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Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Mbalageti camp:-best kept secret of Tanzania safaris and tours

The play of light shifting with the sun casts ethereal spells on the moods of the Serengeti.

In your wildest dream lies a camp in the midst of secret Serengeti, where the skies open and the plain stretches as far as the eye can see. It’s the place where your soul travels in the space that is Serengeti and there is everything in Mbalageti to spoil you.

The landscape from Ngorongoro to Serengeti is stunning! A late morning mist covers the yawn of Ngorongoro, such that you can’t believe the world largest unbroken caldera lies below. The old trees on the rim of the crater support beards of moss and lichen, drawing life from the poor air. The memorial slabs of Dr Bernhard Grizmek and his son, Michael, who pioneered the study of Serengeti, stands by the crater’s viewpoint.

But it’s the play of light shifting that casts the ethereal spells on the moods of Serengeti. Golden grass plains stretch unlimited, ancient craters stand silent, the Masaai bring there cattle to the water for their morning drink. The red robed pastoralists call the land of endless plains Siringet. Alone giraffe stands by the side of the dust road, browsing on the thorn tree and in the secret of the sand, remains of ancient life are still being unearthed at Olduvai Gorge. One of the many archeological sites of the earliest man. The distraction of the plains and craters makes up for the road that rattles every part of the body. We’ve dubbed it “Maasai message”.

The stone kopjes of Serengeti sit in the midst of the plains. The massive borders are the lion dens but we are out of luck. The cats of Serengeti are not making an appearance today. Somewhere in the midst of Serengeti we have to find our abode for the night and all we know is that it is a tented camp in the Western corridor that is Mbalageti. With no signs indicating Mbalageti, it is easy to get lost in park measuring 14,763square kilometers. Only after we have crossed Serengeti do we see the sign that reads Mbalageti. It’s at Mbalageti itself, close to the day’s end.

“Mbalageti is actually a word from the old Maa language. It means wildebeest. But the word is no longer in use”, says Sofia, the charming manager at the stunning little affair perched on a plateau over looking the Dutwa plains of the Serengeti. Today Mbalageti refers to the seasonal river that flows from the Ndaabi Hill area near the eastern gate and into the Lake Victoria. It’s a major artery of the vast plains pulsing through the Serengeti.

There is nothing to reveal the tented lodge at the entrance. It’s only when we step into the open foyer that we catch the glimpse of the tented affair.” I don’t like the word luxury.” Hedenus continues her spiel about Mbalageti.”We want everybody who comes here to feel like they are visiting us-like you visit friends.”

“The deco is modern and light, not the heavy deco of 1970’s”, she says. ”We have used colors like the blue of the Mediterranean and natural wood and stones from the surroundings. The detail is an expression of fun with nature. There has been a lot of love and thought in every room we have done. And we involved everybody who came to stay with us while the work was going on to give us ideas and feel part of Mbalageti.”

Mbalageti is eco-eccentric and delightful. What would look macabre anywhere else becomes a functional art piece here, a chandelier of wildebeest bones strung together. West African masks and furniture replace the ordinary with exotic. Two home–made chandeliers of empty Heineken bottles light the inner bar. Outside, the verandah houses the adjoining bar, pool and dinning area and that endless stretch of the Savanna. Almost everything is custom-made on site.” Most of the ‘fundis’ [local artisans] who built the lodge still work here so there is always a lot of ideas’ going around.”

With such savvy work force, there are surprises every where. A hidden garden on the ground deck doubles up as the garden of tranquility. A pair of go-away birds flits on the thorn trees and butterflies of so many colors cast a dreamy spell as the masseuse rubs the warm oil to sooth the muscles. In the silence of space it’s easy to connect with the nature.

It’s that time of the year again June. The Western side is filling up with the white bearded gnus, their snorts and comical gait not really the stuff of the superstars, yet they are for now. The wildebeest are beginning to gather for their trek up north to the Kenyan side of Maasai Mara in what is reputed to be one of the greatest wildlife migration on earth.

There is poetry everywhere. The late evening game drive in the light of the setting sun has woken up the bat-eared foxes. Every where you look they are thousands of wildebeest besides the zebras, gazelles, and a huge herd of topis something I haven’t seen even in the Mara. The vultures sit atop the tree waiting to feast on those that drop dead.

Fossils of the wildebeest at the prehistoric site of Olduvai Gorge shows that the Serengeti is its ancestral home. The wildebeest has been around almost a million years on the Serengeti plains. It’s a fascinating journey of survival as the clowns of the plains take the grass route from the Serengeti into the Mara and back again, mowing the grasses down to the roots, and then giving them time to regenerate naturally.

The Mbalageti is almost dry with a pool of water dotting the dry river course lined with a granite rock bed. A suspended bridge helps visitors to cross over when the river swells after the rains. Mbalageti is the only place in the Serengeti where the rare patas monkeys are found. Now a herd of zebra run across the dry river bed to the other side of the Serengeti creating a running pattern of stripes in the long golden grasses.

How to get to Serengeti:
One can either use air safaris from Kilimanjaro airport to the Serengeti or connect by road from airport in a minivan. A minivan ensures you get to see much of Tanzania and the Serengeti plains. Alternatively, you can land in Nairobi Kenya and connect to the Serengeti by air or minivans again and sample both the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti. This offers a wider variety is a few more days than the former. Tour operators both in Kenya will organize your safari without much hassle on your side. Cross border travels are well co-ordinated and there is free movement across Tanzania and Kenya. Check more details here or email author .

Kindly email this article to other lovers of exotic wilderness areas.

About the Author: Robert is a tour consultant in Kenya and has planned business and vacation safaris for over 10,000 tourists in the East African region. He is a tour operation- major and involved in National tourism policy development in Kenya.

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