Treasure island

Treasure island

say Seychelles

Treasure island

Ultimately, it was the memory of vivid colours we took back after a six-night stay in the dreamy archipelago of Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. The almost unearthly blues and greens of the ocean, fringed by slashes of white or champagne-coloured beaches; the dash of cobalt-blue and red on a plump Blue Pigeon; the fluorescent green of a gecko slithering on a brown tree trunk; the long purple tail of a paradise flycatcher blowing in the wind as it flew from treetop to treetop; the beautiful cocoa-coloured locals sashaying rather than walking. Was this land for real? Or was it air-brushed by a skillful divine hand?

This is where Britain’s royal couple William and Kate had honeymooned and, more recently, George Clooney and his new bride, Amal Alamuddin, had vacationed after swearing till-death-do-us-part. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had ambled down the beaches here in search of the full-stop seclusion that lovers and celebrities seek. Yes, love comes easily on these 115 granite-and-coral islands, where you feel marooned from a world of struggle and strife, as though adrift in a sea of yesteryears.

The air thrummed with mystery as we landed at Mahé International Airport (in eastern Mahé) after a four-and-a-half-hour flight from India. We had heard tales of hidden treasures and the exploits of the 18th-century pirate La Buse, who had hidden his ill-gotten spoils so effectively somewhere in the island that even after 300 years, the cache (which included a solid seven-foot gold cross studded with diamonds called the Fiery Cross of Goa) has not been found.

Buzz around town
We drove from the airport towards northeast to reach our hotel that was located on the beach of Beau Vallon. It was in a celebratory mode as a local marathon was on. From our room we could see a cream-coloured swathe of beach dotted with families that picnicked, car stereos that blared as kids swam, bobbing like brown corks in the ocean, while sweaty runners sprinted past. An impromptu local market had sprung up along the quay and did brisk business with grilled snacks.

An amble in the posh part of the town yielded glimpses of sloping, red-tile roofed bungalows that glowed in the lee of verdant hills and open-sided restaurants that served the catch of the day. Dive centres offered snorkelling, diving, sailing and other motorised sports that are only allowed in Mahé; some were one-man/woman outposts located under colourful beach umbrellas.

Seychelles’s facets were enchanting as the island-nation revealed its secrets slowly, as though conscious of the fact that its jaw-dropping beauty could not be exposed at once.
Next, we ferried towards the island of Praslin, lying 40 km northeast of Mahé. We clambered up the Pirate’s Trail, where we stumbled upon an 18th-century stone oven and artefacts like a cannon ball, a rifle and a small treasure chest that are believed to have belonged to the dashing buccaneer La Buse or his ilk.

Praslin has the breathtaking beauty of a coy bride — its beaches like the Grand Anse and Anse Lazio have a Robinson Crusoe feel. Only 7,000 people live in Praslin, which is the country’s second largest landmass. (The total population of Seychelles is 90,000.) Praslin’s showpiece attraction that we visited next morning was the UNESCO World Heritage site, Vallée de Mai (a valley in the heart of Praslin National Park), where the erotically shaped, double-lobed coco de mer (sea coconut) grows within a luxuriant palm forest. The oldest coco de mer palm tree here is 400 years old. As we held one in our sagging arms, we were told that it’s the largest seed in the plant kingdom and weighs around 25 kg. A single fruit costs nothing less that US$ 300.

Untouched La Digue
When in Seychelles, it is de rigueur to go island hopping. So we went to the car-free isle of La Digue, which lies 7 km away from Praslin. The seas were choppy that day,  and the ferry bucked like a bronco in a rodeo. The island is unspoilt with just bicycles, ox carts and a handful of pick-up trucks plying its narrow roads. Our handsome driver Alain, on spotting a camera that was left behind in his truck, drove back to return it to its owner.
At La Digue, we stayed at a guest house that was virtually sculpted into a hill. We woke up to a pearly dawn and an avian orchestra that would have inspired Italian tenor Pavarotti to break into a song. The island was our jumping-off point for excursions to the Felicite Island, the Sister or Soeur Island and the Coco Island, where we snorkelled, marvelling at the clear waters with coloured fish — the lion fish with its red markings, green-blue parrot fish, a tentacled octopus lurking in a coral cave and a manta ray floating through the sparkling waters like an alien starship.

On our last day, after we revelled in a local massage at Mahé, we dined with writer Glynn Burridge. The colourful man is a spinner of suspense tales and has written two novels set against the picturesque backdrop of Seychelles, his adopted country. He whispered to us about La Buse’s treasure and where it might be hidden, and we recalled the words of D W Winnicott (an English paediatrician and psychoanalyst), “It’s a joy to be hidden, and a disaster not to be found!”

His words could be applied to Seychelles, for many of its islands are yet-to-be discovered gems adrift in the Indian Ocean.

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