Shopping spree in Mauritius

Once in Mauritius, Purnima Sharma chooses to bring a piece of paradise back home

Shopping in Mauritius

Aao aao, India se aaye ho?” Ivneesh Dash is in no mood to let us walk past his little shop that nestles in the bustling maze of the Port Louis Market in the capital city of Mauritius. But since we’re not keen to pick up a shirt that could easily be available in India, we shake our heads but Ivneesh would still like us to stop — for just a chat.

“Election ho gaye? Ab development hogi,” he states confidently. The youngster has never travelled to India but keeps tabs on the goings on here from Mauritius, a country that’s long been his home — ever since his ancestors landed there more than 200 years ago to work on its shores as indentured labourers in sugarcane fields. “We’re Mauritian now and are very happy here,” he insists directing us to Rishan Gauba’s stall for something “no one will regret buying”.

The man whose roots lie in Kolkata is all smiles as he shows us “eight and twelve-seater” table linen, all beautifully embroidered with typical Mauritian motifs including tiny human figures in conical hats and sailing in pretty fishing boats. And soon, we’re all charmed by cutwork embroidery on cushion covers, mats and bed spreads in a variety of colours. Haggling is a given, we’d been forewarned, and we sure are prepared to indulge in some healthy bargaining. Happy with the deal struck, Gauba packs in our buys and adds a set of eight napkins that he says, “complimentary hain”.

As we move on, the innumerable shops open up what seems like a mini India. “We are fairly well-versed in four languages — English, French, Creole and Hindi,” says Nikhee whose stall lies in the Puja Market that offers a variety of samagri for all kinds of religious ceremonies — from dried coconuts to maulis, bhagwan ke vastra, plastic flowers for decoration, incense sticks, etc. “While almost all festivals are celebrated here, the grandest celebrations are reserved for Maha Shivratri and Diwali,” he informs, as his sister shows us the mehndi corner where ready-to-apply cones are available in this historical gem of Port Louis.

Dodo lives on

Picking up a glass of iced rose syrup, we stop at a stall offering a variety of wooden toys and decorative items. It’s ironic that despite the dodo going extinct it continues to be omnipresent — one can see it at almost every corner of Mauritius, the land of its origin. And hundreds of artefacts — from fridge magnets to paintings, wooden trays and toys besides T-shirts and dresses all raise a toast to this flightless bird that was once endemic to the island but has now become nothing more than a fixture in popular culture.

Beautifully crafted objet d’art like masks that have been painstakingly painted by local artists in a style that could be called similar to Australian aboriginal art capture our attention. “This is a very popular style here,” says Rushad in broken Hindi, “And hanging one outside the entrance is believed to keep evil spirits away,” he adds with a smile as we pay up for one and move towards the lady selling trinkets. Pocketing a few clips shaped like pretty hibiscus flowers for the hair besides some junk jewellery, we are now on the lookout for the spice wholesellers that the market is famous for. From elaiti or elaichi (green cardamom) to ti lani (anise) and tukmaria (basil seeds), this is a perfect place for those interested in rustling up an exotic meal. Of course these, together with a variety of herbs. are available at malls and grocery stores as well.

“You can’t afford to leave Mauritius without the stuff that comes from our sugarcane plant,” says our host. And sure enough, most visitors like us can’t help but get seduced by not just the beaches but also the picturesque sugarcane fields that look spectacular against the backdrop of turquoise coloured water and diamond-white sand.

Sweet demerara

Sugarcane cultivation has not just made Mauritius a global player in the rum-producing industry but has also earned it a major position with its brown-hued demerara sugar that is used for preparing various kinds of beverages. This can also be picked up from Mauritus’s sugar museum, L’Aventure Du Sucren, where you get to taste the varieties of sugar manufactured raw in its factory. And yes, savour the brilliant sugarcane juice as we did.

Walk into any market, be it the malls or the bustling Caudon Waterfront market that, on the day we visited, was abuzz with the creative colours of the annual bread festival. Participants, even housewives who love baking, from all across Mauritius, come here to participate, informs our host and needless to say, it’s difficult not to be charmed by the exhibits on display. We walk into the Craft Market, which is a great place to pick up traditional stuff such as dexterously created ship models, paintings that capture the varied vignettes of Mauritius, dolls in local outfits besides beach outfits, stuffed toys such as lions, giraffes and the good ol’ dodos, Buddha heads, wooden sculptures, fridge magnets and baskets and hats made of dried sugarcane leaves, both embroidered and plain, are also on offer.

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