As a child Chandrani Kar would read the great Bengali adventure novel Chander Pahar (The Mountain of the Moon) and fantasize about protagonist Shankar’s journey across Africa. But as she grew up in a conservative Bengali family in the suburban town of Chakdah near Kolkata, studied political science at Kalyani University and then moved to Kolkata post marriage, mundane life took over. And one fine day without realizing, she had forgotten about Shankar, about Africa.
But destiny had other plans for her. In 2000, her husband Sankha Kar, an award-winning photographer, got a job offer in a Dubai newspaper. “Anyone else would have jumped at the opportunity of living in Dubai, but I burst into tears. The thought of leaving my family and staying alone in a foreign land was harrowing to me,” said Chandrani.
Living in Dubai did not change her outlook much. “My husband worked long hours while I was holed up in our apartment. We went out only on his off days, because I used to get scared crossing the road or using the escalator on my own. I never hailed a taxi alone. I was scared if the driver went the wrong way, I would not be aware. I had hardly gone out alone in Chakdah or Kolkata,” said Chandrani.
The Balloon Safari changed it all
There was a surprise in store for her when her husband Sankha expressed his desire to go to Africa. “He wanted to go because he is interested in wildlife photography. At that point I was elated at the prospect of seeing the land of Chander Pahar, but as our travel date neared I started developing cold feet. Finally in 2008 when we flew to Tanzania, I got my first glimpse of Chander Pahar – Mount Kilimanjaro. I could feel the goose bumps.”
Their first stop was the Kirurumu Tented Camp which had only zippers for door latches and every kind of animal sound for company. “I was so scared I could not sleep the entire night. The next day we had the balloon safari over Serengeti. Thankfully, I had not read up anything on the experience. If I had, I would have been petrified. After a 45-minute balloon ride, landing in the middle of the dense jungle should have been a very scary experience. But for the first time in my life I did not feel any fear.”
The balloon ride proved to be the turning point for Chandrani. “I realized I had overcome all my fears in Africa and emerged a more confident person.”
Adventure takes over
After that, Chandrani was willing to go anywhere and do anything and she quickly developed a keen interest in photography. “I could feel I had completely changed inside. My husband always encouraged me to pick up the camera but like always, I was not too sure. But in Africa, I felt I was wasting all the opportunities God was giving me. In my first trip I had a Sony handycam and a 5-megapixel Panasonic digicam. In the next trip, Sankha bought me a Canon with a 16X Zoom, and in the following, a Canon with a 30X Zoom and now I have a DSLR.”
Chandrani found herself exploring the African Savanna between 2010 and 2013, taking up challenges, courting danger and escaping perils on the way – holding on to her camera firmly all the while. I personally believe her adventures are worth going down in a book, but till she sits down to write it, here is a glimpse of her exploits in her own words along with some photographs taken by her on each trip.
- Ndutu lodge had no fencing or boundary: This time our destination was Nogorongoro and Ndutu. As soon as we stepped into Ndutu lodge, I realized there was no boundary wall, only a single signboard that said DO NOT ENTER BEYOND THIS POINT. We humans could read it but what about the animals? I was shocked when I was informed this was the rule in Tanzania so that the Big 5 – lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard could find free roaming space. It took me some time to digest this information.
- There was no electricity or telephone: The rangers with AK-47 first ensured we had locked the door of our cottage and only then left at night. If there had been any emergency we could have alerted them by a torchlight and a whistle. There was no electricity or telephone in the lodge.
- In the middle of the night a strange sound woke me up: I was so scared that I couldn’t open my eyes. But I finally overcame my fear and woke up Sankha. Then we looked out of the window and saw two giraffes chomping on leaves next to the window. There were days when we couldn’t enter our room because of a line of giraffes blocking our path.
- Our car broke down: The sun was just going down and our car broke down one day right in the middle of nowhere. While the driver tried to fix it and Sankha helped him out, I kept a watch. Now when I think back, I wonder what I would have done if I had spotted a lion in the bush.
- We went on the trail of 15 lionesses: We spotted this group and started following them. At one point few of them were just a couple of feet away from the open jeep. My eyes met with a lioness and I could feel cold sweat when I realized she was just a jumping distance away from me. My head was jutting out of the jeep and I quietly sat down. I can never forget those eyes.
Kenya and Tanzania, 2011
- We went by road from Kenya to Tanzania: The driver we went with told us that in his 20 years in the profession he had not taken a single tourist across the border. He also went on the 12-hour journey for the first time from Masai Mara to the Kenya-Tanzania border.
- We saw a lion kill: Usually the lioness does the hard work of hunting. But we were lucky to see a lion at it. We were admiring the zebras and wildebeest when suddenly a lion emerged from a bush next to us and went at them. In a moment the peaceful atmosphere was shattered by terror.
- We were the only two people in Ndutu Lodge this time: It was off season there when we had gone. So we were the only occupants staying in the lodge, with no boundaries. Imagine the scenario.
- We flew in a six-seater bush plane: From Kasane airport we boarded this small plane to reach Xugana Island Lodge at the heart of Okavango Delta. This is most often the only way to travel in Botswana. The small, light plane rattling in the wind made my stomach churn. We landed safely, but the next time we took the flight, the landing was delayed because of elephants in the runway.
- There was a mosquito net for a door with no lock: Our room was on a platform in the delta but I was shocked to see a mosquito net for a door. Apparently that was their way of giving you a feel of the jungle but it took me some time to recover from the shock.
- There was a hippo under our room: The entire night we could not sleep because of a sound below our room. The manger told us in the morning that a hippo had his home below our room and he was making the sound. That’s why he had asked us not to get out of our room at night.
- We were in a small boat in a crocodile infested delta: They call it the Mokoro. It is a long boat, just a foot in width, and if you move too much there is a chance of tipping over. I was so engrossed with my camera I didn’t realize what I was into. Even when I saw the crocodiles all around and below the boat in the crystal clear water I didn’t flinch. Not to mention the bobbing heads of the hippos everywhere.
- We escaped being chased by elephants: The elephants in Botswana are extremely aggressive because poaching and hunting is still rampant there. As such, there would be at least 35 elephants standing right next to our dining room every day. But this incident happened when we were in a marshy area on our tours. The guide sensed something was wrong and was sensible enough to move the car in the nick of time otherwise the herd would have trampled over us.
- We could have touched the leopard or it could have been the other way round: Our safari jeep in Savuti had a roof and was open on all sides. We saw a leopard which vanished into the jungle. We kept waiting for it only to realize that it had crept right next to the jeep tyres without us noticing. As it walked around we could not even breathe, let alone take photographs.
- We escaped a storm: This time we were in Masai Mara in winter when it does not usually rain. But we saw a cloud gathering in the horizon. We were far away from the main road and our guide said that we would get stuck in the mud if it rained and since the sun was setting no one would come looking for us till next morning. He drove the car like a maniac and the rain came pouring down only when we hit the main road. It was a narrow escape once again.
When we went back to our room in Ashnil Mara camp we were greeted by a group of hippos lazing on the banks of Mara River just a few yards away from our balcony. Seeing them in the moonlight I forgot our narrow escape from the storm and once again got sucked into the magic of Africa.
Chandrani is right now an amateur photographer. She says she is completely content winning competitions in Facebook Groups and planning her sixth trip to Africa by the end of this year. You can check out her photographs on her facebook page Chandrani Clicks