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The Okavango Delta: The river that never reaches the sea

To be in the middle of the delta is immersing one’s soul amidst birdsong, palm trees and water lilies.

An immersive experience within nature-that’s what we city folks always long for. Why else would I choose to take a pre-breakfast walk through a jungle trail teaming with hippos, elephants and lions? When during the walk, mammoth elephants blocked my way, I felt the adrenaline rush through my veins. As my heart pumped faster I knew I was truly alive. Being yet another animal amongst the wild animals in their natural setting is an excitement like no other. Welcome to the Delta.

There is no navigable land route inside the delta. The feeling of being cut off with no television, internet or mobile connection as you land by plane or boat in the middle of nowhere can be quite unsettling. The sense of stillness can also be intimidating. There is nothing to do but discover oneself in this unfamiliar environment.

To be in the middle of the delta is immersing one’s soul amidst birdsong, palm trees and water lilies. It is hard to describe the moment when you sight a herd of elephants emerging beyond the tree line from the water and then turning together in one silent moment to disappear together into the trees again.

The Okavango delta was created by a quirk of nature, being the end of a river that never reaches the ocean. The Okavango river flows out of Angola across a flat basin until it reaches a tectonic trough where it dwindles away into a desert. It is here where there is largest concentration of wildlife in Africa.

We fly into the delta in a chartered small plane from Kasane. It’s a long and noisy ninety minutes. The low level flight over the abundance of wildlife in the scenic delta mesmerizes you. After we land at our camp, the Manager explains all the dos and don’ts of the camp to us and we are shown our tents. Just the thought of sleeping in those small tents with no electricity is exciting.

After lunch, we set out for our first Mokoro ride in the small canals of the delta. The Mokoro is the most ideal way to traverse the shallow floodplains of the delta. It is long, flat – bottomed and narrow and is propelled by a ‘poler’. It has been the main form of transportation in the delta for centuries. The Mokoro takes us to a small island and we set out on foot exploring the various wildlife and vegetation of the delta. It turns out to be a small walk in a humid setting as we have to return before sunset.

There are six other people in the camp apart from four of us. All of us huddle by the campfire with our sundowners sharing stories of our Africa trip. An early dinner is the norm with no electricity and by eight everyone is inside their tents.

I lie in my tent listening to all the night sounds. It is a full moon night and the haunting call of a fishing owl from somewhere in the camp site, the lazy grunting and splashing of the hippos, and the roaring of a lion from a distance – epitomize a typical Okavango night. I don’t know when, but in some time, I fall into deep sleep thinking about nature’s wonders.

The soft chirping of birds in chorus and a tinge of colour in the east signals that our night shift is coming to an end. We leave in our Mokoro for some MORE adventure, bird watching and hoping to catch Africa’s big five. We also hope to see the wattled crane.

As we land on the island, our walking path is blocked by a herd of elephants. It is a heart stopping thrill with angry elephants in front of us and our guides trying to take us ahead avoiding them. After some amazing and thrilling moments with the elephants we move further.

We see various mammals like zebra, giraffe, impala, lechwes, wildebeests etc. from close range. This is my first experience in the wild on foot. Suddenly a pair of wattled cranes fly above us and with the full moon still up there, it’s magical. A jewel like malachite kingfisher guides us back to the camp as it starts to become hot during the day. Before reaching the camp, we managed to tick off our list-slaty egret, coppery-tailed coucal,black-necked barbet among other birds.

Next day morning as we set out on our Mokuru and as we pass through dense reeds, a loud splashing startles us. A bull elephant is frolicking and spraying trunks full of the clear cold water. We spend some wonderful time watching him having fun and return to the camp to take our chartered flight back to Maun.

We had the most beautiful and memorable two days of our lives, completely cut off from the rest of the world. It is incredible that this dynamic eco system has persisted in its virgin self into the 21st century in the face of development and human population growth worldwide.

Delta is an unforgettable experience.

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