African Safari has to be experienced at least once in a life time; it’s a holiday in wilderness and among animals.
The posh and elegant cottages situated in the heart of the great Game Parks in East Africa and Zambia are euphemistically referred to as “Lodges”. They should be considered as “Luxury Hotels”, which provide every kind of comfort that even the finest Hotels in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, don’t offer their guests.
The rooms are large and spacious, equipped with the finest beds and furniture and provide air-conditioned coolness in the African heat. The swank bathrooms are equipped with the most modern fixtures like sophisticated taps, showers, toilet bowls, marble bathtubs and bidets, designed to pamper a tired guest after a gruelling day in the hot sun on Safari. There is hot and cold water throughout the day and even during the night. The food is exotic, offering cuisines of different lands, to satisfy the taste of the most discerning tourist or demanding guest.
Most of these luxury “Lodges” are classified among lists of the finest hotels in tourist brochures all over the world. Almost all these “Lodges” are situated in the middle of the Game Parks, surrounded by the jungle. Some are located on the habitats of wild animals including predators, or the routes of vast herds of migrating wildebeests.
It is this unique combination of wilderness, isolation, and sense of danger that lends special charm to the African Game parks. They provide incredible opportunities for their guests to see these animals at close quarters, from their own bedroom windows, while sipping ice-cold beer or even Champagne, and listening to the sounds of jungle drums (the heartbeat of Africa) or Jazz or even Mozart.
Guests who come there for once-in-a-lifetime experience claim it is worth every dollar they spend, even if the cost for a night’s stay can be prohibitive. Apart from the exquisite food and drink that may be included in the tariff, there is the added bonus of listening to stories told by veteran big-game hunters like Cecil Evans, or conservationists like Norman Carr (who established the Kafue Game Park in the 1950s), talk about wildlife, jungle-lore and their thrilling adventures.
Anyone who stays in Africa for a few years, or even visits Africa as a tourist to go on Safari, is bound to hear the story of Joy Adamson who brought up a lion cub, in the privacy of her own home, as a human baby.
However, as she could not keep “Elsa” (as she had named her) indefinitely, she released her into the jungle when she grew up. Elsa, having been domesticated, could not at first adapt herself to the ruthless laws of the jungle, and got mauled and wounded by the other wild lions, but slowly and surely evolved into a strong and powerful animal, acquiring her legitimate rank in the leonine hierarchy. When Joy went to the jungle one day to see her dear Elsa, the latter seemed to have only a faint recollection of the happier times she had spent with Joy, but she did give her a “longing lingering look” (that Thomas Gray spoke about) before returning to her Pride. It brought tears of joy in the eyes of Joy Adamson, for she experienced an emotion only a mother can. Her story has been made into a movie ‘Born Free’.
Of course in Africa there are many such stories told over camp fires, by courageous men like Norman Carr and Cecil Evans (who could venture to go up to six feet distance from a rogue elephant or an angry lion) at “sundown” (as they refer to a sunset in “safari” parlance) gulping down large quantities of “sundowners” (beer).
Incidentally, I have had opportunity of meeting Cecil Evans at Kafue National Park in 1973, listening to him narrate his experiences in the “bush” and watching him imitate the “cheeky aunt” in the elephant herd, as she escorts the cubs to a water hole (or “salt-lick”, as it is called because it attracts the even lions and leopards, which like to come there for the salt), swinging her trunk. It must be pointed out that men like Cecil Evans had, even by that time, given up big-game hunting and had taken up the noble task of conservation of endangered species of wildlife. If not for them, the animals may not be even alive today, and the mantle for the job of conservation of wildlife would have fallen on the shoulders of younger men of a new generation of conservationists who may not have the same skill, experience and finesse in dealing with wild animals.
Only in Africa, in the heart of Aberdare National Park in Kenya, will you hear some experienced guide talk about how his elders had been present when a young princess had, for the first time in history, climbed up a tree one evening about two and a half decades earlier, after a day’s thrilling safari, had stayed there for a night in the hotel on the top of the tree, and climbed down the next morning as a queen – an event faithfully recorded by India’s legendary Hunter Jim Corbett in his log–book. (The famous author of ‘The Man-Eaters of Kumaon’, who had been staying in the township nearby, was obviously referring to Queen Elizabeth, who spent the intervening night of February 5–6, 1952 in the now-fabled Tree Top Hotel)
Only in Africa can you hear stories of passion, hate and revenge, woven around the lives of people settled in the “Kraals” (dwelling huts) of famous African chieftains, like “Shaka Zulu”.
Only in Africa can you hear the lion roar outside your cottage in the “lodge” just when you are about to catch a good night ‘s sleep, as night envelops the lodge like a “blanket of blue” (as Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sang, perhaps as a musical ode to their ancient tribal origins).
Only in Africa can you witness the greatest column of falling water on Earth, the Victoria Falls, twice as high and twice as wide as the much-hyped Niagara, and dwarfs the American Falls in size.
By a strange coincidence, which only an anthropologist like Jared Diamond can explain, the natives in Africa call the Victoria Falls by the more exotic name Musi-O-Tuniya (the smoke that thunders) and the Indians in America, living thousands away on the planet, have independently named their Falls “Niagara”, which has the same meaning in their own language!
African Game Parks are also quite different than what we have in India — they are huge in area — Kafue (the largest and oldest game park in Zambia) is about 22,400 square miles in area, i.e roughly the size of Wales in Great Britain or Massachusetts, in America !
(More Next Week)
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