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Wanderlust for African wilds

Wanderlust for African wilds

Aparajita Lyall, a Bengali settled in Kenya, on the opening day of the tourism  fair at Netaji Indoor Stadium. Lyall is in the city to welcome people from her country of birth to her adopted country. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Calcutta: Wildebeest migration at Maasai Mara, a day out on the beach in Mombasa, African goat curry with pilau and, if the timing is right, even Durga Puja bhog in Nairobi.

Travel goals that go beyond the cut-and-dried foreign holiday are taking many tourists from Bengal to Kenya and opening up options for others looking for novelty.

The past three years have seen a surge in traffic from these parts to the wildlife-rich east African nation, the tourist demographic ranging from honeymooners to senior citizens. “When given options fitted into their budgets, an increasing number of tourists are inclined to choose the adventure of an African safari over the romance of a trip to Europe,” a travel operator said.

Kenya’s participation in the tourism fair that started at the Netaji Indoor Stadium on Friday bears out the growing interest in that country among travellers from the east.

“More than 20 per cent of our Indian tourists are Bengalis. And their number is growing,” said Aparajita Lyall, the director of the Nairobi-based organisation Africa Keys. “Since most hotels offer wheelchair and medical assistance, even senior citizens have started holidaying here.”

A five-day Kenya package costs around Rs 67,000 a person, excluding airfare. Families are offered stay in luxury hotels, adventure sports like bungee jumping and skydiving, helicopter rides and balloon safaris, based on the frills opted for.

“Every year, around 10 lakh international tourists visit Kenya and Indians comprise just 10 per cent of that. But we are seeing interest growing lately, especially among Bengalis who travel mostly during the Puja vacation,” Aparajita said.

Maasai Mara, one of the more popular destinations

July to October being the “off season” in Africa, there are discounts to be had when tourists from Bengal most like to travel. Since wildebeest migration overlaps the festive season, they don’t miss anything by going after the peak season. The experience of Puja organised by expatriates is a bonus.

“The expat community is always eager to welcome visiting Bengalis for bhog,” Aparajita, who settled in Kenya two decades ago, said.

Nairobi is also famous for theatre, which again is close to Bengal’s heart.

“A friend of ours has visited Maasai Mara and an African safari is on my bucket list, too. If I can save up, I intend to do a trip with friends soon,” said schoolteacher Soumyabrata Ghosh of Baranagar, who was at the fair with colleague Rumela Sengupta.

Businessman Bipin Vohra, who visited Maasai Mara with family and friends last August, described the trip as his most memorable holiday. “The migration of thousands of wildebeest is an unforgettable sight. I will do this again,” he said.

Several schools in the city are eyeing African safaris as part of overseas excursions. “We keep getting enquiries from schools hope to send some groups next year. Since visa is issued on arrival, this holiday involves a lesser wait than a trip to Europe, the US or the Americas,” said Anil Punjabi, the chairman (east) of the Travel Agents’ Federation of India.

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