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Published: October 31st 2006
the pic says it all...
Mauritius: The very name conjures up an image -- white sandy beaches with swaying palms, turquoise blue lagoons bordering deep blue seas, clear blue skies and a favorable climate, in other words, a picture perfect dream getaway! Our flight from Mumbai landed one mid morning in late September in what could pass off as a remote corner of a quiet field, so unlike the airports of bustling metros around the world. Driving from the airport, one could not miss the well laid highways and country roads flanked on either side by sugarcane plantations, the crop being cultivated extensively across the island. The resort we were headed to was in Pamplemousse, an hour’s drive from the airport. One look at the place and we knew it was worth the drive. The resort with its open air lobby caressed with a gentle tropical breeze and the tranquil waters of the Indian Ocean were enough to evoke the ‘wow’ feeling in the visitor! The beach was dotted with tourists lounging on recliners, basking in the sun and feasting their eyes on the placid waters of the ocean. For the spirited ones, there was a wide selection of water sports activities available to indulge in,
such as parasailing, snorkeling, deep-sea diving, surf-boarding and paddle boating. The hotel also offered daily rides in its glass bottomed boat to view coral formations in the lagoon.
We began our sightseeing trip the next day with a stop at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden, a botanist’s Mecca and a tropical haven for the most exotic trees and plants I’ve ever seen. There were different kinds of palm trees ranging from the Royal palms, the bamboo palms to the Talipot palms which bloom every forty years and which would bloom next in 2007. There were ‘Sausage’ trees whose fruit were in the shape of a giant sausage and the Verschaffeltia Splendida which stood splendidly on its stilt roots. Among other species were the trees whose sap looked blood, and the giant Amazonian water lilies with their thaali (dinner plate with raised edges) like leaves that bloomed for just two consecutive days.
From the botanical garden we were headed to Port Louis the capital of the country. The waterfront area with its modern shopping arcades was built on the lines of the malls in the US and merchandise was upscale. Just across the mall were the roadside bazaars
the city, the sea and the sky!
that sold anything and everything under the sun, from beachwear to sun glasses to cell phone accessories, the choices were plenty. It was a great day to be outdoors and we enjoyed our explorative stroll through the city streets. We were far from home, in a whole new country, yet didn’t feel like strangers in this foreign land which was in part due to the ethnicity of the population. If the demographic parameters were any indication (Indo Mauritian majority of 68%, followed by Creoles, Sino-Mauritian and Franco- Mauritian), the multi colored flag of this island nation was proof of its multi faceted society. Our tour guide informed us that people lived in religious harmony and were proud of their heritage. We saw sari clad women with vermillion adorned hair partings and when we spoke to them, they all had the same story to say. Their grand parents had emigrated from India and they would all like to go back to their motherland someday for a visit! It was interesting to note how these third generation Indian immigrants had kept their culture alive. They were multilingual, conversing in Creole amongst themselves, at the same time they also had a good command
Black River Gorge
of the English language and often spoke another Indian language as well. The local schools offered them the choice of learning an Indian language, they said. The radio stations, broadcast Bollywood songs and at times it felt it felt like we were still in India after all. The cuisine of the land where the biriyani (rice and meat combo delicacy) became briani and falooda (a delicious milkshake) became alouda was a mix of Indian, Chinese and French. It was heartening to note that these third and fourth generation Indian immigrants had done well for themselves having integrated well into the mosaic of the society by carving a distinct niche for themselves and rising to prominent positions of authority. I couldn’t help but reflect on how much they were like their bharatiya (Indian) cousins and yet so different. For starters they didn’t throw litter on the streets, they kept their narrow alleyways and by-lanes clean and their public toilets didn’t smell of urine even before you approached them and they bid their time in traffic!
The Black River district in the SW corner of the island was home to the Black River Gorge National park and the Chameral waterfalls.
Near the entrance to the park was the Grand Bassin Lake known to the local Hindus as the ‘Ganga Talao’ It was also famous for its huge 108 foot tall Shiva idol and the temples around the area come alive during the Shivratri celebrations. Located in the central highlands, the altitude of the region made the place distinctly cooler than the coastal areas. From Grand Bassin we continued on towards the National park. The view of the gorge which meanders between a series of rolling, successive lush green hills was a breathtaking sight to behold. From the highlands we started towards Chameral taking the winding road downhill. There were a lot of mini buses and cars present and we followed fellow tourists to see what everybody was trying to capture on their cameras for posterity. What we saw was simply Gods creation at its very best - a long cascade of falling water against a scenic backdrop - the ‘Chameral waterfalls’. Continuing our descent downhill, we stopped next to see the star attraction of the place -- the area of the seven colored earth with its lunar landscape like dunes of seven pastel earthy colors, the likes of which I
bird of paradise flower stands out in this bouquet
have never seen before in my life! Its been said that even torrential rains do not wash the colors away and that the earth is probably made up of mineral rich volcanic ash formed during the last known volcanic explosion of the 1500s.
Our final activity on the island was a trip aboard a real submarine! As the vessel started its descent, the colors of the water changed as the infra red rays of light were filtered out by the water. From the air conditioned comfort of the sub, the ocean floor looked bare. Multi colored fishes were present but only near the rocky areas which had coral formations. We saw the lion fish with its wing like appendages, an eel with its mouth ajar, clown fish which looked brownish maroon at that depth and a bunch of other fish we usually see on the Discovery Channel!. Our sub driver steered the vessel close to a ship wreck site called Star hope and informed us that the Japanese ship was sunk deliberately in the ocean in 1998 to facilitate coral formation which would in turn develop into a haven for fishes.
I couldn’t possibly conclude my blog without
trou aux cerfs
crater left after the last known volcanic exposion -- now dormant
a mention of the ‘dodo’ bird. Mauritius was the only known place where the dodo bird was seen before it went extinct. The legend still lives on and one can find a lot of dodo souvenirs to pick up as a parting gift. We have since returned from the island nation but the memories will last a lifetime!
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