READING SUGGESTION: Find a cozy nook and enjoy this read with a hot beverage in hand.
If you ask me, anytime is safari time. So, when my cousins visiting Kenya for a family wedding from India had told me they wanted to visit the world-famous Masaai Mara, I knew I had to make it as memorable as I possibly could. I chose to stay at Mara Ngenche Safari Camp through Discover Kenya Safari – Diani and it ended up being a special trip.
So, on the Thursday before Madaraka Day, we got up early and left home at 7:30AM. After a sleepy drive to Narok, we got to the Narok mandir (temple) at 10AM, a mandatory stop for us. As we rested up, we savored the hot masala chai and fresh farsi puri (fried Indian flatbread served with pickles). Honestly, the best in the cold!The only thing better was the box of The Cookie Bar cookies which we began devouring after we left the temple at 10:45AM. In fact, I’d celebrate every big cat sighting while on safari with a little bite of a cookie. So delicious!
As I dozed off to sleep, I was suddenly awoken with a loud thud – the tire had burst. After Dad and my cousins helped change the tire, we headed on our way.
Then around 11:35AM, we stopped to change cars – to the car that we’d go for game drives in the game reserve. Fitting in the luggage and my dismantled wheelchair was a little tricky but we managed.
Then, it was a long drive as we took a shortcut (ironically) route through some Maasai homes, where the owners asked for money from the driver for passing through their land. Then at 3:30PM, we reached the camp, after driving through many rivers and plenty of bumpy roads.
Set within the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Mara Ngenche Safari Camp is a 12-tent luxurious camp overlooking a busy hippo pool with an abundance of wildlife, set right on the confluence of the Mara and Talek Rivers.
The area attracts a vast range of animals and is the setting for many of the iconic scenes of river-crossings during the Great Wildebeest Migration. Historically this was an important place, where the local Maasai community would come to share the loot that they had raided from neighboring tribes – hence the name Ngenche – meaning ‘to share’ in the Maasai language.
We got out of the car and strolled to the reception, a little tented area that had a few sofas to lounge on. Here, as we sipped on fresh juice and got wet towels to freshen up with, we were briefed on the camp. Mara Ngenche is unfenced so animals tend to wander in, so we had to ask a guide to escort us around the camp, especially at night.
Encouraging guests to revel in the wilderness, the camp only offered free Wi-Fi access in the lounge, and there was limited mobile network signal throughout the camp.
After checking in, we headed to the tented rooms. Sandy pathways meander through the bush from the main area to the rooms. These are well spread out, having been built with as little disturbance of the natural vegetation as possible.
To enter our tent was a slight slope that got muddy from the rains so the camp staff improvised and set up a make-do ramp from a flat, large stone they found. They were also very helpful with pushing my wheelchair through the muck, especially after the heavy rains.
Each tented room was a fusion of modern African décor and old-world charm. In front, each had a private garden and a veranda with directors’ chairs and a coffee table. Inside, it was super spacious with a large four poster king size bed, two chairs to lounge on, a closet area, a vanity area and a desk. The adjacent en-suite bathroom featured a mix of indoor and outdoor features including toilets, twin porcelain sinks atop a wooden table in front of a large mirror, and a large claw-foot bathtub inside and a spacy outdoor shower.In our own private garden was a hammock hung from the trees and a private plunge pool. I was in pure heaven.After freshening up, we headed for lunch. As we headed to the dining area, it started pouring and boy, did it rain hard.
We headed to the dining tent, one of three adjacent tents housed the lounge, bar and dining areas.
The dining tent was practical and simple – perfect for meals served at individual tables by the friendly and engaging staff.The edges of the tent were flanked by wooden Swahili furniture and woven carpets covered the floors.It was quite late when we sat for lunch but we were all ravenous after travelling from so far. For starters, we got a crispy vegetable salad with a citrus dressing, followed by a mild vegetable masala curry served with rice, papadum and mango chutney.The curry was full of flavor and it was the perfect warming meal in the torrential rains. Apparently, it was the first rains of the season so the Masaai considered it to be auspicious.We also got spaghetti in red tomato sauce.We wrapped up the meal with a mocha tart with strawberry sauce. I loved how the tart strawberry sauce contrasted the sweetness of chocolate but also complimented the bitterness of the coffee. After drinking some tea and coffee to warm up, we decided to head out for a game drive as the rain stopped just as we finished up with lunch.
Mara Ngenche offers the incredible safari experience, with game drives operated in open-sided 4×4 safari vehicles (the same car we switched in after reaching Narok). The guides are qualified local Masaai, who have the best knowledge of the landscape and of tracking the animals.The camp also offers safari walks, dining in the bush, sundowners, balloon safaris (extra charge), cultural visits to a Masaai village to learn about their way of life (extra charge), entertainment by Masaai dancers and lectures by Masaai experts. For those wanting to indulge, a therapist can be booked for various spa treatments within the guest tents at an extra cost.
We left for a game drive at 5:30PM. Apart from the usual game of giraffes, zebras and the usual, we spotted three lions – three males, though two of them were in cahoots. Ololparpit and Olbarnoti, the handsome lions, had some enviable manes. They chased off the third lion who was gnawing down on some meat. It was definitely survival of the fittest here.
After returning to the camp at 7:15PM, we freshened up as it had begun raining again. We met in the lounge at 8PM for a leisurely pre-dinner drink. The lounge tent was densely furnished with comfortable sofas and chair draped in Maasai blankets set around chunky carved wooden coffee tables, alongside wooden and suede lounge chairs. The walls were adorned with decorative leather wall hangings covered in Maasai beaded patterns and the floors were covered with woven rugs.
In the next tent, a wooden bar was stocked with a variety of drinks. As my wheels got muddy in the rain during my stay at the camp, I didn’t venture to the bar as the attentive staff would bring our drink orders over to us.
In front of the lounge was a shaded veranda that was a nice spot to look out towards the river convergence, though it was a short stroll to really get really good views and to see the hippos and crocs that – when the water is low – sit on the sandy riverbank. Next to the lounge was a small tent that houses a gift shop.
We sat down for dinner at 9:15PM.
(The dining tent was too dimly lit for us to get any good photos of the food).
We started with a creamy avocado salad, followed by comforting tomato soup. Then, for the mains, we had Mount Kenya Crepes, mung dal and chapatti, while my cousin enjoyed a chicken curry with rice. The crêpes were filled with an assortment of veggies then baked in a creamy tomato sauce. A filling dish, it was a fitting dish for the cold.Of course, we also had a side of fries. For dessert, we couldn’t choose between the two options so we got both: coconut cake and caramel cream. The caramel cream, reminiscent of flan, was decadent, while the coconut cake reminded me of the Kenyan coast. Moist and delicious, the desserts were moreish.
Exhausted after a long day, we headed off to bed.
That night, I woke up to some noise in the middle and it turned out to be a lion that had visited the camp overnight.
The next day, we woke up early at 5am. After getting ready and drinking the tea and coffee left outside our room after we had put in an order for it the previous night, we left for a morning game drive at 5:45AM. It was still relatively dark but we managed to see a sunrise although the sky was heavily overcast with dark rain clouds.
After driving in search of the elusive cat, we saw a huge pride of lions including lion cubs feasting on a buffalo.
WARNING: The following content contains graphic content and may be upsetting to some people.
We even saw two male lions stroll around and I think one was courting a lioness in the pride.
(Please excuse the shakiness. It was caused by the vehicle’s movement).
Nearby, we spotted a jackal, just hovering near the kill. As we were driving around, we came across a cheetah mother and cub duo.
The mother was trying to teach the cub to hunt but unfortunately, it didn’t make a kill, so we decided to move on.It was around 11AM and we were already hungry, so we indulged in a bush breakfast that we had carried along with us.
Set up on the car bonnet, we enjoyed boiled eggs, pancakes, baked beans, sautéed mushrooms and an assortment of fresh fruit. The non-vegetarians also enjoyed sausages, alongside mugs full of tea and hot chocolate.
It was the perfect way to fuel up for the rest of the day’s activities, especially since we could see elephants in the distance. (Hey, you know how much I love elephants!)
Stay tuned for Part II next...
Photos and video footage by Hitesh Shah