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Kenyan Safari and Our Hunt for the Ankole Watusi Horn

Depending on the stage in your life, two travel destinations on everyone’s bucket list would be  – Disney and Kenyan Safari. For pre-teens, it is Disney and then as kids cross the teens, Kenyan safari starts coming up in travel conversations. For us, Disney happened around  2009 when kids were aged 12 and 9 respectively and Kenya in 2017, when they were 21 and 18.

After our Jim Corbett jungle safari trip in 2009, we did some research and realised that while in India we get to see almost all types of wild life, the Asiatic cheetah, which once roamed parts of India, is now only found in Iran. Cheetahs are an endangered species and only 7,100 cheetahs are left in the wild, almost all of them in Africa. So we set the Kenyan Safari on our bucket list. We started gathering all the when, where, how details to draw a tentative itinerary. Since the popular game parks – Masai Mara, Amboseli , Lake Nakuru requires one to travel crisscross, the itinerary needs to be of about 2 weeks and requires a lot of logistics to be detailed out including that of yellow fever vaccination which is a travel prerequisite.

Tourists usually try to time their visit around The Great Migration which is triggered by the dry season, which can run from any time between June and October. During the dry season, according to Live Science, other bodies of water in the Serengeti dry up, leaving the only other source of water for the animals in the Mara River. Hence the ideal time to visit is the great migration between August and September which provides the best chance for witnessing the massive river crossing by the herds. Come early October, the rainy season in Tanzania commences and the herds embark on their return journey back to the Serengeti. 

In 2017, since we timed our visit basis our kids college holidays, we had just enough time for a 12 day itinerary towards the end of June. So we had to give the great migration a miss and also decided to drop Amboseli which is a popular park with breathtaking views of Mt. Kilimanjaro (in Tanzania) as it would have added another 2-3 days to our trip.

We landed at Nairobi via a connection at Sharjah. On arrival at Sharjah, we could clearly make out that Sharjah is the poorer cousin amongst the Gulf Countries. The airport looked more like an ST stand with hardly any space for transit passengers as they waited for their onward flights. At Nairobi, the arrival hall at the airport has a very retro 1980s look. Once out, we were received by our guide who also doubled up as our driver for the trip.

Our itinerary started straight out from the airport with the first stop being an overnight stay at The Ark Lodge which is located right next to a water hole at the Aberdare National Park. It provided us with a very close peek at elephants from its viewing gallery. The dining area has full glass and provides a full view of the forest. In the morning at breakfast time, we had our first sighting of a leopard as he walked right past outside of the glass window of our dining area. 

After breakfast, we drove down to our next stop Ol Pejeta which is a private conservancy reserve known for the Rhinos. Here, we got to stay in luxurious jungle tents overlooking a watering hole separated with a moat.

This was followed by Lake Nakuru Sarova Lion Hill Lodge. Lake Nakuru is famous for its huge flocks of flamingos that enjoy the alkaline waters of this shallow soda lake. However, we were let down as that year the rains were scarce which meant the lake water had dried out leaving hardly any mud flats to attract the flamingos for food. However, at the souvenir shop at the lodge, we came across a giant horn which at first glance looked more like an ivory tusk. On enquiry, we were told it was a horn from Ankole Watusi, a local water buffalo  ( It certainly caught our attention and made it to our shopping list as a memorabilia for our drawing room which could be a good conversation starter. However, since we were only mid-way into our long trip, we opted to stay away for now and look for it on one of our stopovers on the return journey.

At the Equatorial line

From Lake Nakuru, enroute to Mara, we passed the Equatorial line at Nanyuki. The Equator is the invisible line that runs around the center of the Earth at 0 degree latitude. Here, to prove the equatorial line, enterprising guides take you through a classic physics experiment in which the water vortex drains clockwise in the northern hemisphere, anti-clockwise in the southern hemisphere side of the line and on the equatorial line, water draining does not create any vortex (check out the video to know more:

At Mara, we had ensured to book our stay for 3 nights at Ashnil Mara Camp forest lodge which is located right on the Mara river where the river crossings take place during the great migration within the game park. This helped us save time on every trip as we stepped out to catch the big game in action around sunrise / sunrise. Each day our drive into the vast open and endless savannah at Mara was an adventure just like experiencing a real life Jurassic park. Day 1 was for the lions, Day 2-3 was for the elusive cheetah hopefully on a look out for a kill. On every trip, some of the animals that we got to see by the hoards were the Wild beast, Zebras, African Elephants, Giraffes and  Hippos on the Mara river. Some of the fellow tourists also opted for hot air balloon rides to add to their adventure. I do hope the below slide show gives a good glimpse of what we experienced on our safari drives at Mara.

Enroute from Mara to Nairobi, we stopped by a Souvenir shop where we picked up some elegant single piece wooden giraffe carvings and big game stone carvings. However, the Ankole Watusi horn continued to elude us. A disappointment which we thought we would have to carry back home.

Since the return trip  to Nairobi is more than 8 hours of drive, it requires a break in the journey. We were recommended to opt and stay overnight at Lake Naivasha Sopa Lodge which is on the banks of the lake Naivasha and has wild hippos roaming on its open grounds. Sopa Lodge lived up to its expectations as it gave us a good break. 

On the final leg of our return trip, we had planned to reach Nairobi with time on hand to have lunch enroute to the airport at the famed Carnivore restaurant. Carnivore is an open-air restaurant in the Langata suburb of Nairobi, Kenya. Carnivore’s specialty is meat from Crocodile, Ostrich and ‘Beast of a Feast’ which features an all-you-can-eat meat buffet. This was on our  Must Do list. However, we had to give it a miss as our search for the Ankole Watusi horn that we had missed at Lake Nakuru kept us on the road. We reached the airport empty handed and terribly disappointed for having missed Carnivore and not having the Ankole Watusi horn in our possession . 

However, as luck would have it,  after immigration my son went looking around at the duty free shops and  came back with a big smile. He had finally been able to successfully hunt down the much sought after Ankole Watusi horn in one of the shops. All the scurrying around which led to us missing out on our lunch plans at the Carnivore suddenly felt worth our while.

As we made our way back, fully exhausted from a 7 day road journey across rough jungle roads via a stop over at Sharjah, lugging the massive horn with us as a carry on, we were glad to make it back home to the cozy  comfort of our beds, with the horn proudly perched in our living room.

Here’s some good news for the adventure travelers who are yet to do this circuit- The Chinese are playing big brother to the government in Kenya. They seem to have got into a collaboration with the local government to leverage not only their expertise in civil engineering/ construction but have also provided low cost long term financing to convert their dirt road highway network between the game parks to tarred roads. With this, hopefully not only the travel time between game parks becomes manageable but also less bumpy and more comfortable. My tip for those of you, who just like me  believe in the saying “Life is an adventure and not a package tour” and have got excited enough to add a Kenyan Safari adventure trip to their travel bucket list – remember to keep an eye to pick up those local souvenirs for your drawing room as they not only help in reviving the trip memories but they also become conversation starters for guest events at home.

The elegant single piece wood and the big game stone carvings


Acknowledgements- My Friend Ashish Parulekar and Sheetal Nagle for being a solid member of my blog support team.
P.S To read my other blogs on Cricketing / Corporate Tales, Start up stories, Covid Times, Friends, Family and Marriages go to the Home Page

Published by Salil Datar

Eager beaver , enthusiastic but amateur blogger !!

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