Friday 14 December, 2018
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An Atlanta wildlife photographer’s memorable Kenyan adventure

BY MAHADEV DESAI
Photos by G.V. Rao*

Atlanta’s G.V. Rao, a passionate photographer, especially of nature and wildlife, loves visiting Africa. He enjoyed his previous trips to Kenya and Tanzania in 2011 and to Botswana in 2015 so much that he set off on his third visit to Kenya in September 2016. He packed his bag with his beloved cameras and powerful lenses and accessories and took off to an adventurous, exhilarating, and unforgettable nine-day trip to Africa.

From Nairobi, Rao flew to Amboseli National Park on Safari Link Air and stayed at Tortillis Camp Amboseli (Elevana Collection). Amboseli National Park is known for the huge herds of elephants that roam its expanse, and for spectacular views of Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain and the highest freestanding mountain in the world.  One of the most popular parks in Kenya, Amboseli has a wide variety of wildlife, including all the big five, (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhino) and a number of rare species including wild dogs, lesser kudu and nocturnal porcupine.  The park has astounding birdlife also. Activities in the park include game viewing, bird watching, visiting Maasai villages and elephant research. The visitors can meet with semi-nomadic Maasai people, famed for their prowess as warriors and for their distinctive red clothes and ornate beadwork.

Rao flew back to Nairobi and from there onto his second leg to Masai Mara. “It was nice to see third generation Indian pilots flying most of the charter flights between the parks. Flying in a six-seater flight is a thrilling experience. It feels as if you are swinging in the clouds,” said Rao.

The Masai Mara National Reserve is a large game reserve in Narok County, Kenya, sharing border with Serengeti National Park. It is globally famous for Masai lions, African leopards, Tanzanian cheetahs, and the annual spectacular migration of thousands of zebras, Thomson’s gazelle, topi, elands and wildebeest to and from Serengeti from July to October known as ‘the great migration’. Rao stayed at the Sentinel Mara camp.

“The eco-friendly tents were spacious and with full amenities. The tents had comfortable beds with mosquito nets, toilet, bathrooms, dining room etc. The guests were provided with hot water bottles, bug spray, delicious breakfast, packed lunches, sun-downer drinks; delicious, fresh dinners, and after-dinner cheeses, desserts and port. At night, the tents and surrounding area was lit with candle light, solar lamps and oil lamps and looked magical. Guests were provided with tables and chairs for viewing hippos and crocodiles in Mara River close by. In the quiet of the night, Rao could hear occasional grunts of the hippos, roars of the lions and hyenas howling.

Rao was full of praise for the guides. In Amboseli, his guide was from a Trans-Atlantic tribe and in Masai Mara the guide was a Masai. In Masai Mara also he would get up at 5.30 a.m., have coffee and breakfast and would set off with his guide, in a topless land cruiser which he had booked for his sole use. The guides were very patient, knowledgeable about animals, surroundings, flora and fauna. They gave ample time to Rao to shoot his pictures. The highlight of his trip to Masai Mara was watching the Great Migration regarded as one of the natural wonders of the world. Every year, from July to October, over 1.5 million wildebeest, and about half a million zebras and other antelopes start their migration from Tanzania’s Serengeti plains to Kenya’s Masai Mara in search of food and cover over 1,800 miles to reach Masai Mara plains in Kenya. Sadly, not all make it. About 250,000 in these herds die of hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and predation. The toughest part is crossing the Grumetti river in Tanzania and Mara River in Kenya. The most spectacular sight is when these herds gather to cross these two rivers. They are aware of the strong currents and crocodiles but they still don’t give up in order to reach lush green food at the other end.

“I had to follow these herds for two days, waiting patiently for hours at the crossing point. On the second day, after several more hours of waiting, I got lucky and could witness the grand breathtaking spectacle I had dreamt about for long. It lasted about only 20 to 30 minutes, but it was without doubt an experience to cherish.” said Rao.

In Nairobi, though he had limited time, Rao visited Karen Blixen Museum, former African home of Danish author Karen Blixen, famous for her memoir ‘Out ofAfrica’. Rao had watched the Oscar -winning movie ‘Out of Africa’ so some of the props, rekindled memories of the movie.

He relished the authentic African cuisine at the Mama Oleich restaurant which shot to fame after the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited it during his recent trip to Nairobi.

The final stop was at the Carnivore Restaurant, a popular tourist destination. It is an open air restaurant which features an all-you-can-eat meat buffet and is famous for its game meat. One has to make advanced reservation for the place. Rao does not eat beef or pork and though special items he had requested were not on that day’s menu, they made special effort to get those items for Rao.

Rao also visited David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. He also met with the author’s brother Yash Desai who lives in Nairobi.

Rao returned to Atlanta on September 22. He said that the entire trip was beyond his expectations and highly enjoyable. He conveyed his heartfelt thanks to his in-laws Appa Rao and Mrs. Vijaya Lakshmi Chaparala for their encouragement and support and for looking after his family while he was away travelling.

He has no hesitation in recommending this trip to anyone dreaming of visiting Africa.
Here is the link to the complete album of breathtaking photos:
https://gvrao.smugmug.com/KenyaAmboseli2016/i-tMvcJfz/A

*G.V. Rao, born near Vijaywada, Andhra Pradesh, graduated in Veterinary Medicine (BVSC & AH) from Hyderabad. He loves horse riding and has won several Gold medals for being the best rider in NCC and at All India Competitions and also won the Gold Medal in IMA (Indian Military Academy), NDA (National Defense Academy), and NCC competitions.

After graduating, Rao worked as a veterinarian in the horse racing industry inPune,India. Later he worked as Veterinary Assistant Surgeon with the Andhra Pradesh Government. Rao loves animals, adventurous sports (he is a winner of the prestigious Duke of Edinburgh’s Award for adventurous activities), and international cuisine.

Rao moved to the U.S.in July 2000 and is currently working with GA Pacific. Ever-fond of travel, Rao has traveled extensively in India, Europe,Australia, and a few popular places in the U.S. After watching the Academy Award-winning movie Out of Africa starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, Rao began thinking of making a trip to East Africa .His long-nurtured dream was finally realized when he booked a package tour to Kenya and Tanzania in 2011. And to Botswana in 2014. No sooner had he returned from his third trip to Kenya, he began dreaming about and planning another one—this time to Namibia and Central Kalahari. 

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