Wild Encounter: A South African Safari

Disconnect to reconnect. Experience the thrill of the wild, beauty of silence and luxury of life with a South African Safari.

Pouring rain drowns the sounds of the bush and for a brief moment, the sky becomes as wild as the earth below her. Under cover of a nearby tree, three male lions stand tall as they patiently wait for the downpour to stop. Suddenly, the dark sky clears and the sun peeps between fluffy clouds. A little leopard turtle emerges from its shell to amble across the road and once again, the bush comes alive.

image…Waking up at the crack of dawn to go jostling in a 4×4 over unpaved paths to see wild animals was not my idea of relaxation. Yet, there I was at Lion Sands in the Sabi Sands Reserve of Kruger National Park, somehow awake at an ungodly hour and ready for a game drive with the husband, our friendly guide, talented tracker and a few fellow guests. The supremely comfortable Land Rover roared to life and off we went.

Safari away…

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A picture of tranquility

Birds chirped out greetings as we made our way through the bush. Our first sighting had us smiling: a herd of Impalas that capered about as they chomped on juicy grass. A little further, we chanced upon a baby elephant following its rather large and protective mama. We watched in admiration as they passed. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, our guide whipped out a tablecloth that he spread on the hood of the Land Rover along with some refreshments.

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A territorial leopard

After the brief ‘picnic’, we set off again. Suddenly, the guide killed the engine. He and the tracker got down on one knee to examine fresh droppings and some pugmarks. Just as suddenly, they veered off the road and onto the long green grass, slashing and forging their own path before stopping a few feet away from a lounging leopard. How they managed to pinpoint the leopard’s exact location remained a mystery, but we chalked it down to experience.

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Roaring beauty

Later that day, we spotted a lion and lioness awakening from their siesta and moved in close enough to see their teeth as they yawned. As we drove into the sunset, we stumbled upon most of the wild animals on our bucket list, including catching: giraffes wandering, rhinos sunbathing, male lions prowling, a lioness walking with her cubs and zebra grazing. However, just as the husband aimed his camera at the zebra, our naturalist  became very excited and asked us to be seated immediately.

Quickly, he maneuvered our vehicle over the grassland and sped in the same direction as a few other vehicles. Apparently, someone had just spotted the elusive wild dog. For wildlife-simpletons like us, abandoning zebra to watch dogs seemed strange.

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Wild dogs keeping watch

Nevertheless we chased the pack of wild dogs and reached just in time to watch them hunt a baby Impala. Wild dogs are vicious, relentless and merciless and do not bother to kill their prey before eating it. We saw the poor baby fight to its death. The sight was too horrific to watch, yet we could not stop watching. Our heart went out to the baby Impala and yet, we understood it was the natural order of life at work.

Why Safari?

In the bush, life is unpredictable. It is this reality that is at once thrilling and humbling. The images of life at its simplest, fill the mind until all other thoughts are erased. There are no mobile phones, laptops or televisions; only the bush, its inhabitants and its guests. The clarity of thought, depth of relaxation and the extent of grounding experienced with a safari holiday are unmatched.

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Which Safari?

Think safari, think Africa. Where in Africa, depends on the purpose. To witness wildebeest migration, Kenya and Tanzania; for an out-and-out safari holiday, Botswana or Namibia; for the first-timer or a light taste of adventure – South Africa.

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A window to wilderness

We fell into the latter category as safari was a part of our trip to South Africa and not the sole purpose. Selecting the right property is important as besides the safari and bush walks, relaxation is the only item on the agenda.

While there are some incredible properties, the Lion Sands River Lodge in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve ticks all the right boxes:

  • Luxurious rooms with vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows that overlooks the river and offers an opportunity to spot wildlife from bed
  • Experienced and knowledgeable guides and trackers
  • Warm and welcoming staff; every time a vehicle enter or exits the property, the security guard performs a little jig
  • Delicious African-inspired meals, with the highlights being vegetarian bunny chow (curried vegetables on a bun) and homemade chakalaka sauce (special hot sauce)
Travel tip: The property offers a unique experience for those brave enough to face the wild alone: dinner and overnight stay under the stars in a lone treehouse amidst the bush.

To safari or not to safari…

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Watching wildlife in its natural habitat is at once humbling, exciting and enlightening. While wildlife spotting largely shapes the safari experience, the property, people and land complete it.

There is something almost magical about the land. Maybe, it is the rarity of finding something so raw and unspoilt. Or maybe something as simple as watching the land and its creatures awaken to a new day.

Or maybe, the sheer beauty of silence. A silence so profound that every breath and whisper is audible. A silence so peaceful that it calms the soul. A silence so complete that it frees the mind. A silence that, if heard, conveys what it means to be one with nature.

Sometimes, we have to disconnect from the world and connect with nature to reconnect with ourselves.


Additional Travel Tips
  • For the luxury traveler: incredible high-end properties abound, but two unique options are Ulusaba and Singita Boulders Lodge
  • For local booking assistance: contact Cape Portfolios
  • For the safari enthusiast: Game reserves may be fenced or unfenced. The unfenced game reserves – such as Sabi Sands – allow free animal movement and are considered a more ‘natural’ safari experience
  • For photography enthusiasts: properties may offer cameras on hire, but memory cards need to be purchased

50 Shades in Jodhpur: A Royal Holi-day

Celebrate the festival of colours, Holi, with a king in the land of kings (Rajasthan, India).

Red, pink, yellow, green, purple…colours rain down and scatter in the wind. Water balloons sail in the air, bodies flail in tubs of coloured water and water gun fights are accompanied by war cries and wild laughter. Only one Indian festival  turns adults into havoc-wreaking children – Holi…the festival of colour.

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Trays of colour await

For most people, colours are a part of life, but for India, they are an annual cause for celebration. Every March, the country celebrates the most vibrant of all Indian festivals – Holi. For one day the earth becomes a veritable rainbow and the pot of gold is hallucination spurred by copious amounts of bhang (a traditional marijuana-laden drink).

The celebration ranges from spiritual and cultural to wild and insane. From funky beach parties and bonfires to elaborate house and foam parties, the country cheerfully goes crazy and what might normally be considered vandalism, is considered joyful celebration.

A Holi-day to remember: Mingling with a king in the land of kings

While there are many ways to experience the festival around the country, head to the Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur (Rajasthan) for a truly extraordinary experience. Guests of the palace hotel have an opportunity to experience Holi with Maharaja Gaj Singh II  (current owner of the property) and his family – a truly grand affair.

Operated by the über luxury arm of the Indian Hotels Company Limited (Taj), this impressive property is one of the world’s largest living residences and can only be described as ‘magnificent’. Rising dramatically above the desert capital, the Umaid Bhawan Palace offers panoramic views of the Blue city with the Mehrangarh Fort in the distance. The stunning sandstone exterior, luxurious Indo-Deco interiors, gorgeous landscaping, rich history, indulgent cuisine and superlative service make this authentic palatial beauty a living fantasy.

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Besides the grandeur, the Umaid’s heritage, heart and hospitality set it apart. Originally commissioned to provide a source of income to famine-struck villagers, the Umaid Bhawan Palace embodies the caring spirit of its commissioners. The palace hotel’s welcome folk dance sets the tone for this one-of-a-kind hospitality experience that is a combination of its royal heritage and the legendary Taj ethos.

Over the years, the Palace has not only played host to numerous dignitaries, glitterati and other A-listers, but also formed the set for many incredible weddings and events. The Umaid, and more importantly, the Maharaja (or Baapji as he is well known) know how to throw a party. Not just ‘a’ party…a royal party.

In keeping with tradition and its inherent grandeur, Holi at the Umaid is a once-in-a-lifetime experience – complete with celebrity guests that may include the likes of Sting and Chelsea Clinton.

Royal, classy and colourful - Holi at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur
A royal, classy and colourful celebration

Come Holi, the vast lawn transforms into a backdrop for a glamorous and colourful fete. Pretty white tents adorn the lovely lawns, while a bright sprawling tent features a fabulous feast and dining tables with festive centerpieces. Colourfully dressed elephants add a royal touch to the event. Plates of colour and tubs of water are spread across the lawns for guests to soak, splash, spray and paint each other.

Dressed in traditional Rajasthani attire, folk dancers and musicians entertain guests and villagers alike as they line up to put gulal (coloured powder) on the Maharaja, maharani, prince and their friends.

Colourful gathering - Holi at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur
The colourful gathering paints a pretty picture

Guests are given the royal treatment. From breakfast to lunch, the party continues and all senses are completely overwhelmed: the brilliant colour against the sandstone palace is a visual treat while folk music and musical laughter set the rhythm; delicious food and drink indulge the taste buds and the perfume of sunshine and fresh grass fills the air as joy overflows all around.

An alternate reality exists for those that choose to indulge in some customary bhang-laden food and drink. If the world suddenly appears too bright, or you question your existence or cannot stop doing whatever activity you are doing, or doze off into deep slumber, know that you are probably experiencing the effects of bhang.

Colours of life…

Holi at Umaid Bhawan Palace is as much about celebrating an age-old tradition in a timeless setting, as it is about the royal treatment. For some, this celebration may seem a bit contrived, but for the fortunate, it is a great way to experience the festival in a glamorous, safe and extraordinary manner.

For one day, royalty and normalcy merge till it is impossible to differentiate where one begins and the other ends. Reluctance gives way to total loss of inhibition as grown adults embrace their inner child and celebrate the colours of life.

Bhang or no bhang, memories of Holi at Umaid Bhawan Palace continue to shimmer in mind-altering hues…

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Timeless grandeur


Beyond Holi

If you are upright the next day, be sure to visit the Mehrangarh Fort for beautiful views of the blue city. An architectural gem and famous for its cameo in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, the fort now features the ‘flying fox’ zip line for the more adventurous. 

Alternatively, plan to arrive a day before Holi to take in the city, and stay a day after to enjoy the luxurious Jiva Grande Spa treatments. After the sensory overload, relaxation is a must. 

 

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