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Merrily marooned in Mauritius

And if it’s good enough for JK Rowling to have retreated in Mauritius to write the final Harry Potter, it is good enough for me, write Lalita Panicker.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2008 22:58 IST
Urban Gypsy | Lalita Panicker
Urban Gypsy | Lalita Panicker
Hindustan Times

Emerald, jade, olive, moss, leaf, parrot, mint, malachite, bottle, lime, I could go on about the shades of green that hit your eye when you land in the tiny ocean island of Mauritius. Now VS Naipaul, what would we do without him, might have described Ile Maurice as an ‘overcrowded barracoon’ which had sugarcane and more sugarcane and then the sea. I rather go along with Mark Twain who said, ‘God created Mauritius and then Heaven.’ And if it’s good enough for J.K. Rowling to have retreated here to write the final Harry Potter, it is good enough for me.

Now if you are the frenetic tourist, you will want to race around taking in the sights of this lovely island with its rustling sugarcane fields and oddly-shaped mountains. I preferred to laze around an old colonial bungalow in the prettily named Rose Hill, a mere 25 minutes away from the quaint capital of Port Louis. Sitting in a planter’s chair, a glass of white wine by my side and a nice book, the mist-wreathed mountains in the distance, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. But, occasionally, I would haul myself out of my reverie.

Wandering around the Caudan Waterfront in Port Louis, I was struck by the unhurried pace with which people conducted themselves. Come afternoon, office workers would be sitting out on the waterfront munching baguettes, a favourite staple of all Mauritians, as they watched the startlingly white yachts sail by.

<b1>The Indian Mauritians, it seemed to me, were stuck in a time warp as far as their sartorial leanings were concerned, fashion having stopped somewhere between Sadhna and Asha Parekh. Still, it is soporific to sit around sipping sugarcane and ginger juice listening to the lilting patois of Creole, French and bad Hindi.

I took a swing around the shops on the waterfront which are meant to be among the most upmarket in the country. The prices certainly were but I did come across a bewildering assortment of dodos, the sort of national emblem of the island.

The poor trusting bird, now long extinct, seems to exert an unusual fascination for Mauritians and its replicas in wood, ceramic, on towels, sheets and posters are everywhere. From there I hopped across to the Blue Penny Museum, which houses all manners of rare stamps. But for those not philatelically inclined, this can be a bit of a bore.

And, before I forget, the food and drink. For such a small island, I managed to sample a vast cornucopia of cuisines from Chinese, to French, to Creole, to Spanish, you name it. And of superb quality at affordable prices. So famous are some restaurants, that Jacques Chirac himself is said to nip across incognito for a nibble now and again. I, of course, gave Indian food a skip; why carry coals to Newcastle?

The local food? I’d give it a wide berth if you ever happen to be in that neck of the woods. It is a curious concoction called dhall-puri, no doubt a throwback to the land of their ancestors for most Indians there. Having gorged myself and downed a glass or two of fine wine, I wound my way to Grand Baie with its giga-gorgeous beaches.

The more adventurous can easily take an underwater walk there where they can commune at close quarters with the ish. I preferred a glass-bottomed boat from which I could see the aforementioned fish but at a safe distance.

It is the colours, yes those again, that strike you about the ocean around Mauritius. It is now cobalt, now azure, beryl, aquamarine, turquoise, powder blue, eggshell blue, lapis, sapphire, all merging into a vast curacao martini. I lazed around on the beach wolfing down the cut pineapple that colourful vendors press on you and sipping fresh coconut water. Despite an island full of coconut trees, Mauritians don’t use the versatile fruit in their cooking.

The thing that struck me pleasantly while frittering my time away on the beach was the number of Mauritian families that picnic together. I could see several groups where clearly at least three generations were present, swigging beer and eating the omnipresent baguette.

One day, when I had run out of books to read and had tired of BBC’s exclusive food channel, I stepped out to Pampelmousse, an exotic botanical garden, the pride of Mauritius. The variety of trees and plants there were dazzling, their leaves growing to such proportions as only possible on tropical islands. Thanks to the island being south of the Equator, I was as warm as toast while Delhi was freezing.

It is night-time that is most exciting in Mauritius and I don’t mean the nightlife unless you fancy trance parties on the beach in the company of assorted Rastafarians.

Used to the mechanical din of Delhi, it is first alarming and then soothing to be assailed by the philharmonic orchestra of night insects and frogs. And always in the distance is the gentle swish of the sugarcane stalks. On the waterfront, you can see the twinkling lights of gigantic ocean liners as they begin their long journey across the seas from the harbour at Port Louis.

And, now on to the island’s prized product, its rum. I got my hands on a brand called Green Mountain. It was pale green, smelt of heaven and tasted of the spirit of this dark, mysterious island. I toyed with the idea of visiting the Medine, where this rum is bottled and partaking of the rum tasting tour, but better sense prevailed and I stayed in my senses.

When the time came for me to return, I thought I would make a mad dash from Sree Seewosagar Ramgoolam airport back to Rose Hill, change my ticket and lounge around for a few more days. But, sadly, my spouse sheparded me into the waiting plane. On the seven-hour flight back home, I dreamt of going back to that little piece of heaven on earth as soon as I possibly can.