Photos from Masai Mara, Kenya

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Masai Mara National Reserve is Kenya’s finest wildlife reserve. Everything about this reserve is outstanding. The wildlife is abundant and the gentle rolling grasslands ensure that animals are never out of sight. Birds, too, are prolific. Including migrants, well over 450 species have been recorded, among them, 57 species of birds of prey. The climate is gentle, rarely too hot and well-spread rainfall year round. Rain, when it falls almost always chooses the late afternoon or night. Between July and October, when the great wildebeest migration is in the Masai Mara National Reserve, the sensation is unparalleled. Masai Mara is one of the best plains’ game reserve where you can actually encounter a live Discovery Channel, a haven for viewing a congregation of all sorts of animals in a five-mile radius: A pride of lions can be spotted ready to make a run for a gazelle (actually, the last time we visited the Masai Mara we saw a lioness take down a giraffe), a cheetah and its cub taking a nap on a rock, a pair of ostriches walking the open stretches of the savannah or a gazelle giving birth (we saw this too).

The Masai Mara National Reserve lies about 270 kilometers from Nairobi, and takes about 4 to 5 hours by road. There are scheduled flights, twice daily from Wilson Airport Nairobi, which take about 40 – 45 minutes. The reserve is about 1510 square kilometers having been reduced from 1672 square kilometers in 1984. However, the wildlife is far from being confined within the reserve boundaries, and an even larger area, generally referred to as the “dispersal area” extends north and east of the Masai Mara National Reserve. Maasai communities live within the dispersal area with their stock but a century of close association with the wildlife has resulted in an almost symbiotic relationship where wildlife and people live in peace with one another. The first sight of this natural wonderland is breathtaking. Here the great herds of shuffling elephants browse among the rich tree-studded grasslands with an occasional sighting of a solitary and ill-tempered rhino.

Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, Topi and Eland and many more species of plains’ game offer a rich choice of food for the dominant predators; lion, leopard and cheetah which hunt in this pristine wilderness. In the Mara River, hippo submerges at the approach of a vehicle only to surface seconds later to snort and grumble their displeasure. Seemingly, the drowsy crocodile sunbathe on the riverbanks, mouth agape, waiting with subtle cunning for prey at which to strike with lightning swiftness. But this richness of fauna, this profusion of winged beauty and the untouched fragility of the landscape, are all subordinate to the Mara’s foremost attraction, the march of the wildebeest.

Each year, far south in the great vastness of the Serengeti, the wildebeest raise their dignified but quaint heads, sniff the air and, as if by one accord, start the long trek to the Kenya border and the Masai Mara. After exhausting the grazing in Tanzania’s northern Serengeti, a large number of wildebeest and zebra enter the Masai Mara National Reserve around the end of June drawn by the sweet grass raised by the long rains of April and May. It is estimated that more than half a million wildebeest enter the Masai Mara National Reserve and are joined by another 100,000 from the Loita Hills east of the Masai Mara. Driving in the midst of these great herds is an unimaginable experience. Whilst the eyes feast on the spectacle, the air carries the smells, the dust and the sounds of hundreds of thousands of animals. There is nowhere else on earth to compare with this wildlife marvel. But the trek is costly. The herds’ draw ravening packs of predators, especially hyenas and lions, and thousands of the lame, laggard and sick never complete the cycle. More die, by drowning or by the teeth of the cunning crocodile, while trying to cross the swirling muddy waters of the Mara and Talek rivers. Once the Masai Mara National Reserve’s grass has been devoured and when fresh rain in Tanzania has brought forth a new flush there, the herds turn south, heading hundreds of kilometers back to Serengeti and the Ngorongoro plains. There the young are dropped in time to grow sufficiently strong to undertake the long march north six months later.

Although July, August and September are the months when the Masai Mara plains are filled with migrating wildebeest and zebra, there is much resident wildlife year round. Apart from the better-known species there are numerous opportunities to add some of the rare and less frequently seen animals to the visitor’s checklist. In the southwestern sector, you may be lucky enough to see roan antelope, a handsome creature regrettably rare countrywide. Bat-eared foxes peer from their burrows and there are thousands of topi, an antelope not found in other major parks save Tsavo National Park. The combination of a gentle climate, scenic splendor and untold numbers of wildlife makes the Masai Mara Kenya’s most popular inland destination park.

A well worth it and recommended activity in the Masai Mara National Reserve is the balloon safari. Early in the morning, you will be woken and driven to the departure site. Once in the air, the view of the surrounding landscape, the rising of the sun between the mountains and the congregation of the animals at the river is beautiful. This all concludes with a champagne breakfast and memories of a lifetime.

Contemporary Bengali Wedding

Weddings have come out of the old fashioned customs of the past to include more contemporary elements. A Wedding is a very important affair for a family. Moreover Indian families give a lot of importance for many wedding ceremonies. Indian weddings are very popular for their lavish and colorful ceremonies which add to the glamour of the ceremony. Most of the Hindu religions regard the marriage as tradition than a legal affair. The marriages in India are the appropriate mixture of celebration, tradition ad sentiments. The reason being, it is merging of two different families and souls at the same time. In spite of diverse religions and different kind of rituals and traditions, the common aspects among the weddings are commitment, sentiments, mixed emotions & gatherings.

The Indian weddings have modernized to a large extent according to the generation. But they still remain a grand family affair. The Bengali weddings also have changed accordingly as per the generations. The Bengali bride and Bengali groom are treated very royally like prince or princess. The couple is showered with gifts and presents throughout the wedding during various ceremonies. Earlier, the groom would arrive at bride’s place or the place where the wedding takes place, mounted on a horse. Nowadays most of them come in decorated cars. The Bengali bride on the other hand is dressed in traditional attire, with heavy embroidery and authentic traditional jewellery. The jewellery is given to her by her family.

The mantap is decorated with pretty things. More of red color is used as it is considered to be auspicious. Brides’ generally hire a henna artist to apply mehendi on their hands. It is generally done two to three days before the wedding.

Bengalis are known for their rich culture and they boast of interesting rituals for their marriages. Every Hindu wedding is made very special. Similarly Bengali wedding have their own unique customs during and after the ceremony. Whether it is a simple or a lavish Bengali wedding, one can witness the rituals followed appropriately and strictly. The Bengalis make sure that most of the rituals are covered in the contemporary weddings also.

A Bengali marriage can be divided in three phases basically. They have pre wedding rituals, wedding rituals and post wedding rituals. During pre wedding rituals the pandit starts certain pooja, couple of days before the wedding. This takes place in both bride and grooms place. During these days, both the families exchange gifts for Bengali bride and Bengali groom. They also exchange assortments like sweets, fish and sarees etc. This is then followed by the haldi function where the bride is adorned with turmeric paste. It is believed that this ritual brigs glow to the bride’s skin.

The families get together around the mantap. The couple then ties knots during the recital of vedic mantras. They move in circle for seven times around the sacred fire. They are then seated in their respective seats. The groom puts vermilion in the Bengali brides’ hair parting.

This is then followed by post marriage rituals, where the bride bid adieu to her parents and family and joins her husband family. The next day the bride cooks a traditional meal for all the family members.

PRE-WEDDING RITUALS

AshirbaadOn an auspicious day the elders of the groom’s side go to bless the bride and vice versa, by sprinkling husked rice and trefoil on their heads and giving them gold ornaments. It is a kind of acceptance of the boy and the girl on both sides.

Aai Budo BhaatA bachelorette party for the bride before the D-day thrown by relatives or friends. It signifies their approval as well, and also encourages community feeling.

Holud KotaA ceremony in which five or seven married women of the household grind turmeric with mortar and pestle and anoint the bride with turmeric paste. This brightens up the bride’s complexion and makes her skin glow.

Dodhi Mongol - At dawn on the day of marriage seven married ladies adorn the bride’s hands with the traditional bangles Shakha and Paula – one pair of red and one pair of white bangles, and feed her a meal of curd and rice, the only meal for the day.

MAIN WEDDING RITUALS

Bor Jatri - The members of the groom’s house as well as his friends dress in their best attire and journey to the bride’s house where the wedding takes place.

Bor BoronWhen the bor jatri reaches the bride’s place, usually the mother of the bride along with other members come out to welcome the groom and his family by showing the holy earthen lamp, sprinkling trefoil, and husked rice placed on a bamboo winnow (kula). Then they are served sweets and drinks.

Potto BastraAfter the groom is seated at the chadnatolla (wedding altar and canopy) – the sanctum sanctorum where only the groom, bride and the priest takes their place, the groom is offered new clothes by the person who is to do the sampradaan – a kind of gift to the boy from the girl’s side.

Saat Paak - The bride, usually seated on a low wooden stool called pidi is lifted by her brothers and is taken round the groom in seven complete circles. The significance is they are winded up securely to each other.

Mala BadalAfter the circles are completed, still sitting high on the piri, the bride and the groom exchange garlands of fragrant flowers thrice. This is the first step in which they accept each other.

Subho Dristi - After garlanding one another the bride and the groom are made to look at each other in front of all the assembled invitees. This exchange of loving glance is to initiate them to be together officially by the society.

SampradanThe bride then takes her place at the chadnatolla where an elderly male member of the bride’s family hands her over to the groom and the couple’s hands are bound by the sacred thread amidst recital of Vedic chants and are placed on the mangal ghot - a brass pitcher filled with water that is covered with mango leaves attached to one twig and a green coconut placed on it.

Yagna - The bride and groom sit in front of the sacred fire and chant mantras after the priest. Agni, the fire god is made the divine witness to the marriage.

Saat PaakSeven circular rounds are taken by the couple around the fire thereby solemnizing the occasion.

AnjaliAn offering to the fire is made. The bride’s brother puts puffed rice (khoi) in the hands of the bride, and the groom standing close to her holds her hands from the back and extends their arms forward. They then pour the offering into the fire together.

Sindoor Daan and GhomtaOnce again seated at their respective places in chadnatollathe groom applies sindoor or vermilion (a symbol of marriage worn by Hindu women thereafter) on the bride’s hair-parting. The bride then covers her head with a new sari offered by the groom as ghomta or veil.

POST-WEDDING RITUALS

Bidaay - This is a farewell – mixed moment of joy and sorrow as the bride is bid adieu with blessings of her parents and relatives to start a new life with her beau.

Kaal Ratri - After the couple reaches the groom’s house and the initial welcome ceremony is over they are separated for the night, probably to get a refreshing sleep and prepare for the next day’s final wedding ceremony.

Bou Bhaat & Bodhu BoronThe girl cooks and serves all the members of her husband’s family. A banquet is held to treat the guests who lavish gifts on the new bride.

Phool ShojjaThe couple is adorned with flowers and are left together alone in their room to enjoy conjugal bliss on a bed laid with flowers.