Serengeti National Park is a large national park in Serengeti area of Tanzania. The park is famous for its annual migration of over one and a half million white bearded wildbeast and 250,000 zebra. Its widely regarded as the best wildlife reserve in Africa due to its density of predators and prey. Since continuous hunting of lions made these animals scarce, the British, while the area was a part of their colonial empire in Africa decided to make a partial game reserve of 800 acres in the area and the full one in 1929. These actions became the basis for Serengeti Nationalpark which was established in 1951. [In the image above, an old rhino and her young stroll along their favourite trail in the Serengeti National Park. Photograph: Staff/Reuters].
– TO TKU –
TANZANIA, KENYA AND UGANDA
by Hafeez R. M.
Note for WoP readers: Today we are taking you to an African Safari. WoP writer Hafeez Rahman Malik is in the driving seat. An avid traveller and apt guide that he is, will show you the wonderous life, the happenings, events, way of the crowd, interesting Africn ‘loag’ on the street, but above all to Serengeti, the venue of the greatest wildlife show on earth, a spectacle you can see no where in the world.
At the heart of the Serengeti lies an ancient phenomenon that is the largest movement, as I said, of wildlife on earth. (Surprisingly Hafeez R.M. missed this spectacle). In pursuit of food and water, over a million wildebeest and half a million zebra and antelope migrate north from the Serengeti to the adjoining Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya every year. January brings “short rains” to the Serengeti; it usually rains briefly and not every day. Migratory herds can be seen in the south east of the Serengeti park and the adjacent Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
When the dry season arrives [around June], the grasses are exhausted and the wildebeest head to permanent water. Forming columns which stretch for miles, the wildebeest are joined by other hoofed animals. Predators follow and crocodiles wait hungrily in the rivers. Only those herbivores which can do without surface water for long periods and live on poor forage remain during the dry season. Come November, when the grazing is finished in the north and the rains resume in the south, the army of animals surges back to the renewed pastures to mate and calve. Only through migration can the herds use the widespread resources of the ecosystem and build up such huge numbers.
White bearded wildebeests are the most common large animal on the plains and the principals of the migration. These wildebeest live in denser concentrations than any other large mammal, except for humans. Wildebeest are known as gnus in southern Africa due to their gnu gnu sound. Although the wildebeest looks (according to African legend it was assembled from spare parts) and sounds comical, it is superbly evolved for its migratory plains lifestyle.
Wildebeest are constantly on the move, always striving for the side with the greener grass. As the sea of grass provides little cover and young are easy pickings, wildebeest have evolved synchronized birthing: About 90 per cent of calves are born within a three week period. Predators cannot make much of a dent in the population of newborns with such a sudden glut of food. Wildebeest young can run minutes after they are born. Within three days, calves are strong enough to keep up with the herd.
Plains zebra and wildebeest often intermingle. They are complementary grazers, preferring different parts of the same grass. Zebra, with their superior vision and hearing, serve as an early warning system for the wildebeest. Given the choice, predators prefer wildebeest meat to zebra. So zebra are happy to offer the carnivores that choice.
You can ssee zebra in the greatest numbers and they became one of your favourite animals. You see in the middle of an ocean of zebra stretching to the horizon a restful place to be.
The mother keeps her newborn away from other zebra for the first few days until it imprints on mum’s stripe pattern. Zebra are the African snowflake: no two look exactly the same.
Here in Serengeti you will see countless zebra in this neck-nuzzling stance: It allows them to rest their big heads while watching two directions and brush flies off each other. Although they always remain wary, some potential prey seem unworried during the day by predators that are in plain view and not stalking. It should be remarkable to see a herd calming, munching and snuggling with (presumably sated) lions crouched in the vicinity.
To zebra, it’s a migration.
To big cats, it’s a moving feast.
This and other aspects of life in TKU lands are the subject of today’s post which is being uploaded right now.
Rarely in my travels, I argued with immigration officers. But I became blunt when asked in my own country, “Where is the invitation?” “It is not necessary; I am going for sight-seeing not for lecturing.” “But you do not have necessary documents for visa,” he insisted. “No document required”, I told him and said further, ” I would get visa on arrival.” He stamped my passport after some grumbling.
When I reached Tanzania, the immigration Officer took me by the horns. “You cannot enter this country without a prior visa or a valid invitation”, he said returning my passport. “What should I do?” I said politely. I was asked to wait as he was dealing with another passenger who had also come without visa but was accompanied by a local wife. She was pleading his case vigorously. “My husband has not come on business but to meet my family. If an invitation was required, here I am a living proof,” she went on prattling. It was a valid argument and her husband was cleared forthwith. The officer turned to me and said, “He had a Tanzanian wife. What about you?” But he was kind enough to clear me too. The Emirate Airlines had misguided me by telling me that I was entitled to “Visa On Arrival” without any let or hindrance.
The same situation I faced at a border crossing for Kenya at Marangu. The immigration officer flatly refused to entertain me but suggested to try the popular border-post at Namanga, Arusha. I back-tracked for about 12 km, stayed for the night at Moshi and boarded a bus next day for Nairobi. The bus dropped all passengers on Tanzanian side and moved to the other end. I was in luck as I was cleared in no time but, of course, the officer kept US$ 50 change. Not a bad deal.
No such problem while crossing into Uganda as it was only “Entry Visa” for travelers having a Pakistani Passport. The difference between “Visa On Arrival” and “Entry Visa” became abundantly clear to me. But would I be more careful in future? No way!! The lure of foreign travels makes my mind numbed, my vision blurred and my ears only attuned to hear “Bon Voyage”.
I entered Tanzania on 18th July, 2011 via Julius Nyerere International airport. The main city, Dar Es Salaam was about 13 km away. I changed a 100-dollar note into Tanzanian Shillings from a money changer @Ts 1,500 per US$ while rate in the town was Ts 1,560. So at the outset I was cheated by $4 which, I thought, was a big jolt to my meager budget. But worst was yet to come. When I look back, I find that during this trip, I lost a total of US$ 200 mostly at border crossing by way of bribes, extortion and fleecing by touts at bus stations.
Mount Kilimanjaro stands on the Tanzanian side of the Kenya border near Moshi. Its height is 5896m. Nearly one thousand people go to the peak every year.
Tanzania is part of the East African Community. Other members are Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Of these, I covered three: Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
Though I was given 90-day visa by all the three countries, I spent only 30 days. Excluding visas, my total expenditure remained under US$2,000 or US$ 42 per day. I stayed in reasonable hotels with clean rooms & baths and preferred hiring taxi while moving in a city. I avoided boda-boda (motor-cycle taxis) which are otherwise convenient in negotiating heavy traffic jams in down-towns. Within the city, I rarely traveled on dala-dala or matatus which we know as minivan. In all, I covered 2,800 km during my 30-day jaunt which looks ridiculously low when compared to my 12,900 km travel in Australia in 40 days.
The country’s profile
Right:There are huge zebra herds that take part in the great Serengeti migration. Pictured here are some of these caught in their casual mood.
Tanzania gained independence from Britain in 1960. It is situated just south of the equator and has a varied topography. It has high mountains, great lakes and natural game parks. Its two land-marks are worth mentioning: Serengeti Park famed for annual migration of millions of wildebeests and Mount Kilimanjaro with a peak of 5,985 meters.
About 45 million people live in Tanzania concentrated along the coast and islands. Nearly 35% are Muslims and 50% Christian and the remaining15% are mostly animist tribes. The local language is Swahili which is rich with Arabic. Their villages represent real Africa. People are very nice and always wave with a toothy smile. They wear fast color clothes. There are a large number of tribes, the most famous being Maasai. They wear long earrings and necklaces and are proud of their culture.
While the per capita income of an averge Tanzanian is low at $510, the literacy rate is quite reasonable at 80%. Due to malnutrition and diseases, mostly malaria and HIV / AIDS, life-expectancy is just 53 years.
Left: Boda-boda is a bicycle taxi, originally used in East Africa (from English border-border). The boda-boda taxis are part of the African bicycle culture. They started in the 1960s and 1970s and are still spreading from their origin on the Kenyan – Ugandan border to other regions. The bicycle owners would shout out boda-boda to potential customers. While the boda-boda bicycle is still spreading to other areas, in its area of origin, especially in cities of Kenya and Uganda, the bicycles are now more and more replaced by motorbikes. These motorbike-taxis have taken the name bodaboda as well.
Natural resources consist of coal, iron, gemstones, gold, diamond, wildlife and fisheries. The exports consist of coffee, cotton, tea, cashew nuts, cloves and tobacco. There are lot of animals specially monkeys. In some places, I saw more monkeys than people. Many were perching on high baobab trees as if watching the world from a vantage point.
Ugali is a national dish. This is made of a stiff dought based on cassava flour, corn meal, millit and served with meat, fish or beans. It is jointly eaten out of a large bowl.
Dar Es Salaam
I stayed at Rainbow Hotel in the downtown by paying US$50 per day. The hotel was owned by the Indian and so I felt at home enjoying chicken curry and biryani. There was nothing much in the city and I stayed there mainly for acclimatization. The city had a large waterfront being situated by the edge of Indian Ocean. It had a massive natural harbor with sandy beach.
This is the largest city in Tanzania with a population of 3 million. Like other cities, its downtown is clogged with heavy traffic, street vendors and restaurateurs. It becomes quite calm after sunset.
Right: The Askari Monument in Dar es Salamis a memorial tothe Askari soldierswho fought in the British Carrier Corps in World War I. It is located at the center of roundabout between Samora Avenue and Maktaba Street, a place that reportedly also marks the exact center of downtown Dar. It was unveiled in 1927.
There is an historical monument, a bronze statue of a soldier. Other notable places are fish market and some modern shopping malls.
Since Dar was my jumping stage, I was concerned with law and order situation. I was advised that it was perfectly safe to move during the day time in the down town but one should be careful at night specially when there was loading shedding.
After staying for two days, I decided to move and books a seat on a Fast Ferry for Zanzibar paying US$40.
Called “The island of Sensations”, Zanzibar has a fascinating history. It is an autonomous archipelago and has its own immigration and custom formalities. When I stepped out the port terminal, I was approached by a number of guides, touts and agents. I waved them off and proceeded to nearby cluster of buildings. It turned out to be the famous place, “Stone Town” which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site offering a blend of Portuguese, Persian and Omani Arab architecture. It was a peak season and I had some difficulty in securing a hotel room. Finally, I succeed to get a suit in Safari Lodge Hotel for 3 nights coughing US$ 100.
The hotel manager, Patrick Rod (an Indian), briefed me over the contour of Stone Town and assured me almost 100% safety and security in the area. In the late afternoon, I walked around and felt refreshed on the site of gently swaying palm trees and movement of dhow boats. I passed through lively bazaars, mosques (97% of the residents being Muslims) and ate several sate-kebobs from a roadside stall. Washing them down with fresh orange juice I returned to the hotel and called it a night.
In the next two days, I joined a group to explore Spice Plantations and Prisoner Island by paying a total of US$35. The spice tour offered a guided walk through villages and jungle for observing cinnamon, ylang-ylang, nutmeg, coffee and vanilla in their raw form. At the end, all had a lunch which had all the species we had already tasted.
The visit to Prison Island was quite pleasant. The island was just off the coast of Stone Town. In about 10 minutes, we landed on the island fringed by a lovely white sandy beach and a small coral reef. Way back, the island was used by Arab slave merchants to detain unruly salves. Today, it has been turned into a luxury hotel which has been beautifully painted and mingles well with the deep-blue water.
It has a tortoise farm containing age old and giant reptiles. They love to be fed spinach by the visitors and are a great sight. Many are over 160 years old with a staggering height of one meter and weighing upto 250 kg!!!
I returned back to the mainland on 23rd July, 2011 and hailed a taxi for dropping me to a far off bus terminal, Ubungo. It was a huge complex and I was lost in its vastness. My luggage being in the taxi, I became little worried and confused. In such a state of mind, I was an easy target for touts who arranged a ticket for Ts28,000 as against the printed price of Ts 15,000. Anyhow, they fetched my luggage from the taxi and bundled me off to a waiting bus.
Tanzania’s most beatiful parliament house which is in Dodoma, the designated capital city
I would have never stopped at Dodoma but I considered it a midway break between Dar and Mwanz, a stretch of 900 km. Historically too, Dodoma was a stopover for the caravans taking loads from the Coast to Lake Tanganyika. My bus ran on the Great Northern Highway, an excellent tarmac road, passing through a vast area of grassland. It passed by Morogoro on the base of the Ulughuru Mountains and Selous National Park.
In about six hours, the bus reached Dodoma. It is the Capital City of Tanzania. A short taxi ride brought me to hotel Fifty-Six where I got a room with breakfast for roughly $14. Next day, I saw the new earthquake-proof parliament building from outside and some points in the city like Ismaili Mosque and shopping malls like Shabibi supermarket. In a small restaurant, Two Sisters, I enjoyed a lunch with dark bread rolls, yoghurt and vitumbua (sweet rice cakes). Also, I traced an internet café and read my email besides googling for some information on Tanzania.
In the evening, I went to bus-terminal and negotiated a seat for next day in a luxury coach paying only Ts 15,000. I had become smarter after going through the initial onslaught of bus-touts.
I did not realize that I had reached Mwanza till the bus stopped at the outskirts of the City. I did not like to fall prey to taxis and decided to look for a hotel nearby. There were many guesthouses and I got one, Hotel Luso, for hardly six dollar with breakfast. I slept well and next morning negotiated with a taxi to take me to the downtown. For a US$3, the taxi brought me to the city centre. I had a brief walk in the streets. My initial problem was to convert dollars into local currency. Unlike other cities, forex rates here differed widely from one place to other. At one spot, I found them quite attractive and clinched the deal.
I observed one signpost of Indian Library and followed the directions. This was a small place but filled with a large number of books in English specially fictions. The Librarian, Mr. Desai, was very cooperative and if for the first time someone had entertained me, it was him. More, he chalked out a program for me for the city tour which I followed meticulously.
Bismarck Rock in Mwanza Town is a massive outcrop of granite located along the road flanked by lush green trees. It looks like it would get out of balance anytime but it has already stood there firmly for the past thousands of years.
Mwazna is the second largest city in Tanzania, located on the southern shore of Lake Victoria. It is built on a narrow rocky hill. I walked on a road flanked by lush green trees and saw Bismarck Rock, a massive outcrop of granite rocks. It looked like it would get out of balance anytime but it had already stood firmly for the past thousands of years. Mwanza was a land of unparalleled diversity of scenery, fauna, flora, historical and many natural features. It is the place where early explorers came to discover the source of river Nile.
I continued my walk and went over to Hotel Tilapia which was set by the Lake Victoria. While I was asking for a cup of tea, an enormous swarm of insects darkened the area. I was led by a waitress to a netted place with my eyes closed. The ordeal lasted for 15 minutes and a perfect calm prevailed thereafter.
Next day, I resumed my walk. The entire town was surrounded by rocky hills studded with granite outcrops, quite impressive to look at. It was a bustling and lively town. A taxi driver persuaded me to visit Malaika Beach Hotel and Resort, 5 km away. It was a good place to go. I relaxed in its lounge sipping coffee while observing birds and fishing boats in the lake. The hotel staff was very friendly. I discussed with them the possibility of crossing Lake Victoria to go to Uganda. Indeed, there were many ferries plying between the two countries. But I did not like to go this way as I would miss Kilimanjaro base which is in the opposite direction. So I reserved a seat on a bus to Arusha for the next day.
I continued to Arusha and to Moshi to reach the base of Kilimanjaro Base Camp, which forms part of my next post.
More from Hafeez R. M. on Wonders of Pakistan
1. The Shrine of Hazrat Ayub Ansari in Istanbul 2. Sacred Crocodiles 3. Shalimar Gardens, Lahore 4. Gorakh Hills, A pleasant surprise 5. The tomb of Hazrat Abdullah Shah Ghazi 6. Thar coal – hope or despair [in three parts]
The writer Hafeezur Rahman Malik is an ex-Bank Executive. As says Hafeez, he now whiles away his time in teaching and traveling. Each year in summer and winter holidays, he goes on a footloose and fancy-free safari to a new country or to a new area of a large country like USA. His travel tales are published by various websites specially www.hubpages.com & http://www.cstn.org . He lives in Karachi, Pakistan, with wife and a cat.
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