“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” – Henry David Thoreau

These are the winters of 2020. Cold, dark with endless nights. These silent nights haunt us, ensnared by the blanket of fear. The tired souls are yearning for the rays of hope, for the dawn which will bring cheer to this gloomy year. Alas! every passing moment is covered with disappointment. A whole long year has passed, it is on the brinks of its end and so are our tribulations. The hope never dies after all, “every cloud has a silver lining.”

After a long busy day, with a hot cup of coffee in my hand, as I sat on my favourite cosy wingchair in my bedroom gazing at the night sky through the window. Struggling with the new normal, these were my moments of calm from the monotonous hurly burly, the moments where it is all about me, my introspections and my thoughts. My concentration was disrupted by a sudden notification which popped on my phone. It read, “You have been tagged in a post”, child like curiosity sprung up in me. I opened my IG to see who had tagged me. It was none other than my dearest elder sister – Divya di , who had posted a picture from our last year’s vacation, in the savannah of East Africa.

Memories rushed in my mind – Those were the winters of 2019. Felt like it was just yesterday, waiting for the Christmas holidays. I still remember, it was today that we had flown to Eastern Africa. On Diwali itself me and Divya di’s family had decided to head to Eastern Africa to celebrate Christmas. I think back to how laborious yet buzzing weeks they were, days filled with shopping sprees and nights with planning. On the dinning to the bedrooms all we discussed was the trip. Those were the days of incessant cheer and celebration. Life was atop the horses of joy running in this derby of celebrations.

From Delhi to Nairobi, to the Savannah. It had been an enervating journey and then from there began our expedition. The voyage began on a very debating note, the elders which included our parents and in-laws preferred the charter plane which was a more comfortable ride since they were already fatigued by the long flights. On the contrary, were the wilds hearts which primarily included me, my husband, Divya di and her husband, Rohit bhaiya and our kids, Aditya and Naina. The debate ended with a 2-hour road drive from the airport to the retreat. The convincing part did exhaust us, my daughter and my nephew were the real mediators, their persuasive powers were par excellence. Had it not been the kids our journey might have come to an end before it had even commenced and we might have to return back to India from the very next flight.

The moment we touched the savannah, the feeling of adventure arose in us. We were mentally prepared to experience each and every aesthetic as well as rustic beauty of the savannah. The journey to wildlife oasis was magical, the wilderness was mesmerising. We were experiencing newer horizons, every sight of trip was making us more and more excited to imagine what was in store for us.
The cars halted, we came out and finally, we were standing right in front of our destination, our retreat. It was way more alluring than our imagination, we could smell the wild grass, the majestic Mount Kenya as the backdrop of the Laikipia plateau was ethereal. I have been a wildlife aficionado since childhood, I have been to various wildlife resorts. But this one silenced me from within, the haven of peace, tranquillity and appealing view. I was speechless!

We were extremely wearied, we had been travelling since the wee hours of the morning, we were racing from one flight to another with the constant bickering of Sunita Aunty, my sister’s mother-in-law, a lady who was clumsily energetic, you give her one job and she’ll call ten people to do it. Sunnu aunty a constant itch for all of us and Vir uncle(my sister’s father-in-law), Retired Army officer, the most chivalrous man, the complete opposite of Sunnu Aunty was the balm to soothe that itch.
We all steered towards our accommodations, and we were to spend the rest of our day in the villa and had decided to meet for dinner and begin the coming day with the sunrise game drive. But before we could take a step towards our accommodation, came Sunnu aunty’s voice, “Oh my lord! What the hell Harsh? Where have you brought me? You said it was going to be fun and adventurous, It’s so scary!” My husband Harshvardhan was going to answer her but Vir uncle came to his rescue. And after all her queries were resolved we headed towards our villas.
I was pretty sure of one thing, I could not stand Sunnu aunty because her presence, her inquisitiveness, her sarcasm and her accent could make even the heaven look like hell.

The next morning our day began quite early, equipped in our safari attire, we all started out for the game drive. The sunrise looked lovely, we all were busy clicking the magical moment. We were introduced to our guide Mr. Okeyo, a middle aged gentleman who knew savannah like the back of his hand. There was a lot of hustle and bustle in the jeep. My father, Harshvardhan, Rohit bhaiyya and my father-in-law were constantly talking about the various varieties of animals. I was elated to see these men talking of something apart from their work life. Vir uncle was the photography mentor to my nephew Ad and daughter Nan. The only people that were really listening to Mr. Okeyo were me, my mother and Divya di. Sunnu Aunty was the loudspeaker with so many questions that if Mr. Okeyo had the opportunity to leave someone right in the middle of the wilderness, I could bet that no one could have won against Sunnu aunty.

Suddenly behind the scattered trees, we saw a group of elephants, they were gigantic. We had to slow the entourage. Everybody silenced, the only noise was of the camera shutters capturing the humongous creatures. And suddenly the pin drop silence was broken by the astonishing voice of Sunnu aunty, in her over excited Punjabi accent she said, “Aa kee hai? Inne vade vade kaan? (What is this? Such big big ears).” The lady had this bad habit of speaking when everybody is expected to be silent. With all eyes on her, for the first time I saw her keeping quiet. As our entourage penetrated deep into the savannah, we saw various species of wild animals, so gracefully moving around, with their own panache. They were the definition of serenity. How much I had enjoyed the whole day ensnared by the peace, wilderness and not to forget the usual teasing of the kids, the stress free look on the men’s face, a quenched thirst of knowledge on Divya di’s face and of course the happy smile on mom’s face with the overexcited presence of Sunnu aunty.

The next day the game drive was accompanied with a sumptuous breakfast, that we had in the middle of the grasslands. The route was the same but this time into a more deeper and denser forest. Mr. Okeyo was enlightening us to be more catious. Mr. Okeyo and our family had become more like friends. Harsh was acting as the assistant to Mr. Okeyo. I often teased him that had he not been an Investment banker, he would have easily got a job as a game drive guide. Me, my father and father-in-law totally agreed to this and we had such a hearty laugh over this always. The weather was lovely, although the nights were a little cold. But today I could sense it was something different, the weather was cloudy, the wind had a lot of moisture, it felt as if it would rain in the night but we were sure of coming back into our lodge by the evening around 5pm because we had planned a Christmas moonlight dinner with the whole family. Rahul bhaiyya had an urgent meeting pertaining to his busy profession as a corporate lawyer, along with him My father, mother and father-in-law too stayed back after the 1st day’s hectic game drive.

At around 4:30, after roaming in the grasslands, Harsh suggested a bush walk because that was more like a tradition, whenever we went to any wildlife scantuary it was a must to have a bush walk. Mr. Okeyo gave in to our constant requests. Vir Uncle and kids were super exhilarated. We all jumped out of the jeep. It felt so good to walk on to the muddy tracks which were impressioned with the marks of the jeep’s tyres, we were all a little scared but our audacious heart had no avail. Our peregrinate was a complete contrast to our sophisticated and urbane life. Mr.Okeyo was in front of us apprising us about the various flora and fauna of the Laikipia plateau and his assistant was behind us, keeping a close watch.
Suddenly we came across a Patas monkey. An endangered specie of Kenya. I was expecting Sunnu aunty to say something but she was unusually quiet. I asked her what was the matter, she replied that she was tired and we must stop for a little while. Although Mr. Okeyo wanted us to return back at least from this dense part because it was getting late. We heeded the advice of Mr. Okeyo, we all started heading back but with every step, the wind was getting colder, the evening darker and the drizzling began. We thought when the drizzling would stop, we would head back to our jeep, which was in the outer forest. Mr.Okeyo called the base camp and asked to bring our safari jeep to our location.
We had no option but to stop under a dense tree. Vir uncle and Harsh were extremely tensed as they could sense some untoward situation. Me and Divya di were taking care of the panting and shivering Sunnu aunty. The kids were wiped off their excitement. A severe thunderstorm had struck, Mr. Okeyo was constantly calling the base camp, the winds were turbulent, the night had set in, it was getting so dark that we could barely see. We made Sunnu aunty sit on a nearby rock under the tree. The sound of rain was increasing with every passing second. We were getting wet and cold. Every moment we were loosing our patience. Mobile network was dead. It was such an uncertain situation, it was unimaginable. Suddenly we heard some sound of movement in the bushes. Since it was dark the visibility was very low, everybody was holding each other’s hands and we nine people came close together. Harsh, Vir Uncle, Mr. Okeyo, his assistant and Ad, my nephew encircled us females. Mr.Okeyo knew it was the time of the jungle dwellers to come out. He and his assistant were preparing their rifles. In a moment of jiffy, a dozen sparkling eyes peeped from the bushes. That was the moment where we knew that it was all in God’s hand. We had nothing to protect us, no help, an ailing lady, wet clothes and panicked brains. Mr. Okeyo warned us of their ferociousness. It was a situation of utter helplessness. All we could do was to pray to God, stand united and wait for the help to arrive in time. Every eye had tear and fear in them. With every passing moment the sparkling eyes were getting bigger, they were coming close to us. A loud howling started, we got to know they were the stripped hyenas. We feared our return. It felt as if something ghastly would happen. We were getting deaf with that howling. The fear made us tremble and sulk. We were praying. Suddenly the rain stopped, and we heard the sound of engines. We were grateful for the timely help. The Hyenas began to disappear, I felt relieved. We saw the safari jeeps equipped with rangers to rescue us. By the grace of God, we came back. We had happy tears. It was the longest day I had ever seen in my life. We lived a thousand lives in those struggling moments. Something very dangerous touched and went. Harsh was regretful for persuading Mr.Okeyo for the bush walk. Sunnu aunty couldn’t stop crying. We sat into the jeeps and came back to the lodge. And the next morning we took the first flight back to delhi. An experience that can bring goosebumps to me even after a year or so.

Everyone of us who witnessed those moments of fright, evolved. Harsh now thinks twice before deciding anything and Sunnu aunty has become quite and more spiritual. Me and Divya di’s audaciousness has toned down, the kids became more responsible. That night I experienced that faith and hope can move mountains. God takes tests but he does not let his children break. Before the worst comes, he rescues them. All we need to have is patience. Don’t loose hope. Today when I am surrounded by my loved ones, I just have one feeling everything that happens is for the good. Our faith determines our future and not our circumstances. These words are not mere philosophy, they are my experiences. However strong the storm is but a baby cuddled in the arms of the mother is safe. Similar is the case with this devastating pandemic, have faith, have patience, God is standing besides us, holding us in his hands, he will rescue us but by then hold your hope, hold your faith, remember you are in the safest hands of the Almighty. In the words of Michelle Murray, “God is never late, but on time.”

P.s my longest post till date on wordpress. I hope you all enjoy this piece of writing.

Stay safe and stay healthy ⚘😊