Lions and More

We had been for a tour of  what they call as the northern circuit of Tanzania.  This includes the famous Seringetti National Park, the
Ngorongoro conservation area, the Manyara national park and the Tarangire National Park.  This is were much of the National Geographic and Animal Planet videos are shot.  We visited two of these parks and left the other two for a later visit.  Well, you got to leave something!!!

We started from Dar on Friday, early in the morning, and reached Arusha, some 600 and odd kilometers from here, by mid afternoon.  We drove in our car from here and me and uncle shared the driving job.  It was a wonderful drive, and you know what, in Africa, they do have great roads.  Talking about the roads, its like, they are built by foreign companies, Chinese and Japanese, and they are well maintained too.  The roads are too straight, that at times we were longing for some potholes and bends just for the break.

The tour operators (Simba Safaris), met us at Arusha.  We had lunch there at Arusha, and then gave ourselves to the operators.  Driver cum guide Mr. Mshangi, took us through the rest of the journey.  We travelled in a Land Cruiser, and God, that’s a great vehicle.

We went to Tarangire National Park first.  This is a great park, vast and mostly covered with rain forests.  The park gets its name from the Tarangire River, which is supposed to be a perennial water source.   This is the wet season here and the whole of the park is a green paradise.  This park houses one of the largest populations of the African Bush Elephants.  It was like, you turn any way round, you get to see a herd of elephants.  And each herd was so big that, we couldn’t count the number of elephants.  We got to see some magnificent Tuskers, those that are called the ‘Plough the earth’, in the local language, and those that are hunted after in Wilbur Smith novels, their tusk so long that, they actually dig touch the land when they walk, and they leave those big marks on the land as if it is ploughed.  We also saw many kid elephants.  Now these kids are so small that, you wonder how these things grow to become so BIG.

The other thing that makes this park Different from others is the Baobob tree.  These are huge trees, and many of them are more than 500 years old.  And its like every other tree in the park is a Baobob.  Legend says that, this tree, some millions of years ago, angered the Gods.  The God then plucked this tree and then planted it upside down!!!  Well, don’t know what happened millions of years ago, but this tree really looks upside down!!

We stayed at the Tarangire Sopa Lodges.  Great Hotel, Great staff. Great food..

Saturday morning, went for another game drive.  Saw more elephants, zebras, giraffes, impalas, and many birds.. There are no lions in these forests.  The guide told us that, the lions are afraid of the elephants and they don’t inhabit the same area.  Well elephants are GREAT!!

By noon, we finished the game drive.  We had a picnic lunch and left Tarangire. We drove to another amazing place, The NGORONGORO crater.  This is a World Heritage Site, and a must see for any nature lover and shutter bug.

This is the soul of the Ngorongoro conservation area.  The only national park which is not under Tanapa (Tanzania National Park
Authority).  Ngorongoro conservation area is a biosphere reserve, a man-environment reserve, where the nature, the flora, the fauna and fauna are protected along with the local tribes.  The prominent of the tribes is the Masai tribe. The Masai’s are herdsmen and warriors.  They are supposed to be the greatest warriors of Africa.

And the story goes that, once they take out their knives, they never put it back, till it has seen blood.  These are people who drink blood, early in the morning (Bed coffee).  They have these cows, whose veins are punctured to drain blood. We saw the Masai chief’s house; a village by itself.  Well, with 14 wives and 140 children, what else to expect.  Now the Government has opened a school exclusively for his children.. It seems the chief, told the Government that, it is cheaper for him to pay the teacher’s salary than paying fee for all his children!!

Well that’s the Masai Story, Back to the main track.. The drive to Ngorongoro crater, is another odyssey through the wilderness of Africa.  The drive took us through parts of Manyara National park, famous for its Falmingo population, and parts of the Ngorongoro conservation area.

We reached the crater by evening.  And believe me, The view of the crater from the top, is one of the most beautiful sights that I have ever seen.  Imagine a huge cricket stadium, huge, means really huge, put it at around 300 sq km, and imagine it is surrounded by mountains on all sides, now imagine the entire stands to be covered by dense woods and the entire ground to be as green as you can ever imagine.  Now imagine a huge lake on one side of the ground. Now imagine the entire thing to be at some 7500 feet above the sea level… well that is Ngorongoro crater!!! No wonder people say, it is a must see place..

The crater is some 16-19 km across and some 65-70 km around.  This covers an area of about 300 sq km.  This houses the largest population of wild buffalos,  wilder beasts, zebras, heart beasts, antelopes of different types and many predators.   Our hotel, was right on the rim of this huge wonder.  The Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, another great hotel with great staff, great food and a great view into the crater.  We had dinner at the hotel and spent the evening enjoying the breathtaking view.  Some time after dinner, we got to see a buffalo treading its way carelessly into the hotel lawns for a sweeter and better meal of grass.  The guard told us that, they are frequent visitors and some time ago, they had elephants breaking open their pumps in search of water during the dry season.

The night was too cold, that we felt the heater, and the quilts were inefficient.  We were half frozen when we got up in the morning. And that, we had to really early, for us to go into the crater.

Inside the crater it is like, being inside a huge stadium, with huge trees filling the whole of the stands.  We saw, a huge number of buffalos, zebras, impalas, elands, dic dics, wilder beasts, ostriches, and a huge variety of birds.  Well, we were sort of bored after some half an hour, seeing these things.  It was then the wireless set in the car beeped and we heard someone screaming SIMBA..

The Lions were out.  Thanks to the wireless receiver, our guide took us straight to the lion.  It was a huge gentleman, basking in the sun.  The lion was like posing for us and we had a great time clicking our cameras.   We went on the look out again. More animals, more birds, and then we spotted the Rhino.  Two of them, well a bit far off but clear.  Our guide told that they are listed as endangered species, and there are only very few of them on the earth now.  These are the two horned ones, different from what we have in India (the single horned).  After the rhinos, we went near the lake, where we saw a lot of flamingos.  They are beautiful birds, and it was like the whole of the area was painted pink.   We left the lake and were on the look out again.  Now it was we who spotted, and send the message on the wireless.  A pack of lions.  A huge lion and six girlfriends.  Great sight.  All of them looked fresh from a kill. And were relaxing on the ground.  There were lot of jackals and hyenas near by.  Waiting for the kings to leave, to finish the kill.  And then a funny thing happened, the great king got up, walked majestically to a nearby car, and started rubbing its back on the wheel, then it decided to pee on the vehicle!!  Well, the lions mark their territory with their pee, and now the land cruiser belongs to the king!!

We left the lions and continued our hunt.  Went round the crater till mid afternoon, had a picnic lunch and came out of the crater.  It was then, we understood why the car is called a LAND CRUISER.  The way up, was too steep, too muddy, and through a swamp, we were making our way through the wilds, cruising over the wild, and the car never bothered. We came out of the crater and drove straight to Arusha.  We took our car, and went to a place called Arusha resort for overnight stay. We left Arusha early in the morning and reached Dar by mid afternoon.

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