Beyond seas & sands - Mauritius
Famed for its sapphire waters, powder-white beaches and luxury resorts, the island has much more – it is the kind of place that rewards even the smallest attempts at exploration
Flying high above the treetops on a warm tropical afternoon, I felt a freedom that I haven't felt before for quite some time. Although I was quite sceptical before launching, the view racing below me was absolutely worth it. I was Ziplining in the southern part of Mauritius, about an hour's drive from the capital – Port Louis.
One of the major tourist attractions in Mauritius, La Vallee des Couleurs National Park is spread over 450 acres and shelters the indigenous flora and fauna of the island. This park also offers beautiful panoramic views of Mauritian beauty with its mountains, plateaus, pools and waterfalls making for quite a trek. If you aren't in the mood for walking, hop onto one of the numerous quad bikes. The ubiquitous green, punctuated by waterfalls streaming down into the pools below, also makes for a eye-catching scene.
Casela National Park
Next on the list is Casela National Park. Unlike many zoos elsewhere, the Casela National Park acts as a sustainable form of tourism where you can interact with the big cats in a non-cruel atmosphere.
Apart from watching the lions and cheetahs lazing around gracefully, you can also afford to pet them – albeit under supervision. The Casela National Park also features a motley group of giraffes and ostriches who loves to be fed.
After a good 3-hour stroll around the park, it was almost time for lunch. With empty stomachs, we headed to the Sofitel Mauritius L'Imperial to try out some of the local grub. The food here is quite interesting, very similar to Indian cuisines as most of the ingredients remain pretty much the same.
Despite the similarities in ingredients, the cooking style has been influenced by the French colonialists creating the ubiquitous Creole food. Most of the Creole dishes like the Rougaille – a tomato and garlic-based gravy featuring anything from eggs to mutton and even seafood, is usually accompanied with steamed rice, boiled chickpeas, mashed potatoes and salad.
The main reason that Indians love visiting Mauritius is the strong presence of Indian culture. Dishes like Dhol Puri brought over by the Bengalis and Biharis immigrants from India is quintessentially Mauritian to such a large extent that
you can call it the national dish of the island. Every Mauritian goes misty eyed at the mention of this dish – a flatbread stuffed with yellow split peas seasoned with cumin and turmeric and grilled on a tawa and served along with tomato-based chutney and pickled vegetables.
The Indian food notwithstanding, the best way to understand the Indian influence on the Mauritian culture is to visit the Apravasi Ghat. Literally translating to 'Immigration Department', it saw almost a million immigrants pass through its gates since the mid-19th century. Although the history of the Apravasi Ghat muddles through the horrific colonial times, its stands today as an indelible mark on the Mauritian history.
The majority of Indian workers had been recruited into the sugarcane industry and this is where we headed next, but with a thirst! We reached the Rhumerie de Chamarel, one of the numerous rum distilleries dotting the island. Here, the sugarcane is distilled into rum that has gained immense popularity across the globe. Set in a typical colonial-style building, it is surrounded by sugarcane plantations covering almost 400 acres. As we drove off the main road, we could see sugarcane fields on both sides of the driveway before opening onto the porch where we ducked inside to taste. Distilled in copper pots and aged in French Oak barrels, the Singe Barrel 2009 is an extremely intense and complex flavour profile of vanilla, dried fruits, toffee, caramel and nuts. Another distillery that has been an intricate part of Mauritian history is the Distilleries de Labourdonnais which has been home to the Wiehe family for over 150 years. I am a bit partial to XO 2010 that is a blend of multiple rums aged in French and American Oak.
Plethora of cultures
One of the easier ways to understand how the Indian and Chinese cultures have influenced Mauritius is by observing the skyline. The island has all kinds of temples including Sagar Shiv Mandir, Sri Prasanna Venkateshwara Temple, Pandurang Kshetra Mandir and Kwan Tee Pagoda. The very popular Sri Draupadi Amman Kovil, which is visited by hundreds of devotees, has a rare idol of Draupadi installed in it.
The island of Mauritius not only offers scenic blue beaches, sparkling blue waters and idyllic sunsets for couples looking for private space. It also has a plethora of cultural, culinary and adventure activities, thereby making it a perfect holiday destination.
Before my visit to the island, images of beaches and seas were the only thoughts I had in my mind about Mauritius. The trip indeed changed my perceptions as I got embedded with the uniqueness of the beautiful island – both on social and cultural fonts – creating memories of a lifetime.
Traveller's Fact File:
How to reach
Air: International flights to Mauritius land at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, which is about 50 km from the capital city of Port Louis.
Road: To enjoy the road journey, one can reach the SSR Airport and take a bus to their desired destination. Buses available from the airport are 09, 10, and 198.
Sea: Board a cruise to Port Louis from the ports of Mumbai or Chennai or choose to take a boat ride to Mauritius from Madagascar and have a luxurious experience.
Places to visit
Black River Gorges National Park, Pereybere Beach, Casela World of Adventures, Trou Aux Biches, Anse La Raie, Curepipe, Ganga Talao, Le Pouce and Quatre Bornes are the major attractions in Mauritius
Accommodation Mauritius offers a range of accommodation solutions such as hotels, private resorts, vacation villas and vacation apartments in different price levels and standards. Accordingly, the room price can vary drastically according to the ranking of the hotel, the season in which you are visiting Mauritius, the period you plan to stay, and so on.