In March 2003, Ishanga and I, together with two business associates from Sri Lanka – Lakshman Jinadasa and Anil Weerakkody, visited Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, on the invitation of the Tanzanian Government to look into the feasibility of setting up an apparel manufacturing facility in that country. During this visit Ishanga and I extended our stay to go to Serengeti National Park, which is world renowned for its rich wild life.
We took an early morning flight to Arusha, located in the northern part of Tanzania. Our tour operator was at the airport to greet us. We had reservations for 3 nights at the Sopa Lodge in Serengeti NP. From Arusha it is about 325 km to Serengeti NP. On the way we visited the Ngorongoro Crater, the largest unbroken caldera on earth. It was our first visit to the crater as well as to Serengeti. We spent a few hours in the crater where we had sightings of a pride of Lions as well as the endangered Black Rhino, within its 20 km wide boundaries. Later, our driver/ guide drove the 4×4 Land Cruiser to Serengeti NP, a distance of 190 km on a rugged road to reach the destination before the park closed for the day. The following morning, we were out in the park by 6 am. The annual wildebeest migration was in progress and it was quite a stunning sight to see these animals in their thousands grazing on the Serengeti plains. For the predators who are higher up the food chain, it was the festive season with food aplenty! We had sightings of a few Lions, three Cheetahs and a Leopard during our three night stay at Serengeti.
In June 2004, I made a second visit to Serengeti, this time with Lilani. We first went to Madagascar to visit our apparel manufacturing facility there. Being the Honorary Consul of Madagascar in Sri Lanka, I had been invited to participate in the National Day celebrations of Madagascar on 26th June in Antananarivo and I timed my trip to be at this function.
On the morning of 29th June we flew to Dar es Salaam via Johannesburg and spent the night there. I met with the Minister of Export Promotion of the Tanzanian Government to dinner when I informed her of my decision not to invest in an apparel manufacturing facility in that country as I found it was not a viable business proposition.
We took a flight to Arusha on the 30th morning. On this occasion, we had planned six nights at Serengeti with a night at Ngorongoro. On the way to Ngorongoro, we visited Lake Manyara National Park, famous for Lions who climb trees. We were at the park for a few hours and saw some Lions but none on trees. However, I had some good photo opportunities on migratory birds such as Flamingoes on Lake Manyara. We spent that night at the Sopa Lodge situated on the eastern side of the Ngorongoro Crater. The panoramic view of the crater from the lodge deck was fantastic!
Next day, after an early breakfast we were on wheels moving down towards the basin of the crater. It took about 20 minutes to get to the bottom. During our morning excursion, we came across a pair of Lions at a water hole, probably preparing to mate. We also had sightings of Elephants and a Black Rhino. After having a picnic lunch provided by the lodge, we hit the road to Serengeti NP. We stayed two nights at the Serengeti Serena Lodge located in the western corridor on top of the Kyabatero hills. We celebrated Lilani’s birthday which falls on 1st July, at this location. She had a pleasant surprise when the restaurant and kitchen staff brought a birthday cake to our table and sang the equivalent of ‘happy birthday’ in Swahili language, to the sound of music generated from kitchen utensils.
The large Wildebeest herds that I had witnessed in March the previous year had migrated further up the Serengeti savannahs by July. But there were still large numbers of Wildebeest and Zebra around. Lion sightings were quite common. During our two day stay at the lodge, we came across a flock of Vultures feeding on the remains of a Wildebeest kill of Lions. We also had a sighting of a Cheetah, where she got on top of an anthill to increase her line of sight for a prey. Hippos at the “hippo pool” gave us a great performance.
Our next stay for two nights was at the Kirawira camp, further up towards north. The camp was on a hilltop with a panoramic view of the plains of the western corridor. The camp accommodation was better when compared to the other lodges we stayed at, on this tour. During our stay at Kirawira, we chanced upon three Cheetahs together, walking on the grass plains, possibly looking for food. We observed that the Wildebeest migration was moving north, approaching the border between Tanzania and Kenya where they enter the savannahs of Masai Mara in Kenya. We also saw Wildebeest crossing the Grumeti River, while their assailants in water, the Crocodiles, waited in anticipation for a good meal.
On our way back to the south of Serengeti NP for a further two nights, we had a rare sighting of Leopards mating. The male made several leaps from a tree log at intervals to mate with his partner on the ground. They were at a distance of at least 100 meters from the road. Since it is not permitted to go off road at Serengeti NP, I managed to take a few pictures of this intriguing episode, with great difficulty. Love in Serengeti!
Next morning we had a superb view of a Cheetah, very close to the road. Before we completed the tour, we came across a pride of Lions with 2 month old cubs. The cubs were on a top of a rock looking at us intently, and the lighting and distance was good for photography.
As I had not yet converted to digital photography back in 2004, my first task after returning to Sri Lanka was to get my film rolls developed. Generally, within a day I could see the results of my efforts. How life has changed since then, when one can instantly see the images taken, keep those that are good, delete those that are not and take as many as you fancy without thinking twice!