Feeding Cheetahs and Leopards at Düsternbrook Farm

It was our 18th wedding anniversary, and we wanted to make it special and memorable. We planned to visit Düsternbrook Farm, a specious farm with colonial architecture, just 40 km away from Windhoek. It is a beautiful site famous for Cheetah feeding. Yes, we were going to see Cheetahs and Leopards being fed in their natural habitat. No cages, no moats; just open feeding to some active big cats! 😀

cheetah

The drive was about to start at 3:30 pm. As it is rainy season going on in Windhoek, the weather was partially cloudy, giving us a chance to save our skin from scratching Sun. With frequent glimpses of Warthogs and Guinea Fowls on the roadside, we entered this beautiful farm.

The safari vehicle was ready. We seated in the reception for some time till all the fellow travelers assembled. Our driver, Ryan, was quite a knowledgeable person and he knew what to do when it comes to deal with the big cats. He told us some facts about Cheetahs and Leopards, and informed us to be safe ourselves.

arun-ready-to-feed

Shortly, we all took seats in the vehicle one-by-one. Arun took co-driver’s seat. In the first row, I sat with a senior German couple. Nishant sat with his grandparents Small Aaji and Small Aaba behind us. And then there were a few rear-seat occupants. We all were ready with our hats, goggles, and most importantly, the cameras. Ryan came with a large tub containing pieces of game meat. He kept the tub near his seat and geared the vehicle.

He drove for a couple of minutes on very rough road. On our drive, we spotted a flock of Guinea Fowls flying overhead. I never knew, they could fly so high! 😮 Till that time, I had only spotted Guinea Fowls walking on the ground in flocks and hurriedly running to hide on our appearance. The area was covered with pebbles, dust, dry grass and Acacias. Some large Acacia trees were broken at boles; as if elephants had brought them down. All we could see around were various shades of beige and brown…

cheetah-in-action

Soon, Ryan parked the vehicle at a place which was little open; without any vegetation. We didn’t had to wait for long. Two Cheetahs came around in few minutes. There were male siblings of nine years each. They came by the smell of meat in the tub. Ryan first started flinging the smaller pieces of meat towards them. With their keen eyesight and anticipation, they were jumping and catching them in the air directly. That was quite a sight to watch.

Since there were two male Cheetahs together, I was a bit surprised. I asked him, “Can multiple Cheetah males share the same terrain, unlike lions?”

He said while flinging yet another piece of meat, “Male Cheetahs can; but females can’t.”

The man sitting next to me said, “Just like you women, you see 😉 …”, winking his eyes at me. It was such an apt and timely joke! 😀

jungle-safari

Ryan made the Cheetahs wander around the vehicle for a while. They were asking for more meat by making a sound like, Aawwe from their throats. Ryan told that Cheetahs have a large nasal cavity that helps to breathe speedily after an exhausting chase. Though they chase and knock down their preys to puncture their spinal cords like the other big cats do; they are not very ferocious. At last, Ryan flung a large pieces of meat to each one, which they fondly caught in the air and went under a shady tree. They started eating it peacefully. We stayed there for some time observing them and taking pictures.

By then, the clouds moved away as usual revealing the bright glare behind. Sun was terribly sharp even if it was inclined towards West. Air turned warmer than it was some time back. After eating wholeheartedly, the Cheetahs went their ways and we started towards Leopards. The safari vehicle was leaving behind a trail of tire-marks and brut white dust.

No sooner than we entered the Leopard terrain, Ryan announced that a Leopard was just in the close vicinity from us. At a few meters distance, we spotted him sitting camouflaged in the dry grass. His head was partially visible and his gaze was fixed towards us. Ryan parked the vehicle right under a tree and took the meat tub on the top of the vehicle. He accessed the lower branches and planted some meat pieces on the them. Then he got down, and reversed the vehicle to park at some distance from the tree. It made a whooshing noise and stopped. We all were sitting silent. Everything turned quiet except a distant call of a solitary bird and continual chirp of crickets. The Leopard was steadily observing us.

leopard

We waited for him to show some action. Of course, only the action of eating that meat on the tree. 😀 After some time he got up slowly and walked towards the tree. He halted at some distance from the tree. He wore beige-colored coat with black spots that looked like small flowers of three to five petals. The linear arrangement of spots on his neck was prominent. He stood there for a while twirling and hitting his tail on the ground; growling occasionally. A completely untamed big cat, in full sorts, just a few feet away! I could feel goosebumps rising on my neck 😥

Ryan made some sounds and spoke something in the local Damara language. The leopard continued growling. Throwing a final glance at us, he swiftly climbed the tree, reached the meat pieces, and grabbed them in his jaws. He then climbed down the tree gracefully and sat down to eat them. He was cracking the large bones easily while closing its eyes and tilting his head. That cracking sound was so fiercely during that quiet afternoon! We watched it for a while and started with our return journey. On our way back from the terrain, we revised the difference in the two big cats we just saw.

What is the Difference between Cheetah and Leopard?

Though cheetah and leopard look very similar apparently, there are different in many ways.

  1. Spots – The first apparent difference lies in their spots. Cheetahs have solid round dot-shaped spots on their skin whereas Leopards flaunt black flowers-like spots named rosettes.
  2. Body Shape– Cheetahs have very sleek body with long limbs and small head. They are tall. Leopards have bigger head and are bulkier than Cheetahs. Also, they have a typical cat-shaped body.
  3. Face – Cheetahs have two black facial lines that run down from inside of the eyes up to the mouth. They are known as Tear Lines. They act as reflectors when Cheetahs are hunting during a very bright day. Leopards on the other hand, don’t have such lines. and their faces resemble to domestic cat.
  4. Action – Cheetahs appeared to be very quick when it came to action as opposed to the lousy leopards.
  5. Forte – When it comes to hunting, Cheetahs exploit their speed, and leopards count on their strength.
  6. Jaws and Paws – Because of the larger nasal cavity, Cheetahs have smaller teeth and jaw than leopards, hence they cannot crack large bones. Leopards on the contrary are known to possess the highest strength to crack thick bones. Their jaw pressure is 700 PSI, which is even more than the lion’s 690PSI (PSI = Pounds per Sqr Inch). Leopards also have special paws that enable them to climb the trees. Cheetahs lack such paws.
  7. Lifestyle – Cheetahs are more social animals. Male Cheetahs can form groups and can be domesticated too; but Leopards are solitary animals. Also, Cheetahs are diurnal animals who prefer to wander in plains as opposed to the nocturnal Leopards who prefer thick bushes and trees.

We shortly arrived at the farm premises. The farm boasts a clean and large swimming pool. We enjoyed swimming for some time and prepared ourselves to return.

evening-in-namibia

The Sun was setting down with full brightness. Evening breeze carried the aroma of wet soil from long away. We boarded our car and started return journey on the rough road. Warthogs were running back to their warrens flaunting their funny antenna-like erect tails. 😀 Oryxes and Impalas were walking in herds into the thicker vegetation. Weaver birds had assembled on the trees. A hare crossed our way rapidly. Soon we arrived at the main road and with yet another gem of experience on mind, we headed towards Windhoek.

Braai, Beer, and Bush

History of braai can be traced back to the time when the early humans walked on the earth. Maybe the early man found a dead animal who couldn’t escape the forest fire and he tasted its meat with smoked flavor…He realized that the cooked piece of meat was comparatively much softer and tastier than the uncooked meat…Maybe then he preferred to cook the meat always thereafter…Or maybe he invented fire creating using two-stone method and tried cooking the meat…Whatever the reason, the taste and flavor of the grilled meat spoilt taste buds of the early humans. That must be the very first step of a human being towards braaing and in turn cooking.

The word Braai is a short form of Braaivleis, which is an Afrikaans word for local variation of barbecued or grilled meat. The word Braai is a noun that depicts the cooking equipment as well as a verb that depicts the way meat is cooked.

Braai involves outdoor cooking of meat and dining. Family or friends gather together in a casual environment for Braai lunch or dinner. Braai is an important part of food culture of Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. A large number of houses in these African countries have Braai arrangements in their gardens. They are called permanent Braai stands and are generally located near swimming pools. Most of the resorts, hostels, and hotels also provide permanent Braai stands.

half-drum-braai

Braai Party is a great social gathering in a friendly and casual manner where you don’t need to worry about following any stern party manners hence the host can also become a part of the event casually. Less preparation is required for the Braai as far as the food part is concerned. The other interesting thing is, the men folk plays a leading role in braaiing as it needs to handle heavy or large-sized equipment near fire. Believe it or not, this definitely lessens the cooking load on women folk. Women mostly contribute in marination, preparing salads or dips, and cutting lemon wedges.

Which basic equipment do I need for braai?

round-braaiBraai is a tray of some substantial height, which is entirely covered with grid. You can keep burning firewood or hot embers in the tray and cover it with the metal grid on which you can keep pieces of meat directly for grilling. The metal grid is made of iron, cast iron, or steel. There are various shapes of Braai stands such as Half-oil drum (which is the largest in size), Dome-shaped, and Box-shaped.

Apart from the Braai stand, paraffin or kerosene is required for persistent fire that goes on even during winds in the open areas. The tongs are required to pick up or turn the pieces of meat on hot grid. The longer the tongs, the safer they are. In addition, it is better to use paper plates than the glass or ceramic ones, as they are convenient during outdoor eating.

Braai Fuel

Various types of seasoned wood or charcoal are primarily used as Braai fuel. These days, brackets made from fine wooden chips are being preferred. The type of wood plays an instrumental role in the smoke it produces and in turn in flavor of the meat. Though most of the times wood is used conventionally, brackets and charcoal provide convenient handling.

Which meat or vegetables can I braai?

The sleeker the meat, more tenderly and completely it gets cooked. Meat is marinated in spices for hours before the actual cooking starts. Fillets or cubes of chicken, pork, and lamb or mutton, other red meat, game meat, tiger prawns or fish, boerewors, sausages, frankfurters, steaks, and ribs are excellent options for Braai. Though few people prefer meat with bones, the tender cuts such as shoulder, breast, and thigh are perfect for braaing as they contain less or almost no bones.

Braai doesn’t let anyone go hungry. A vegetarian guest can always braai marinated cottage cheese cubes, tomatoes, mushrooms, capsicums, brinjal slices, carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.

Which side dish and drink goes well with braai?

Braaied food can be paired with a large range of salads, sauces, dips, and breads to enhance the taste. The side dishes give a fantastic color combination and complement the main braai dish. Potato salad, Green salad, Greek salad, Carrot-orange salad, are great options for side dish.

Since it’s a casual dining practice, braaied meats can be served with chilled drought beer, lager, or ale. White or red wine with dry taste can match with braaied seafood. The teetotalers can rely on any cold drinks. Braai is a wild thing that can be better handled with chilled alcoholic drinks.

Braai Recipes

Here are few Braai recipes:

Braaied Chicken Breasts 

This is an Indo-African version of braai recipe sufficient for 3 to 4 people. Flavorful and tastey, for those who wish to try something with Indian spices in African wilderness. 🙂

Ingredients

Boneless Chicken – 4 large pieces of 125-150gm each, cut into long slices.

Marination

  1. Thick unsweetened curds – 1 cup
  2. Fresh Ginger Paste – 1 tbsp
  3. Fresh Garlic Paste – 1 tbsp
  4. Coriander Powder – 1 tbsp
  5. White Pepper Powder – ½ tbsp
  6. Cinnamon or Nutmeg Powder – ½ tbsp
  7. Kashmiri Chilli Powder – 1 tbsp
  8. Lemon juice – 5 tbsp
  9. Salt – to taste

Method

  1. Clean the pieces of chicken.
  2. Slit the pieces by running a sharp knife on it 3 to 5mm deep at 1cm distance. Do not let them break apart.
  3. Flip the piece and repeat the process on the other side.
  4. Mix all the Marination ingredients in a large bowl.
  5. Apply this mixture to the chicken pieces all over to coat them evenly.
  6. Keep the chicken breasts covered for a couple of hours in the refrigerator for marination.
  7. Roast the chicken breasts on the braai grid till they are done completely.

Carrot-Black Currant-Orange Salad

This salad is tasty enough to make you close your eyes while feeling its juicy taste. It will make you forget that some time back you couldn’t take off your eyes from its bright orange and black colors. 🙂

Ingredients

  1. Fresh bright carrots – 6 to 8 large
  2. Orange juice – 1 ½ cup
  3. Black Currants – 3 tbsp

Method

  1. Peel the carrots.
  2. Shred them into fine stripes.
  3. Transfer the shredded carrot into a large bowl.
  4. Add orange juice into it.
  5. Add black currants.
  6. Mix well.
  7. Keep the bowl covered with cling foil in the refrigerator.
  8. Serve chilled.

Mustard Sauce

This little hot and sweet tangy sauce brings an extra punch to the braaied meat or vegetables.

Ingredients

  1. Evaporated Milk – ¾ cups
  2. Split and husked mustard – 4 tbsp
  3. Sugar – 1 tbsp
  4. Salt – ¼ tbsp

Method

  1. Soak the mustard in milk for ½ hour.
  2. Add Sugar.
  3. Blend well in a blender to fine paste.
  4. Add salt.
  5. Serve at room temperature.

So next time when you are in fix for a casual party theme, why not try the African Braai with beer in a bush? 🙂

Swiss Landscape on Bernina Express

“If on earth be an Eden of bliss,

It is this, it is this, it is none but this!”

When I entered Switzerland its stunning beauty made me remind these lines. Switzerland boasts Alps ranges, a large number of tunnels and bridges, highest dams, and four official languages. It displays a unique range of magnificent landscapes. We all wanted to see the mighty yet beautiful Alps ranges and the scenic beauty of this blessed piece of land hence we visited Switzerland this summer.

We planned to travel by the world-famous Bernina Express, the train especially operated for the purpose of site-seeing. We decided to take the route from Tirano to Zurich and excitedly boarded the train.

bernina-express

The train was bright red-colored from outside with refreshing cream-white color inside the compartments, which were very comfortable and lavish. A very special and noticeable feature of Bernina Express is its large and clear windows through which the passengers can see the surrounding nature. These windows are extended up to the roof and facilitate the passengers to see every bit of the beauty and find themselves as a part of the nature while being on the wheels. Another stunning feature is the height at which Bernina Express operates effortlessly on narrow-guage. It runs at an adequate speed to let one observe the surroundings. The train operates at the height of 2253 meters above sea level and makes one wonder, how successfully man has created machines and tamed them at his service.

As the train steadily kept moving ahead, the breathtaking landscapes started unfolding. It took us through pastures of lush green grass. There were healthy brown cows grazing on the slopes. They were wearing flat-shaped brass bells tied in the embroidered leather belts around their necks. The black-nosed sheep were looking as if there were few white woolen bundles kept on green carpet.

switzerland-landscape

Along the green pastures, there were small houses topped with tapered roofs and fenced with wooden bars. Sometimes they were so close to the train that I thought I could extend my hand to touch. They had little entrance gates which were adorned with bells and floral plants. The gardens in front of the houses displayed artistic arrangement of small fountains, animal figurines, and colorful pots. We spotted a little house just near the rail track where figurines of seven smiling dwarfs were kept in the garden. They looked so cute! 🙂 I tried to look for the Snow White’s figurine around but the train moved ahead and that pretty sight of the house was replaced by another beautiful view of chestnut trees.

The Swedish houses had small old-styled windows of wooden frames. Almost every window was decorated with the rectangular pots placed just outside the windows, which contained plants with pink, white, yellow, and purple flowers. They made a good contrast with the color of the window frames and left us impossible to decide which one was beautifying the other 😀

There were churches seen occasionally in the backdrop of the hilly green meadows. The Swedish towns just looked like the ones portrayed in the fairy tales. 🙂 Indeed Europeans have an obsession as well as an eye for a great detail to maintain their gardens neat, clean, and attractive.

The train was taking us on bridges, through tunnels, and around orchards. The food service carts arrived full of hamburgers, sandwiches, wines, and other drinks. They also had soft toys for sale, especially the Valais Black-nosed sheep. As we progressed on our journey, we started getting the glimpse of Alps Mountain through the tall pine trees. Soon Bernina took us nearer and we were astonished to see the snow-clad tops of the Alps.

switzerland-matterhorn

It was the most breathtaking moment when we saw Matterhorn, the fifth highest peak in Alps ranges. It is in the shape of a pyramid with four steep triangular faces, each one facing a direction. Though its appearance, height, and expanse were scary, it captivated our eyes. 🙂 I find the view of large natural bodies like mountains and oceans is always spectacular. It limits one’s ego and makes one realize how negligible one’s presence is on this mother Earth!

We were so engrossed in watching the beauty around that we could not believe our destination had arrived. While we were on the train, the time seemed to pass so fast! It was an indulging experience to travel through the scenic beauty of Switzerland.

Switzerland landscapes are splendid.

It makes one’s eyes hungry and contented at the same time with its delightful beauty. 🙂

Namibian Birds through My Lens

Our tenure in Windhoek, the capital city Namibia, is an open door for visiting different unexplored places. Windhoek is one of the top 10 clean cities in Africa. It has a number of photo-opportunity places. The deep blue skies overhead and almost no pollution makes the routine sunrise and sunsets also very splendid. In this less populated city, the birds are ample in variety and number. And they are visible so easily! 🙂

birds-flocks

I use 55-250mm lens with Canon camera to take pictures. I also use the handy and compact Sony digital camera. Here are some birds that I could spot around our house on Eadie Street, around Windhoek city, and the countryside.

Windhoek mornings start with sound of the dawn chorus. 🙂 Especially during winter, the weather is chilled and the Sun is bright. The birds are often found basking on the tree-tops or on the overhead electric cables.

Cardinal Woodpecker

It is found in entire Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. I saw this bird accidentally. Once during late afternoon I went to collect dried clothes from the clothes-string installed in the backyard. I heard some strange sound rhythmically coming from the tree located in the extreme far end of the fence. There were more trees there. I slinked to follow the sound and got to see this beautiful bird!

cardinal-woodpecker

I rushed back home speedily to get the camera and returned with it hoping that it would stay there till I click a couple of pictures. It was too busy to notice the sound of any leaves crushed under my feet 🙂 Indeed, good for me.

Greater Flamingos

We saw them on the west-coast of Walvis Bay. It was the evening and the water at the sea shore was warm. The flamingos were just about 300m away from us; wading their long feet in the water and looking for their favorite fish.

greater-flamingos

Later I learnt this type of flamingo is known as Greater Flamingo in the diction of Ornithology. It has pale pinkish-white body with long neck and pink legs. Its beak seems quite big for its head and has black tip. Its wings are adorned with pink fringe of the feathers.

Gray Hornbill

I spotted it early morning on the backyard tree. Initially I saw a big bird flying steadily in the sky. I prayed it should perch on the nearby tree visibly till I take its pictures. I didn’t know, my prayers would be answered instantly.

grey-hornbill

The bird took two rounds and perched on one of the top branches on the barren tree. It had long shining black bill and a white eyebrow line. I managed to click this picture though I was very far from it. Yes, something is always better than nothing. 😀

Gray Go-Away Bird

I get to see it in acacia tree in the backyard. It appears with smokey grey color. It has whitish crown on its head. It is concolored means uniformly colored bird. It is seen perching on the thorny branches and eating wild figs and breaking seeds.

go-away-bird

It is found on Namibian desert lands such as Kalahari, Caprivi, and also the Kavango region. It is also named as Grey Lourie. It is a funny sight when it frequently raises and lowers its crest while moving around the branches.

Hartlaub’s Gull

It was seen on the see shore of Walvis Bay. It has a thin pointed black bill. Its head, face, and the stomach are white. It has black eyes and deep gray-colored wings, which gradually turn darker at the ends. Its tail is short and black.

hartlaub-gull

Its legs are short and thin. The claws are connected together with wading pads. I spotted it while it was resting on the sea shore and didn’t really bother about my presence around.

Palm Dove

It is also known as Laughing dove. It must have acquired the name because of its call. It has adjusted itself to the city life and it is found in entire Namibia. It has cinnamon-colored body with the hints of grey. During winters it is often found basking on the top of the trees.

palm-doves

During warm daytime, the walls and ground receive a large amount of sunlight. In the afternoon even when the heat goes down, the garden paths are warm. The Palm Doves then sometimes perch on the ground.

Red-Eyed Bulbul

This little fellows are habitual visitors around our house at Eadie Street. It has black head and beak. Its wings are dusky brown. The orange-red colored ring around its eyes distinguishes it from the common Bulbul. It has little yellow patch beneath its black tail.

red-eyed-bulbul-pair

These Bulbuls are found in entire Namibia. Their sweet calls on a quiet afternoon are indeed maddening! Of course, in a good way. 😀

Rosyfaced Lovebird

They have rose-colored face and vibrant green-colored body. Their short tails look deep cobalt-blue outside. But let it start shrieking and one feels like running out of the place speedily…What a combination, beautiful looks and shrill noise! 😦 I did not know its name when I first spotted it.

rosyfaced-lovebirds

One fine morning I went to the High Commission of India’s library and found a book on South African birds. I found this rightly-named bird listed under the lovebirds category.

Scarlet-Chested Sunbird

It has a diagnostic scarlet-colored chest. Rest of the body is shining jet back color. It flaunts brown colored wings. Its beak is long, curved, slender, and grey. It visits a large tree in front of our house during early morning hours and once during afternoon.

scarlet-chested-sunbird

It was very restless indeed; I didn’t ever find this fellow perching stable on any branch. It must be a male because in most of the birds species, male birds look better than female birds. Plus, they are flamboyant too. 😉

Short-Toed Rock Thrush

It is a beautiful bird with very pale blue head, slate blue face, and same colored wings, which gradually become darker at the ends. Its chest and stomach are brownish-orange colored.

short-toed-rock-thrush

When I was setting my camera lens, it noticed my actions and still kept sitting on the branch. That’s like a good bird! 🙂 This bird is found in entire Namibia and northern region of South Africa.

Weaver Bird

Though there are numerous types of weaver birds today on the Terra Firma, I could spot the Lesser Masked Weaver which displays partially black face with yellow rings around its eyes. All Weaver Birds types are almost equal is size and shape. They are as big as a house sparrow.

masked-weaver-with-nest

One needs only two colors at hand: black and yellow; if one wishes to color a drawing of Lesser Masked Weaver. The weavers have short beaks. During spring, the weavers start making their coconut-shaped nests hanging at the end of a long soft branch.

White-Backed Mousebird

It has light grey feathers on the back and it flaunts a small crest on the head. Its short white bill has black tip. The upper part of its body is plain and the claws are shocking pink colored. It has a pointed long tail.

whitebacked-mousebird

These birds are regular visitors in the nearby trees. They live in flocks and chirp with a very sweet sound. When it is evening, a group of Whitebacked Mousebirds hides itself into the dense thorny bush of Bougainvillea that is just outside the bedroom. Every morning, we get up together 😀

White-Crowned Shrikes

This bird is about 10cm long. It lives and moves in flocks. Each flock has about 10 to 20 birds. This bird has a short white beak. Its stomach and head are also white. The upper part of its small black eye is surrounded with the hint of black. Its tail has two short black feathers. The tail looks like a tail of a fish.

shrikes

One morning I saw a big flock of shrikes on the tree-top. Till the time I adjust the camera lens, many of them flew away. Then I could get a picture with only three participants. 🙂

Yellow-Billed Hornbill

Maybe it was a female species of Grey Hornbill. I spotted it on a tree near the swimming pool. It had a yellow bill, but it was not prominent yellow. It flaunted a brown patch under the bill. It moved around the branches slowly and ungracefully, as if with a great difficulty. It perched on a branch for a quite some time and took flight, which looked magnificent.

yellowbilled-hornbill

This is not all. There are many birds out there, which I have not yet seen.

It was not always I could capture the picture of every bird I saw. At times some birds flew away at my glimpse and sometimes I encountered them without the camera at hand. :/ Sometimes my tip-toeing skills didn’t work on dry leaves effectively while following them. And the other times, they just flew away suddenly out of a startle when we both faced each other unexpectedly 😀

But at the end of the day, it is fun to follow their calls and striking colors in the trees. I strongly believe, we all can definitely get to see what we persistently and religiously look for. Hence my quest of bird-watching continues… 🙂

Trip to Damaraland

Some 120 million years ago, Damaras migrated to Namibia from Northern Africa and settled in Northern areas of Namibia, now known as Damaraland. They were the first inhabitants of Namibia. They knew stars, constellations, and seasons. They knew medicinal usage of plants and they used salt for curing meat. Damaras cultivated tobacco and corn. Being curious about all these, we wanted to visit Damaraland region of Namibia hence we planned a short trip with our friends Jaya and John with their cute daughters Jessica and Jannes. Nishant and they both were very enthusiastic about the trip as they were going to see what they learnt during their History and Geography lessons.

Last Thursday, late afternoon we boarded our vehicles and started our journey to Damaraland. After 260km drive northwards we reached Otjiwarongo, a small well-laid out town. We stayed at a Catholic church on the first night.  The church tower was standing tall on the backdrop of brightly shining Venus. We had our dinner, chatted endlessly till late night, and went to sleep into our cozy dens.

The next day we got up early. It was a bright sunny day. As soon as we finished our breakfast of croissants and hot chocolate, we headed towards Outjo, a yet another small place on the way to Vingerklip.

Outjo is a neat and laid-back town of a few thousand residents. Most residents are proudly into cattle farming business. When we entered the town, we came across a famous souvenir shop named Images of Africa. The shop caught our eyes for its well-organized and well-stocked appearance. The wooden and stone articles, and jewelry were displayed so nicely that we couldn’t resist shopping there. 🙂 We bought beautiful table cloth weights. Jaya and John picked a graceful pair of wooden giraffe figurines.

german-bakery

Just next to this elegant souvenir shop, there is a famous German bakery that was established in 1947, the independence year of India. It offers a large variety of freshly baked puffs, pastries, pies, cakes, rusks, and cookies. It makes a very good eating joint. We stuffed ourselves with some puffs and pies and then headed towards Vingerklip.

Vingerklip

From Outjo, we drove another 100km to reach Vingerklip. The word Vingerklip literally means the Finger Rock. From short distance, we saw a tall and thick boulder with the shape of a thick human finger. It stood on the crest of a debris hill. Yes, the debris; that was brought by the then fast-flowing river Ugab.

vingerklip-site

It was the time when the super continent Gondwana broke in to separate continents as we know them today. This division of continents gave rise to sea level, new land structures, and the unavoidable erosion of rocks. Around 20 million years back in the history, the mighty river Ugab brought along debris of eroded limestone, quartzite, marble, and soil with it, which was spread on the river banks. Later due to the climate changes Ugab lost quantity of water it carried and its speed too, which made debris layers on its banks. These layers were around 100m thick. Vingerklip, the 2 million years old boulder, is known to be formed naturally due to the mixture of sedimentary debris that contained gravel, pebbles, and the limestone that bound rest everything together.

vingerklip-from-distance

As we approached near the structure, we could see it clearly. We parked the vehicles at the base and started climbing the debris hill. The more we went near Vingerklip, the more it surprised us about its wonderful balancing position. How stunning it looked! 🙂 It was around 35m tall above the hill. Since millions of years it has been standing there, facing and defeating the strong winds of Namibia. We observed the scenic beauty of mother earth around. It was so serene and quiet up there! We required to proceed to the next place hence we climbed down the debris hill unwillingly.

We boarded our vehicles and drove 70km to Namibian Wildlife Resort (NWR), Khorixas. We got fresh and had a brief lunch that we had brought from home. Then we headed towards the famous Petrified Forest.

Petrified Forest

It takes a drive of 45km from Khorixas towards west to reach Petrified Forest. Two Damara farmers discovered this place in 1940. Later in 1950, the government of Namibia declared it as a National Heritage Site. When we arrived there, we found the place had nothing to be mentioned as a forest. There were numerous fallen trees, which are made of rock and not wood. Isn’t it surprising? How was it possible??

It was possible because the nature worked to process them from wood to rock. At Petrified Forest we learnt a term in Geology that was completely new to us: Petrification. The obvious question crossed our minds is,

What is Petrification?

It is the process in which an organic material is converted into a fossil. During petrification, the pores and spaces in the original organic material are filled with minerals. The original material is then gradually replaced by the minerals thereby retaining the structure of the original material. We observed petrified tree trunks lying all around, which were partially or completely revealed.

petrified-tree

We wondered how did petrification happen to these tall trees? Long ago, a mighty flood came in Damaraland, which brought down those trees. The trees kept lying there for years and accumulated the depositions of fine sand and mud on and around them. The layer of sand and mud was so thick that the trees remained deprived of air. There was no other organic matter either, which could help the tree decay. Thus, these trees remained covered under the sand for a few millions of years and faced Silicification, a yet another term in Geology.

What is Silicification?

It is a process in which an organic material is replaced by minerals which flow through the pores of the material and over its surface due to aquatic activities.

A wonderful structure where each and every cell of wood is gradually replaced by silica over a few million years! That too, without disturbing the original shape of the tree! The sand that surrounded these trees thickened to form sandstone.

welwitschia-mirabilisWe saw numerous plants named Welwitschia Mirabilis, which grow only in Namibia and in some part of Angola where rainfall is minimal. The plants looked like a large flower. It is a wonderful plant that survives on dew drops. Its leaves grow continuously throughout the plant’s life. It is known as the Living Fossil because it can live up to 2000 years. The local people also call it Desert Onion as they cook and eat its thick stem. Rhinos and antelopes eat the leaves of this plant to quench their thirst. There were also some medicinal, fragrant, and extremely poisonous plants around. The guide informed us that the early Bushmen applied the juice of fragrant plants on their skin as a part of beautification. They also dipped the tips of their hunting arrows in the juice of poisonous plants.

Twefelfontein

We drove about 55km from Petrified Forest to reach Twefelfontein, the famous place for Bushmen’s art; especially for the carving of Lion. It was an evening when we reached there and the Sun rays were rightly tilted to enhance the beauty of the carvings. 🙂 The literal meaning of Twefelfontein is Doubtful Springs. The place acquired this name during the time when people suspected water source after having spotted frequent visits of desert elephants in this area.

ashbushMost areas of Twfelfontein are covered with Sandstone. As we entered the terrain, the reddish-brown mountains looked like the pieces of meat sprinkled with salt. 🙂 When we went nearer, we learnt that the mountains were partially covered by the plants named Ash Bush those flaunted very light grey color. This plant is found nearby water source and attracts animals towards water.

There is a long history about Bushmen’s art. Around 8000BC, there lived a wise spiritual person among Bushmen, known as Shaman. He predicted rains, availability of food, fertility of people, possibility of success in game hunt, and nearby water sources. Shaman meditated in caves and was believed to talk to animal spirits. He also knew plants and their accurate usage. Early Bushmen often used to seek Shaman’s guidance during the times of distress or illness. Each group of Bushmen had their own Shaman.

Bushmen honored different animal for different purpose. Shaman was strongly believed to get readings about rains from giraffe’s spirit as giraffe could peek his long neck into the clouds and speak to the Rain God. The picture of giraffe depicted communication with Giraffe spirit and the spots on giraffe’s skin showed raindrops. The antelopes were revered to find out water sources. Similarly, the big cats were honored because they were believed to fight the devils.

carvings-at-twefelfontein

On the night of meditation, Shaman used to dance for hours and guide the Bushmen about what all he saw while being in the trance. This spiritual dance used to go on for hours and took a large amount of efforts that sometimes made his nose bleed. Shaman performed this dance to transfer the illness of a Bushman into him and then release it by sweating himself out.

Shamans and his fellow Bushmen carved pictures on the sandstone surfaces. They used sharpened pieces of quartzite stone for marking designs on sandstone. Sandstone provided smoother work surface for carving. In the carvings, concentric circles depict either temporary or permanent water source. Bushmen carved giraffes, elephants, deer, rhinos, hippos, oryxes, leopards, and lions who were inevitable inspiration of their routine life.

rock-dizzy

While following the White Lady trail, we saw a small animal named Rock Dizzy, who looked like a large squirrel. It wears reddish-brown coat that camouflages effortlessly with the surrounding sandstone color. We always saw it resting because of the warm day.

It was around 6:00pm of the fag winters and sun was setting down. We stopped at Damara Living museum, a template of Damara village. There were many chalets covered with thatched roofs. The chalets displayed a variety of handmade artifacts.

After seeing the jaw-dropping petrified trees and the carvings of Twefelfontein, we returned to the NWR. We were tired and our stomachs were rumbling with hunger. There was a permanent braai stand near the room. The menfolk arranged firewood, lit up fire, and cooked the marinated meat. Braaied meat, wine, and the friends together. It was not lesser than the heaven. 😉

We realized it was late night only after we could separate our own sound of chatting from the sound of somebody chuckling just near the fence where we were cooking and dinning. They were hyenas! 😮 They had arrived there by following the wafting aroma of freshly roasted meat. The children went to sleep and we continued chatting till the pieces of coal left into smoking embers. We soon wrapped up for the next day’s journey.

Next morning we had a lavish breakfast of NWR and started our journey towards Brandberg. The White Lady was waiting for us since long years. 🙂

Brandberg

We drove about 110km from Khorixas towards South-West to reach Brandburg. It is a 30km long and 22km wide mountain range in North Namibia. It is famous for its stock of numerous rock paintings. There are around 50,000 rock paintings all over the mountain. The Bushmen used to inhibit in Brandburg nearly 5000 years back. They created these paintings to depict the activities of hunters and wild animals. Dr. Reinhard Maack, a German explorer discovered these paintings in 1917.

We arrived at the Daureb Mountain reception office and availed us a guide. She was very knowledgeable and friendly. She accompanied us through the rough trail that went along the bank of Tsisab Gorge. After walking, hopping, and jumping over the boulders for about 5km, we arrived at the well-known White Lady painting. It is created in Maack shelter, which is named after the discoverer of the painting.

white-lady-namibia

The painting is done on the inclined surface of overhanging rock. It is a painting of a woman surrounded by a few men, all of them walking leftwards. The woman is painted in white and hence the painting is referred as White Lady. Remaining all figures around her are painted reddish-brown. Some experts say that it is a painting of Shaman dressed like a woman, and the others say it is a woman because in rare some cases, women also followed Shamanism.

The Bushmen powdered various stones to make their painting colors. They used Hematite to acquire red pigment, Coal or Manganese for black, Calcium Carbonate for white, and local ochre for yellow color. They used ash of burnt wood for grey pigment. They mixed urine of Rock Dizzy and eggs to prepare the semi-liquid paint. We were amazed to know how the age-old Bushmen were introduced to higher order needs such as interest in art and meditation.

We boarded our vehicles for return journey to Windhoek. It was pitch dark outside and the stars looked brighter than usual. It was breezing. The vehicles picked up speed and in a couple of hours, we saw city lights of Windhoek sparkling on the horizon. We were contentedly travelling back from an ancient world to the modern world in Namibia. 🙂

A Lesson of Love with Lovebirds

What is the best lesson love has taught you? This is a debatable question as different answers would come from different people. My son, Nishant took his first lesson of love when he was merely seven years old. Well, I know I have made an adventurous statement, but it’s true. 🙂

It was the time when Arun was posted as Commanding Officer (CO) in the field location of North-East India. I and Nishant were staying back at Pune. After Nishant finished his final exams, we both joined Arun at the field location.

The CO hut was located on a plateau. There was a large rectangular yard in front of it covered with lush green ornamental grass. On the farther two sides, tall trees with wide canopy stood to mark the end of plateau. A large number of birds visited those trees during early morning and afternoons to receive the warmth of direct sunlight. During our stay there, we also patronized a pair of Snow White pigeons. We did not cage them. They daily made rounds of flight over the CO hut and visited the yard to pick corn flakes or popcorn that Nishant used to spread on the grass.

It was just then my little son started taking keen interest in birds. He often tip-toed to go near a perching bird and get upset if it flew away on his appearance. He drew numerous paintings of birds – eagles, lovebirds, kingfishers, sparrows, hens, ducks, pigeons, and last but not the least, angry birds. 😀

Birds DrawingsWhen Nishant’s sixth birthday was around the corner, we asked him what he would like to have on his special day.  He said that he would like to keep some birds as he loved them and always wanted to be near them. I was against captivating any birds; I still am. I like to see birds while they are flying, preaching on the place of their choice, and being free.

After a number of Nishant’s repeated requests and our failures to convince him on how he can have birds around without caging them, we submitted to his insistence and bought him two pairs of lovebirds on his birthday. So happy he was to receive that gift! Barring their caged appearance, they were indeed a treat for eyes. So stunning colors! 🙂 Nishant chose equally meaningful names for them. There was a completely white albino female. He called her Snow White. The other female was white too, with a deep blue hint. He named her as Blue Bell. Out of the two male lovebirds, he named the lemon-green colored one as Green Coat and the other male as Acqua Neck because it had very pretty aquatic-blue color near its neck.

Nishant had tuned all his daily activities with his four little pets. He would take all his meals sitting next to the cage. Before going to bed he would ensure to place the cage next to the bed. He prepared little toy ladder for them using wooden beads, string, and sticks. At night the lovebirds used to sleep by closing their mustard-like eyes. Sometimes they kept their eyes half-open and looked as if they were into a trance. 🙂 Early morning we used to refill their food and water dishes, and place the cage out in the mild Sun. We fed them cuttlefish bones as calcium supplement. They had weakness for coriander twigs and alfalfa. They chirped more during mornings and evenings. Overall, they were keeping good with us.

The existing cage was small, hence we prepared a large cage so that our pet lovebirds can spread their wings to take some brief flights. We tied two small clay pots at the corners of the cage and covered them with lids. When we transferred all the lovebirds in to the large cage, their body language and chirping showed that they were happier than before. 🙂

The days went on and Nishant’s vacation was soon over. We packed our bags and returned to Pune. The birds also accompanied us. We placed the cage in the backyard of the SFA. Because of their chirping, they became famous around. Nishant’s little friends visited our backyard often and it shortly turned into an everyday happening place. We were observing all little lovebirds and trying to understand them. Acqua Neck, the male, seemed very aggressive. He looked like an irritated and unhappy soul. Snow White was quiet. Almost every visitor asked Nishant if she was ill.

Lovebird

I must admit, for the small body and limited features, Green Coat showed a far better consciousness and expressions than all other birds in the cage. He was friendly and he always displayed playfulness. Whenever I or Nishant took millet in pinch and went near the cage, he used to approach us fearlessly and take his favorite food directly from our hands. He never bit. Till the time we took another pinch of millet from the food packet, he used to sit near the mesh and wait with a tilted neck. After 3 to 4 pinches of millet intake, he used to go away by sliding on the bar sideways step by step. We knew, that was his way of showing, “I am done.” Green Coat chirped and squeaked more when Nishant played nearby the cage. Blue Bell was like a matured, sensible young woman. She used to chomp coriander stems till her turn to take food from us came.

We could understand a bonding being taken place between Green Coat and Blue Bell. For few days, we saw Blue Bell going into and out of their pot frequently. Then we found her spending most of the time sitting inside the pot. Like a caring and loving partner, Green Coat fed her coriander twigs and cuttlefish pieces from outside the pot. Their family count was about to increase. Nishant noticed and narrated every small detail about the couple’s affection for each other. 🙂

One fine morning, we opened the top lid of the pot to see four small nestlings. They were without feathers and looked little ugly. Naturally, Blue Bell‘s appetite increased and she remained busy in bringing up her pot-dwelling babies. A few days later, we found four little tiny-tailed lovebirds sitting at the bottom of the cage. They were a beautiful blend of blue and green colors 🙂 I used to think if the new birds would ever learn to fly…And what if Acqua Neck does not behave well with the babies?…But he behaved like a good boy for more than a couple of the following days and we thought everything is going on fine.

To stir the situation, Acqua Neck started harassing Green Coat. He would just bite Green Coat on the neck and stomach. Poor Green Coat would try his best but eventually would fail to retaliate. One rainy night we found Acqua Neck being furious towards Green Coat a bit too much and we decided to keep the two males separate as soon as possible. We took out the old small cage from the loft. I required a helping hand to catch and transfer Acqua Neck in to that small cage. Hence we waited for that night to pass.

The next morning we got up early as usual and opened backyard door. It rained all night and it still was drizzling. We went out to see how the lovebirds are doing. And we could not take the sight! Green Coat was no more!! 😥 He was lying on back with legs in the air and his beak open. His chest was torn and bleeding. His lovely lemon-green feathers were shattered on the cage floor…He must have fought for his life…The culprit Acqua Neck  was sitting quietly in a corner as if he had nothing to do with the matter! We blamed ourselves to have believed in his deceiving quietness… 😦

Nishant was heart-broken to see his favorite pet still…He went to bedroom, slipped his head under a pillow, and started sobbing. Simply inconsolable…He denied taking breakfast or going to his friend’s place. We both were sad. I was also feeling low for being unable to separate Acqua-Neck immediately. The rain had masked the noise of their fight…The day had broken morose but the life had to move on…

There was only one option for me to see Nishant smiling that day: to take him to his most favorite person, Small Aaji. (Nishant calls his maternal granny as Small Aaji and grandpa as Small Aaba. He listens to and follows everything his Small Aaji tells him.) On reaching their place Nishant ran into her arms sobbing and told that his favorite Green Coat lost his life. She wiped his tears and gave him water to drink.

Small Aaba said, “Don’t worry, Nishu. See, your birthday is approaching soon. We will bring you a new green bird, just same as that one.” His tempting offer did not seem to work. :-/

Small Aaji said, “It was a small bird, maybe it was ill?…”

Nishant screamed out of frustration and sorrow, “No, Green Coat was healthy. He died because Acqua Neck tortured him. Acqua Neck is bad…”

Small Aaji said, “There you are, my baby! Your little friend was healthy then he could have escaped from his rival if he wan not confined to the cage…” Nishant understood the gravity. He turned very sad and started crying more helplessly.

She held him close and let him cry for a while. After the burst of his cries gradually subsided, she pacified him saying, “I know, you love birds very much and you like them near you. You can always feed them grains and bits of food so that they come near you. We all can go for bird-watching at nearby places. But you see, birds are happy when they are free. You should not confine the ones you love…”

Then she reminded him of the uncaged pair of pigeons that used to visit his yard the previous year. Nishant listened to her carefully. After their long talk, he started feeling better. He understood he would have liked Green Coat being alive more than being with him and dead. He realized it will not be the same Green Coat, even if his grandfather brings a same-looking lovebird.

That evening we returned to the SFA. Just after we performed our usual evening prayers, Nishant told me that he wants to release all his pet birds. I was not surprised to hear what he said. Just a couple of days later, it was his seventh birthday. On his birthday, he opened the cage and released all his pet lovebirds free.

Birds Photos

Nishant used to follow the sound of birds when he was merely nine months old. Today, he clicks beautiful pictures of birds and does not miss any opportunity to feed them. He continued to love them with a perspective that was changed for better. He learnt the most important lesson of love:

“Do not confine your love. Be courageous to set it free…

If it is meant for you, it will be with you.”  🙂

A Marathi Poem for a Friend

ऐक सये…

 

कुठे गेलीस सये तू
काहीच न सांगता
एकदम दूरच झालीस
काही समजून न घेता…

बालपणात असता कितीतरी गमती
तुझ्याविना रहायच्या अपूर्ण
छोट्या छोट्या साऱ्या कहाण्या
तुला सांगूनच सुफळ संपूर्ण …

एकच वर्ग एकच बाक
पण आपले स्वभाव अगदी भिन्न
तू होतीस फटाकडी
अन मी एकदम शांत…

नसलीस तू शेजारी तर
अजिबात नाही करमायचे
‘मैत्रिणीला पत्र’ लिहीताना
तुझेच नाव मायन्यात असायचे…

शाळेमध्ये मधल्या सुट्टीत
झाडाखाली खेळत असू
आजूबाजूला असला कोलाहल जरी
आपल्याच जगात रमत असू…

रंगीबेरंगी फुलपाखरे पाहताना
तू फोडणीची पोळी सरकावायाचीस
माझी मेथी मटकी उसळ
हक्काने अन आवडीने घ्यायचीस…

मला चित्रकलेत बऱ्यापैकी गती
तर तुला ते बिलकुल जमायचे नाही
तरी तुझ्या वहीतील आकृत्या नीटस कश्या
बाईंना कोडे उमगायचे नाही…

माझ्या अंगी व्यवस्थितपणा
तुझी मात्र सदाचीच घाई
धांदरटपणे काम करायचीस अन्
निस्तरतानां आपली पुरेवाट होई…

कुणी दुसरी माझ्याशी भांडली
की तिला पळता भुई थोडी करायचीस
अन मीच कधी रागवाले तुझ्यावर
तर कावरी बावरी व्हायचीस…

Friend

संध्याकाळच्या उतरत्या उन्हातील
अनंत गोष्टी अन लोभस गाणी
तुझ्याशी वाटून घ्यायच्या आहेत
श्रावण वयातील अनेक आठवणी…

ऐक सये मी शोधते आहे
बालपणातील हरवलेल्या खुणा
एकदातरी भेट ना गं
जशी होतीस तशी पुन्हा…

आलीस ना, मी तुला सांगते,
हातामध्ये हात गुंफू
केसांतील रुपेरी छटा विसरून
बालपणात जरा भटकून येऊ…

(I am sharing this poem which I had extemporaneously composed for my childhood friend. I apologize to all my readers who cannot read or understand Marathi.)