Part 1: Africa Safari and Riding the Kali

As we flew from New York to Orlando, the scene was such as to lull the senses into a state of complete serenity. The dark blue waters of the mighty ocean so mesmerizingly tranquil, the sun shining bright in the azure sky, and huge plumes of snow-white vapor arising lazily from the depths far, far, below to form variously shaped cottony clouds. As we neared Orlando, the scene changed dramatically. Now, I could see neat black-topped, yellow-bordered roads—they seemed to be have been pencil-sketched by an artist—and numerous deep blue lakes surrounded by lush green foliage, near which were many similarly designed cottage-like houses arranged in geometrical patterns. It was all such a wonderfully inspiring sight. I knew then that I would love spending a few months in Orlando, the centerpiece of sunny Florida.

However, in short order, I realized that Orlando had much more to offer than just natural beauty and lovely weather, the most enjoyable, undoubtedly, being the fabled Disneyland. So, one fine morning, I headed for a day full of expectancy to the magical and incredible world of Walt Disney World Resort, America’s greatest gift to mankind. The resort has four theme parks, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios, as well as two water parks, namely, Blizzard Beach Water Park and Typhoon Lagoon Water Park. Considering the grandeur of all things Disney, tickets aren’t that cheap (over a hundred dollars), but one ticket allows you to experience many things inside the park. Magic Kingdom is naturally the most popular, what with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and company being part of it, and here’s a figure that will blow your mind—almost 60,000 people visit it daily!

The second most popular is Animal Kingdom, and this was where I planned to spend my day, not least because it had the famous Everest Ride. Not only that, it had a lot of Nepal inside (in the Asia section), but before entering the Nepali stratosphere, I went on a tour of Africa (it being the first section of the park). I don’t know how, but Disney had even managed to make the sun brighter and harsher than usual. Some Africans in traditional clothes were belting out a strong rhythmic beat on big drums in the center of a courtyard surrounded by thatched houses. They were sweating, all right, as we too were soon enough. We were in Africa, after all!

As we (meaning me and a thousand and more other excited visitors) continued walking to queue up for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, I saw many more huts and ramshackle cottages with all sorts of graffiti on their walls, really very reminiscent of the scenes we see of the dark continent in the news. We took our seats on open trucks that seemed to be models from the Second World War era. Our driver was a robust-looking red-necked guy decked out in a khaki safari outfit. I think we were supposed to be now entering a famous wildlife park in Africa.

The scene was pure savannah, recreated to the smallest details; the dirt road was rutted, with potholes here and there, the vegetation was pretty much African, a bridge on the way appeared to be in a broken down state, there were some shallow ponds, and even swamp trees that seemed upside down, with roots dangling from branches. And, of course, plenty of wildlife—a tall giraffe right on the trail, a lion couple majestically surveying their kingdom from a rocky outcrop, fat, lumpy hippopotamuses shoulder-deep in the ponds, some rhinos grazing, along with zebras and deer and antelopes and gazelles and other exotic deer species, long-legged water birds with sharp pointy beaks around the water bodies, curious monkeys on the trees, and so on.

And, all the while, our driver-cum-guide was rattling off a well-rehearsed litany of facts and figures in a light-hearted tone that was quite entertaining. After the safari, we walked to the gorilla enclosure, where there were a couple of families of the great apes. Watching one mother caress her young child, with the dad watching benignly, you got the impression that they weren’t much different from us two-legged apes. Reading all this, you will have understood that it was an awesome experience! But there was much more in store for us happy folks.

After Africa, it was Asia. Wait, let me correct that—it was Nepal all the way. First, a wild ride on a circular contraption that was supposed to be a raft on the ‘Kali River’. The ‘raft’ accommodated around ten riders and initially rode steeply up a rail-like contraption before splashing down in a moderately fast flowing ‘river’. During this ‘rafting’ expedition, we came across various scenes depicting real scenarios alongside our mountain rivers, such as a cremation site with burning pyres, and massive rocks and fallen trees blocking parts of the river in places. It was a wet and wild experience, let me tell you, and thoroughly enjoyable and loads of fun.