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Jumbo watering hole

A dried up lake bed in Kenya provides a great opportunity to observe wildlife in their natural habitat

travel Updated: Nov 07, 2010 11:43 IST

The Ark - Tree Lodge is undoubtedly one of Kenya's best-kept secrets. Hidden away from the tourists that throng Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru each year, it is set in the heart of the Aberdare National Park, 160 km north of Nairobi. This unique game lodge overlooks a floodlit waterhole and saltlick that attracts a host of wildlife and lets tourists observe them in their natural environment.

We were booked into The Ark for a night and on our drive to the country lodge, we spotted several zebra, giraffe and deer. As we approached the main lodge, we spotted baboons, buffaloes, deer and even some elephants. However, it was the first sight of the lodge that blew us away. The 40-room, three-floor hotel is an enlarged tree house with viewing galleries on each floor that offer panoramic views of a watering hole.

We checked in and it was only on reaching our rooms that we realised that we didn't have keys. Upon asking, we were told that the hotel did not offer keys to the room and anyone could come and go as they pleased. Leaving all our valuables behind in lockers at the country lodge suddenly made sense.

The room had only the bare basics, but it did have a unique buzzer system. We were informed that if an animal is sighted at night, the one of the staffers rings the buzzer. The number of times the buzzer rings signifies what animal has come to the waterhole. For example, one ring signifies an elephant, two rings signify a rhino, and so on. It is up to the person to rush to the deck and catch the action live. They also the option to switch the buzzer off, but not many take it.

Orientation done, we decided to explore the place. But just as we were about to set off, the first herd of elephants decided to venture out for some saltlick and water. Turns out, elephants need salts and other minerals that they do not find in their regular diet of shrubs, grass and fruits and a saltlick is usually a dried up lakebed that contains all these nutrients. Elephants come to these beds every morning and evening in huge herds and spend time at the watering hole.

We saw several mothers with calves, bull elephants that got into fights and also observed the intimate relationships that the elephants shared within the herd. But the astonishing bit was looking at the way the elephants scrape the ground for its nutrients. They even got possessive of their portion of the land, shooing away buffaloes, boars and other elephants that dared to come close.

In the evening we even managed to catch a glimpse of hyenas that made a dash for the water, before they decided that the waterhole was too crowded and left. The elephants stayed on till the morning. While we kept watch through the night, we couldn't catch any more animals. Yet, we left the next morning in a pleasant mood. After all, not many people get to live in a tree house and that too in luxury.

The Ark is set in the heart of the Aberdare National Park, It has a veranda that overlooks a floodlit waterhole and saltlick allowing undisturbed views of wildlife. The Ark Tree Lodge is 16km (10 miles) from the Mweiga airfield or one hour's drive from Nyeri airstrip or two hours from Nanyuki. Contact your travel agent for details.

First Published: Nov 07, 2010 11:43 IST