saw a sweet giraffe couple happily sharing a leafy branch, and we saw a few stupid-looking spotted hyenas pretending to be lions. We didn’t get a chance to drive up to the Mara River to see the rhinos and hippos, and it was still too early for the great river-crossing (which takes place about August, when hordes of zebra and wildebeest migrate to Masai Mara from the Serengeti plains), but that again is something I’ve saved for next time.

We had to turn back for the lodge when evening fell, and were seen off at the gates of the game reserve by a baboon sentinel perched on top of an umbrella-thorn acacia. The night was very cold, we filled ourselves up with hot soup at the buffet, pulled on all the clothes we’d brought, snuggled under the dark green covers of our beds, and slept soundly to the symphonies of the jungle night.

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