Fiji Islands – Among the World’s Five Most Romantic Destinations!
When I was invited to visit Fiji – the cluster of islands-archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean – I knew I had a rare opportunity to see the most exotic wonders of the world! I was not only going to Nandi but also to Suva, the buzzing holiday resort in Fiji, to present a collection of handloom textile garments from India. I was visiting a new country to present the culture of one the world’s oldest civilizations and the assignment was exciting. Fiji, beautiful and soothing, was a visual delight but also a business challenge for me….
By Vimla Patil
When the invitation to take an Indian handloom textile garment presentation to Fiji came to me, I was, to say the least, very excited! I knew next to nothing about these faraway islands except that its citizens were a mix of gorgeous Melanesian men and women and people of Indian origin who had settled there for business long centuries ago. I read up on how I would enjoy my business-cum-tourism visit and decided that I would let things surprise me and watch life flowing by in these indolent, sun-kissed islands.
My first introduction to Fiji was on a dark night when I arrived at the Nandi airport after a long, tiring journey. With my troupe, I had flown from Mumbai to Bangkok, then on to Sydney to spend a night in a quaint hotel near the famous opera house and finally taken a late evening flight to Nandi. The airport was small, friendly and the dark, clear sky above was full of stars. A short morning flight brought us to Suva and to a cottage-like hotel which was a mere walking distance from the exhibition centre where we were to display our textiles. The most exciting aspect of our visit to Fiji was that we would work with a Fijian team including models that would show off the designer handloom clothes and technicians who would support us in the presentation. The beautiful Melanesian/Polynesian young women who were to model for us were first-timers, but their tall, regal, delightfully South Pacific looks were stunning and their friendship and goodwill overwhelming! Their fun-loving attitude towards life meant that we would have the experience of a lifetime seeing and enjoying the islands.
They took us on boat-rides to see the magical coral reefs, to late night dinners in farms where vegetables were buried under layers of live coals and cooked with spices as well as to meet many families that gave us a home away from home! The truly unforgettable tourist treat our hosts gave us was a visit to the nearby Island of Tonga, through which the International Dateline passes! The Tu ‘I Malila Western Restaurant situated exactly on this landmark line is a delightful place to relax and enjoy the ambience of the miniature Kingdom of Tonga which is ruled by a king. Local seafood delicacies and the exotic island fruits served here were absolutely fascinating – especially because of the spectacular view! Other bars and cafes too offer delightful food while we walked across the famous line where the date-day of the world is displayed!
Back to Fiji, our hosts showed us many alluring delights of the islands. The information I collected while doing sight-seeing and doing business is worth having at hand for anyone who plans to visit these exotic confetti-like islands scattered in the South Pacific Ocean. Two major islands – Viti Levu and Vanua Levu – plus a confetti-like sprinkling of more than three hundred tiny islets – some not even inhabited by human beings – scattered across 200,000 square miles in the South Pacific Ocean, that’s what the romantic Fiji Islands and archipelago are made of. These white-surf-washed islands, set in a vastness of azure seas and lagoons, are counted among the five most romantic destinations of the world by intrepid travellers who have enjoyed the opulent resorts and beaches of Fiji.
Fiji is blessed with a temperate climate – warm with cool winds blowing in from the blue sea through the year. Visitors say that ‘winter is just a term in this country and not a season’! Since our visit came in November, we saw the islands getting welcome showers so that the environment was green and soothing. Glimmering white beaches, along which we saw several world-class resorts, are Fiji’s irresistible attraction. Lounging on the sands, we saw some awesome sunsets! Unfortunately, business priorities did not allow us too many sea adventures – but tourists can go snorkeling, diving, surfing, white water rafting or ride kayaks in the pristine waterways and lagoons between the islets. Those who love land adventures can trek through the verdant rain forests and visit the quaint, colourful villages to have a glimpse of Fijian culture and history.
Our most unforgettable treat was the hospitality of the Fijian people. We found our business troupe and the models to be merry and jovial – especially as hosts who offered us typical Fijian feasts and exotic flowers day after day.
We also enjoyed shows of Fijian tribal dances which are performed in resorts and village squares with a rare and admirable abandon by men and women dressed in traditional costumes. We learnt the Fijian greeting ‘Bula’ which signifies the hospitality of the Fijian people! A phenomenal treat in store for us was a visit to some islands – without human habitation – but with pristine beaches and coconut groves where we could breathe pure air and experience complete solitude! Most Fijians we met could speak English and their own island language. Some could even speak a smattering of Hindustani. This is because the population is a mix of Polynesians, Melanesians and people of Indian origin who came here centuries ago to work on sugarcane plantations.
Newly aware of the huge tourism potential of the islands, Fijians don’t spare any efforts in pampering visitors to their country. They offer every attention that your tired limbs may need to make your holiday unforgettable. All day, you can lie in the gentle sunshine on a beach, sipping an exotic drink and retire early or then, hit a dance bar or night club. The gardens offer a vast variety of flowers which please the eyes and walking through them is a joy.
“Fiji is another name for romance,” the escorts boast, “Our tourism takes you to another level when you come here on a honeymoon or to get married in a beautiful seaside ceremony. Fijian experts can arrange a wedding in an orchid grove, on the beach or in the middle of a rain forest.” What impressed us most is that Fiji’s tourism is based clearly on the preservation of the eco system. Thus you can choose to stay in a reasonably priced small hotel, a pricy resort or even in a village home or lodge – or become a backpacker. Trekking, bird-watching, visiting National Parks, handicraft and pottery making centres or watching song and dance performances are the activities on offer. A romantic dinner on a pontoon in the sea is a memorable experience. Adventurous trekkers can reach the heart of the rain forest and bathe under a cool waterfall or swim in one of Fiji’s clean, cool rivers. Parasailing and surfing on the ocean waves are also popular pastimes for visitors. For those who like comfort, there are cruises on illuminated liners which sail through the many islands, giving you an experience of paradise. There are also magnificent cruisers which offer luxury trips in the coral reefs. Diving – in various adventurous ways – is also popular. Visitors can experience diving safely near the shore, diving in the lakes at night, diving from the jetties built at resorts, diving at eco-friendly pavilions, or diving to see the soft corals for which the islands are famous.
“Fiji offers unparalleled marine biodiversity and is literally the most romantic destination for those who want to experience the ultimate in island holidays,” the guides said to us. Unfortunately, because we were on a short business visit, we could not enjoy all these joys. But we learnt a lot about Fiji’s 4000 square miles of coral reefs and about the adventure of swimming among them while feeding giant mantas or other fish! This surely can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Yet another unforgettable experience is to sit on the International Dateline in an exotic café and sip your tea or coffee. You can have an exotic meal here too. The International Date Line passes through the Island of Tonga and very few people can have this experience of being where the date changes.
As we enjoyed the beauty of the Fijian Islands, our hosts also narrated to us something about the history and culture of the nation. Fiji has a traditional culture – a mix of many strands woven together by its many communities. The islands have many religious and cultural ceremonies which are awesome to see. The dresses which men and women wear are not only attractive but also typical of island life. Sulus, known throughout the Pacific as pareau, lavalava or sarong, are normal wear for both men and women. The wrap-around Sulu is Fiji’s most distinctive and versatile form of dress. Women wear it at least in ten different ways, even as evening wear (our handloom fabrics were eminently suited for these!). We tried learning to wear a Sulu but avoided going out in the Fijian costume because wrongly worn, it can offend local sensibilities. Needless to say, we also found that wearing bikinis and ultra-brief swimming costumes is fine at a resort but is not advised while visiting villages or going on shopping sprees in the cities.
The two large islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu are of volcanic origin and have a rugged landscape. The smaller islands are coral, limestone or sand bars with scarce vegetation. The people of Fiji comprise two big segments – half of them are indigenous citizens and the other half are of Indian origin. There is a small community of Chinese and Europeans. Though modern Fiji looks like any other island paradise, it has an interesting history. Remnants from excavations show that the islands had settlements of people as far back as 3500 BC. The first communities who came here were voyagers and traders who later moved to other islands like Tonga, Samoa and Hawaii. Glimpses of the Fiji Islands now show a unique culture which has developed over the centuries. The first Europeans to settle in the islands were missionaries and traders in sandalwood! Fiji became a British protectorate in 1874 and Indian migrants began to come in to work on the island’s plantations. In 1970, Fiji became an independent democratic nation but was torn with coups and internal strife, until the Republic of Fiji was formed in 1997. Today, Fiji has anti-racial-discrimination laws in place and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
For a tiny island country, Fiji has a rocking tourism industry. Today, the major communities that live in the island have mastered the mantra of hospitality and have worked together to create an infrastructure of tourism and hospitality industries to match that of any European or American country. The colourful communities, the incomparable natural scenery, the endless blue sea, the green forested mountains, the exotic flowers and fruits, the gentle, beautiful people and their new-found prosperity – all these have made Fiji Islands one of the five most romantic destination in the world.
Did you know?
Indians in Fiji
Fiji Islands have a large segment of population of Indian origin. Indo-Fijians, as this community is called, comprises Fijians whose ancestors came from India and other South Asian countries. They comprise about 35 per cent of the population, the other 65 per cent being original Polynesian or Melanesian residents of the islands. The Indo-Fijians are mostly descendants of labourers who came to the islands. They were brought by Fiji’s earlier British colonial rulers between 1879 and 1916 to work on Fiji’s rich sugarcane plantations. Many of the later arrivals were Gujaratis and Punjabis who immigrated to the islands to settle down for business. In the centuries that followed, these communities have adapted their lifestyle to the local conditions and are well-to-do businesspersons today, after political upheavals and skirmishes as well as racial injustice. Indo-Fijians have struggled for equal rights. Although their efforts have not been totally successful, today there are anti-racial laws in place to guarantee equality. They have maintained their Indian culture and way of life. Many have left Fiji in search of a better life and to seek social justice over a period of time. Many have returned to India or settled in other countries where they have found a better life.
______________________________________________________________________________________Tagged with: Beaches • Dining • Flowers • Travel • Tribal Dancers
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