Mauritius – ‘Jewel of The Indian Ocean!
Flying away from the madding crowds of Mumbai, Mauritius, the lagoon-strewn, surf-washed idyllic island, offered me a working holiday like none before. Though I have travelled the world, the elfin charm of Mauritius mesmerized me absolutely! I fell in love with this virtual paradise for lotus eaters the moment I landed at the Sir Siwoosagar Ramgoolam International Airport…
By Vimla Patil
Islands hold a unique and magical power over me…they capture my heart instantly by their incredible exoticism and unforgettable scenic ambience. Mauritius is set like a gleaming emerald in the far-stretching blue Indian Ocean – 2000 km southwards from the eastern coast of Africa and Madagascar and an eight hour flight from Mumbai. With its pristine beaches, multi-coloured coral reefs and luxuriant natural wonders, it is naturally considered one of the world’s most beautiful island countries. Though I have holidayed in many other islands, I found Mauritius to be larger than it seems on the map. What intrigued me and gave me an added sense of relaxation was that for miles around in the Indian Ocean, there seemed to be no other land mass. Because of this ‘geographical solitude’, for me, Mauritius had a special ambience of ‘detached peace’.
Mauritius has yet another major attraction for me. Though it is far away from India and much closer to Africa – and in that respect, is African in its demeanor – it is strongly linked to India because 70 per cent of its population is of Indian Hindu origin. This means that the two countries not only share strong political bonds, but also a scintillating mix of cultures and interests. Mauritian women wear similar clothes to those worn by Indian women and therefore the burgeoning fashion industry of India fascinates Mauritians completely. I had the unique opportunity of leading three fashion delegations to Mauritius with top Indian models and could personally experience the immense affection with which Mauritian people welcome Indians as well as their passionate interest in India’s fashion, film (Bollywood) and food industries. To travel around the island was like travelling in a redesigned part of India with local people speaking French, English, Creole – but also Hindi with a special twang. Having experienced the joys of the island, I believe that every would-be visitor must know a few facts about the country before planning a holiday there. It is a good idea to collect information from travel agents/Internet/consulates about what to see, where to stay and what to do or experience on this island.
Here is some useful information: Spread over 1865 km, the island has a breathtaking 330 km long coastline with some of the world’s most gorgeous beaches strewn along its winding coastline. The island is formed of volcanic rock and sheltered by opulent rows of coral reefs which create breathtakingly beautiful lagoons and seascapes. The sea and coral reef-surrounded lagoons are an ever present motif in Mauritius. And yet, with all its beauty, believe it or not, this gem of a country remained undiscovered even though early Arab sailors are said to have landed there in the 10th century. Modern history says that it was ‘officially discovered’ in 1505 by a Portuguese sailor called Pedro Mascarenhas. From then on, the island was in the possession of the Dutch and later the French, till finally, the British took it in 1814. It became an independent republic on 12th March 1968. In the past 42 years since independence, Mauritius has developed to become one of the world’s finest tourist destinations, a very prosperous country with an admirable multi-cultural society which celebrates life as a daily festival.
Since the island is small, it is easy to cover it from coast to coast and see most cities which have their own magic. Centuries of French and British rule have left their imprint on Mauritius. People speak French, Creole, English (the official language of administration) and various dialects of Hindi with equal ease so there is no communication problem. People of Indian (Hindu) origin are the descendants of labourers who came to work in the rich sugarcane fields. Thus, the cuisine and culture of the island has rich shades of Indian, French and even African nuances. The gastronomic delights also offer a huge variety of delicacies from all these cuisines. The calendar of festivals also touches all these cultures. The resorts are opulent and even standard hotels have a celebratory air about them as I found out both in Curepipe and Port Louis!
What I enjoyed most, apart from the welcome and friendship the people gave me and the troupe, was the daily procession of wonder and beauty in every city. From Curepipe, I went on sailing trips on the lagoons and saw incredible undersea coral reefs. I rode the super fast flying boats which gave me an unforgettable thrill.
In the nature parks, I saw the gigantic lotus leaves on which a child could sit comfortably. I visited the famous Jyotirlinga Shiva temple nearby and participated in community worship. I saw churches, the icons outside every home and enjoyed the feasts which my generous hosts offered the troupe.
From Curepipe too, I went to the weekly bazaars of clothes, handicrafts and knick knacks that looked beautiful. Yet another exotic fact about Mauritius is that it is the only known home of the Dodo, a bird now extinct, but which appears on its coins and currency notes. I had a wonderful time collecting coins with the Dodo to bring back with me as souvenirs.
Apart from the main island, the republic includes other smaller islands and is closely associated with the nearby French island of Reunion. Those interested can take short flights to see any of them. Mauritius today gets hordes of visitors from all over the world. With its economy – based on sugar production, tourism and offshore banking – Mauritius has prospered beyond belief in recent decades and gained huge popularity among international business leaders and holiday-makers.
With the growing number of tourists converging on the beautiful island, its hospitality industry has grown by leaps and bounds. Today, the island nation boasts some of the world’s finest resorts, spas, hotels and restaurants which serve exotic cuisines. Golf, trekking, mountain climbing, ecotourism, beach holidays along the placid lagoons, sea-cruising among one of the world’s biggest coral reefs while watching miraculous ocean life and eating gourmet meals under starlight – these are some of the attractions which Mauritius offers. The multi-cultural landscape of the islands includes beautiful old French mansions as well as temples, churches and mosques.
Port Louis, the capital city of the island, was a must-visit for me. With its busy harbour, it is also the financial hub of the nation. Since the economic liberalization of the 1980s, the city’s skyline has emerged so magnificently that the city is now called ‘the star of the Indian Ocean’. Port Louis has splendid hotels, old-world residences, race courses, gardens and resorts which attract millions of tourists. Curepipe is yet another city worth seeing. Since the island is small, within proximity from the capital are other cities like Beau Bassin, Rose Hill, Quartre Bornes, Vacoas and Phoenix. These are mainly residential towns with quaint houses and beaches strewn along the coast and verdant tea plantations in the interiors. Mahebourg, named after the island’s French governor Mahe de Labourdonnais, is the old capital and has enchanting historical buildings of earlier centuries. Grand Baie is a beautiful city with emerald lagoons and an amazing variety of night life and craft shopping. It is popular among tourists for water-skiing, helicopter rides for sight-seeing in other islands and deep sea angling.
In its culture, Mauritius is truly cosmopolitan and peaceful. Hindu, Christian and Muslim shrines stand cheek-by-jowl in every village and all festivals are celebrated with equal fervour. The history of modern Mauritius is recent – just a few centuries old. Yet the achievements of this tiny island nation are astounding. With tourism – and business – booming, the island is attracting millions of fun-seekers, honeymooners, business-builders and holiday-makers as well as business leaders who use the island’s offshore banking facilities. For both reasons, Mauritius is certainly poised to become one of the world’s most preferred destinations. I would say anyone who wants all the conveniences of the modern age and also wants peaceful solitude for recharging one’s energies, Mauritius is the ideal holiday destination. For Indian travellers like me, it is an ‘exotic’ home away from a ‘familiar’ home!
Did you know?
Mauritian Hindus believe that Lord Shiva visited their island with his wife Goddess Parvati, on his journey through the most beautiful countries in the world. Among them was Mauritius. With Shiva, came the holy River Ganga which spilled out into a crater in the mountains of Mauritius. Ever since, the Grand Bassin Temple of Shiva and the lake around it have become popular pilgrimage centres not only for the Hindus of Mauritius, but for huge numbers of Indian devotees. The Shivalinga here is believed to be the 13th Jyotirlinga after the famous twelve in India, namely: 1.Somnath, Gujarat; 2. Mahakaleshwar, Rajasthan; 3. Omkareshwar, Madhya Pradesh; 4. Vishvanath, Uttar Pradesh; 5. Kedarnath, Uttaranchal; 6. Sri Sailam, Andhra Pradesh; 7. Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu; 8,9,10,11,12 Trimbakeshwar, Grishneshwar, Bhimashankar, Vaijnath and Nagnath, Maharashtra. Hindus of Mauritius make the pilgrimage to the holy temple on Mahashivaratri, the biggest Hindu festival outside of India, when nearly 500,000 Hindus from all parts of Mauritius make the pilgrimage to the holy Grand Bassin Lake, located in the mountains and surrounded by the lush green forests. The holy lake and the surrounding temples are often cloaked in fog and give this sacred place a rare mystique.
______________________________________________________________________________Tagged with: Islands • Travel
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