Above: Mzima Springs Tsavo West March 2022. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Published: The East African Nation magazine 19-25 March 2022

“We are Sikhs,” I stated.

This was in response to Taznim Mamuji of Finch Hattons, the uber-luxe camp under canvas lit with chandeliers in every suite. The camp accepts a minimum of two night stay. We only had a night. My aunt was visiting after 50 years with her husband – his first time to sub-Saharan Africa. They had to spend a night at Makindu Sikh Temple, which every East African Sikh holds dear because it’s part of our history.

Taz catapulted and in we drove for a night in Tsavo West with which Sikhs also have a close affinity. The sprawling wilderness of big game in 1898 saw many turbaned men terrorised by the ‘man-eaters of Tsavo’ while constructing the Uganda Railway between 1896 to 1901, a linear line between the coastal city Mombasa and Kisumu on Victoria’s lakeshore.

The two enormous maneless lions – both pretty toothless and ageing –found easy prey of the men constructing the railway that would open East Africa to the world. Among the first casualties was, ‘a fine, powerful Sikh named Ungan Singh — seized during the night and carried off by a huge lion’ writes Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson, the engineer assigned to construct a railway bridge over the Tsavo River in his epic book, ‘The Man-Eaters of Tsavo’.

The freshwater Mzima Spirings in Tsavo West National Park. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Present-day Tsavo

In the mid-morning heat, every sensible animal stayed hidden in the shade while a first-time visitor to the national park arrives full of anticipation expecting to see lions and leopards, and elephants trumpeting their way across the red soils of Tsavo.

With little time, we drove on sandwiched between the snow-lined dome of Kilimanjaro and the young 500-year old Chyulu Hills – both massifs, a volcanic outburst. The volcanic hills percolate all the rainwater which surfaces crystal clear at Mzima Springs. The fish and the hippos amazed the guest, and impressed that the fresh water is piped to Mombasa 250 kilometres away.

By now, lunch hour beckoned and the sun intense. Only the Maasai giraffes and Burchell’s zebra braved the heat for a drink at the water holes. I did a silent prayer for the elephants to appear but the great plains of Tsavo remained ‘empty’. The guest looked around bewildered at the ‘emptiness’.

Forty kilometres on Tsavo West’s western side, the grass vanishes under a stream of lava flow from some five centuries ago. The guest is impressed. It’s the Shetani flow from the Chyulus.

With the wheels churning on the volcanic pebbles, we’re finally there – at Finch Hattons.

In a word, it’s enchanting…the way that camps were laid out for visiting game hunters in the olden days, who spared no expense on fine living. 

Masai giraffes with theporous Chyulu hills.Tsavo West March 2022. Copyright Rupi Mangat

On to the Game

Truly, two nights would have done. I’m staring at the chandelier above me lying on my bed with the spring pool beyond the screen. Behind is the shower under the skies…and a fully stocked bar – and the tin bath tub that was carried around for the early tourists…there were no permanent camps or lodges until the 1950s.

With supreme effort, we make for the late afternoon game drive. Our visitor has been told that wild animals prefer to come out during the cooler hours of the day. I say a silent prayer that something appears.

Glamping at Finch Hattons Tsavo West. Copyright Rupi Mangat

The plains game do – Maasai giraffes so handsome staring down their necks at us…zebras, waterbuck, warthogs, a few wildebeest…the sun continues to lower itself into the horizon.

Mercifully, the elephants appear – grey as the earth and in different sizes. Our man clicks away happily.

Literature has it that Denys Finch Hatton famously known as Karen Blixen’s lover of the ‘Out of Africa’ fame turned conservationist after years of hunting. He made photographic safaris fashionable instead of gun-trotting hunting safaris.

Settling down for sun-downers, our Maasai guide with his red shuka drapped over a shoulder, welcomes the wageni to the Maasai Olympics of shooting arrows aiming for the bulls-eye with a rungu. Instead of hunting for lions to prove their prowess, the morans are now in competitive sports that draw from their ancestors.

The night passes with a glimpse of the night animals – the civet and the white-tailed mongoose; the hippos and bushbabies and the crocodile in the spring pool at Finch Hattons,

Leopard on side of the road near Finch Hattons in Tsavo West in March 2022. Copyright Rupi Mangat

The 24-hour Kenya Wildlife Service pass is soon to expire.

Dashing out after a sumptuous breakfast, legs dangle above. The female leopard lounges on her tree by the roadside. She’s one of the hundred found in the Tsavo enclave which borders Tanzania’s Mkomazi National Park.

Now, our man from abroad is truly awed by Africa’s splendour. 

Fact File

Log on to Finch Hattons website – there’s so much to do there.

A nice road from Nairobi is via Kajiado to the new road connecting to the Emali road and into Chyulu gate.