Weaving magic in Mauritius!
They say its the nearest thing to paradise or the proverbial Garden of Eden Or perhaps a lotus eaters plush land where one can just sit and stare at...
They say it’s the nearest thing to paradise or the proverbial Garden of Eden. …Or perhaps a lotus’ eaters plush land where one can just sit and stare at nature’s bountiful beauty in leisure. That’s right… we are talking about the gorgeous Paradise Isle, Mauritius.
Old world meets new
Named after the 16th century Dutch Prince Maurice Van Nassau, this scenically beautiful Mauritius island has been colonised by the Dutch, French and British. No wonder, it still retains a unique old-world charm with its chalet type regal houses (including the magnificent Chalet Labourdonnais), plantations and heritage sites. Yet integrates a nouveau modernity with its polished tarmacs, swish shopping malls, top-of-the-line brands and fashionable people.
Nestled amidst the azure blue shaded waters of the Indian Ocean, this beautiful tropical island of just a crore plus population has a wonderful medley of French, Indian, Chinese and Creole inhabitants cohabiting peacefully. The vast and varied ethnicities too have beautifully integrated itself into Mauritius’s culture, food and way of life.
My first glimpse of this idyllic island was through the window of my Air Mauritius aircraft, which was circling over the island ready to make a touchdown. Below, the majestic Indian Ocean glittered like sparkling crystals as the beaming rays of the sun lightly touched its turquoise waters. The Island nestled amidst the dancing ripples of waters stood majestically with its many-hued craggy mountains and its strangely multi-hued earth.
Paradise had finally arrived… and I quickly go through immigration – its visa on arrival for Indians and though the queues are super long, it is dealt with efficiently and quickly by the authorities.
My swanky car races through the well-maintained roads that follow the undulations of the landscape wherein large expanses of sugarcane plantations, new constructions, swish showrooms and even a bird’s eye view of the Lion Mountains whizz pass me.
About 45 minutes later, I am put up at the extremely charming Le Suffren Hotel and Marina at Port Louis – a captivating hotel next to the Caudron waterfront with its own water taxi that ferries hotel guests.
And so, the adventure begins… That too on a very auspicious note! I visit Ganga Talao or Grand Bassin, a crater lake situated in a secluded mountain area in the district of Savanne. This place is said to be the holiest place for Hindus in Mauritius. It also has Mangal Mahadev which is the tallest Shiva statue in Mauritius measuring 108 feet – the tallest statue in Mauritius. The Durga Mata Murti too stands magnificently at 108 feet and does indeed make an awesome picture. The Sagar Shiv Mandir too stands there and is visited by hundreds of devout Hindus all through the year.
Black rivers & coloured earth
The next whistle stop takes me through serpentine roads through the mountains to the 6,574-hectare Black River Gorges National Park, which incidentally happens to be a favourite hiking spot where you can spot wildlife through its indigenous forests. A little hungry more so because of the crisp mountain air, I stop over at a small restaurant called Paul’s Delights where I am served a wonderful meal of fish ‘n’ chips and chicken wings. The restaurateur Paul, formerly a Dutch architect, moved away from the city lights to Mauritius many years ago to open this restaurant. Says Paul, “I wanted to enjoy life, every minute of it without thinking of projects, deadlines, meetings etc… In Mauritius, I live life the way it supposed to be.”
After which, I continue my journey to The Chamaral Waterfalls, a magnificent 272-feet waterfall that looks breath-taking. Close by, the charming Chameral village with its seven coloured earth is also a must visit. The strange hued earth is because of the volcanic activities that happened many years ago. This place also houses a wonderful souvenir shop where you can shop till you drop. I bought a dodo bird rum bottle– after all, I was in Mauritius and the dodo though extinct was the National bird.
For people who are rum drinkers (Mauritius is big on rum), there is a rum factory close by which also has tasting sessions. A drive away is also the famous UNESCO site Le Morne Mountain, which serves as a harsh reminder of the time when slavery was rampant in Mauritius. However, not in the mood to dampen my spirits, I give this a miss.
A little travel weary, I go back to my hotel and take the water taxi to the Caudon waterfront. Alas, it is 7 pm and everything from the shopping mall to the street side shops are closed. But somewhere beyond Port Louis’ waterfront, street food stalls are thriving. From dholl puri, exotic fruits, palm heart salads, curries perhaps reminiscent of Indian cuisine, the popular Creole rougaille (tomato stew), coconut cakes to even biryani – everything is super tasty.
The next day, I head north to the picturesque Grand Bay and its two beautiful beaches where I stroll through the white sands and collect tec-tec or small white seashells. Les Vergers of Labourdonnais at Mapou with its wide variety of fragrant colourful flowers and tropical fruit trees is also a sight to behold. But of course, the gorgeous Sir Seewoosagar Ramgoolam Botanical Garden is absolutely stunning. Entry is priced at 200 Mauritius Rupee for foreigners. But as I stroll through this vast land, I spot exotic Victoria Amazonica lilies, fawns, turtles and more.
Sea & adventure
The sea surrounds this beautiful island so of course there are fabulous beaches and immense scope for water sports and scuba diving. There are also many teeny-weeny islands around. I visit one called The Isle Des Deux Coco (The Island of two coconuts) where the tourism folks put up a huge carnival-like party and it is indeed so much fun.
But what truly fascinates me is the La Vallée Des Couleurs Nature Park wherein I have my first brush with adventure sports. I try out the mountain bikes and jeeps there, and since it isn’t really my cup of adventure, I am content to let my guide drive me through the precarious narrow mountain paths. Up there, I pet some grumpy 120-year-old turtles who is disturbed out of their slumber by us and watch a deer gambol off into the wilderness.
The Nepalese Bridge there is the longest (350 metres) in the Indian Ocean and that I manage to cross albeit with shaking knees and a wildly thumping heart. But once done, the adventurer in me peaks, and I fly through the 3rd longest zip-line in the world. La Vallée Des Couleurs Nature Park is definitely a must visit for all adrenaline junkies.
…Indeed, Mauritius is truly a melting pot of adventure, romance, history, and a mouth-watering medley of cuisine.
- Sumita Chakraborty