Slice of heaven

Slice of heaven

Paradise

Dockyard: Caudan Waterfront in Mauritius. Photo by author

Accustomed to such signage at most international airports which greet you and tell you that you are entering the best place in the world, we didn’t really pay much attention.

Three days later, on our return past the same board, we couldn’t agree with the statement more. 

The spectacularly beautiful views of Mauritius had taken our breath away. Turquoise-blue seas and azure skies might sound like tourism brochure-clichés, but it best defined the heavenly hues we saw. The talcum-soft beaches and stunningly beautiful coral reefs that ringed the island, water sports and breathtaking views from wherever we looked out had made even the least outdoorsy of us linger outside, reluctant to retire to the room till late in the night.

Multicultural island

With a population of 12 lakh and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, Mauritius presents a picture of prosperity and peace. Great weather; good roads, spacious layouts, immaculately clean public places and friendly people made touring the country a pleasure. Often, we were accosted by people speaking in Hindi. Mauritius is one of the most multi-ethnic places in the world and has a large Indian immigrant population.

The multiculturalism is evident even before you explore the country –– right from the time you enter the aircraft. The aircraft crew was a cultural mix — Africans, Chinese and Indians. In Mauritius, Indians were everywhere –– at our resort, at water sports centres, kiosks, big malls, duty-free shops, restaurants, wayside stores. Shiva and Ganesha temples jostled for space beside Catholic churches.

Water sports are a big draw and we had to experience at least some of the vast range of activities that this island nation offers –– world-class diving facilties as also snorkeling, kayaking, cruising, fishing and tubesailing. To add to it, undersea walking, which is an amazing experience. Fitted with a specially designed diving-helmet, which receives compressed air, and escorted by well-experienced monitors, you can walk on the seabed.

The underwater world is all round you — hundreds of exquisitely beautiful coral-reef varieties and waving anemones are clearly visible. So are fish of all hues, shapes and sizes, which glide past magically.

But if this doesn’t excite you or you want the same delight from a safer perch, then take a glass-bottomed boat. This will take you out to sea and allow you to see the same things while seated comfortably in a boat through the glass windows at your feet. Of course, these are not close encounters, unlike the undersea walk, but it is the second-best option you have to explore the vibrant sea life here.

Shopping in Mauritius was a letdown though. The prices were high, and the range of ethnic handicrafts and handloom products, rather limited. Most malls featured brands that retail widely in India too. Many stores, including those encountered during countryside drives, stocked Indian goods. And considering that sugarcane plantations were so pervasive, we did not see much of sugarcane-based products. Maybe a flea market would have revealed otherwise, but we had no time for that. Anyway, good buys are tea, wooden ship models, scarves, seashell accessories, and dodo replicas, although we encountered very few well-designed and smoothly finished specimens.

At Casela Nature and Fish Park, we got up close and personal with lions and tigers. Visitors can sit down beside the big cats and stroke their backs and necks under the supervision of guards and within special enclosures. Most of these animals have been born in captivity and trained from birth to interact with humans. Further down, we came across a group of ostriches and emu as well as their eggs. The birds stopped a few inches away from us and stared nonchalantly at us for a few minutes before walking away majestically.

Mauritius is an elite island getaway. So prices are bound to be high, be it accommodation, food, shopping or entertainment. But then the spectacular sights, great food, and amazing water sports make spending every penny completely worth it. Its reputation of being the ‘pearl of the Indian Ocean’ isn’t just a tourist hype.

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