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In search of Giants

“ Are those elephants ?”

“ No…just a mirage.” Followed by a chuckle. That was our guide, Lenny.

“ What about those ?”

“ Bushes.” Now it was the rest of us who chuckled.




“ Boss…those ‘bushes’ are kicking up dust !”

We had just entered Amboseli. The sun was high above us, it was hot, we had just entered the dry lake bed and I was filled with quiet anticipation.

Its a sight to see elephants, doggedly walking across parched land to where food and water await

The most typical image of Amboseli would be that of a herd of elephants, walking patiently in a disciplined manner, in a single file, on a dry lake bed with nothing else fighting for attention and a sky full of anxious clouds billowing up in consternation at some imagined threat.

And, here we were, with an opportunity to capture such an image just as we enter the place ! How lucky can we be !!

Half an hour later, I picked myself ruefully brushing off all the dust.

I had not got a single half decent image. A combination of excitement, nervousness and impatience had clouded my thinking and I screwed up in rather spectacularly.

Amboseli National Park is a rather small park – just about 392 square kilometers. On a clear, sunny day, you can see the imposing Mount Kilimanjaro peep from above the clouds, benevolently looking down at the expanse of land. But, apart, from the majesty of that sight, the Kili also plays a rather prominent role in making Amboseli what it is.

The melting water from the Kili’s glaciers sinks underground and later rises through the porous soils in Amboseli. As a result, despite fairly low rainfalls, there are enough swampy marsh lands around Amboseli.

And it is to these swampy lands that the elephants head each day.

And it is these herds that we search for.

There are other animals here. Zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, lions, cheetahs…all of them exist and you would in all probability see all of them.

However, the elephants are the star attraction at Amboseli.

The very next morning as we were waiting patiently ( is there really any other way to wait in this blessed obsession called photography ? ), we could see dust being kicked up in the distance.

This is a thrill, an excitement that never dies.

Of seeing nature around you the way it was always meant to be. Your breath catches, as you think that this same herd’s great great great grandmothers and grandfathers would have trod these same tracks.

Many a generation have gone on this path before, and hopefully many will continue to

It would start as tiny little dusty clouds, that you might almost miss. Slowly, as they grow in size you know, its your lucky day. You squint your eyes to make sense of those shimmering black shapes in the middle of the swirling dust. Is it a large herd ?

As they come closer, you try to figure out your moves.

Which of the clearly visible, narrow tracks will they take ?

Is a head on shot possible by positioning our vehicle on that track to our left ? Or will they take that track further away to our right?

Sometimes, the elephants are skittish. They are unsure of us standing in their way. They take another track. Or they fan out, their orderly straight lines dissolving as they pause, in thoughtful rumination, lazily throwing dust on themselves all the time.

We let them be. Never good to stress them. Let’s take sideway shots.

On other occasions, they are comfortable. They head our way till we move away. We look for the matriarch. She need not always be leading the caravan but it’s tough to miss her. That imposing figure, with its broad forehead and wise, confident look.

Humans in the way. What do I do ? :)

Oh, look at those tusks ! Don’t they curve in a spectacular fashion ? I wonder if it creates any problems for the elephant !

What. A. Magnificent. Creature.

On especially hot days, the heat waves rising up from the dusty soil make it difficult to focus on the elephants even when they are rather close. I have a lovely frame in front of me that is screaming for attention, but I am simply unable to get a sharp image.

I try a slow shutter speed to try to get a different feel…in any case, I am unable to focus. I zoom in, zoom out, furiously experimenting with compositions, settings.

Its an indescribable face these towering giants as they approach you

I can't help but try these shots !

More experimentation, they seem to be very purposeful

Sometimes, I just keep the camera aside and look at these animals in awe.

These are animals that have roamed these lands for centuries. Wise, intelligent to a level that I think we, humans have not yet fathomed. Stories of their famed intelligence, their memories of pathways that are passed on through generations, idly float through my mind. ( Have you read Lawrence Anthony’s, The Elephant Whisperer ? Please, please do ! )

Is that a calf ? How adorable !

Can I try to frame the calf as it scurries around in between the protective hulks of its mother and other aunts ? Oh look at that slightly older guy ! He just looks like a young boy who is just tired of doing his homework, while it is sunny outside !

I have had enough ! I wanna go home !!!

Ain't he adorable ?

One evening, we were by a waterhole. Amboseli is apparently a corruption of the Maa word ‘Empusel”, which means ‘ salty, dusty place’ and around where we were, it was living upto its name. A cloud of dust will get kicked up if a leaf falls.

We saw zebras make their way to the waterhole. We saw giraffes come and get spooked for some reason. Now, if an elephant comes along…

All of a sudden, we get a call.


He’s nearby.

Craig !!!!!!!!

Let’s go !!!

To be contd. ( PS : I had always wanted to write that :)


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