Of magical dawns

Seychelles

Of magical dawns

I do not expect a holiday in an island country to begin at 5 am. The stars are still looking down at us and the silhouette of the trees gently sway to the morning breeze. Echoing through the breeze is the loud roar of the waves. In an hour, we are driving through the silent streets of Mahe, the largest island in the archipelago of Seychelles to the jetty to catch the early morning ferry to Praslin, the second largest island in the country. I am not a morning person, but there is a certain thrill in waking up before dawn and watching the Indian Ocean change colour as we go island-hopping.

Island excursions

A flying fish skims over the surface of the ocean and ducks right into the sea, as we bid goodbye to the windmills and seek new shores. Seychelles has over 115 islands, but our agenda is to visit just a handful of them — Mahe, Praslin and La Digue with an excursion to Cocos and Sister islands. Chunks of land layered in tones of green float in and out of sight but the eyes are getting used to the ocean of blue spread in front of me. The sea is a bit choppy and tales of pirates and lost treasure fill the air. I however take some refuge in poetry, feeling a little like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, hoping no albatross would stalk our little ferry. All I however see is a flock of fairy terns flying past us, as we land at Praslin.

There are many treasures tucked away in this emerald-tinged island. The first one is hidden in a nature trail in Iles Des Palms. A beach resort is suddenly transformed into a cinnamon plantation with a rainforest set amidst its 180 acres. Walking around, I am greeted by giant tortoises and distracted by green geckos. The Seychelles bulbul cackles away and the Blue Pigeon makes a quick appearance as I am led into the wilderness to see a little hollow in the rocks, believed to have been the haunt of the pirate La Buse, who was probably sitting inside and wondering where to hide his loot.

The second treasure is the Biblical Garden of Eden that is believed to have been in Praslin — a primeval patch of land filled with virgin tracts of palm trees that goes by the name of Vallee De Mai. If there is a paradise on earth, then it has to be in this nature reserve, the world’s smallest UNESCO World Heritage Site. Giant palm fronds surround us as we look out for the world’s largest seed, the coco de mer, shaped like a large woman’s pelvis. Perhaps it is the erotic shape of the seed and the legends surrounding this palm that soars over 100 feet that got British General Gordon to call it the Garden of Eden.

Suddenly we hear a whistle and we crane our necks to look at a canopy of green overhead. And then we sight a black wing. In a jiffy the elusive Seychelles black parrot dashes into the folds of the fronds and vanishes out of sight. Locals believe that a large mythical bird lived in the coco de mer trees but the black parrot is as mysterious as the legendary bird, with barely 100 birds living here today.

Bird paradise

Morning dawns and it’s the Madagascar fody, a tiny red bird that welcomes me. As the sun-kissed ocean sparkles, a lion fish floats out of the debris. It barely takes 15 minutes to reach La Digue, which seems to be in a deep stupor as we land. Large granite rocks in various forms loom large amidst the oceans. There are no cars, just bicycles, ox carts or open trucks that transport you around this tiny island. We are however going island-hopping again — this time to Cocos and Sister islands on a snorkelling expedition.

The seas are choppy and our speed boat is tossed by the waves. I cling on to the rod of the boat lest I lose my balance. In a few minutes, we stop almost in the middle of the ocean. I am tempted to snorkel but am reluctant to jump into the waters all by myself.

But Hyacinth, the loud, energetic skipper puts a reassuring arm around me as I plunge into the waters. In a moment, I forget the world above. Below is a kaleidoscope of colours with corals as the marine life comes alive. The parrot fish, the lion fish, the turtles, the octopus. I can barely remember the names as multi-hued fins swish past me. At Cocos Island, we stop at a beach and snorkel again in the ocean. I do not know which is more fascinating — the white sands with large rock formations where snooty terns hide or the turquoise blue waters or the palate of colours under the ocean. 

Back on the shore at La Digue we head to the most photographed beach, Anse Source D’ Argent, and then spend the rest of the day looking for endemic birds. The day ends on a personal high as I get to watch the black paradise fly catcher and its better half feed a baby in the Veuve Nature Reserve.

Morning dawns and we are back on the ferry to Mahe to lose ourselves in the arms of nature. Batman, a fruit bat, meets us in a hike, we encounter Taka and Maka, the giant tortoises, in the Takamaka Bay Rum distillery, and the Madagascar fody follows us everywhere. Finally, as the holiday ends, I raise a toast to Seychelles’s sunrise, drinking in the beauty of the island and its vivid colours.

Fact File

Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 islands, most of which are granitic while some are coral islands. The capital is Victoria, located in Mahe, the largest island. Praslin is
45 km from Mahe and La Digue is 11 km from Praslin. Ferries connect you to these islands.

In Mahe, there are many options to stay – from the luxurious Avani Seychelles Resort to Savoy Resort and Spa to the economical Coral Strand Smart Choice. In Praslin you can stay at Le Relax  or Iles Des Palms while in La Digue, you can stay at the charming Chateau St Cloud.

 Air Seychelles flies to Mahe from Mumbai every day.

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