Looking for lions

One sunny day, we went to look for lions in Kruger National Park in South Africa. We spotted zebras, giraffes, a leopard, a rhinoceros, elephants, hippopotamuses, baboons, impalas, kudus, a variety of birds and more fawns and monkeys and even, warthogs and crocodiles…but not the elusive king of beasts.

We heard four lions had escaped from Kruger during our sojourn. But did we meet any of them?

I think I heard them at midnight as I woke up to the sounds of roars in my hotel room at Kruger gate.

My elder son and our guide heard them too around six in the morning when they were queuing up for tickets to enter Kruger. We had to buy a permit every time we went into Kruger. As lions are supposed to be more likely to be visible in the small hours of the morning, we decided to enter as soon as the gates opened at 6.30 am. The rangers had said the lions were at the bridge in the hedges.

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Lioness stalking it’s prey
We saw a lioness stalking her meal of water bucks around mid-day. Unfortunately, the waterbucks had sixth sense and walked gracefully to the other side of the waterhole, leaving the lioness hungry and lonely. She ultimately disappeared into the bushes.

On our last day, we saw three lionesses basking in the sun on a sand bank mid-morning. We were so excited that we got off the car and stood on the bridge watching them! Getting out of the vehicle is not something one does in Kruger for one could frighten the animals or become a prey to them incase they are hungry and starved, though they are supposed to be rather averse to human meat.

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Male Impalas
Impalas are popular on the menu for predators. We spotted a leopard stalking a herd of impalas. A drongo let out a warning cry and alerted the impalas. The males stood alert looking out in all directions for the leopard. The leopard was cornered. Our guide told us a leopard is wary of the male impala’s antlers, which could well injure them, thus, retarding their ability to hunt. And if they were not able to hunt, they would starve and die. The leopard tried to go into hiding in the bushes but the impalas got the better of him. Four males with big antlers stood facing him as at least twenty to thirty female and young impalas walked gracefully away… There was no running, no chasing, no roaring… none of the excitement we had thought would be a part of our jungle adventure.

Though we did not see predators chase preys, we did see impalas and wildebeests chase each other in play and we did get chased by angry elephants a couple of times.

Animals by and large liked to cross roads that were made for men to drive on in Kruger. We saw zebras crossing, impalas crossing, monkeys crossing, kudus crossing, wildebeests  crossings rhino crossing… and, we thought, therefore, as a matter of course elephants crossing…

The first time the elephant that was headed for the road got angered when my thirteen-year-old shouted for excitement on seeing a bull come towards the road and the car. Our windows were open. His voice carried and the elephant headed for us and our guide started the car and headed for the far distant reaches…

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An angry elephant
The second time, we queued up with a number of cars to watch a herd cross the road. The big ones crossed. The little ones crossed. The medium ones crossed. But, the biggest one had yet to cross. We were all watching one young elephant that seemed to have turned berserk and rushed every now and then to the road and trumpeted. We wondered what was up? We also wondered what had happened to the biggest one till our guide saw a huge, angry elephant charging towards the car in his rear view mirror as the vehicle was in it’s path. The big bright red object was not an obstruction the giant elephant cared for and she would have it out of her way…Suddenly with a strange purr, the frightened red object ran off at full speed!

The elephant crossed the road and passing cars heaved a sigh of relief and congratulated us on our lucky escape!

Why this sole elephant decided to cross the road where we had parked is an issue on which we still need to ponder and wonder…

One of the best ways for spotting animals in Kruger is to stop where there is a crowd of cars. That is how we spotted our lions, the elephant herds, giraffes and zebras…and a number of other sightings. And our car started the crowding for the leopard that my husband had found stalking the impalas. Other cars followed to watch the drama. In Kruger, humans stay in car cages and view the animals that roam freely. Sometimes, the animals walk right by your car. Occasionally, they walk with your car. Birds hop by. Once a flock Guinea fowls crossing the road held up traffic! Sometimes, it is monkeys…I recall how vehicles containing humans drew to a halt when some baby monkeys decided to play a game of hopscotch in the middle of the road!

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Calf drinking milk
Another time, we paused as not only were elephants meandering all over but also a calf had decided to drink milk from his/her mamma in the middle of a jungle path. Cars waited patiently as the animal finished it’s feed and frisked off merrily behind his/her mother.

Though we spent two-and-a-half days looking for lions in Kruger, we saw very less of the park as it stretches over an area that could contain more than 27 Singapores, and beyond to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the Limpopo river. We only saw the part around Sabi River and drove out ultimately through the South Gate, close to Nelspruit. The land rolled out for miles beckoning animal lovers. It was relaxing and entertaining to watch crocodiles with their mouth open, waiting for their dinner at the water holes, hippopotamuses stroll into a stream and giraffes munch leaves in the afternoon sun. We even caught two young hippos play and splash water at each other.

A variety of eagles, vultures and birds dotted the landscape. At lunch, we were surprised by a Cape glossy starling waiting for crumbs. At dinner, outside Kruger gate, we had a night visitor from the park, a bush baby. It created a stir among the tourists. It did a round of the Lapa barbecue area and we were all taking pictures of it. Cute would be the right word for this exhibitionist! The next day, we had a picnic breakfast at a hilltop in Kruger and had a yellow-billed hornbill visit us. It even posed for our cameras…

There are many lakes, waterholes and hills. The part that edges Mozambique is very scenic. We saw the Orpen Dam with its lush vegetation, the South African blue crane, Egyptian geese, hippos and crocodiles. We watched the animal and bird life through binoculars as they were unreachable and far…

But we had still not seen a lion. The land with its unique vegetation and animal life concealed the king from us.

I was also wondering if humans had ever inhabited this vast landscape or had it always been home of only animals? There were no clear answers till I googled …The land had earlier belonged to the Tsonga people, who were evicted by Paul Kruger, the president of the Transvaal Republic between 1883 and 1900 and other nature park lovers. The first cars drove into Kruger in 1926. Paul Kruger played a heroic role in the Boer wars and left the country when the Boers faced defeat in the hands of the British in the 1900s. He died in 1904 and was brought back to South Africa to be given a hero’s funeral and buried in Pretoria.

I wonder what happened to the Tsonga people…Perhaps the lions that evaded us through our entire sojourn in Kruger could tell us…

Maybe the lions in Kruger National Park avoided us because we had seen a lion behind a caging of electric wires in the Lion Safari in Johannesburg. That time, we had got off the car on the way to the Cradle of Humankind and the lion was fenced…We did not explore the park as we wanted to experience the wilds in Kruger…instead we went to see the goldmines and were taken around by a Tsonga guide. She told us that her name meant ‘to give’ in Tsonga!

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The caged lion

 

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On Nearing Fifty…

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I have started pondering over my life as I head for the completion of half-a-century of my earthly existence. Do I reminiscence … look back in time?

I do miss my childhood a little bit…. But, at some point, I got stuck on the age of sixteen. My eleven-and-a-half-year-old son told me I was more like an eleven-year-old. My irritated neighbour in China once told me I behaved like a twelve-year-old. I myself prefer sixteen as the sweetest of all ages because that is when between the threshold of childhood and adulthood, life holds out maximum possibilities. One has not pinned down on what exactly one wants to do in life but one is getting there. One looks and feels energetic and beautiful. One feels like an empress who can conquer the whole world. There is nothing to lose by expressing oneself as one is. At the threshold of fifty, I feel pretty much the same.

Life with it’s endless possibilities is starting out for me again. My children are growing up into independent young men. I look forward to their future and revel in it. My eighteen-year-old is now like a friend. I can talk politics, literature, history, discovery and exploration with him. My husband started out as a good friend and continues through life as my closest one. I am like an empress in a household of geeky men who cannot manage without me. I pretty much feel as I did at sixteen, tyrannical and beautiful…give or take forty odd kilos of weight added on to me through my years of wisdom and truth.

The whole world is open to me. I can go where I please once my younger son is a little older. Right now, I travel vicariously with Marco Polo and with Captain Nemo. I read and dream without having the necessity to worry about my future. The three men in my life worry about theirs and mine too ! So, I live in the moment and carpe diem.

I am not in fact sure if I do want to travel physically to all the most scenic spots in the world as the plumbing and the hotels may not meet up to my stringent standards. For instance, Easter Island looks most inviting with it’s bare elemental beauty and the fantastic rock formations, yet the hotels seem more like seaside resorts by the beach. I know some do not have air conditioning. While some travellers wrote that they found a volcanic rock jutting out in the middle of their room exciting, I prefer to relish such things outdoor. I have dust allergy, need clean air and air-conditioning to be comfortable every night. So, such an excursion may not be my cup of tea.

I would love to go to the Antarctica base and shake the staid penguins’ hands/ wings. However, I would not want face the bone-chilling cold. I would love to travel in space but I do not want to travel for more than a few hours. So, travelling vicariously does very well for me.

I have developed a bad left knee that would not be an asset if I wanted to go to Machu Picchu or travel on camel back across the Egyptian sands to visit Tutankhamen’s fabulous tomb. There are so many places I would love to visit and see. I wish teleporting like in Star Trek were a reality. Then, I could visit all the fabulous places of the world from the comfort of my home.

I can eat what I like… Of course doctors tell you otherwise, but the ultimate choice is mine. When I was a child, my mother used to force me to down an egg, toast, fruits and milk at the start of each sunshiny school day. Now, I am free to eat what I like…black coffee at breakfast each day…and a sweet biscuit or a chocolate with it. I can try different kinds of cheeses on my toast and eat no fruit and eggs at breakfast!

Doctors would call me obese but I would call myself mature and plump. My doctor told me I had misused my knee…it is getting better with a herbal supplement that my elder son picked up at the supermarket, Shallaki or Boswellia. Maybe, I will do the steep ascent of Machu Picchu after all… Of course a good hotel near at hand is a must.

My threesome are very keen to visit and spend a few days in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. I am not. Some of our friends went there and hobnobbed with monkeys and foxes and whatnots at breakfast, lunch and dinner. My brother-in-law who lives nearby in Johannesburg found a lion lounging in a bathroom in Kruger Park. As animals are not my favorite creatures and I do not fancy dancing with elephants, I would prefer not to live inside the park…

The best part of closing in on fifty will be that I will get closer to sixty than I have ever been. I really want to hit sixty because a fortune teller in China told me I will be very happy and attain great things in the sixtieth year of my existence. Could it be success as an author or grandchildren or would I be thrilled to turn a silver blonde and leave my hair undyed? Which would it be? After all, hairdressers are the only people who ask me if I am thirty something! I can never explain to them I am sixteen at heart and forty-nine in real years…

I am sure an elephant in Kruger National Park would understand!