In May 2016, I travelled to Africa for the very first time. Spent 13 days in Northern Tanzania and Zanzibar seeing and photographing Africa’s big game in some dramatic settings. I watched the Great Migration and witnessed some incredible interaction between predator and prey in Moru Kopjes and Lobo Valley as they made their way north towards Kenya.
I always wanted to travel to Africa, and I am sure most of them yearn for the same. Several plans were made but none worked out due to various reasons. Finally in December 2015, a trip to East Africa seemed to take shape and by end of January 2016, all bookings were done. The trip was scheduled to depart in May 2016 with my Grandmother, Prema Dhamodharan. On May 22nd, we flew from Kochi to Doha and after a brief stop there, we changed planes and flew south to Zanzibar and onward to Kilimanjaro International Airport, Northern Tanzania. Arriving at around 7:00 pm, it took another 45 minutes to obtain a visa and clear immigration and customs. Our driver cum guide Julius was waiting outside the arrival hall. Loaded the luggage into the safari vehicle and pushed off to the Lake Duluti Serena Hotel, an hour away from the airport. The property is in a quite location with a great view of Lake Duluti. After a sumptuous dinner at the hotel, I retired for the night as we had a long trip ahead.
Next morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast and started for Lake Manyara. Shortly after arriving at Lake Manyara National Park entry gate, we had our permits checked and entered at around 8:30 am. Saw a few baboons followed by a Hyrax.
I noticed this baboon kid riding on its mother’s back. Not often have I seen such a behaviour.
At around lunch time, stumbled upon a big male leopard resting on the tree. He was initially sleeping, but about an hour later, got up and moved higher up as the day’s heat rose. We did see the tree-climbing lions for which Manyara is famous for, but they weren’t up trees. Besides, we did see a few elephants and cape buffalo. The Rhino was still on the list to complete the Big Five.
It was time to exit Manyara and move to Ngorongoro Crater. From the entry of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority all the way up to the Crater rim, the drive is very picturesque through dense forests. We encountered a few Cape Buffalo on the way.
My Grandmother and me at the view point overlooking the crater
Finally, reached the view point and the crater unfolded before us. One of the most magnificent sights I have ever seen. The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge, built along the crater rim is a great property. The food throughout the stay in Ngorongoro was amazing. That night, I kept visualising of how beautiful the crater floor would be. Next morning, after breakfast, we descended down into the Crater. Some of the images from the crater would follow.
I saw this female lion sleeping next to a water body and there were a few hippos. One of the Hippos walked out and didn’t initially notice the lion. He yawned and then spotted the lion a few meters away. The hippo stood staring for a few minutes before he snorted and returned back to the pool.
The Kori Bustard is very graceful and this individual wasn’t that shy.
The crater is a great place to shoot landscape images with subjects in the foreground. Some of the wildebeest and Zebra were least bothered of vehicles and I guess this is one of the reasons why completely open vehicles are not allowed in the Crater.
This was probably the closest I have been to a Hippo and that too on foot. It was super exciting to photograph them as they occasionally came up to the surface to breathe. (Image taken from the picnic spot where one is allowed to hop off the vehicle)
Back at the Lodge, there was great performance by Masai women. Then a 5 course meal was platted up at the dining. The weather in Ngorongoro was quite chill and temperature dropped down to 10 odd degrees. The lodge staff would leave hot water bags under the quilts when the guests were out for dinner. By the time we returned, the bed was nice and warm. It was time to move to the next destination – Serengeti National Park.
On the way from Ngorongoro to Serengeti, we stopped at a Masai Village. The Masai warriors welcomed us with a dance and also invited me to dance along with them. I strongly believe in the words – “To travel is to know that everyone are wrong about foreign lands – Anonymous.” One of the most friendly bunch of people I have met so far. It was great to know how they survived in this hostile environment and also I was very happy to know that education was an integral part. After the stop at the Masai Village, visited the Oldupai Gorge, one of the world’s most important paleoanthropological site.
Various archaeological teams led expeditions to the Oldupai Gorge since 1911 and they discovered a number of critical information regarding human origin. After extensive research, paleoanthropologists are now convinced that humans did indeed evolve in Africa.
This is an image from the Oldupai Gorge Museum and replica of the foot prints from somewhere down in the Gorge. We finally arrived at the Serengeti National Park Entry Gate. No sooner than 5 minutes after entering, I saw a lion just by the side of the road.
The female on the left had just killed a wildebeest calf. I was minutes late to witness the chase. As she put down the carcass and sat panting, the female on the left tried to sneak up to the kill. The killer was not willing to part and there was a brief conflict and they parted without injuries.
After about an hour, we arrived at the beautiful Pioneer Camp by Elewana Collections in the Moru Kopjes Area. The Camp is very well located in the edge of a Kopje, except for a few Tsetse flies which at times might bother you when you drive through the woodlands around Camp. The well furnished tents are very luxurious and not to forget, the food and the beverages were out of the world.
The woodlands around the camp are a great place to see a lot of smaller game. Vervet monkeys, Hyenas, Impala, Zebra and lots of birds including this beautiful Lilac-breasted Roller. The next morning, we headed out towards the Moru Kopjes and caught up with a herd of the Great Migration. They were grouping up to cross a open area and were not aware of the danger lurking in the tall grass.
As they stood waiting to cross, a lioness charged to ensure that all of them moved towards the open area. After about an hour, the herd settled after the chase and they hesitantly began moving towards the open to cross.
I was all ready and waiting for some more action. A feeble voice crackled on the radio that a Black Rhinoceros was seen. The driver made a split second decision and headed towards the Rhino. As we reached 20 odd minutes later, the Rhino was just walking towards the road. He paused, looked at us and then made his way across the road. Having photographed the magnificent animal, headed back to the place where the wildebeest were preparing to cross. On the way back, came across a herd of elephants with the Kopjes in the background.
And finally the herd began to cross, yet unaware of the lions ambushing in the tall grass. I tried making different perspectives and suddenly the crossing was disturbed and looking away from the viewfinder, I saw a lioness charging from the right.
Ofcourse, the attempt was unsuccessful. The lion retreated and waited by the side. By this time, the herd had split into two. One of the calves who I suppose got separated from its mother came running back. The lioness went for it. The wildebeest ran as fast as it could and made an escape from the jaws of death.
Another mother and her calf tried crossing alone and did not realise how close they were to the lioness. But the lioness went for another wildebeest. The chase lasted a short distance. Then finally 2 females got together and brought an individual down. The struggle went on but the Wildebeest didn’t stand a chance and the end result was death. It was indeed sad to hear the wildebeest breathe its last, but that is how nature is and survival of the fittest is the order of the day.
This marked the end of the series and it was time for sunset. I headed back to camp with a memory card full of action-packed images. 3 lionesses sat looking as the entire herd scattered and ran in different directions. The dust and the setting sun made the surroundings surreal.
The area is great for birds too. I infact didn’t spend too much time focussing on birds. But yet these are a few I got to shoot while I waited for the lions.
Besides the migration, the Moru Kopjes is very famous for its rocky outcrops and often Lion prides are seen perched atop them. Over the 3 days I was in the area, I got to see a few prides. This is something very unique to this particular area. The only regret for me throughout the trip was that I never had a proper opportunity to photograph a fully grown male lion.
It was three fantastic nights spent at Pioneer Camp and was indeed sad to bid adieu to the very hospitable team. The food was something I cannot forget and the Masai men who escorted me every day after sunset back and forth from my tent. Apparently lions do wander within Camp premises, but I never got to see one. I did hear roars all night from around the camp. Large herds of Impala would settle down within camp for the night. The deck overlooking the Serengeti is very well located and has a great view. The rocks on the sides are home Hyraxes and they are often seen siting out in the open.
The giraffes definitely are an attraction to every visitor. The next camp was in Mbuzi Mawe – Mbuzi Mawe Serena Camp. The drive from Pioneer took around 2 hours. Enroute through Seronera, we encountered 2 leopard siblings who were perhaps trying to hunt. They were initially very far away from the road sitting atop a tree. But later they walked on the road and among a huge convoy of safari vehicles. At one point, one of the leopards sneaked under a vehicle for shade.
They stuck around for almost 2 hours before they headed further into the tall grass where it was inaccessible for us to go. Soon after the leopards, we stumbled upon 3 cheetah brothers. Couldn’t photograph them together. Like the leopards, they too seemed to be on pursuit to find some antelope. The Cheetahs were followed by a Hyena.
There were quite a few wildebeest north of Seronera.
As we got closer to Mbuzi Mawe, there was a bridge, we had to cross to get to Camp. Down below was a pride of lions resting on the river bed. They were sleeping at first, and later the male was taken by surprise to see our vehicle parked on the bridge. A cub walked up to a lioness who I suppose is the mother and there was some amazing interaction and bonding between the two.
Once it began raining, we moved towards Camp. Mbuzi Mawe Serena Camp again was in a nice location and there were’t too many tsetse flies around.
Not too far from the Mbuzi Mawe Camp, is Hippo Pool where you could probably see 40-50 or more Hippos soaking in the water. At times, Bulls charge at each other and some end up in conflict.
After a while at the Hippo pool, headed to Namiri Plains. Came across a pride of 4 lions and a few cubs from another pride. The short grass in and around Namiri Plains is ideal for photography. And followed by the lions was a Cheetah sitting on a mound.
A hartebeest stood staring at the lions from a distance. In Namiri Plains got to see and photograph the not so common White-bellied Bustard.
The Migration was in full swing in the Lobo valley. Large herds were moving further north towards Kenya.
There was plenty of action with Wildebeest running around and sparring at times.
Returned to camp for lunch and caught up with a pride of lions. It was quite surprising to learn that most of them climb trees.
The Mbuzi Mawe Antelope – Klipspringer is a small rock climbing antelope which is unique to this region. On the very last evening, I got to see and photograph it. The cloud cover increased and there was a heavy down pour. Just before it rained, the skies turned into amazing hues.
On 31st may, it was time to head out of Serengeti. On the way to the Seronera Airstrip, I got the superb starling finally.
Seen in this image is myself with my driver cum guide Julius at the Seronera Airstrip. We flew from Seronera to Arusha, changed planes and continued to Zanzibar. On the flight from Arusha to Zanzibar, the pilot was kind enough to let me sit in the cockpit of the Cesna C208 Caravan Aircraft. I suppose, it is one of my most memorable flights so far.
A view from the aircraft cockpit as we descended into Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (AAKIA), Zanzibar. About an hour after arrival in Zanzibar, we reached the Hideaway of Nungwi in the northern tip of the Archipelago. The beach was easily accessible and the resort as a whole was great.
I went on tour of the Stone Town, the Slave market and Spice Village followed by a lunch at a local restaurant. I rented a jet ski and went for a ride into the sea for about 20 minutes. On the second day, I went snorkelling to the Mnemba islands. The blue waters was so clear. Unfortunately, I did not take any photographs there.
In the stone town, I came across a seller having animal hides hanging outside his shop. Of what I could recognise, there was a Civet, Monitor lizard and some kind of Antelope.
It was finally time to say good bye to Tanzania and its People! It was such a fantastic trip. We flew back on the 3rd of June from Zanzibar to Doha and onward to Kochi arriving early on June 4th. Thanks to the team at Chalo Africa for putting together such a great trip.
Bodies: Nikon D4s, D4, D810
Lenses: Nikkor 600mm f/4 VR, 200-500mm f/5.6E VR, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II, 24-120mm f/4 VR, 16-35mm f/4 VR
Gopro Hero 4 Black
Author: Gaurav Ramnarayanan