Secret Traveller by Jamal Shaikh: Noosa & other happy discoveries

Published on Jan 20, 2023 10:34 PM IST

Noosa around my neck!As a traveller, I’m particularly wary of proper nouns that sound like marketing catchphrases

One of only 10 World Surfing Reserves, with five world-class point breaks, Noosa’s surf sites are set against the backdrop of a beautiful coastal national park
One of only 10 World Surfing Reserves, with five world-class point breaks, Noosa’s surf sites are set against the backdrop of a beautiful coastal national park

Noosa around my neck!

As a traveller, I’m particularly wary of proper nouns that sound like marketing catchphrases. “Gold Coast” always sounded like one, and for the longest time, I believed it to be an artificial (read: characterless, tourist-trap laden) destination created by marketing gurus and smart entrepreneurs. So, I kept away.

In reality, Gold Coast is the formal name of a region in eastern Australia, just south of Brisbane, and is arguably the most famous holiday destination for local Aussies and international tourists alike.

On my first visit there a few months ago, I saw the never-ending sandy beaches for myself, though I was more intrigued by lagoons inland. But the city must have sensed my reluctance towards it, and the weather Gods turned on me. My weekend in Gold Coast was washed out by the worst rains the region had in six years. To escape, I started driving north and discovered another proper noun that sounds like a common noun: the Sunshine Coast. Thankfully, I didn’t dismiss this one as quickly.

Noosa, the main town in this region, is a surprise that many non-Aussies haven’t even heard of. With a population of less than 5,000 people, it has the best surfing beaches in the country, maybe even the world. The laid-back vibe can be compared to Bali, but with great Australian infrastructure to match.

The oddly named Noosa has limited stay options, but unlimited cafes and good restaurants to go to.

I refreshed my limited surfing skills on a beach where teenagers take their first surf lessons. The older guys on the other side of the boulder sniggered… but hey, I had the best surfing afternoon ever. The beach was all mine, and I went back the next morning for more.

From curated fashion to hidden treasures, Australia’s small towns offer unique shopping experiences
From curated fashion to hidden treasures, Australia’s small towns offer unique shopping experiences

Along the way, a tiny town called Maleny is worth a visit. Its population is even smaller: less than 4,000, and the star attraction is the Botanic Gardens, which also has a bird sanctuary. Here, guests who are willing to enter the cages can make new feathered friends. The various birds, some huge in size, are friendly enough to jump on your shoulder or perch on your head. Just remember to take off your earrings, in case they feel like a peck or pull.

My favourite place in this one-street town turned out to be the Maleny Bookshop. The owner of the store was a fan of Hinduism, or how we do religion in India, and organised discussions on the Bhagavad Gita every weekend. If I had stayed back on Sunday, I wouldn’t have missed this.

The Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple is the largest Hindu temple in the Pacific. Its towering structure features ornate carvings of a number of Gods.
The Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple is the largest Hindu temple in the Pacific. Its towering structure features ornate carvings of a number of Gods.

Not Dubai, celebrating the Emerati

Why is Dubai on a “surprise list”, you ask? Because the “new Dubai” deserves to be!

Once known as an over-the-top celebration of all that’s manufactured, Dubai is slowly transforming itself into a Mecca of culture-rich individuals with their own stories to tell.

These young people are local Arabs, but also Indian, Pakistani, Lebanese, Palestinian, British… from all over the world, born to parents who’ve lived and worked in Dubai.

Alserkal Avenue is an arts and culture district that fosters homegrown creativity in Dubai
Alserkal Avenue is an arts and culture district that fosters homegrown creativity in Dubai

Take a walk down Alserkal Avenue in the industrial area of Al Quoz, in Dubai. Originally a compound used by car mechanics, the space now houses art galleries, an independent theatre and cinema, a dedicated store for sneakerheads, co-working spaces and cafes that are not copies of famous ones in London or Paris, but conceptualised and created in Dubai for Dubai.

The one housed in the cinema is owned by an Indian, and combines the love for Bollywood and other things desi from the POV of someone who has never lived in India. Just alongside is the UAE outpost of leather brand and café Nappa Dori/Cafe Dori, started by Gautam Sinha in New Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village a little over a decade ago.

In the art galleries, you may be surprised to see statues of Indian Gods and Goddesses wearing or little or no clothing, something you probably assumed you’d never find in the Arab world. As it has before, can Dubai lead the opening up of a part of the world that has remained closed for too long?

Outside of Alserkal, local Dubai brands are popping up, showcasing their individuality in fashion, food and the arts. I was particularly taken by two restaurants: Orfali Bros, run by Mohammed Orfali, a chef of Syrian descent, and TresInd Studio by Himanshu Saini. Both chefs say their cuisine is international, but influenced by the food they grew up eating.

Nappa Dori’s flagship store in Alserkal Avenue
Nappa Dori’s flagship store in Alserkal Avenue

These two talented young chefs may not be “Dubai’ians”, because a word like this doesn’t exist. But they certainly are Emeratis, who are proudly from Dubai, and it’s time for them to shine.

Nadi, Suva and Lautoka, anyone?

In the often ignored Pacific island of Fiji lies a not-so-well-kept secret. Almost 40 per cent of its population is of Indian origin, and 30 per cent identifies as Hindu. Fiji was ruled by the British, so isn’t surprising. But how starry-eyed Fijians are about everything Indian certainly is.

The good students make it to Indian universities to study (JNU is spoken about like we’d talk about Harvard), and those unwell come to India for treatment, if they can afford it. The half a dozen Hindi radio stations in Fiji play Bollywood music non-stop, except for a unique programme in the afternoons: every Fiji-Indian’s death and funeral is announced on that show.

Gautam Sinha, the founder and creative director of Nappa Dori
Gautam Sinha, the founder and creative director of Nappa Dori

I based myself in Nadi, situated in between the national capital, Suva, and the commercial centre, Lautoka. A two-lane national highway runs along the circumference of the island. Most tourists skip all the cities and head to the luxury resorts that dot this road. If the Maldives is known for its blue waters, Fiji must be defined by its skies that are a unique shade of blue.

I headed east one day to Suva, where the broad avenues and imperialistic buildings show in no uncertain terms that this is the capital city. Head to the food courts at one of the many malls to eat some local food and observe local habits.

I undertook my trip to Lautoka on the local bus. The city centre is bustling and can be overwhelming to many, but you cannot be Indian and avoid crowds, can you? This city is much bigger and less organised than the capital, but is great to collect slice of life experiences that you won’t find anywhere else.

Suva, Fiji’s capital and largest city is home to historical sites, markets and a vibrant nightlife
Suva, Fiji’s capital and largest city is home to historical sites, markets and a vibrant nightlife

And Nadi? It’s a one-street town dotted with shops on both sides. A local coffee chain called “Bulaccino” (Bula is their local greeting) became my go-to wherever I went, and it was on this street that I made Fijian friends, as well as an acquaintanceship with some Punjabis from Jalandhar who run sugarcane juice shops and were happy to tell me how they had escaped their lives back home. FYI: Fiji remains visa-free for Indians, and until flights get less expensive, their government need not worry about illegal immigrants.

At the end of the day, walk the end of the main street in Nadi to see the most stunning Hindu temple you’ve ever seen. With statues of Shiva, Ganesh and Lord Murugan, it is the largest in the Pacific. As you revel in its beauty, remember what they say: take an Indian from India, but you’ll never be able to take his Indianness away from him.

Follow @JamalShaikh on Instagram and Twitter

From HT Brunch, January 21, 2023

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Jamal Shaikh is National Editor - Brunch and New Media Initiatives at the Hindustan Times. He is a well-known TV host and magazine editor, who has launched and edited the Indian editions of Men’s Health, Robb Report and Discovery Channel Magazine. He tweets and Instagrams @jamalshaikh

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