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regular-article-logo Thursday, 20 June 2024

A living landscape: As a visitor to East Africa's Kenya, you get spoiled for choice

Kenya has traditionally been the land of the Big Five — the lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and buffalo

Shiladitya Chaudhury Published 05.05.24, 09:44 AM
 A coalition of cheetahs in Lentorre

 A coalition of cheetahs in Lentorre Photographs shot on Sony A 7 Mark 3 and RX 10 Mark 4

For a nation that is merely 5,80,367sq km, Kenya is blessed with unlimited natural beauty. I keep going back again and again to uncover the magic of this land, so abundant in fauna. East Africa is one of the finest places to observe wild animals up close. Difficult though it is to put it all down in words, because this is largely an experience that can only be felt, I shall attempt to detail my recent experiences in this beautiful land. I still remember the advertisement of Kenya Airways decades back when they used to showcase a lioness sitting on the runway and I was told this was actually the case when the nation first started international flights.

African rhino at dusk in Nairobi National Park. It is perhaps the only national park in the world where one can photograph an animal with a skyline of the city in the backdrop

African rhino at dusk in Nairobi National Park. It is perhaps the only national park in the world where one can photograph an animal with a skyline of the city in the backdrop

Kenya has traditionally been the land of the Big Five — the lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and buffalo. It has vast areas of land devoted to wildlife habitats that witness large-scale migration of certain animals in a regular cyclic pattern each year. For wildlife enthusiasts, the migration across the Mara River is a sight to behold.

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My recent visit to Kenya in April this year was to some lesser-known destinations, mostly private conservancies and this account is about that.

Night safari

We have different songs for different times of the day in almost all languages. The same goes for safaris. A night safari comes laden with the excitement and thrill of watching wild animals going about their nocturnal ways. I believe it is one of the best ways to be in perfect sync with nature, and get some incredible sightings.

There was a slight drizzle on the day we set off on our night safari at Nairobi National Park just across Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and I could sense my normally indefatigable spirit dampening. Perhaps we would be lucky to catch sight of an animal. Perhaps they would opt to remain safe and hidden in the rain.

A curious elephant looks at the photographer's chopper

A curious elephant looks at the photographer's chopper

As we set off, I was in for a different kind of a surprise. The park was quiet, the only sound floating was the symphony created by scores of insects mingling with the blowing wind and the raindrops falling on vegetation.

I have usually been lucky when it comes to sightings and this time was no different. Despite the shower, we saw a lioness out for a stroll, her majesty unmistakable as the raindrops clung to her coat. This was a unique experience photographing on a pitch-dark night; the only source of light being the headlight from another safari vehicle. For the next couple of hours, we were lucky enough to stalk a pride of lions walking through the rain-soaked bushes in the vast grasslands.

Shompole Wilderness and chopper ride

Shompole Wilderness (also called Shompole Conservancy) is a small private tented camp set in Shompole, deep within Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, in the southern part between Amboseli National Park and the acclaimed Maasai Mara National Reserve. This season, our target was to explore the vast wilderness of the private conservancies of Kenya.

Cosily nestled under imposing fig trees on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro river, this is a small and plush family-run and managed tented camp. It is one of the few places in Africa that affords spectacular wildlife sightings in the Great Rift Valley with the colours of Lake Magadi and Lake Natron breaking into countless hues as if refracted by a huge natural prism, both lesser and greater flamingos, as well as a welcoming Masai community. The various hides at this conservancy are full of activities and give a great opportunity to photograph animals from close quarters.

Kenya is full of breathtaking landscapes from large tracts of dry, shrivelled savannah grass to lush green forests, seemingly endless waterbodies to cascading waterfalls and animals and birds roaming wild and free. The chopper ride over Shampole is exciting, to say the least. Go up in a specially-designed helicopter that is without side panels and you are fastened with a seat belt for security. You will get magnificent aerial views of this land and take photographs from high up above the ground. I experienced peace as I watched thousands of pink flamingos on Lake Magadi. There were majestic elephants that moved across the terrain, clearly discernible from above, some of whom stopped and craned their necks to look at us before nonchalantly moving on. This was a first-of-its-kind experience for me as I have done hot-air balloon rides several times but not in a chopper designed by photographers for photographers.

A bat-eared fox in Shompole

A bat-eared fox in Shompole

The Shompole Wilderness, especially the chopper ride, was a first-rate experience to soak up an authentic African safari experience.

Staying at Lentorre Lodge

After our stint at Shompole I could not wait to leave for Lentorre Lodge, adjacent to the Shompole Conservancy area. Lentorre Lodge is a luxury facility in the Olkirimatian Conservancy in the South Rift Valley. A three-night stay here let me see the Africa that I had seen on television channels, watched in films and read about. By the beginning of the next morning I was almost speechless. It offers the perfect ambience to loosen up, relax, and soak in the beauty of a part of Africa that is wild and largely unaffected by humans. For me, the high point of the lodge was its underground hide that has a tunnel leading into it. I am told when you settle into the hide on any given day, you may rest assured of action. As the hide is situated right at the waterhole, guests can train their lenses (both optic and artificial) to remain at eye level with the waterbody. Large herds and troops of wild animals march up and down to the waterhole to have their fill, delighting any wildlife enthusiast and photographer.

Since Lentorre Lodge is bang in the midst of the conservancy and the only one in the whole area, it affords spectacular views of the region. In this exclusive getaway, expect all your material needs to be taken care of by the hospitable staff as you gaze upon the wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelles and warthogs roaming right outside your room.

A date with nature

Flamingos flying over Lake Magadi

Flamingos flying over Lake Magadi

The Kenyan landscape is a distillation of its spectacular scenery everywhere. As a visitor, you get spoilt for choice, wondering what to see first, which subject to shoot. There is ancient abundance in its rich rainforest, stately peaks covered with clouds that arouse wonder, castaway culture in its golden beaches, and safari escapades of every conceivable kind. No matter how meticulously your trip is planned, you come away thinking, “This is not enough. I must come here again.”

Shiladitya Chaudhury is a communication consultant and a restaurateur co-owning popular brands Oudh 1590 and Chapter 2. His passion for wildlife photography takes him to the remotest of locations

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