Anthony picked a perfect spot, under a lone tree, surrounded by grassland, and laid a blanket. There were no animals in the vicinity, obviously.

He handed us our lunch boxes and we opened them eagerly, unable to wait to devour the contents.


All the while, I imagined a cheetah emerging from behind the veil of grass or a hungry lion approaching us, following the trail of our scent. Would I have the courage to raise alarm and propel my husband and our chaperone into safety? Or would I jump up instinctively and run for my life?

We finished our lunch, clicked some photos and hopped into the vehicle, hoping to catch the remaining two animals.

The radio crackled to life and they spoke, what I assumed to be Swahili but I understood just one word that sent up a rush of thrill up my spine—leopard.

He drove us through the grass, into the marshes where the vehicle got stuck for a few moments before roaring back to life and took us to a place where there was a colony of evenly spaced trees. But just one tree was under the spotlight, girdled by land cruisers and jeeps.

As we crept nearer, I examined the tree for any signs of spots. Before I could resign, Anthony directed us to the topmost branch, where we found the kitty curled against the piece of wood that was as thin as a rake. I wondered how it sustained the weight of the animal.


The little rosettes strewn over its body stood out under the bright sunlight and its skin glowed as if it were coated in gold.

There was no movement at all, except for its ears twitching occasionally, probably registering the mild sounds of vehicles disturbing its sleep.

If the tree branch were a few feet lower, I would’ve been able to touch the leopard’s tail hanging like a rope. I would’ve even gone as far as giving it a tug to wake it up.

After waiting for about ten minutes, we concluded that the leopard was playing possum, putting aside the fact that leopards are nocturnal. We clicked a few uninteresting pictures (you can’t get much out of a sleeping animal unless it’s a cuddly baby) and drove off in our next pursuit.

We watched some more scavenging vultures and more zebras and more buffaloes until we came to a stop near the Masai river to view hippopotami and crocodiles.

A Kenyan ranger took the reins from there and we walked alongside him towards the river. On the opposite side, spread across the muddy bank was a large colony of hippos. They were living like one happy joint family. Well, joint and happy don’t go together in human lives but I hope at least the hippos are living in peaceful harmony.



They certainly don’t fight about who gets to do the dishes. They definitely don’t try to find faults with each other. And most importantly, they respect each other and value their presence in the family.

Oh god, I’m watching too many Indian soap operas.

Anyway, the ranger says that every hippo family that consists of about thirty members (Whoa!!!) will have one male dominant.

The feminist in me raises like the hood of a cobra and hisses in my mind, ‘Here too???’


Dear, Feminist Me, let’s get real. Males are stronger. So obviously, they dominate. Would a preggy cow hippo fight enemies if it’s given the leadership? It can’t, right. For practical reasons, the bulls are given the lordship. So, let’s not drag the animal kingdom into this dispute. Jeez! If it makes you feel any better, elephants are matriarchal.

Alright, so the ranger was saying that although hippos come across as flabby, cute creatures, they could be more dangerous than any animal given their surprising agility despite their enormous sizes.


I watched the stout animals wallow in the water as if they were on a beach vacation. The calves did nothing but follow their mothers’ every movement and learn how to be proper hippopotami.

A few feet further, another hippo rested on the mud just inches away from a crocodile. They both were facing each other. It looked as if the hippo had welcomed the croc into its jumbo family and was instructing it to stay away from the kids.

‘If the crocodile tries to attack the calf, the hippo will crush it into a paste. Crocodiles know very well that they don’t stand a chance with hippos and hence they try not to mess with them,’ the ranger explains.

We walked further along the bank and watched more crocodiles lying like carcasses. Ugh, they’re so darn boring.

Our next pursuit was the elusive rhinoceros. Apparently, they are shy animals and run into the woods when they hear a vehicle. Hence, we had a hard time arriving at a spot where there was a somewhat clear sighting of the rhino.


It was slowly marching behind the dense curtain of trees and we were able to catch a few glimpses through the leaves and branches. There were two of them.

They stopped walking suddenly and looked at each other. They looked like they were discussing something and after arriving at a decision, they turned and started strolling towards us. We were about a kilometer away.

As they ambled like two lovers, one of them came to a halt. The other gave it an introspective glance and both of them swivelled back, once again finding their way back into the woods. It didn’t charge at our vehicle like I had expected/hoped to.

Satisfaction was writ large upon our faces as we had a superb day, catching all the big 5 in one day. It was an accomplishment of sorts.


We resigned for the day and were relieved that the next day was going to be short as we had a visit to the Masai village instead of a game drive in the evening.

The following day, we saw more lions, elephants, giraffes, and buffaloes. We also saw some naughty baboons and monkeys running into the bushes the moment I raised the camera as if they were all being camera conscious.


Anthony drove us to the Tanzania border and a few miles into the Serengeti Park. After an hour-long joyride, he dropped us at the lodge. We weren’t that disappointed at the lack of activity as we saw almost all animals, including the cheetahs, once again, except for the leopard and rhino. We also got to catch the last batch of migrating wildebeest, near the Sun River, probably readying themselves to cross and enter the grasslands of Tanzania.

We actually waited for about twenty minutes to see if they would make a move towards the river because earlier we saw a pride of lions resting in the riverbank. If only the feeble animals lift their heads from the grass and move into the water, we might get to see some action. But, nope. They kept on eating, eating, eating. And we threw our hands in.


In the evening, Anthony introduced us to a Masai villager, who was about seven feet high and would be showing us around.


It was a ten-minute hike over a rough terrain, until we reached the village. But the man, whose name was Joel, kept us engaged by describing the medicinal properties of the plants we came across on the way. He plucked out a leaf from one of the plants and handed it to me. It looked like any other leaf except for the texture, which was rough. It was apparently used as a nail file.


We arrived at the village where we were greeted with a welcome dance performed by the young red-haired Masai warriors. The dance consisted of a series of feet pounding, thrusts and jumping all to the music of their guttural grunts. It was strangely foot tapping.


Then we were escorted into the fenced village that had tree branches for a barricade. The huts inside the village were made with mud and cow dung. There were stray dogs playing chase and mud-caked children, using everything from scrap papers to polythene bags as toys.



Joel took us into a hut to show us their way of living. The inside of the hut was shrouded in darkness, except for a shaft of sunlight from the tiny square window and a small kerosene lamp directly below it. That tiny shack had four rooms—one for the baby cows, a living room where cooking’s done, a bedroom and a guest room.

Tea was brewing in a large vessel in front of us and three children sat on the benches as if they were writing an exam.

I enquired Joel about their diet and he said that their staple food includes cow blood, rice and occasionally meat.

Their attires were unseen as every one of them, mostly men, covered their bodies up to thighs with a dark chequered shawl. And both men and women sported shaven heads. They wore sandals made with tyres and I was impressed by their resourcefulness.

Mom being protective. Baby struggling for freedom. Classic.

We shook hands with Joel on departure and took some time to take in the surroundings one last time before leaving the country the next day.

Strangely, mild sadness crept into me as the trip came to an end but I wiped it off with a tranquil smile as I bid goodbye to the host country, vowing to return some day when the great migration is midway so that at least then I would get to catch some macabre killings. Mwahahaha…!




The adventurous day in Nairobi set the bar a little high and I was worried if I would get the same kind of buzz out of the wildlife safari, which was basically why we went to Kenya in the first place.

Obviously, I would get to see all the animals I had already seen in the orphanage and giraffe center, and more. But would I experience the thrill of watching lions treading in mud barely four feet from us, the delight of feeding a fascinating giraffe, graceful and prepossessing with its spotty skin, the hilarity of observing a warthog, lonely and restlessly pacing in its enclosure? Those were the questions I asked myself.


The six-hour drive to Masai Mara was exhausting, to say the least. I thought I would enjoy it because road trips are usually glamorized in movies, books and also real life. I being a nature lover was, at first, excited at the prospect of a long drive.


My mind cleverly chooses to block out the history and shoves me into this fantasyland full of expectations.

My last road trip was two years ago and I puked my guts out every half an hour. It was only a three-hour spin.


Of course, I didn’t carry ginger or mint candies that are known to keep motion sickness at bay, because I was under the impression that I would take in the breathtaking sceneries and observe the nature during the journey.

I climbed onto my seat with a calming expression on my face, joyous that I’d be in nature’s arms for the next six hours.

The queasy feeling started almost immediately. That was when my true, uncalm nature came to the fore. I started checking the time every five minutes, counting the hours left. I cursed myself for acting like a serene saint. Then I began to silently weep as nausea kicked in fast. I didn’t let anyone see though, lest it tarnished my image.


Luckily, I fell into a shallow slumber before I could turn the vehicle into a sick sack. It was fortunate that we woke up at four in the morning to start the journey early or else sleep would have been a struggle.

I was jolted awake by the bumpy road but before I could slip into depression again, Anthony, the tour operator, assured that the destination was just twenty minutes away.

Along the road, we saw several wildebeests hopping in a procession that reminded me of my school days when the teachers used to lead us into our classrooms in a disciplined train. It also spurred a spark of excitement at the hope of catching the migration, although the season usually ends by September.


We finally arrived at the lodge that was barely ten minutes away from the reserve’s entrance. Anthony spilled some water on my burgeoning exhilaration by giving me unnecessary details like how two tourists got trampled by a wild elephant two kilometers down the lodge and how he once escaped from a fatal attack by a pack of hyenas while he was dining with his friends near the entrance.

Uh, too much information, dude!

We had lunch, checked into our room and were back in the land cruiser for our first game drive. I didn’t even wash my face. I was too eager to roll.

Let me be honest and say that what excited me more than watching the animals in their natural habitat was the vehicle with a pop-up roof. It has always been my dream to stand in an open top car and let the air whip my face as I pose like a heroine from a Hollywood movie, letting my scarf flutter in the wind like sails of a boat.


Well, I couldn’t exactly do that since it wasn’t completely open top. But I could at least feel the breeze on my face and welcome the fiery rays of the sun.

So, we set about on our adventure and entered the game reserve.

We were promptly welcomed by a sea of grazing zebras, along with curious gazelles peering at us with their beady eyes and grunting warthogs busy with their meddlesome activities.

The game drive lasted for about two hours and we didn’t get to see many animals due to the short duration but we got the taste of how the next two days were going to be like.

Except for a wake of feeding vultures that gave us the first real peek into life in the wild, there weren’t many active animals around, given that it was nearly dusk.


The guide dropped us before it was dark and briefed us about what we could expect the following day and—get this—we were going to have a picnic lunch in the middle of the forest. Yippeeee!!!

We woke up by five in the morning. Yes. Five. Me. Shilpa. It was a battle, I admit. But it was worth it.


By seven, we were inside the vehicle and were driven into the depths of the forest with startling speed. Apparently, Anthony received the scoop about a pride of lions sunbathing.

He had this little radio thingy, which availed communication between tour operators. Whenever one of them spotted an animal—especially one among the Big 5—they informed the whereabouts to others so that no one would miss the spectacle.

The lions were sprawled near a bush and were least bothered about the presence of a bunch of vehicles. They lay there like doormats, lazy and lethargic to even bat an eyelid.


One particular lion though rose into a sitting position. We were just five feet away. If it decided to have an early lunch, then one leap was all it would take. But I stood in the car, gaping through the gap between the window frame and the roof, as the regal beast fixed its stare upon me.


I thought we had a connection. I mean, it looked at me with such depth that I felt my heart beat rise. I was slowly slipping back into my fantasyland. I would get down the vehicle, slowly wend my way towards the animal and then lower my hand into its gorgeous mane while the lion would welcome my intrusion with a friendly nuzzle.


I was zapped back to reality, thanks to the spoilsport, Anthony, who said that he was probably hungry.


Then we went on to watch a herd of elephants from a fairly close distance. Anthony was trying to feed us some fun facts about the massive animals while I was busy observing the shenanigans of a certain baby elephant.

Now, I have to say this. Baby elephants are probably the cutest creatures on earth. I know for certain that I would change my mind the second I see a leopard cub or any other baby animal but for now, elephant calves are my favourite.


So, this adorable little imp, instead of following its mommy, chased invisible flies until exhaustion and fell to the ground, rolling over, probably trying to scratch its butt. Then the mommy threw one glance behind just like my mother would when she realizes that I stopped near the expensive gadgets section, instead of blindly following her while shopping.


Soon the mother and child duo was joined by another large elephant, which I presumed to be the father, because it’s just lovely to think of them as one whole family.


We reluctantly moved on to a herd of African buffaloes. They looked huge yet so docile that no one would suspect them of causing harm to humans. Supposedly, young ones even chase vehicles and ram them to destruction.


Anthony only drove us around the aged ones that were too weak to hurtle. He’s one nervy tour operator.


Looks like they had a fight.


By then, we covered three of the big 5—lion, buffalo, and elephant. We still had leopard and rhinoceros.

We agreed that we needed more energy for more scouring and drove towards a safe place where we could unpack our cold lunch boxes.

Aaand that would be reserved for part 3. Trust me, I didn’t intend to extend this into a trilogy but I being a chatterbox didn’t have the heart to leave out the interesting details and here I am with a blog post that might as well be a novella.

But the real thrill started after lunch and I’m not baiting. Pfft, that’s unlike me.


I bet ninety percent of the 90s folks will be familiar with the phrase “hakuna matata” from the “The Lion King” series and the animated television series, “Timon and Pumbaa”.


Well, I never really bothered about the origin until I heard it in abundance during my vacation in Kenya. I was such an indolent, unenthusiastic kid. I can’t believe I never cared to at least know the meaning of the wonderful phrase. I simply presumed that it was “YOLO” in Spanish, French or whatever. Jeez!


Yeah. I can be real stupid.

Anyway, so I switched on my James Bond mode as soon as I exited the airport in Nairobi because I heard pretty scary things about the crime rate there. I held my purse close to my chest, narrowed my eyes to slits, imagined an invisible revolver in my hand and started scanning the people around for any suspicious profiles.


My mom, as usual, thanks to her high anxiety levels, had asked me to observe the movements of human beings in the vicinity and cautioned me to raise alarm if I sensed anything dubious.

My grandmother went an extra mile and asked me to dress as frumpily as possible. ‘Wear old, antique clothes that don’t attract attention. And don’t carry valuables. No cellphone, no camera, no purse, no anything. Okay?’



We packed everything that my grandma asked us not to. And coming to the clothes, I bought new ones just for the trip! Let them rob me but ain’t no one stopping me from rocking the safari in some fetching outfits.

All right, so I did several Lara Croft-style twists and twirls in order to cover every human being from every direction as we walked towards the taxi arranged by the hotel we’ve booked our stay in.

Even the driver wasn’t spared. I observed his features and was wary about the information I gave him. I kept an eye on the routes we were taking so that I would have a better chance at escape during a kidnapping.

Oh, shut it, you drama queen! My mind admonished.

But once the vigilant in me is up and about, there’s no stopping her until I’m safe and sound in the confines of my hotel room.


Although it seems a bit too much, I urge people to be cautious all the time, especially if they’re travelling to a new place. Better be safe than sorry, right?

Nonetheless, I must add that the locals were super-friendly and charming. Not one seemed like a threat.

We finally reached the hotel and I relaxed.

After freshening up, we met up with our guide for the day who was an amiable Kenyan. He drove us around the city giving us bits of information about the place and suggesting just about every tourist attraction in Nairobi.

We decided to visit the animal orphanage and the giraffe center, skipping the crocodile park and the snake park. I wasn’t particularly interested in the croc park because I believe they are, despite being one of the most dangerous creatures on earth, the most boring reptiles to watch. They literally do nothing but just . . . I don’t know . . . they just stay. Static. Like a stone. That’s too insipid for me.


Unless you throw them some meat and I get to witness the death roll, I think I’ll pass.

I need activity, variety, excitement, all of which I got from the animal orphanage and giraffe center.

I got to see lions at arm’s length (within an enclosure obviously). I had to resist the temptation to stretch my hand and tangle my fingers in its fluffy mane. The guide was almost vexed by my unsettling behaviour as I gazed into the round amber orbs that seemed to bore into my soul. Of course, they were probably registering the presence of a potential meal but my mind filtered out the savage thoughts.

And then its meal arrived; the spell broke. It jumped towards the fleshy meat with such aggression that my heart leapt out of my chest. It dragged the pieces to its sitting place and began the ritual. First, it started licking the meat as if it were its favourite pet. Then it ripped the flesh apart with ample ferocity that slightly scared me.


Of course, it’s a natural instinct. Yet, I couldn’t help but goggle at the regal beast as it fed on the remnants of another animal.

Lions demand that feeling of awe.

Awww, look at the cute cat wallowing after its meal. Except that the cuteness would warp into terror if you try to get close.


After surveying the other inferior animals at the orphanage, we proceeded to the giraffe center. I have been looking forward to this long before we have even booked the tickets to Kenya.

It was then, with my husband still by my side that I have met my love. Eddy.

Oh, Eddy, that long, long, neck of yours that could double as a slide

That bob of your little head as you move in a glide

Tongue as dark as my hair

Stretching far up to your ear

Eddy o Eddy, you’re my best buddy

Your presence makes me giddy.

Am I weird for writing a song on a giraffe?

Gosh, but I really fell for the charms of that cute tall animal. Its innocent eyes, unceasing hunger, beautiful spots just got to me.


Besides the safari, the giraffe center remains the highlight of my trip to Kenya.

Watching the giraffes eat, lions prowl, cheetahs sidle, monkeys frolic, reminded me of the excited child I used to be whenever I saw an animal and the resolve to never let my inner child grow, strengthened.

As long as we don’t hide behind the mask of pretence and never let the complexities of our lives kill the shreds of naivety in us, it’ll all be hakuna matata.

Ahem, before signing off, I just want to clarify that I meant whatever I said in the above paragraph. It’s not just an excuse to end the post with the titular phrase.




So only last week, I jabbered about vicarious jaunts through books. And this week, I happen to be travelling for real. Hurrah!


Now I won’t be solving a murder on a luxurious cruise liner or falling in love at first sight with a complete stranger at an airport but sure enough, I would get to go on an oh-so exciting wildlife safari in East Africa. Whoopee!!!


I love travelling. I have so many places that I want to visit and so many things to do at those places that the list I created in my mind stretches endlessly along the nerves in my brain. About three-fourths of my cortex is registered for the bucket list, which is always going through constant improvisation. I just hope to cover at least the ones within eyeshot before I grow so old that I won’t be able to walk from my bed to the couch.


So, I have heard some things about Kenya—the crime rate, the risks of travelling in twos, and the extreme climate. Although I must admit that my main concerns are the mosquitoes and tsetse flies, which carry deadly diseases in their tiny probosces.


And I’m not at all affected by the fact that the freshly formed zit right by my nose has no intention of disappearing by tonight because, hello, I’m a confident girl, who doesn’t let a single spot on her skin jangle her nerves, remember? Except that the bloody little rascal would be etched in our memories for eternity thanks to our shiny new SLR.

200w_d-2            giphy-downsized-6

Oh, God, I hate my life.

I can already hear my mother saying, ‘Yeah, right. You hate your life because you get to travel to places you’ve only dreamt of, wear outfits you’ve only seen on television and have a big family that’s right out of a Bollywood movie.’

Okay, Mom, first, enough with the hyperboles. Second, those things don’t make me feel better when a single pimple threatens to ruin everything for me. I’m all set to wear the red dress I’ve been saving for the trip and a zap of raised pink flesh appears out of nowhere as if to complement my attire.

All right, I need to get a grip. Breathe.


So, I was talking about my trip to another country, another culture, another world. I believe that every country has its shortcomings. No one can run a perfect paradise where everything’s ideal. We are humans, after all. We should take precautionary measures wherever we go, be it Iceland or Iraq, extra depending on the chosen country, but nothing should stop us from embracing the beauty of nature.


Kenya is crime-ridden. But it also has spectacular wildlife, picturesque hills and forests, and beatific view from the majestic mountaintops, all of which I’m looking forward to.


Hiking is something I’m supremely fond of given the adventurous streak in me. Of course, if you say there are going to be lots of jagged rocks with creepy-crawlies ready to ambush from underneath, then I’ll probably chicken out but other than that I’m game for pretty much anything that doesn’t involve doing vertical or horizontal splits.

Anyway, so, I’m super psyched about my short vacay to an exotic place and I can’t wait to open my treasure chest of memories in order to accumulate some more.


And I can’t wait to share them here.

Well then, “hadi wiki ijayo”. (until next week)

That’s my lame attempt at Swahili, official language of Kenya and I have no idea how to even pronounce the words. God, someone slap me out of my puerility.