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I wrote this journal back in Oct ’11 soon after my trip when my excitement was yet to die down (it still has not died down as I dream of this place all the time). Shared with a just a few people so far. Going back to the Journal and reminiscing (as the excitement builds all over again for the upcoming trip in 9 weeks) made me think I should get this Journal out. Publishing this for the first time. Hope this inspires you to go to this Paradise..

– Vijay Ramanathan, June 2011

 

Sections

Wildlife Paradise

The Africa Attraction

Predators & their Prey

Lions in Heat

Cheetah with a Gazelle Kill

The Cheetah Hunt

Memorable Moments

Postscript

Wildlife Paradise

Teen Lion

My emotions were on overdrive the entire week. A state of heightened anticipation – a natural high that I still seem to be mulling in and refusing to come back to this so called civilization that we belong to. The Mara is an endless expanse of savannah. Miles of grasslands on all sides. Nature’s bounty playing out the food chain and the circle of life. Carnivores hunting for daily food. Scavengers feeding on left overs. One can see carcasses lying all over the place. Herbivores go about their business of feeding over the grasslands – the unlucky ones fall prey & end up as a meal to the higher species. An immense setup that is hard to explain over words and requires one to experience in person. A pristine Reserve that holds nature’s wonders in an environment that one is fortunate to experience in this modern time. Hopefully I will be able to take you to this place with this journal as I recollect key experiences.

The Africa Attraction

No trip to the Masai Mara or other parts of Africa is complete without the Big 5 which comprises of the Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino & Cape Buffalo. A set of mammals that came to be known as such based on the degree of difficulty to hunt as opposed to their size. Every one of them are spectacular in their own way. The photographic opportunities were immense, partly due to the roll of the dice working in our favor on this particular week. There was no better place than Mara to witness wildlife behavior – be it kills or how they tend to their young or how they mate.

The Africa Attraction

– x –

Predators

Predators come big and small & they hunt down big and small creatures. On occasion, even elephants and giraffes fall prey while the smaller ungulates make up daily meals.  Predators are aggressive and opportunistic. Over land and in water. It is truly a survival of the fittest. Lions form the top of the food chain and hunt in packs. Leopards are secretive and sometimes haul their prey on to trees to save it from others. Cheetahs depend on bursts of speed to trip their prey down to kill them to make up for their size. Hyenas are quite the opportunists and take away kills from predators big and small. At the same time they are quite capable of killing and fending for themselves. Crocs  wait in water to get crossing wildebeests & zebras. Jackals go for smaller creatures in order to feed themselves. Scavengers such as Vultures and Marabou Storks clean up the carcasses and prevent decay and infection in the area. All other herbivores feast on the grasslands for their daily sustenance. For prey, being in the wrong place at the wrong time leads to immediate death. Across species, new borns, cubs and calves suffer a very high mortality rate and are lucky to see it to adulthood.

Wildebeests

Around 1.3M wildebeestsmigrate to the Masai Mara and cross the river in search of greener pastures. During season they offer food in abundance to the predators.

Tommys

The Thomson gazelleis smaller than the Grant’s Gazelle & is the favorite meal of the Cheetahs.

Impalas

Impalas– Another beautiful species from the antelope family with a lovely rufous/golden coat. Also seen in good numbers.

Zebras

Zebras – These horse/asses relative with distinct stripes also form a significant portion of ungulates in the Reserve.

 

 

– x –

Mating Behavior On arrival at the Mara, for the first day and a half, we observed lion mating sessions for hours on end. The routine was fairly simple & cyclic.

Sleep Lions normally sleep 20 hours a day. In between mating, they will sleep for 10-15 minutes and get back to the job in hand.

Nuzzle There is a fair bit of nuzzling happening between the lion & lioness.

MateAfter every short bout of mating, there are big and small grunts and friendly snapping, snarling & biting at each other (lion’s versions of hickeys I suppose :))

Cheetah with a Gazelle Kill

This cheetah had it’s fill to make sure it did not hungry for another day at least

On the second day afternoon, we came across a cheetah which had just killed a Thomson’s Gazelle. We saw the cheetah devour the gazelle for almost 1 hour and 20 minutes till it could eat no more. Clearly, it wanted to eat as much as it could, so it does not have to hunt the next day. Never seen a bigger stomach bulge like this! In the meanwhile there was a big  buildup of vultures of all kinds in the neighboring trees. Then they started assembling closer to the kill. Marabou Storks started landing up. The cheetah took plenty of breaks in between its meal. Finally, the cheetah walks away almost after spending an hour and 30 minutes with its kill. The vultures and the storks pounce in on the remains and it was amazing to see the feeding frenzy. The bigger Lappet faced vulture came in late to the party and bullied its way inside. In a matter of minutes, it was all over. The Marabou Stork did away with the spine – the last remains of what was left!

Feeding Frenzy – Vultures & Marabou Storks polish off the remains of this Gazelle..

The Cheetah Hunt

We could not believe what we were witnessing.. a cheetah going after Tommys

We crossed into the Mara Triangle on the 5th day of our stay. Kalyan had shot 3 Cheetah cubs with its mother the previous week. On our way to the Serena, we went to see if the 3 Cheetah cubs were still on the South side of the Triangle with their mother and we found them! A bush with just enough shade was providing refuge for the adorable young cubs. Since the light was too harsh we decided to return that evening.

After checking into the Serena and soaking in its ambience, views & birding opportunities, we had lunch & headed out for  the afternoon Safari. Ominous clouds darkened the sky and it started pouring. Mustafa, our guide took another route and avoided the eye of the storm. What a gift that turned out as we saw two handsome male lions on the side of the road. As the rain subsided to a drizzle, we got some lovely closeups and portraits of this handsome male lion. We then went in search of the cubs.

The rains almost played spoilsport as we met a family of lions with cubs & wondering if it had driven away the cheetah. After a few minutes of that sinking feeling Mustafa suddenly spotted the Cheetah in the distance. There was a surge of excitement. Mustafa maneuvered the Safari vehicle to the road crossing on the other side in the hope that the Cheetah and its cubs would come towards our side. And it slowly started walking towards our side.

At this time the rain started coming down with more purpose and we were forced to close the top down. As I was admiring the gazelles in the horizon some 500 mts away. the cheetah had come really close to the road & to where we were stationed. I whirled around to look at the cheetah which is when I sensed it moving. The Cheetah too had seen the gazelles and was planning dinner. I found myself screaming, “She’s moving – going for the kill”. The next thing I knew, the top of our Safari vehicle had flown open & I heard Kalyan screaming on the top of his voice “Shoot, Shoot, Shoot”! As the adrenalin took over Kalyan, Abhilash & I became possessed as our cameras started emanating rapid machine gun like shots as we tried to capture as much of the action as we could.

The cheetah shot like a rocket towards the gazelles. The gazelles were all scrambling madly but one of them had fallen prey to the incredible burst of speed that the cheetah had. It was all over in the next minute and a half or so. Then we saw the cheetah emerge with a Tommy in its mouth and it moved a little away from the kill spot and called out for its cubs. The playful cubs came prancing towards their mother. They will have a proper dinner today. As the cubs start to eat, the gazelle kicked involuntarily a few times and even raised its head. It is then we realized that the cheetah had not killed it’s prey  completely  in order to train the cubs right from this tender age (few months old) the art of eating and killing. One of the startled cubs ran away as much as 10 feet away when the gazelle moved.

It was finally story over for the gazelle as it breathed its last and there is this sense of sadness as to how nature works in these cases. But that is how this natural ecosystem works and the circle of life continues. Finally we  notice the rain on us and we close the Safari top down.

The excitement started to subside. We start breathing normally and we start reviewing the pictures we have taken.  We got the best hunting pictures ever – that too in silhouettes! On the drive back to the Serena we opened Tuskers to celebrate and contemplated silently on what we had just been through. Not only had we witnessed something completely special, we had also captured these special moments. A sense of satisfaction seeped into  us as we called it a day.

Cheetah kicking up dust as it negotiates a right hand turn at maximum speed on the way to closing in on its kill..

– x –

There was some serious necking going on with these six giraffes. Offered us an amazing sighting.. Cheetah with her playful cubs on a termite mound in early morning sun the day we left Mara! A 1 hour sighting of the cubs playing & a gift for life!

Getting to Mara is half the fun!

After landing in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, I got a Kenyan visa on arrival and was received by Chris from the travel company African Horizons. I was immediately whisked to Wilson Airport which houses all the smaller planes that fly out of Nairobi. The weather was pleasant with a tinge of chillness and my anticipation heightened as I saw two Giraffes to the left of the highway as soon as I got out of the airport. We flew Safarilink to the Intrepids landing strip in the Mara on an ATR 72 holding 35. Depending on number of travelers, one can land in a 6 seater even! We returned in a 14 seater toNairobi. Masai Mara cannot be complete without visiting both sides of the Mara river. We stayed at two resorts during our 7 day visit.

Comfy Tents

Mara Fig Tree Camp This Resort is on the Eastern Side of the Mara and is one of many on the Eastern side. It is located on the banks of the Talek River and we had rooms right on the river in Luxury tents with big comfortable bathrooms. The room also offers a view of the Mara at eye level from across the river. We spent 4 nights here.

 

Mara Serena The only Resort available in the Mara Triangle. Situated on a hillock with a airline seat view of the Mara on the East from every room, it is built in a Masai style and is a classy resort.The Mara Triangle is run by the Mara Conservancy and occupies the western side of the Mara river. The Triangle is the more scenic of the two, better run and has lesser crowds due to the paucity of resorts. While a few vehicles alone will have to take the onus on tracking key sightings, the rewards are rich in that the crowds are lesser. We spent 3 nights here. Note: Both Resorts offer a variety of bird sightings and is a delight for birders.

– x –

The Masai Mara completely blew me away in every facet & totally fulfilled my expectations. The wide open spaces with exotic species grazing at leisure just made for a potent combo. In addition, comfortable weather, great accommodations, comfortable safari drives, an excellent guide/driver in Mustafa, and an outstanding photography guide in Kalyan added up to make this trip a truly memorable one. This is one place I see myself being a lifelong visitor as long as health, time and money permit. – Vijay Ramanathan, Oct 2011 All images © Vijay Ramanathan, 2011. vijay.ramanathan@gmail.com

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Is it me or does time travel faster as I get older? 2011 is gone already! However, it was largely significant. I hung up my boots on Corporate life for the 2nd time this Jan for multiple reasons personal and otherwise. I took some time off before I got together with an ex-colleague to start a Telecom Research & Advisory firm – Convergence Catalyst in August. The name embodies the concept of Convergence in the Technology and personal gadgets front and my long standing fascination with respect to how technology from today (that was a big deal a few years back but we take for granted today) has far reaching impacts on our every day lives. I also managed a few high quality trips doing wildlife photography through the year (would have liked to have managed more but am not complaining). Here is a look back at how this year flew by..

January 2011

I closed off my Gurgaon stint with a homely get together at Abhishek & Praneeta’s place. I returned back to Bangalore from my Corporate job in time for Pongal (which I spent in Salem). I did steal a couple of trips to the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary in Jan before I headed back. I signed up for a Nilgiris birding trip in end Jan with Toehold. We visited Bandipur on our way up to the Nilgiris, spent a few days birding there and stayed in Masinagudi on our way back. I managed some decent images of the Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher and the Nilgiri Flycatcher.

This Gray Headed Canary Flycatcher kept flying on and off this branch & I made that fleeting eye contact on one occasion

February 2011

This month was all about Kartik & Keerthu’s wedding. All I can say is that it was one big affair. I managed to steal a day to Valparai after the reception. A day filled with amazing sightings. I did not manage a trip back until the end of the year (Dec 27).

Keerthu & Karthik after the reception. The wedding photographer took some lovely portraits. We managed one of the family too.

The highly endangered Lion Tailed Macaque are only found in the Western Ghats.

March 2011

I visited Kodi to see Thambu for a couple of days. Managed a few decent landscape shots and sighted the Gray breasted Laughing Thrush among others – a Western Ghats endemic. I managed a Kabini Trip towards the end of March with Jayanth & Giri of Toehold. As Jungle Lodges is almost always sold out, Toehold is a great option. Toehold is a travel & photography company with a difference – they have also been offering some exotic locations over time and these folks are going to do extremely well. I managed some great closeups of the leopard finally!

Mornings in Kodi offers such exemplary views.

Kabini is THE destination in India for sighting leopards.

 April 2011

We spent a few days at BR Hills on our way to Coimbatore to drop off the kids. We stayed at Gorukana, a lovely resort run by the Soligas. While the sightings were slim, we had a great time at the resort. Towards the end of the month, we packed the kids to Hong Kong to see Disneyland. We spent a couple of days at the Disneyland resort hotel and spent the rest of the week at the Hyatt at Kowloon. Needless to say, the kids had a blast!

The kids at Disneyland

Hong Kong from Victoria Peak is breathtaking!

May 2011

We spent Kirin’s birthday in Coimbatore along with a lot of his cousins. I managed some decent portraits of the kids.

Cousins get together for Kirin's 12th birthday

Kirin & Kavya got exposed to their first CSK match. Seen here with Vidya athai having a gala time at the stadium.

June 2011

June was a quiet month. We had a Motoparty in Bangalore. I met Ranga briefly in Yercaud. Jayanth & I started planning our new venture.

Thanks to Shetty. Motorola get togethers continue to happen across the country!

July 2011

July was the time Jayanth & I got serious about starting off and there were more intense discussions on what we should be doing. This was the month Convergence Catalyst was born after multiple walks in neighborhood lakes.

Our logo. After many iterations, arrived at both the name & logo.

August 2011

We did paperwork for registering Convergence Catalyst. It was my school reunion – met some of my classmates after 25+ years! It was also amma’s birthday and we spent it with her in Salem.

SRSHSS. We called our old staff met them in our school. An emotional day for our teachers. I spent my 9th - 12th grade here. There were all so proud of us. Why not? My class produced 12 doctors & 22 engineers! And I paid less than a US dollar/year as fees.

Sitting L-R: Me, Rukku athai, Radha chitti, amma, Siva. Vidya & Steve are standing.

September 2011

Jayanth landed our first project with a PE firm and most of September went towards delivery of that project. Soon after, I boarded a flight in Mumbai to Nairobi to head to the Masai Mara with Kalyan Varma. What a dream trip it was! Exotic species sightings at leisure to our heart’s content. We saw everything – hunting, grazing, eating, mating, sleeping, feeding ..  but missed the Great Migration unfortunately. No regrets as I know that I will be back at Mara. Came back with a ton of pics – put these up in various places selectively. Family and some friends got my personal journal!

Masai Giraffes necking

More Mara pics can be found here (Facebook link) & here (500px)

October 2011

We started doing trips on behalf of work! Kavya got a bicycle for her birthday and we spent her birthday in Salem with grandparents. A bunch of 30 something crazed guys went to a Metallica show at 11 AM for a 8pm concert. Moral – older guys like me should never tag along. The energy was truly unbelievable though 🙂

Kavya with malathi, Rukku & Raji patti

A sea of people - present for one thing only - the Music! What energy!

November 2011

Convergence Catalyst released the first and most comprehensive report on the Tablet Ecosystem in India. Available for download here. I spent most of this month in Salem with amma.

December 2011

We closed this year by spending Xmas week in Salem. I stole a day trip to Valparai and we spent a night in Yercaud with Jayanth/Mona & Bala/Srimoyee. New Year’s was at home – away from the madness.

Rounding off the year at the Skywalk in Yercaud

Here is wishing everyone a fantastic 2012! I sincerely mean it. Hoping that one and all see & experience wonderful things.

Dedication: My heartfelt condolences to my friend Tamilvanan who lost his wife Lucy on Jan 1, 2012. Lucy was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in Feb 2011 and went through most of 2011 with chemo treament. Unfortunately her strong will to survive could not outlast the disease. I pray for Tamil & kids to be strong through these really hard times. May Lucy’s soul rest in peace.


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Staying motivated all the time is not easy. Everyone has ups and downs. Everyone needs something to look forward to, to be wanted and considered useful – in isolation or  to gain others or one’s own self approval. While the world thinks children are readily impressionable, adults too need their dose of inspiration from different places – a recipe for success or happiness or nirvana. This is why successful individuals are tapped upon to recount their life’s experiences and their secret recipes to large gatherings all the time – starry eyed adults end up paying big sums (sometimes) to listen to them in the hope of gaining something new or bringing awareness to their life that has whirred past ever so quickly!

One such successful individual is Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. College dropout to one of the most successful CEOs in recent times. The guy who has created products time and again that have stood out from the rest in such a unique manner. Recently, on Steve’s 55th birthday on Feb 24, 2010, “Cult of Mac” – a website dedicated to all things Apple, congratulated Steve & ran the YouTube video of Steve’s 2005 Stanford University Commencement address. I saw the speech for the nth time and was totally inspired all over again. Hoping to share that great feeling with everyone else here..

Here’s Steve’s speech:

Key takeaways:

Steve’s speech serves as a reminder to graduating students on approaching key things in life – find what you love, follow your heart, live everyday as it were your last. Steve talks about three stories in his life to make his points.

1. Connecting the dots – he talks that how various points in life converge. He sums it up –

“you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

2. Love & Loss – he talks about finding what he loved early on, building something around it, losing it all and then regaining it. He sums it up

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

3. Death – his survival from the jaws of death, his realizations from it and he contends that this is the only eventuality. This quote inspired him when he was 17 –

“If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”

On finding out he has cancer –

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Sums it up as –

“our time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Final message to the graduating students –

“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

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After the finish of the Cyclothon, DesiTara put up some Musical Shows along with some BMX stunts to entertain the crowds.

There were some Rappers on stage having a blast.

CyclothonRappers

The BMX stunt bikers were for Manipur and it apparently took them 3 days to get to Bangalore! A bunch of young kids, they did some pretty cool stunts.

BMX2

Great acrobatics

Off the ground..

Off the ground..

Full Loop

Full Loop

Maneuvering  in Reverse position

Maneuvering in Reverse position

BMX does a 360

BMX does a 360

It was great to be chilling out amidst so many bikers of all ages in all kinds of bikes.The crowds looked satisfied at completing the event and the mood was relaxed all around. I saw this really unique, differnt looking bike with one of the kids watching the BMX show.

UniqueBike-5x7

We left the venue carrying back some great memories and we are sure to come back next year. Happy cycling!

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Kirin’s race was the last. Unfortunately 8-12 yr olds got clumped together for just a 2km race. This, I believe was due to the logistics nightmare. He was back before we knew it. I took all of 1hr 32 mins to complete my 25kms. This included stops to take pics & to blog at the 14km mark.

What mattered was the participation. Amazing atmosphere. Am sure to do this every year.

Thanks to Sunita & Kavya for patiently waiting for us.

Here are pics of Kirin’s start & us together.

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Crossed the finish line. Thanks to the pleasant Bangalore weather, the ride was comfortable and I crossed the line with people young & old, big & small, in old & new bikes.

This one is for you Dinesh. May your soul rest in peace.

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Successfully crossed the halfway point guys..

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