|(Top) Mauritius is all about clear waters and stunning views; walking with the lions in Casela Bird Park
On the plane to Mauritius, the most irritating thing was the number of newlyweds going there for their honeymoon. The bangles of the new brides could have lit up a shopping mall and their coy, yet knowing looks grated on my cynical sensibilities.
Mauritius, though, is well worth such minor irritations. Id heard of Mark Twains famous remark that heaven was a copy of Mauritius. And from the air, I saw a beautiful, verdant country with turquoise seas, beach-fringed shores, mountains, fertile uplands and sugarcane swaying in the breeze.
The drive to Balaclava in the north where I was booked at Hotel InterContinental, reinforced the impression. This was a peaceful and green land. Each corner of the volcanic island has stunning views.
The Hotel InterContinental Resort offers everything from landscaped gardens, ocean-facing views, a spa, a very long beach and several restaurants. You can swim, sunbathe, scuba-dive or snorkel — the clear water and the long coral reef means that there are spectacular dive sites. I picked up a paper which listed the activities on offer: table tennis, beach soccer, yoga, windsurfing, parasailing, darts, tennis, bike tours to neighbouring beaches, kayak races, tennis volley on the beach and a Mauritian sarong demo.
For those who want to venture out, there is an enormous amount on offer, notwithstanding the fact that Mauritius is just 40 miles long and 30 miles wide. There are golf courses. You can hire a catamaran, crew included and cruise past mountain ranges, jungle terrain and small islands. The Blue Penny Museum is worth a visit with its striking artworks, coin collections, colonial maps and more. Children will enjoy the Sugar Museum to learn about the islands oldest industry and main export.
Adults may visit La Rhumerie de Chamarel, a distillery, to enjoy tasting the plants noble end-product — rum. There is an exclusive range of rum in this distillery. Apart from the famous white rum, you can knock back some coeur de chauffe and rhum paille.
The Pamplemousses Garden is known to naturalists all over the world for its collection of exotic plants. It includes the giant Victoria amazonica water lily thats so big that it can take the weight of a full-grown man. I didnt dare test it!
One of the most popular activities is walking with the lions at Casela Bird Park on the west coast. Our guide, Ajay, had a wicked sense of humour — just as well because some of the people in the group looked queasy and his humour helped to quell the fear. We realised that wed be walking into the jungle armed with nothing but a stick. If there are any final words you wish to say to your husband or girlfriend, say them now, he joked. This is the time for final confessions!.
As we began walking into the tall grass, a group of trainers suddenly emerged with two lionesses. I shrank back in fear but I also enjoyed the delicious frisson. You sensed immediately that this was a thrilling but controlled situation with people who knew how to handle the majestic creatures.
We walked alongside them, watched them climb trees, clamber on to boulders. I stroked one (I can report that the fur felt no different from that of Freddie, my labrador) and posed for a photograph.
Later, still at Casela, I went on a ride in the park in a two-seater buggy. Turning a corner and suddenly seeing a zebra, giant tortoises and squealing wild piglets was delightful. You could spend all day in the beautiful Casela.
Mauritius is one of the most cosmopolitan places on earth. It has a rich culture with 22 languages and virtually every faith imaginable. The island is dotted with mosques, temples, churches and gurudwaras. First colonised by the Dutch in 1598, who named it after their ruler, Maurice, Prince of Orange, the French followed suit. In 1810, Britain freed the African slaves brought by the Dutch, but got workers from China and India instead.
For shopping I went to Port Louis, the capital, and Grand Bay. Port Louis is charming and utterly exotic with its palm-lined streets and colonial buildings.
The fashionable Caudan Waterfront, on the harbour, is a great place to eat and shop. In the evenings, Grand Bay is a lively area with a little beach and lots of shops and roadside vendors. I had a sumptuous lunch of baked crabs with hollandaise sauce and giant prawns overlooking the sparkling bay.
My trip to Mauritius happened to come close on the heels of a visit to the Maldives, which I found utterly divine. But then, if you want a bit more to your holiday than natural beauty and beaches, Mauritius fits the bill perfectly.
Getting there: Return airfare (ex-Calcutta) to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport starts from around Rs 45,000.
Staying there: A nights stay for two at Hotel InterContinental Resort Mauritius starts from around 158 euros (Rs 9,900 approx.).