Micato Musings


Jun

26

The Greatest India Book?

Posted by: Micato

by Tom Cole

Cover Image-Rudyard Kipling's Kim

Rudyard Kipling’s Kim

It’s probably a little myopically unfair to call Rudyard Kipling’s Kim the greatest book about India. Unfair because it’s 114 years old and because its language and ostensible politics sometimes pinch the modern ear. Myopic because, after all, it’s a book about India by an non-Indian, and a guy with a reputation as a strident imperialist to boot.

For many years it was almost vanishingly rare to hear a good word about Kipling in polite literary or political circles. In the past couple of decades, though, his reputation has seen a major uptick. For one thing, you can’t read Kipling without marveling at his wonderful energy and focus and his command of expression. He was a masterful, fabulously engaging writer (and in 1907 the first English-language Nobel laureate). Henry James, not given to idle praise, once said that: “Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known.”

As for Kipling’s politics: he was indeed sometimes uncomfortably bellicose, and it’s (a little too easy) to see him as what we would today call, in our guillotine fashion, racist. But a close look at his 1897 poem Recessional shows him to have been surprisingly skeptical of the British Empire’s pretensions. And after his son was killed in World War I his fascination with war and soldiery took a dark turn. Further complicating things was the inescapable fact that Kipling knew and loved India and its people deeply and well—he was born there, in Bombay, in 1865, and in his formative years was a wide-eyed lad who “thought and dreamed” in the local vernacular.

Kim tells the story of the far-flung adventures of the eponymous youth, who at book’s beginning is a resourceful street urchin in Lahore (now in Pakistan, then part of British India). Though he’s thought to be a “native,” Kim is the orphaned son of an Irish mother and father who died in poverty. I won’t outline the fascinating plot, especially since Wikipedia has done such a good job: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_(novel).

If you’re interested in India, Kim will provide you with a what the Oxford Companion to English Literature calls “a vivid picture of India, its teeming populations, religions, and superstitions, and the life of the bazaars and the road.” The India that Kipling presents in Kim is still very evident in the India of today. The lad’s travels along the Grand Trunk Road are unforgettably vibrant, and his encounters with Tibetan lamas (one of whom is a major figure in the book) and bazaar merchants, and English soldiers and Russian spies, are masterfully and accurately drawn. If you love or have a hearty affection for India and you haven’t read Kim, I envy you, because you’ve got a grand treat in store. Kipling was perhaps—no, surely—the Raj’s greatest chronicler, and on my recent Micato trip to India, I felt his presence often. His first collection of short stories, Plain Tales from the Hills is indispensable reading; and while we were looking—successfully— for tigers in Ranthambore National Park, I re-lived my experience of the thunderously marvelous Jungle Books.

(If you’re wondering about those Russian spies: Kim becomes embroiled in what was known as the Great Game, a long rivalry for dominance in Central Asia between the expansionist Russian Empire and the British, who were convinced the Russians were intent on swooping down from the north to pluck the Jewel in the Crown from them. Another of Kim’s great characters is Col. Creighton, a brainy English spy in the Himalayan uplands where the Great Game was played in earnest. Creighton is based on a real-life adventurer/soldier/spy/mystic named Francis Younghusband, the epitome of the Edwardian hero figure, the kind of fellow who would stop the music by striding in his ragged field uniform into a Viceregal ball in the hill station of Simla, walk up to the Viceroy and say, “Sir! I bring news from the frontier!”)

 

Looking for some other great reads on India?  Check out Tom’s other blog article on the subject: 4 Great Books about India.

Jun

09

Kings of the Jungle, But Is the Monarchy at Risk?

Posted by: Micato

By Leslie Woit

Fast, ferocious and famously noble. Who would imagine that lions are among the most vulnerable creatures on the planet?

Ewaso Lion Project-Nanai

Nanai the lioness is one of many lions at risk in Northeast Kenya. Photo submitted by the Ewaso Lions.

According to a small yet important grassroots conservation project called Ewaso Lions, at the current rate of loss, unless something is done, Kenya’s lions could be threatened in the near future.

“We definitely need parks, but most areas are too small for lions and they get into trouble when they move beyond them,” explains Shivani Bhalla, founder of Ewaso Lions. “Working with lions on community-run land is important for their conservation.”

The problem for lions is twofold: habitat loss combined with human confrontation – though rather than poaching, which so severely threatens other animals, lions are primarily threatened over livestock depredation. The northern Kenyan people are primarily pastoralists who raise sheep, goats and cows. In community areas, lions often kill livestock.

“This causes great resentment amongst the local people,” explains Bhalla. “And often people come and retaliate by killing lions.” In order to protect their livestock, pastoralists may retaliate by shooting, spearing or poisoning lions.

Under the leadership of Shivani Bhalla, PhD candidate at the University of Oxford and a National Geographic Explorer, Ewaso Lions focuses on research and education. This includes GPS tracking, camera traps and lion monitoring. “We monitor 40 lions in the region, each lion has been individually identified and we monitor them on a daily basis.”

The human factor is a vital component of the programme’s success, including lion scouts who work in community areas. “They’re out every day patrolling the region collecting information on predators, livestock and ungulates to really see what are the factors that affect the lion population in this area. Is it other predators, is it people, is it changes in prey?”

Ewaso Lion Project-Lion Collaring

Shivani Bhalla and her team collaring a lion named Lguret. Photo submitted by Ewaso Lions

Ewaso also uses “ambassadors” drawn from the local community. The Warrior Watch programme engages the local Samburu warriors, known as Morans.

“We realize the Morans had been previously neglected when it came to wildlife conservation decision-making, so we’ve engaged 18 warriors in four different conservancies.” Warriors collect information on predators and talk to communities about predator locations, so they can take their livestock away from those locations to avoid potential predator conflict. “They really have become wildlife ambassadors within their communities.”

To Learn More About Ewaso Lions

Ewaso Lions is the first project to conduct a formal research study on the lion population in Samburu, Kenya. Ewaso Lions’ community outreach and education programmes engage local people in conservation, provide training, find creative solutions to human-wildlife conflict and give back to the community.

A visit with the Ewaso Lions team can be arranged on your Micato Bespoke Safari or on select departures of the Hemingway Wing Safari in 2015.  To inquire about a visit, contact a Safari Specialist at Micato Safaris at 1-800-MICATO-1 or by email

May

22

March and April Micato Photo Contest Winners Announced

Posted by: Micato

In March and April the submissions to the Micato Photo Contest were nothing short of spectacular!

Here now the winners, who not only gave us their stunning images, but also shared a few words about what these special moments meant to them.

Enjoy!

March 2015
WINNER
Dr. Allan Gold

Micato Safaris March Grand Prize Photo by Dr Allan Gold

On his recent Photo Safari with Micato and Lindblad Expeditions, Dr Gold captured this leopard resting in a tree.

In describing the moment, Dr. Gold says “I vividly recall being captivated by this stunning female leopard resting and observing from a low tree limb.  Late in the day magical light filtered through the yellow-barked acacia forest behind. We approached at the back of a small loop of road after crossing an open plain where impala and gazelles were grazing. We had ample time in the rich but fading light to photograph while the lady stood, stretched and readjusted her perch a few times before finally leaving for work. ”

March 2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
Maribeth Venezia

Giraffe Centre in Nairobi

Maribeth was given a warm ‘Welcome to Kenya’ at the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi.

 

Maribeth describes her Giraffe Kiss moment in this short story:

“Our transportation to Kenya proved challenging. We left in a snowstorm and had to endure delayed flights, cancelled flights rerouting and finally – delayed luggage! However, once we arrived in Kenya we were in heaven! We were escorted to our hotel, had a delicious breakfast, freshened up and we were off to see the sights.  One of our stops was the Giraffe Center in the suburbs of  Nairobi. We ascended onto the viewing platform where one can interact with the giraffes. A gorgeous giraffe decided to give me a welcome kiss! I must say his tongue was a bit rough and hairy but I was thrilled to be part of this experience. Subsequently I had nuggets of giraffe treats and was most generous to my new friend. I did not want to leave. This was our  first day in Kenya, what a fantastic start! ”

April 2015
WINNER
Lucie Fjeldstad

sunrise-namibian-sand-dunes

Sunrise over the Red Sand Dunes of Namibia.

 

Lucie recalls her recent trip where she captured the sunrise on Namibia’s sand dunes:

“It was our first time in Namibia. We were told the dunes were best with sunrise shadows so off we went at dawn. When we saw this serpentine ridge and its natural contrasting shadow we slammed on the brakes and shot this photograph. Fabulous unique landscape … truly beautiful!”

April 2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
Steve Kuriga

close-up-giraffe

A Young Reticulated Giraffe Looks on with Curiosity.

Steve recalls the moment he captured this photo of a young giraffe:

“Dawn broke to a cloudless March sunrise as we ventured from Larsen’s Camp to Samburu. While alongside the wildebeest trails we came across a tower of giraffes feasting on nearby acacia trees. This calf was in constant visual contact with the vehicle as I focused and captured his innocence.”

It is never too late to enter the Micato Safaris Photo Contest. Photos are eligible as long as they were taken on safari with Micato. So set aside some time to look through your photos… next month’s winning photo could be sitting on your hard drive and might earn you a $250 credit for Micato’s Safari Shop.

May

08

The Ultimate Trunk Show

Posted by: Micato

By Leslie Woit

Even the smallest elephant is too much for an arm’s length selfie. Yet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry couldn’t resist trying during his recent visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya’s Nairobi National Park.

Former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, also visited another of Kenya’s elephant reserves, highlighting the huge threat the animals face.

As Kerry clearly found, a visit to the celebrated David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is both entertaining and educational, promising the ideal pre-safari primer. Home to dozens of infant elephants, this nursery-with-a-difference lets all visitors experience the magic of feeding time.

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Visits Sheldrick WIldlife Trust

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry takes a selfie on a recent visit to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi. May 3, 2015. Photo by Andrew Harnik/Reuters

 

What you’ll see…

A flush of dust rises in a fine red cloud as the herd gambols toward us. Oltaiyoni and Olsekki chase each other back and forth. Young Mbegu faces up to Kauro, flaying her trunk playfully behind the flaps of his ears. The trumpet section comes alive with a high hoot.

What began as one long, orderly line of elephants quickly dissembles into a rollicking band of wrinkly hooligans. It’s Babar comes alive meets playtime for Elmer. It’s lunchtime for a herd of hungry baby elephants.

Since 1977, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has successfully hand-raised more than 150 infant elephants in their Nairobi centre – most elephants rescued are orphaned by poachers (Every 15 minutes an elephant is killed for its ivory). Elephants typically stay in the orphanage around six years before released back into the wild.

elephant feeding at sheldrick trust

Feeding Time at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Photo by Leslie Woit

These magnificent beings are the world’s largest living land animals, their 200 pound birthweight a mere wisp of their eventual 15,000 pound comeliness. Highly social and tactile, not only do they respond to their names but each has its own bunk and human keeper to sleep alongside them in their stable at night. Their human “family” is encouraged to interact with and talk to the babies as they would their own: according the Trust, elephants can read a person’s heart and mind.

Once a day, visitors are welcomed to the orphanage to observe feeding time. This is just one of many meals: the youngest of the herd require bottle feeding no fewer than eight times per day. Micato Bespoke Safari guests often “sponsor” an elephant, a valued deed which earns them the opportunity for a memorable visit with their foster elephant during sponsors-only hours. A private visit of the facility is another treat Micato guests may like to request; the visits led by Dame Daphne Sheldrick and/or her daughter are a particular pleasure. Similarly, guests may choose to pay a visit to the facility in Tsavo, the second phase of transition for the elephants.

For now, the great midday spectacle: bottle feeding a garden full of baby elephants the size of Smart cars. Trunks twine agilely round milk containers while younger ones are hand-fed the finger-length nipples. Either way, leathery babies of varying bulks guzzle down their five-litre allotment in fairly uniform times of around 30 seconds flat.

elephant keeper and elephants at Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

An Elephant Keeper at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust teaches a young orphan to mind her manners. Photo by Leslie Woit.

After lunch comes playtime. Kicking soccer balls, chewing on giant toothpicks, languishing under showers of cool earth shovelled onto their hides by the keepers.

The 18-month-old Arruba pauses at my feet, her long trunk swirling searchingly around my legs. Tusks smooth and white, dark lashes supermodel long. Her hide is soft as a giant Shar Pei puppy. For now, all safe and sound.

 

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is on the edge of Nairobi, a short drive from downtown. DSWT baby elephants may be fostered for a minimum of $50 per year. 

 

Apr

25

Micato’s Man in Agra Knows the Way

Posted by: Micato

By Becca Hensley

Puneet_Dan-Micato_India

Micato’s Man in Agra, Puneet Dan, enjoying the Festival of Holi

Puneet Dan knows how to wend his way through Agra. 

This vibrant, colourful city, best known for the Taj Mahal, is, after all, his hometown. So, it’s no surprise when Puneet uses his connections to show me some other eye-popping aspects of his residential turf. 

With glee, I return to the Oberoi Amarvilas, a palace-style hotel just steps from India’s most famous landmark. An opulent lodge, it presents views of the Taj Mahal from every room—a sight so stupendous that guests feel woozy with awe. After an adventurous ride from Delhi, in which my photographer, Kevin, insists we stop on the dusty road’s verge to take photos of a snake charmer and his dancing cobra, I am happy to reach this fanciful hotel.

I rush through the marble-sheathed lobby to take in the iconic vista, which can be seen through the panoramic windows of a colourful parlour or through the doors on a commodious deck. There, a short distance away, the Taj Mahal seems to be floating amid the clouds. It emits rose-colored rays that glitter like something bejeweled. But, that view only gets better upstairs in my suite. My personal balcony, on an upper floor, overlooks the icon, amid the hotel’s medley of swimming pools and old-style, manicured gardens. Ethereal, it exudes a discernible energy—and the sight of it awakens my long sleeping soul. That’s the power of the Taj Mahal.

But Puneet is powerful too. He urges me outdoors, away from the view that I had wanted to linger over. He urges me off my balcony, and out into the street. I follow him because he has the best laugh in India. And, an enthusiasm that is contagious. Puneet has plans. And, when Puneet has plans, you know something miraculous is in store.

We head away from the Taj Mahal to Kohinoor Jewelers, set in an unassuming building. I have no idea what to expect. But, in fact, as it turns out, the Taj Mahal has some hearty competition in Agra.

Known for their magnificent Mughal-style workmanship, Kohinoor has supplied the regal classes with magnificent jewelry for more than a century. Today, the atelier, storehouse, and boutique is helmed by a descendent of the first Kohinoor family—Ghanshyam Mathur. An artist in his own right, Mathur meets us at the door and beckons us into this Aladdin’s Cave of precious jeweled delights. While each stunning piece outshines the next, I pause to gaze at an ancient necklace so beautiful only a deity could pull it off. Composed of nine perfect emeralds, each one the size of fingerling potato, it also boasts twinkling rubies.

With trepidation, I try it on.

A magical bijoux, it transforms me—and for a minute I ponder its myriad stories. Mathur then leads us to the emporium’s back rooms to peruse other priceless artwork, including a century-old tapestry collection, dotted with precious crystals, made by his ancestors. 

The next day Puneet has another surprise. Always grinning, bubbly, bemused Puneet has infinite tricks up his sleeve. On previous trips we’ve been to the Taj Mahal, walked its grounds, photographed it at sunrise and sunset—even done yoga in its shadows. Honestly, I am hankering to go back—just to repeat a bit of poetry made palpable. But, as usual, the ever crafty Puneet has alternative plans. And, he can barely contain his excitement.

He picks us up before dawn and we walk up the street toward the Taj Mahal. Inexplicably, I am wearing a long, silk dress. And, as usual, my photographer, Kevin, his camera cases akimbo and his eyes like a thousand hummingbirds, seeking nectar (that is, photo ops), lags behind to ponder simply everything. “I am just waiting for something to happen,” he says.

And, it does.

Just as Puneet tells him, “Don’t do that,” Kevin kneels down to take a portrait of a monkey. The problem is that this monkey is angry—at him. He rushes us, teeth bared, a screech emitting negativity into the universe. I jump onto Puneet, Kevin leaps into the air, avoiding the monkey’s bite. We all scream. It is a most undignified trek to that Taj—but laughing, we carry on. (I make a note to self: Tell readers to avoid photographing the monkeys. “Don’t look them in the eyes,” says Puneet.)

We go beyond the Taj Mahal to the River Yamuna. This river, which flows behind the palace, is linked to the sacred River Ganges. There, on the bank, a very shoddy raft awaits. An oarsman, his head wrapped in a white turban, and a cigarette dangling off his lip, sits at attention. Another man, his smile as big as India, takes my hand, and helps me on. He lays out a towel to protect my silk dress. (“Why did I wear a silk dress?” I think). And off we go, just as the sun begins to rise. This is doing the Taj Mahal rogue.

“Are we allowed out here?” I scream, over the lapping of the waves and the furious clicking of Kevin’s camera.

“Of course not,” says Puneet. He shrugs. “But, this is India.”

Taj Mahal

Rowing past the Taj Mahal at Dawn.

Apr

14

Help Louise Leakey Build A Fence

Posted by: Micato

louise2Born and raised in Kenya, Louise Leakey represents the third generation of the world-renowned Leakey palaeoanthropologists. We’re honoured to have her guest-blogging for us, and for such an important cause…

I would like to start by thanking Dennis and Joy Pinto for their longtime support of our team Rhino Rouge in the annual Rhino Charge event, which in turn supports the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust.

Rhino Ark was founded by Ken Khule in 1988, in response to the grave crisis facing Kenya’s Black Rhino population in the Aberdare ecosystem, an important watershed and mountainous National Park.

Rhino Ark’s initial aim was to build an electric fence along several sections of the Aberdare National Park most threatened by encroaching farmland. The initial idea evolved into a much more ambitious task of encircling the entire Aberdare Conservation Area with a game-proof fence.

Today Rhino Ark’s mandate extends to seeking sustainable, long-term solutions to the conservation challenges of several mountain forest ecosystems and biodiversity, all threatened by increasing pressures of a rising population. Their goal is also to engage fence-adjacent communities in conservation.

In the beginning…

During the early days of the trust, Ken Khule, along with his Rally Enthusiast friends Rob Coombes and Brian Haworth, conceived a novel fundraising idea; an off-road motorsport event, which they named the Rhino Charge.

Their original idea involved an off-road race in a 4×4 vehicle to the highest altitude on Mount Kenya; however, this was not permitted by the park authorities at that time. The event was refined over the years into competitions requiring entrants to travel the shortest possible distance in a 4×4 vehicle in 10 hours, across challenging, trackless terrain, visiting a number of predetermined points, usually in a remote part of Kenya.

The Rhino Charge today is world-renowned for its toughness and has gained international acclaim. Limited to 65 entries to minimize impact to the terrain, the organisers have since introduced a preferential entry strategy favouring high value fund-raisers.

car 2
The race…to find a solution

On February 4, 1989, 31 competing vehicles entered the first event, raising the first KES 250,000 for the Rhino Ark. With every subsequent event, this amount has increased and today raises over a million dollars for the Trust each year.

The fence line surrounding the Aberdares was completed in August 2009 and now Rhino Ark has moved on to the important task of fencing Mount Kenya as well as parts of the Mau. These are two enormously important water towers and are highly threatened by the ever-increasing pressure from humans and agriculture along the boundaries, as well as from forest fires set by illegal cultivators deep inside the forests.

The urgency of protecting these resources cannot be underestimated. As the forest boundaries are encroached, wildlife is increasingly vulnerable from poaching and the forest is gradually carved into illegal plantations, rapidly moving the tree line higher up the mountain slope each year.

More than ever, these developments warrant critical support to build protective fences. And the National Parks of the Aberdares, Mount Kenya, and the Mau Eburu Forest depend on the critical support of Rhino Ark to sustain this effort.

It is an honor to be part of a dedicated team competing to raise money for Rhino Ark. Our car will race again in the Rhino Charge event on May 31st 2015. Our all-girls team completes in a no frills, red 1974 short wheel base land cruiser. This tough car is expertly driven by Tanya Carr Hartley, and the rest of us run ahead and alongside finding the way to navigate the course.

The car traverses terrain that I certainly never imagined a vehicle could get across.

car 17

We have winched it up hillsides from trees, lowered it down the steepest of hill sides, roped and swung like a pendulum around hill tops, and crossed rivers, sand valleys and mud.

car4

It is always an adventure and we keep account of our experiences and personally thank all our supporters and send an account of our adventure. We can even be tracked live on the day.

Raising funds for these forest ecosystems in an important part of the solution. I would be grateful if you joined us.

To make a tax-deductible donation to team Rhino Rouge, which supports the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, click here.

team17

Louise Leakey spent much of her childhood in the deserts of northern Kenya, uncovering clues of our past. Educated both in Kenya and in the United Kingdom, she completed her PhD at University College London in 2001. Currently she is a Research Assistant Professor at University of Stony Brook, and a Director of the Turkana Basin Institute. She’s also a National Geographic Explorer in Residence,  a Young Global Leader 2005, a pilot, photographer, sailor, and winemaker.

Apr

10

4 Great Books About India

Posted by: Micato

The first quartet of a very personal, not to say idiosyncratic, list.

by Tom Cole

Some of these books I read a while back. But they pop up for me, in different times and places. And now, just back from a heart-sparking trip to Micato’s India, I present four of the books that seemed to be at my side, glowing in memory, during that journey. I guarantee you that you’ll find at least one of them safely and enjoyably incendiary.

(I’ve stockpiled a bunch of others, including what may be my all-time favourite, and will blog about them as time goes on.)

* If you love India, or are interested in it, or just enjoy wandering in new worlds, you’ll savour just about anything by R. K. Narayan. One of 20th century India’s most beloved writers, Narayan created a fictional town in the south called Malgudi, a kind of less melancholic Lake Woebegone. Narayan’s prose is simple and unwriterly (that’s a compliment from a too-often writerly writer), but you feel the air and smell the tea and he brought his cast of local characters to vivid and sympathetic life. I love Malgudi because it showed me an India in which people love to sit around and chat without being compelled to grind away at self-branding and getting ahead in the world (which, in Narayan’s India, didn’t really need much getting ahead of). I talked about Narayan with Micato Tour Director Puneet Dan and was thrilled when he launched into a little Narayan set piece, “Oh, yes, we were visiting just now with Ramaji, and Ramaji said….”

* William Dalrymple is a smart and talented writer who combines a love of India (see his The Age of Kali) with a scholar’s temperament and a big heart…not a very common combination. Any of his many books are worthy of your consideration. My favourite is The Last Mughal, perhaps because of my fascination with the Mughals, the weird improbability of the British Raj itself, and with imperial end-times (check out Ryszard Kapuscinski, the master of this genre). The last Mughal, Bahadur Shah II, called Zafar, was a poet and shy aesthete, guy who would probably have fared well in Narayan’s Malgudi, sitting around the tea shop under the banyan tree discussing metaphysics. Instead the British cooped him up in a tottery palace in Shahjahanabad, in Old Delhi, the last few square hectares of the once-vast Mughal Empire. Dalrymple tells his poignant tale expertly and kindly and along the way you learn a lot about the Mughals and about British India. (Dalrymple is one of the directors of the Jaipur Literary Festival, which has established itself as India’s dazzlingest gathering of literati and, these days, Bollywood luminaries. We were in the Taj Rambagh Palace during our Micato India trip, and the exquisite old place was buzzing with festival-goers and celebrities, including a sadly diminished but game V.S. Naipaul.)

Micato Guest at Taj Mahal

Micato India Tour Director Puneet Dan and a happy Micato traveller, Mary Marenka Poxon, wife of this blog’s writer.

* The Hill of Devi by E.M. Forester. Most lists like this would include A Passage to India, a wonderful book made into a disappointing film by David Lean (tarnishing, unfairly, my memory of the book). The Hill of Devi is a non-fiction account of Forester’s stint as a private secretary to Tukojirao III, maharajah of the small, rather listless Maratha state of Dewas Senior (Tukaji Rao, as opposed to Dewas Junior, or Jivaji Rao). I have an almost guilty fascination for the British Raj and all the maharajahs, rajahs, nawabs, wadiyars, badshahs, and walis of the princely states the British allowed–with supervision–to bump along in their eccentric ways. Forester is an acute observer and reporter of his “bewilderment and pleasure at plunging into an unknown world and at meeting an unknown and possibly unknowable character,” the ultimately tragic maharajah, “certainly a genius, possibly a saint.”

* Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominque Lapierre. When we were in Mumbai (which a surprisingly lot of Indians still call Bombay) we visited Mani Bhavan, where Gandhi spent much of the 1920s and 30s, writing and planning his non-violent–satyagraha–campaign against British rule. His bedroom in the house, borrowed from a well-to-do supporter, was simple: a mattress, some books, a spinning wheel (the joke among Gandhi’s supporters was that “it costs us lots of money to keep Gandhiji poor”). Not far from Mani Bhavan is Antilia, the science-fictiony, near-insane skyscraper home of India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.

I’m not sure what this vertiginous contrast means, except that India has changed hugely since Gandhi’s day (though perhaps no other nation is so in touch with its civilizational wellsprings). Of course, there’s much more to the story of India’s hard-won independence from the British than the enlightened efforts of a man universally referred to as a Great Soul (or Mahatma; he was also popularly known as Bapu, father). In fact, the wider story of that independence is crucial to any understanding of modern India (and Pakistan, and–not so indirectly–the Taliban, for that matter). Luckily, Collins and Lapierre tell the story marvelously; in many ways Freedom at Midnight is the one indispensable book for anyone interested in India.

(This is a Micato blog, and I’m a Micato guy, so excuse me for name dropping, but: during our trip we had lunch in Delhi with Micato India Director Lisa Alam Shah at the historic Imperial Hotel. We sat at a table on the verandah of the Imperial’s wonderful 1911 Restaurant. Lisa told us that our table (the one with the heavy white cast iron chairs, in case you’re wondering) was favoured by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. I wondered if he shared lunches there with Edwina, Countess of Mountbatten, wife of India’s last viceroy, Louis Mountbatten. Nehru, the elegant freedom fighter, is known to have had a deep and occasionally physical relationship with the Countess. That’s an irrelevant but tasty bit of what an old history teacher of mine used to call, harrumphingly, “cake history.”)

Upcoming: Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (which could well be my number one, all-time India tome); The Pax Britannica Trilogy by Jan Morris; Salmon Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children; V.S. Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now; and Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.

We get a good immersion in the glorious monuments and spectacularly colourful histories of the Mughals and the Rajput maharajahs who were their vassals and rivals on all our private India trips, India South to North, The Spirit of India, and Magic and Majesty of Northern India. Similarly, any trip to India is—if you care to track it—permeated with the still-tangible history of the British Raj and Indian independence. India South to North takes us to Mumbai and Mani Bhavan, where Gandhi lived at the height of the independence struggle; it is a profoundly moving place for those of us who believe the Mahatma was one of the most splendid and unusual human beings of all time. And as for R.K. Narayan’s India, the India “in which people love to sit around and chat without being compelled to grind away at self-branding and getting ahead in the world,” well, that India is still just about everywhere, despite the country’s amazing rush to get ahead in today’s world.

Mar

23

Micato Safaris Photo Contest: January and February Winners Announced

Posted by: Micato

In January and February we received more stunning submissions to the Micato Photo Contest.  Our judges pored over the photos and have selected the following images as Winners and Honourable Mentions.

We asked the winners to tell us about the circumstances surrounding these incredible moments they captured.  We have included some of their responses here, along with the winning photos.

Photo of the Month WINNER, January 2015:  Eric Green

Elephant-Family-Eric-Green

Elephant Family by Eric Green

Eric recalls the moment he took the picture in this story he sent us:

“This photograph was taken in Tarangire Park, Tanzania in August 2013. While out on a game drive, we encountered a herd of elephants slowly approaching the road. The herd consisted of about 20 elephants of all ages. An adult female elephant with 2 youngsters (one juvenile and one calf) crossed the road directly in front of us. The rest of the herd remained on the other side of the road. As another vehicle approached, the adult female and juvenile immediately placed the calf in between them. The adult female then raised her trunk, followed by the juvenile, and finally the calf— the latter two were clearly imitating adult female. It was almost as if they were posing for a group photo!”

Photo of the Month HONOURABLE MENTION, January 2015: Lucie Fjeldstad

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Tiger relaxing at Tiger Canyons, South Africa by Lucie Fjeldstad

Lucie tells us of her passion for tigers in this short story:

“We first heard about John Varty’s Tiger Canyons Project two years ago (2012) right after a trip to Africa and wished we had known about his conservation efforts before we had gone. After seeing the National Geographic documentary “Tiger Man Of Africa” on his work with tigers and his plans to try and preserve wild tigers by moving some to a private reserve in South Africa we wanted to see them for ourselves.

When we travelled to South Africa in late 2014 we found Tiger Canyons to be totally engrossing. John took us around and showed us, up close and personal, his then 20 tigers (a month later the white tiger gave birth to 3 cubs) and 4 cheetahs (and a month later one of the cheetahs gave birth to 5 cubs).  Well, our timing may have been wrong to catch the young cubs but EVERTHING else was a feast for the photographer and a lifetime experience for the tiger lover!  We had a chance to see them sleep, play, eat, roam and even stalk each other in mock attacks.”

Photo of the Month WINNER, February 2015:  Bob Fjeldstad

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Lilac Breasted Roller by Bob Fjeldstad

Bob says, “This photograph was not planned as I was primarily shooting video with a new Nikon Coolpix camera but when we bounced along on a bumpy track my wife shouted out that we had just passed within twenty feet of Lilac Breasted Roller (LBR) which strangely enough did not fly off.  By the time we stopped we were easily 60 feet away and if you know LBR’s you know how little movement it takes to cause them to fly away.  But this new camera had a built-in lens that went from 24mm-1500mm so I changed the settings from video to still images, braced myself against the back of the seat, told everyone else to stop talking and not move a muscle, sighted in on the LBR, zoomed in as close as I could, held my breath and took the shot.”

Photo of the Month HONOURABLE MENTION, February 2015:  Chad J. Simmons

Photo by Chad Simmons

Mt Kenya by Chad Simmons

 

We asked Chad about spotting Mt. Kenya without the usual cloud cover, he replied: “Locals say he is sleeping. He must be very tired because as many travellers to this region of Kenya can tell you, getting a good photo of Mt. Kenya can be frustrating.  Even when the days dawn clear, the mountain is quickly covered by clouds. But one morning, as we were leaving for our game drive in Lewa Downs, we rounded the side of a hill, I looked through the trees and there it was.  We backed up to catch this image that characteristically was gone a few minutes later. My good luck and nothing more!”

It is never too late to enter the Micato Safaris Photo Contest. Photos are eligible as long as they were taken on a safari, or journey to India, with Micato Safaris.  So set aside some time to look through your photos.  You never know, next month’s winning photo could be sitting on your hard drive and might earn you a $250 credit for Micato’s Safari Shop.

Mar

06

Discover Africa on a Walking Safari

Posted by: Micato

By A. Ziegler

It’s undeniably exciting to ride along in a Land Cruiser with a guide who has just sighted a leopard or a pride of lions, and whose driver has hit the gas in pursuit of the best viewpoint to stop. It’s heart-pumping to feel your driver inching closer, but not too close, to a mother and baby elephant or a herd of angry-looking buffalo. East Africa is nothing if not massive, unpredictable and raw, and open-air safari vehicles are the ultimate front-row seats to one of Mother Nature’s most dramatic shows.

But on a recent Micato Safaris trip to Kenya and Tanzania, I discovered that moving slowly, paying attention to tiny details and even feeling unsure that I really wanted to see animals, brought a whole new excitement to the savanna. Bush walks, also called walking safaris, have been growing in popularity—and for good reason.

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A Bush Walk, or Walking Safari, at Mara Plains Brings Guests Close to Legendary African Wildlife.

There’s a frisson that comes from being so exposed. Although I walked with guides who are top-of-class in their areas, along with rangers who grew up in those particular corners of the bush and carry large rifles, it was a far different experience from being shielded by several tons of metal (which I’ve always been told animals don’t perceive as a threat or even as vehicle filled with humans). I felt exposed and vulnerable. And exhilarated. It’s exactly the kind of sensation that adventure travellers  of all stripes have in mind when they talk about getting out of their comfort zone—but not too far out of it, and never in a way that puts them at unnecessary risk.

To be clear: A walking safari isn’t exhilarating in an endorphin-infused runner’s-high kind of way. It’s not a fitness activity. While it’s mental change of pace from sitting in a Land Cruiser, I knew it wasn’t going to make up for all the excellent food and drink that I’d been enjoying. One of my walking guide’s first instructions was to move very slowly (the others: stay single-file, speak quietly if at all and be prepared to follow his lead in backing away, dropping to the ground or adopting other defensive postures, should the need arise).

Instead, what quickened my pulse was a heightening of my awareness; a sharpening of all my senses. I could catch the aroma of native plants, feel the sun warming my skin. I was getting a new perspective on the savanna: not the epic landscapes sweeping by as I rode in a high seat but the details of the ground itself. The experience presented me with an opportunity to tune in —to everything—with my two feet on the ground.

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Walking Safari at Ol Seki Camp, in the Maasai Mara.

I never thought I could share a naturalist guide’s enthusiasm for droppings and tracks, but I found myself growing increasingly fascinated with nature’s minutiae. I also learned as much, if not more, than I had on any number of game drives, on which everyone’s attention had been (understandably) focused on thousands of stampeding wildebeest or a cheetah stalking her prey.

Just as with the game drives, every game walk is different. At Mahali Mzuri, on a conservancy just outside Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, my excellent Maasai guide, who had grown up on that land and spoke fluent English, educated me about the plant life and medicinal traditions: a shrub fiber used as a tooth cleaner, a leaf used to fend off insect bites, and herb taken to relieve medical conditions. I came away with a deeper understanding of and respect for, the culture.

There was a thrill in a walking safari that was so different than a game drive: the rare sensation of being fully in the present moment. For me, going on foot let me contemplate the landscape up close. Most people go to Africa in search of lions and rhinos (and the zebras and gazelles that were around on my walks), not rodents and insects. The Big Five are indeed magnificent. But a walking safari showed me so much more: that the elephant shrew, buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise, lion ant, and rhino beetle—the so-called Little Five—are no less fantastic.

 

Feb

26

Cheetah Takes the Prize as Micato Photo Contest Winner

Posted by: Micato

Every month our past safari travellers submit scores of eye-catching, often breathtaking photos to the Micato Photo Contest.  And every month, our judges have the unenviable task of poring over these very deserving images and selecting only one monthly winner as well as a runner-up.

We’ve long posted these winners to our website — they’re simply too good for us to keep to ourselves! — and going forward we’re also going to share them more regularly with our gentle readers here at the blog.

For December 2014, Micato traveller Lori Simmons was selected as the Grand Prize winner for her stunning cheetah photograph featured below.

We got in touch with Lori and asked her to share the story behind the photograph. Here’s what she told us:

My husband, son and I were on our morning game drive in Lewa Downs, Kenya, with our Micato guide and our two guides from Lewa House.  My husband noticed that all of the impalas near us were looking in one direction, and when I followed their gaze I saw what I thought were two big cats in the distance.  He confirmed through his camera lens that there were two cheetahs in the grass, so we drove to their location to get a better look.  After a few minutes of viewing at very close range, the young male walked over to our open-air vehicle and jumped on the hood.  He remained on the vehicle approximately 15-20 minutes and at one point he looked as if he would climb over the windshield and into the interior, but he did not.  We assumed that he just wanted a better vantage point, but we were very still while he was on the vehicle.  We all shot some wonderful photos and videos and will always remember this experience.  The six of us, “Our Team” as we referred to ourselves, forged a special bond that day.”

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This photo of a cheetah seeking a high vantage point earned Micato traveller Lori Simmons the Grand Prize in the Micato Safaris Photo Contest, December 2014

It certainly sounds like a safari moment to remember!  Thank you to Lori for sharing this story with us.

The Micato photo contest is open to all Micato travellers, recent and not-so-recent. So dig out your old photos and get in touch with us at photos@micato.com to submit your entry.  To see past Grand Prize winners and Honourable Mentions, visit the Micato Photo Contest online.