Are you travelling to Mauritius with your parents?" asked the stewardess. "Why, yes, of course!" I beamed. His question surprised me, to say the least. But soon, the plane started to fill up, and what do I see? An entire army of married couples! Across aisles, blood-red bangles jingled on mehendi-laden hands and the gold on wedding bands shone brightly as ever.
And there we were - my mom, my dad and me - stuck in a 'honeymooners' aeroplane'. Like aliens in a strange land, we stood out from the crowd. But, a husband in tow or not, I was determined to enjoy my vacation. After all, how often would I get to swim in crystal-clear waters, share a meal with dolphins, relish fresh tropical fruits every day, visit a soon-to-be-active volcano (wait at least 1,000 years for that), or experience a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, and that too, all in one place?
Yes, Mauritius isn't just the Indian honeymooners' most-preferred getaway; it is a portal to heaven for all its visitors.
Tourists look at Mauritius in two parts: the North and the South. But mind you, you are never too far away from the ocean. North is where the capital city of Port Louis lies, along with Le Caudan Waterfront, a seaside commercial complex that houses many shopping units, eating joints, and a casino. South is where the tallest Shiva statue in the world looks down upon his devotees, a waterfall enlivens the area, and a river snakes through a national park before emptying itself in the ocean.
Our Mauritian journey began with the South tour. Fair warning: you have to drive for quite a while to get from point A to point B here. But you will have no reason to complain as the intermittent views of the big blue ocean and green villages and towns will keep you satiated.
At 9 on a bright early morning, we found ourselves in a small setup housing wooden miniature boats. At different corners, men were busy at their craft. While one was weaving together threads to connect the mast of the ship to the deck, another one was carving out little windows in a half-finished ship. After the miniature ship factory tour, our wallets were lighter while the bags were heavy. We left the city behind as we headed to our next stop: a dormant volcano crater in Curepipe village. While the crater itself is inaccessible, many come here, to the top of the hill, to enjoy 360-degree views of the town and the coastal plains. Don't leave without an ice-cream or a plate of spicy-sweet fruits.
Many generations of Indian families call Mauritius their home. Which is why at around noon, we found ourselves at Grand Bassin, also known as Ganga Talao, a crater lake sitting pretty at 1,800 feet above sea level. Symbolically linked to one of the holiest rivers of India, Ganga Talao is an oasis of calm.
Moving on, as our van made its way through hilly terrains, honeymooners got busy clicking selfies. Taking pity on the only 'unhoneymooning' couple in the group, our guide took us on a 'Get to Know Mauritius' talk that brought us a little closer to this wonderful country.
"Mauritius is a country dominated by villages, almost 170 in number, and it enjoys a spectacular coastline of 390 sq km. Since ours is a French colony, our main languages are Creole and French," he said.
We are in a country whose population is dominated by Hindus, 1.4 billion to be exact. So, don't be surprised to find temples and little shrines in every nook and corner.
A quick stop for lunch and we were off to Chamarel, a village located right next to the Black River Gorges National Park. We were there to see Seven-Coloured Earth, a world-famous natural wonder, and Chamarel Waterfalls, a jaw-dropping water beauty. A signboard told me that the 'Seven-Coloured Earth' dunes contain traces of ancient activity of geoclimatic events.
The basalt from the intermediate-period lava flow has been leached by the humid climate, leading to gullied clay. The decomposition has left iron and aluminium oxides, which repel each other, resulting in colourful stripes. "Heavy rainfall doesn't erode this unique formation, nor does any plant grow here," said the guide. The waterfall, on the other hand, is dominated by dense vegetation and is apparently perfect in the monsoon. But for now, it's just two narrow strips of water from River St Denis falling from a height of 270 feet.
The next day, I couldn't help but think that the North Island tour was mainly targeted at shopaholics. If not, why would anyone want to spend almost four hours at Le Caudan Waterfront, the seaside shopping complex?
This spacious conglomerate is also where many actors have proclaimed their love for each other on the silver screen. If you are a shopaholic, this is the perfect place to pick up souvenirs: sugar packets (Mauritius is known for its sugarcane), artefacts, and more.
Or, if you are feeling lucky, you can also gamble at the casino here. But don't leave the place without visiting the Blue Penny Museum, a brightly lit setup that will give you a glimpse into the history and art of Mauritius.
Behind the lens
Now, the sympathetic looks weren't the only disadvantage of travelling with my parents. Since I didn't have a husband fawning over me, I unofficially became the official honeymoon photographer for the group. But I couldn't complain, as I, in return, often got treated to the delicious Mauritian vanilla yoghurt every now and then.
As we bid goodbye to this blue jewel of the Indian Ocean, we realised that Mauritius isn't just about beckoning beaches, casuarina-lined coasts or thrilling water-sports adventures.
The tiny nation holds within its folds many fascinating cultural aspects that turned our beach vacation into something much more. Be it the Apravasi Ghat, which served as the island's immigration depot for indentured labour from India, or the Champ de Mars Racecourse, which is the oldest horse-racing club in the Southern Hemisphere, or the Rhumerie de Chamarel, a rum distillery whose carefully concocted spirits might just be the cure for all your stress, Mauritius is full of surprises.