The LO Goes on Safari, Part 2: Masai Mara

(The first part of this travelogue is here).

On the third day after we arrived in Nairobi, we were scheduled to leave for Masai Mara. Our driver, Joseph (“Jesus’s father?” the LO asked, when she heard his name) arrived early in the morning, and we set off a little after 7 AM.

It was the first working day after the long Christmas break, so lots of people were out and about on the streets: children scurrying to school (Joseph said the usual school timings are 7 to 4: long!), people piling into minibuses called matats, and just generally a lot of bustle. We’d soon left behind Nairobi, with its skyscrapers and its tall trees, and were into the wooded mountains. The highway was lined with dense stands of trees, some crowded with yellow or pink flowers.

In between, there were villages and little towns, and so many things that reminded me of India: Ashok Leyland, Mahindra and Airtel signs, of course, but also banana plantations, brightly-painted houses, and baboons by the side of the road (Joseph said that travellers in matats pitch out ears of half-eaten maize or bits of half-chewed sugarcane, which is what attracts them). I saw little garages that simply call themselves ‘puncture’ (a step up from India, where I’ve seen them labelled ‘puncher’), hotels which are actually no more than restaurants—and ‘viewpoints’, places that offer a panoramic view of some specially spectacular landscape.

A ‘viewpoint’, on the Nairobi-Narok highway.

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The LO Goes on Safari, Part 1: Nairobi

Sometime last year, a brilliant wildlife photographer, Gurcharan Roopra, inspired me to go to Kenya on safari. I’d praised Roopra’s photos on Facebook, and later, in a private message, mentioned how much vicarious pleasure I got out of his gorgeous shots of African wildlife. He suggested I go on safari too; he would put me in touch with a good safari operator.

I discussed it with my husband. We were initially hesitant; we realized it would be expensive—possibly the most expensive trip we would ever have made. Could we afford it? Should we? Most importantly, could the LO (our Little One, who turned six in January this year) be able to handle it?

On safari: On a road in Masai Mara.

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Kangra Travels, Part 3: Dharamshala and McLeodganj

(To read the first part—Sirhind and Pragpur—of this travelogue, click here. To read the second part, Kangra and Palampur, click here).

In 2005, my husband and I went on a road trip through Himachal Pradesh. It was perhaps not the best time to visit: the monsoon had already arrived, and it was raining all across the hills. We were much younger and more adventurous, though, so we didn’t let that faze us. We went merrily on, umbrellas at the ready, driving slowly past a landslide near Baijnath, walking carefully down the slippery stone steps leading down from the Tashijong Monastery…

But not, obviously, carefully enough everywhere. Because, a few minutes after we checked into our hotel in Dharamshala and were walking to our cottage, I slipped on an algae-covered path and fractured my ankle. Our Dharamshala trip ended even before it had begun: the only sites we saw were an X-ray centre, a doctor’s clinic, and the hospital.

This time, therefore, we decided we had to see Dharamshala. Properly.

Deodars soaring up into the sky in McLeodganj.

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Kangra Travels, Part 2: Kangra Fort and Palampur

(To read the first part of this travelogue, Sirhind and Pragpur, click here).

After all the fun she had in Pragpur, the LO was not keen to leave. So, after a quick post-breakfast round of the premises, during which she collected a little green feather and sundry other treasures, the LO reluctantly consented to being bundled into the car.

Pragpur is less than two hours’ drive from Palampur, but one route lies through the historic town of Kangra, which is the district centre and also home to one of India’s most interesting forts.

Approaching the first of Kangra Fort’s many gates.

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Kangra Travels, Part 1: Sirhind and Pragpur

Yes, I do know that Sirhind is not part of Kangra, but bear with me. Because Sirhind, once a very important town of Northern India, featured in our itinerary for our summer vacation.

Back in March this year, I had to go to Dehradun for a literary event, and we decided to make it a family trip. A weekend in Dehradun, and our five year old daughter (the Little One, or LO, as she’s referred to here on this blog) didn’t want to return from the mountains. Not, of course, that Dehradun is, strictly speaking, in the mountains, but still. At least you could see the mountains, you could look up at those pine-forested heights and imagine a walk through that.

Therefore, we decided our summer trip would be a road trip to the mountains.

The mountains: these are the Dhauladhar ranges, seen from McLeodganj.

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Eastward Ho! The LO Travels to ‘Koala’ Lumpur

Our daughter, the Little One (or LO), just turned five. And, since she and I have our birthdays just a couple of days apart, it was a combined celebration—in Malaysia. This annual birthday trip, we’ve discovered, is a good way to mark the occasion: not only do we have fun on our birthdays, it also means we get to make good use of the winter vacation.

Last year, we’d visited Singapore, and when I posted about that trip, blog reader and friend Abhik Majumdar (himself a parent to an LO) suggested we give Malaysia a try—lots to do for a little kid, and far cheaper than Singapore. My husband and I gave it some thought. Back in 2003, we’d visited Kuala Lumpur and Penang, and had liked both places immensely. And what with the Botanical Gardens, the Butterfly Park, the Zoo and the Aquaria, we figured Kuala Lumpur would appeal to the LO.

So we went to Kuala Lumpur (the LO was thoroughly amused that a city should be named after a fluffy Australian animal, but we disillusioned her about that soon).

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Hampi in a day and a half

Many years ago, a colleague who had been to Hampi told me about it. I already knew a little about Hampi: the capital of the mighty Vijayanagar Empire, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a fine example of an entire city’s worth of ruins. I’d seen photos. What I hadn’t known was the nitty-gritty: how to get there, what to see, how much time to allocate for the trip.

Three days, she told me. Four or five days, said another seasoned traveller.

And guess what I got? A day and a half (or less, considering I spent part of that half day sitting at the foot of a hill and chatting with a couple of fellow writers). And yet, though I didn’t get to see all there is to Hampi, when I left, I was pretty much sated with temples and monoliths and boulders. I didn’t yearn to stay on for another day or two. Perhaps I will go back someday and see all there is to Hampi. Perhaps this was enough.

Outside the Hazaar Rama Temple.

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