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Destination Kenya

by Varindra Sewak - 24 June, 2024, 12:00 295 Views 0 Comment

Background

My interest in visiting Kenya began on December 3, 2016, when the Kenya Tourism Board organized the Magical Kenya Open Golf Tournament in Delhi. The event, by invitation only, attracted many notable figures from Delhi NCR, and I was fortunate to be one of the winners. Along with a beautiful trophy, the prize included a trip to Kenya to play three rounds of golf in Nairobi and visit the renowned wildlife sanctuaries of Kenya.

The entire experience was captivating. We received a brochure detailing Kenya’s wildlife, travel plans, and how to reach various destinations. The event included delicious food and various attractions to pique anyone’s interest. Her Excellency personally handed out the prizes.

The dates for the trip were yet to be finalized as Kenya Airways was also involved, which took some time. Meanwhile, my responsibilities at Nestlé began to increase as we were planning to launch a new category (Pet Care) in India. My workload continued to grow, and unfortunately, the dates eventually set for the trip clashed with one of our major training events, with trainers arriving from Singapore and the USA. It became impossible for me to travel on the suggested dates, and I couldn’t go. This left a lasting impression on me, as I missed the opportunity to visit Kenya. As a wildlife enthusiast, the desire to visit remained in my mind for the future.

As time passed, I retired and reduced my consultancy roles to spend more time with my family, travel, and play golf. The plan to travel to Kenya stayed alive. Our family has visited many Indian wildlife reserves, such as Corbett National Park, Gir Forest, Kanha Kisli Reserve, Ranthambore, Sariska Forest Reserve, Bandhavgarh Forest Reserve, and Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. Each park has a unique character, different combinations of animals, and distinct guest house settings. Every trip has been enjoyable, with some visits yielding abundant wildlife sightings and others less so, as these are natural habitats, not zoos.

At the start of 2024, we planned our travel for the year. Since our children were visiting India for various reasons, we decided not to travel to the US or UK and instead chose to visit Kenya.

We started searching for reliable contacts to help us plan the trip. Through our network, we found that the current Managing Director of Nestlé Kenya, Mr. Arvind Bhandari, is a close friend. Additionally, an old friend, Mr. Chandan Ghosh, who had worked in Kenya and now lives in Kolkata, recommended a local travel agent, Africa Keys, managed by Ms. Aparajita Lyall. She provided valuable advice on do’s and don’ts, necessary vaccinations, and travel itineraries.

As we explored more, I met Mr. Sukhjit Pasricha, Head of HR at Indigo, who knew our Head of HR at Nestlé, Mr. H K Singh. He suggested visiting Lake Naivasha for boating, Lake Nakuru for flamingos and black rhinos, and the Masai Mara. We didn’t want to spend too much time traveling by road, so we carefully selected our destinations.

Finally, our itinerary was set: land in Nairobi, visit Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, and then the Masai Mara. Ms. Aparajita organized everything perfectly from the airport to our return. My elder son joined us from Newcastle, UK.

Preparing for the trip, Ms. Aparajita advised us to get yellow fever and polio vaccinations, along with the necessary certificates. We managed to get the vaccinations at a government hospital in Gurgaon, where the staff were very supportive. We also got the yellow fever certificate from Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, which was a quick and professional process. My son got his vaccinations in the UK.

We booked our tickets on the Air India flight from Delhi to Nairobi. Upon arrival, we were taken to our hotel, Four Points by Sheraton, near the airport. My son joined us a few hours later, and we were ready for our safari trips.

Our safari pilot and guide, Mr. Martin AKL Wahiniya, reached out to us on March 23, 2024. Although we were jet-lagged, we started our journey to Lake Naivasha Country Club, a historic resort transformed into a sprawling 55-acre property with various accommodations, a swimming pool, and gourmet dining. Nearby, Crescent Island is a sanctuary for zebras, wildebeest, and giraffes, accessible by motorboat. We enjoyed observing the wildlife with binoculars, smartphones, and digital cameras.

We realized that all hotels conducted a formal briefing upon our arrival. We were advised to stay off the lawns at night as hippos, which can be dangerous, often come close to the hotel rooms. Guards were provided to escort us to the restaurant. Although we didn’t encounter any hippos between our room and the restaurant, we were a bit wary of the monkeys. Antelopes roamed freely in the open areas.

Kenyan hotels are very considerate about food. Every meal included Indian vegetarian options like lentils, vegetables, and paneer, with a clear distinction between vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Pork was kept separate. The attention to food and cultural preferences was evident. We appreciated that the restaurants and hotels catered to various religious and dietary habits.

Our hotel room was equipped with mosquito and insect nets, and the outdoor seating area offered a stunning view of the lake. We enjoyed the pleasant weather from there.

Sarova Lionhill Game Lodge, Nakuru

Our next stop was about a two-hour drive from Nairobi, at a large saltwater lake known for attracting numerous birds and diverse wildlife. This relatively small forest area had some parts closed off due to the lake swelling and covering some roads. This marked our first Kenyan safari experience. Our pilot joked that we would get a free “African massage” on the bumpy dirt roads in the reserve. Despite the safari vehicle being robust and powerful, navigating the wet dirt roads required great skill. Our pilot occasionally brought us very close to the animals, and we saw a lion sitting less than ten feet away from us.

Sarova Lionhill Game Lodge, Nakuru

Sarova Lionhill Game Lodge was a wonderful property with good rooms, excellent food, and great service. The birds were fed twice a day, creating a delightful spectacle as they gathered, waiting for feeding time. The scenes were picturesque. The Nakuru forest bore many similarities to Indian forests in various respects.

Mara Fig Tree Camp, Masai Mara

Next, we moved to the Masai Mara, where our hotel was situated 21 km inside the grassland forest. Our “African massage” continued on some road sections between Nakuru and Masai Mara. However, once we entered the Masai Mara, it was an entirely different experience. We were surrounded by expansive grasslands with the occasional lone tree dotting the landscape.

Our accommodation at Fig Tree Camp was designed like a tent, providing an authentic camping experience in the forest. The area was teeming with monkeys, and guards were available to assist us and keep the monkeys at bay. Despite their efforts, we had a memorable encounter when some monkeys managed to enter our tent and make off with some homemade food we had brought along.

We became vigilant about properly closing the tent zipper and ensuring no food was left outside. A charming bridge crossed the river in front of the camp, and at night, we could hear hippos enjoying themselves by the riverbank. The area was alive with birds, and waking up to the sounds of the jungle was an amazing experience.

The food was plentiful, and the chef would personally ask us about our preferences. Groups of visitors came and went daily, but we stayed for three nights, enjoying numerous game drives and spotting almost every type of animal, big and small. Our pilot, Martin, was very knowledgeable. He would communicate with other drivers to find the best wildlife sightings and quickly take us there, always apologizing for the bumpy “African massage” en route. However, the mesmerizing sights more than compensated for the rough rides.

Martin, an amateur ornithologist, carried a book filled with bird photos to help us identify various species. He showed us ostriches, Kenya’s national bird (the lilac-breasted roller), Uganda’s national bird (the grey crowned crane), the secretary bird, eagles, flamingos, cranes, and pelicans. We even witnessed a kingfisher diving into the water to catch a fish, something we had only seen on television.

In terms of animals, we saw both male and female lions, a pride of lions, cheetahs, elephants including baby elephants, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, jackals, hyenas, and antelopes like Thompson gazelles, topi, waterbuck, wildebeest, and a herd of mongooses. We were almost certain we witnessed a migration of topis, as they were moving in a convoy-like formation. This made us imagine how spectacular the great migration in the summer must be—something we would have to plan another trip to see.

Varindra Sewak
Consultant & Director, BLS International
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1 reply on “Destination Kenya”

Very well written, Varindra 👏👏👍 Start of the script with missing the trip due to work priorities were later on fulfilled leisurely during retirement period. Good that you enjoyed the trip with free massages 😀. Enjoyed reading it 👍



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