How Grandeur & Pomp Crept Into The Safari

 

Royal Migration Camp  – A Royal Lounge in the Serengeti – Circa 2017

Royal Migration Camp is not just an ad-hoc dream of men setting up a camp in the wilds of Africa. Anyone can do that. It’s about recreating the romance of a forgotten era, where men were wild and the wilds were in your backyard, where turntables played a scratchy tune and champagne was served at breakfast as the wine turned sour on a rocking seat, where your valet prepared your hot water bath and the house maid tucked you into bed with a hot cup of cocoa.

Camp fit for a King – Nawab Vicar-ul-Umra Hosting Royalty at his Private Tented Camp – Circa 1890

To truly comprehend the soul of our camp, we would like to take you on a journey back in time, when the mad scramble for the world unfolded and countries tripped over each other as they painted the globe with colors of their flag.

One such country, with her magnificent people, set in the British way, had its flag flying on most parts of the world. From steamy jungles to vast deserts, from thriving ports to far flung trading posts, generations of Englishmen and women sailed to challenging posts and carried with them a part of their homeland that they treasured with utmost zeal. Whether they came as civil servants or through the army, whether they came for trade or to settle in plantations and farms, traditions of back home were religiously preserved. They worshipped in steeple churches with gothic windows, raised proper children, with proper nannies, they changed for dinner, drank tea at 4 pm and always had their evening drink that they called a sundowner.

Staff Quarters for Edward Prince of Wales Arrival at Camp in Bhopal State – Circa 1921

Though most adjusted to their country of residence with ease and even took on local traditions, their insistence to form, and nostalgia for home, remained sacrosanct. They adapted to the weather, that could be hot and humid, built bungalows that resembled of home with ivy running on walls and over time they accomplished making subtle differences to their life to such an extent, that the colonists resembled one another outside their country than at home.

So impressed by sub-continent royalty were the British, that they included and imbibed the splendor of the Raj into their lives. This pomp stayed with them even after they were posted out of India. The Anglo-Indian slang, Indian food, custom and traditions were exported through the world, especially to Africa and especially on Safari.

The saheb & mesaheb, both now travelled with a retinue of servants, they had Indian curry with a ‘chota peg’. A new language adopted from Indian dialects became their lingua franca. Their furnishings were adapted for a warmer tropical climate and Mughal Motifs came into their furniture and furnishings. They were familiar with spice, porcelain, ivory, and the myriad hue of textiles found all over India. Memsaheb had truly walked the streets in earnest, maids in tow. She had taken in the sheer grandeur of the palaces and households of the rich in India and took this with her wherever her husband was posted. Rich silks and satin draped the rooms. Oriental carpets, Japanese scrolls, hanging photographs, pictures and brackets to keep china, books and paper and a piano found pride of place in her house. But once you crossed the threshold, she, the impeccable British wife, ensured that the husband would be reminded of their home in Bath or Cambridge. It didn’t end with the fixtures and fittings in her house, in her attempt at making her family feel at home, she always ensured that the values of civilized behavior had to be followed, both by them as a family and their guests. As Indian staff worked at her house and Indian noblemen and gentry often visited her, they too absorbed her British ways. Over time the world changed. Religious and cultural boundaries were crossed. A social integration never seen before gripped the colonies in its open and permeating embrace.

Staff at Royal Migration Camp  – Preparing Your Bath As The Wilderness Drifts Past  – Circa 2018

Shops back home in London, understood this and started a line of products to meet with this booming market. In England, to ease reluctant passengers more gently into the unknown of their future, elaborate preparations were made before the colony officer even boarded the ship. By the 1880’s large stores were established that catered to every need of the traveller, no matter where in the world he or she was going. ‘The Army & Navy Store’ would supply and pack everything from the tent, to the furniture and fittings, a bathroom with a tub and more. Even verandahs were packed with care and shipped. The silver was kept separately as were the clothes. Burberry made a special sturdy cloth that would withstand the thornbush and khakhi safari suits and bush shirts with a military touch of flaps and buttons became the fashion of the day. 335 pounds of clothes were permitted on the ship. The trunks had to be lined with tin to protect against insects. Shipping the colony had become big business and the Indian royals too, grabbed every bit of item they could get hold off. Formal meals mimicked elaborate dining of back home with an oriental carpet, potted palms and cane chairs, silver and bone china crockery and Queens cutlery. Dinner always ended with a dance and you will be pleased to know that dinner at camp also ends with a dance.

MAK Nawab of Pataudi, my maternal uncle, former cricket captain of India leading one of our angling expeditions into the wilds – Circa 2006

The Victorians loved travel and they certainly loved adventure. Planters had to ride many miles to get to their plantations up in the hills and mountains. At the plantations, their bungalows stood on steep hillsides amongst swaying pine trees, so reminiscence of home. Come summer those who could afford to, would gather porters, servants, children and escaped to the hillside with their furniture and piano intact. Such touring on a large scale was established by the Moghuls in India and it was exacerbated by the likes of Lord Curzon. This would, in time become the norm for the safari as these habits were exported to Africa where the safari took on a fresh hue. With over a hundred porters in tow, each porter was given 56 pounds of gear, equipment and supplies to carry on his back. Outdoor cane chairs with white damask tablecloths, folding tables and cane baskets would be taken along at all times on safari. As wine did not travel well, champagne was used instead. Thus the orange juice and champagne became popular as a breakfast drink. Gin and Tonic was drunk more as a prophylactic against malaria as the tonic in earlier days had enough quinine to neutralize the malaria virus, making it a perfect drink in the tropical land of mosquitoes.

Our Mahseer Angling Camp on the banks of the River Cauvery. Camps were set up to mould in with the surroundings. This was a temporary camp that we moved when the water rose – Circa 1999

The officers of the Colony were extremely conscientious sportsmen and when they went on a hunt, they left no imprint behind. This was easier said than done as the camps were large. The saheb and the memsahib had a tent with an attached bath and toilet. The saheb always had a separate office tent where he worked and she a place to do her make up and keep her womanly things that she so treasured. The mess tent would have a separate kitchen and the lounge tent where the couple entertained was always large with enough seating, at times it even had a piano. The armoury tent was always guarded and stored the ammunition and the different weapons to be used by both the host and hostess and their guests. Staff quarters were set at the back with a separate kitchen. As only the host and his friends, those that sat on his dining table were allowed to shoot, the lower staff turned to fishing and in their free time would head for the nearest stream or lake. This is why there was a desperate lunge to get to sit on the table with Indian royalty and their colonial officers. Whilst books were written on hunts jungle lore, regaled the many battles that the staff fought with fish. Of these fish, the mahseer would be king and took on such mighty legends that in the end even the royalty and British nobility took to fishing for mahseer.

I am a child of a million such stories regaled of our family on safari, repeated over and over again till each took on a legendary tale of its own. It was not just about the tiger jumping over a jeep and pulling Ramzani, the head of armoury with him, it was also about the staff and how they fought monster fish as they were pulled them into raging rivers. Such stories tend to grow with time. A five-pound fish landed on a bamboo rod would become a fifty-pounder monster in a few decades. One Bhopali even told me about an ancestor who jumped from his jeep onto a man-eating leopard’s back and throttled it to death. I laughed hard with the rest of us. The one thing that you never do is stop a jungle man telling his story in mid stride. He will take that as a grave affront and maybe never speak to you again. You must let the story teller tell his tale and then applaud him the good old way by shaking your head vigorously and exclaiming “wah wah.. kya baat hai. What amazing strength. What a hero your ancestor was.” Knowing fully well that maybe his ancestor never even owned a jeep or saw a wild cat leave alone leap onto its back!

To relive my past, after I walked out of cricket, I took to the jungles. As I never liked to hunt, I took up the rod and ran a mahseer angling camp for many years landing many a hundred-pound leviathan. I daresay this size will grow with my grandchildren.

When exclusionary Indian laws started to throttle eco-tourism in India, I set sail for Africa bringing with me whatever subtle colours of the Raj I could muster, to Tanzania. This is where you will find me now, lost in a world that can only be recreated in Africa for unlike India, Tanzania is not embarrassed of her past.

Nawabzada Saad bin Jung