Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mount Kenya - Part II

Rendezvous at the Equator

Yet another year gone by, yet another ‘birthday’…this day we decided to spend ‘family time’ tucked away  in the foothills of Mount Kenya far from civilization. The journey, itself, was a fantastic curtain-raiser to the weekend ahead…

Lush leafy abundance of coffee plantations punctuated by silver oak, eucalyptus and orchards of mangoes and bananas lining the snaking deserted roads rushed past in a mosaic that might have been from another lifetime. I forgot that I was heading out of Nairobi and felt that I was traveling the Coonoor-Ooty hill-road back in the Nilgiris. Few vignettes like the famed flame trees (African tulip with its red tubular flowers) of Thika (immortalized by Elspeth Huxley in an eponymous book ) nudged me to my true bearings. School children in red, the colour of the peoples of Kenya, would suddenly burst on the scene, waving and chattering, enlivening the still landscape. The drizzle, the nip and the light mist hovering around made me feel that we were leaving the earth and flying, rising to meet the clouds.

Like the Pippa’s Song, I couldn’t but feel that ‘all was well with the world’ and this feeling persisted even as we passed somnolent Karatina, a Mungiki (a criminal sect that terrorizes and holds citizens ransom from time to time) hotbed. Two and a half hours later with Kenny Rogers, “Coward of the county’ ringing in our ears, we crossed the equator line at Nanyuki and turned the bend to meet the mountains. Signposts with the map of Africa showing the equator line bisecting the continent, and even the country, reminded us that we were indeed at the centre of the earth. The sparse population there with children playing around the shanties seemed, to me, privileged for having their home at this enviable address, though nothing about them seemed even remotely to evoke envy!

As we gradually climbed up, the air became cooler, fresher, greener! At the gates of Mount Kenya National Park, the sky opened and poured its heart out. The forest looked dark and dank and with the already existing saturated tropical vegetation I wondered how we could venture out. The Mountain Lodge at the foothills of Mount Kenya was more like an extended tree house that proffered an indulgent view of the watering hole bordering a tropical jungle, discouraging any outings in the first place. Our room, as also the lobby balcony was to be the viewing gallery, a modern-day machaan from where we would unobtrusively spy on the shenanigans of the forest denizens.

The Buffalo in Me

It was a day to laze around, of simply sitting by the gallery overlooking the watering hole - watching and waiting, waiting and watching. Before long, a herd of buffaloes trooped out of the thicket, one by one, with a sense of urgency and made towards the water. There were all kinds -  thickset with tough thickened horns, indicating they were older males, brownish juveniles and of course, the matriarchs. As few males fanned out in different directions, keeping watch, the rest of the herd settled down contentedly chewing cud. In the case of buffaloes, with little action on the part of the players, languor seeps into the atmosphere and the scene becomes static save the hypnotic motion of the jaws, a sole reminder to the observer, of passage of time.

Like the buffaloes, I gave in completely to ruminating, doing nothing. I was just happy to be alive. Gazing at the grazing buffaloes, after a while, I became one among them, letting my mind roam free. I let it glide over the forests and wander among the trees. I listened to murmuring leaves and perked my ears at creaking twigs in anticipation and thrill. Languidly, I watched the interplay between the female and male bushbucks and the waterbucks that came to drink at the hole. I heard the Egyptian goose croak and followed it as it took wing, circling the skies, meeting with its mate before flying off to an unknown destination. I listened to the silence of the forest air and let myself slip into oblivion. The action of the buffaloes’ chewing cud became the breath of my body. The morning segued into somnolent afternoon and eventually, dusk, and all that happened in that space of time was the slow march of the sun and in the play of light and shade, a change in the tableau of trees.

Common waterbuck

Dangerously close... the African Cape Buffalo!

Also read Mount Kenya - Part I


  1. Wonderful, Paddy ... soooo envious! Wish I could have done the journey with you!

  2. How do you manage get such close views of all these wild animals??