Sandip Hor is mesmerised by the awesome spectacle of the pink flamingo parade, while rubbing shoulders with other forms of wildlife at Lake Nakuru.
Africa is revered as the Mecca of wildlife. There exists no other place on earth, where travellers can see, photograph and perhaps interact with wild animals in such great numbers and variety. The continent boasts of several well established safari circuits; however for wildlife lovers in India, Kenya in East Africa strikes as favourite, perhaps because of the centuries-old connection between the two nations that started when both were part of the British colony.
Inhabited by exciting wildlife, several national parks spread within Kenyan boundaries with the world renowned Masai Mara and Mount Kilimanjaro facing Amboseli ranking at the top. However, the lesser known Lake Nakuru National Park doesn't lag behind. Located pretty close to capital Nairobi, this untamed nest offers an array of easily visible wildlife, but most uniquely presents a parade of myriad flamingos which spectacularly garnish the blue lake water with pink patches, a magical scene likely not to be seen elsewhere in the world.
So after landing in Nairobi, without wasting much time I hop into an open-top vehicle with my driver-cum-guide Chris for a two-day discovery of the park. Kenya doesn't boast of superior road infrastructure, but the 156 km stretch between its capital and Nakuru is good and well maintained.
After whisking out of traffic-clogged Nairobi, we soon get soaked by the beauty of the famous Great Rift Valley which surfaced on earth millions of years ago. Unchanged by the passage of time, African nature outside seems to be at its purest form — dry and sundrenched savannah-land, sporadically peppered with acacia or cactus like euphorbia trees, under some of which rests a red-dressed Masai villager, while keeping an eye on his herd of cattle grazing around. We go past many villages, stream through local markets and stop to click our cameras when giving way to a group of zebras crossing the road. “With a bit of luck you will hopefully see all the big beasts except elephants,” says Chris as we approach the 200 sq.km. parkland, which offers excellent bird watching in addition to game viewing opportunities. No doubt, luck stands in our favour.
The moment we step into Lake Nakuru Lodge, our luxurious resting place for the night, we are welcomed by a host of crazy baboons, impalas and large buffaloes, loitering just outside the boundary fence, electrified to prevent any unwelcome entry.
Much of the game reserve is expansive grass land, where we come across a plethora of zebras, buffaloes, wildebeest, giraffes, various types of antelopes and rhinos, harmoniously sharing the space. A key feature of this sanctuary is the abundance of horny rhinos which can't be sighted that easily anywhere else in Africa. No luck is required to find them, they are everywhere.
Obviously there are also carnivores — lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas hiding around and surely you need that special luck to spot them. During our safari we see few lions and scavenging hyenas hanging around the lions to eat the leftovers from the kill, but we fail to locate the big cats, despite several attempts by Chris chasing their trails.
My first encounter with Simba, the lion king, is an extraordinary experience. Taking a turn around a bushy corner we suddenly spot large antelope called eland. Getting closer, we see a big lion in front, drinking water from a narrow waterway. Totally surprised by the presence of a herbivore so close to a fiery carnivore, I ask Chris if the eland has suicide in mind. “Not really! Here the eland perhaps knows the lion is full, so feels safe,” utters Chris.
Bird lovers' paradise
Similar array of wildlife can be sighted in other Kenyan parks, but what makes Lake Nakuru exceptional is the large ensemble of flamingos that garnish outsized shades of pink on the blue waters of the shallow lake, described by famous American ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson as “the most fabulous bird spectacle in the world”. Most visitors agree with this at the first sight of the pink-flock, frolicking, splashing and feeding in the algae-filled water in company of other avians such as storks and pelicans. This image of Kenya is extremely familiar, as it commonly features in brochures that beckon tourists to this part of Africa.
Chris tells us that there are several varieties of flamingos, but only two species, known as “Greater” and “Lesser”, crowd the lake water. The “Greater” type has a pink bill with a black tip, while the “Lesser” flamingo sports a deep carmine bill and has deeper pink plumage. They are friendly, so no need to go to the water's edge to observe them closely. Chris assures us that no crocodile or hippo will come out of the water to drag us in.
With their straw thin legs, knobby knees and strangely hooked beak, they look weird, if you just spot one of them. And while feeding, they look uncanny as they bend their legs backwards with head upside down. However, when you frame them en-masse, they are transformed into a grand display, which is worth crossing the world to view with your own eyes.
While returning to Nairobi, Chris takes us to another spectacular waterway, Lake Navisha where there are no signs of pink, but plenty of reddish brown patterns, intermittently bubbling out of the blue water. As a bonus to our Lake Nakuru odyssey, we see playful hippos enjoying time in their own territory.