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An island romance

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From Escapades Under The Sea To Petting A Lion Cub To Experiencing A Vibrant Culture, Mauritius Offered Adventures Aplenty, Says Arundhati Basu   |   Published 03.01.09, 12:00 AM

This turned out to be more than just an ordinary tourist trip. It even made me believe in fairytales all over again — a modern fairytale, but one nonetheless. For I found romance in adventure, in the most unlikely of places; in teardrop-shaped Mauritius. Before I landed on this little island that is part of the Mascarene archipelago, I knew of it — from friends who had come back black but ecstatic from their time spent there — as just another beach destination.

But there’s more to Mauritius than just sunbathing and swimming — though you could easily spend hours taking in the postcard quality of the blue waters that change hues from turquoise, pale blue and aquamarine to a brilliant sapphire.

But we packed in more than just the sun and sea — though there was a lot of that too. I moved into the fast track high up in the mountains flying up and down the rocky terrain on a quad bike — it’s a four-wheeler with huge, fat wheels and even amateurs can ride it safely. Then, we plunged to new depths on the bed of the ocean, walking in between coral reefs and also travelling in a small submarine designed for underwater sightseeing. In between we even got a taste of Mauritian culture and history.

My rendezvous with adventure began on Belle Mare Beach with an underwater walk in the sea. The best part is that you don’t have to be a swimmer — I can barely swim to save my life.

So there I was, wearing a lantern-box like helmet and rubber shoes, walking around and almost touching the coral — I was stopped by the safety diver who had come down with me. But he did deign to let us hold a pink-rimmed sea urchin.

When you hit the ocean floor there are a few moments of panic. That was replaced by awe as I found my feet on the bed of the sea, especially as I held out breadcrumbs to the zebra fish. But be warned: those little things give nifty little nips.

Another high point of our journey was paddling in the warm waters of the lagoon island at Cerfs near the town of Trou d’Eau Douce and thereafter speed-boating to the foam-spewing waterfalls of Grande Riviere Sud Est. Next in line was parasailing over the sea, which I took to, like a bird takes wing.

If that wasn’t enough next I was in the ocean once again for a ‘tube’ ride. A ‘tube’ ride consists of settling into something that’s like a hole in a raft and flying over the waves as it’s pulled by a speedboat. It’s great fun — as long as you don’t mind getting your behind thwacked at least two dozen times a minute.

Another trip was to Île Plate or flat island, off the north coast, famous for its still-functioning lighthouse built around the mid-1800s. The day there was spent in a hot haze of Sega dancing (introduced by African slaves during the French colonial period), drinking champagne while feasting on lobsters with Xavier Luc Duval, the vice prime minister and minister for tourism. It’s probably island living that makes even a minister cordial enough to join in dancing the sensual Sega with colourfully dressed women twirling around in their elaborate skirts.

Not to miss out on the food that kept us going through six days of flirting with fun — our lunches often turned out to be island-style, barbecue affairs on deserted islets. Or we sat in cosy eateries like the Le Capitaine in Grand Baie and tucked into Créole seafood. (By the way, we also had sumptuous spreads at Le Pearl Beach Hotel on Flic en Flac beach. At 110 euros for a double bedroom per night, it’s well recommended).

Bwana, a one-year-old leopard at the Casela Bird Park

Even more exciting was our trip to Mont Choisy where we dove 35m underwater in a submarine for around 40 minutes. Next we tried the sub-scooter, patented by the Blue Safari submarine tour. We put on helmets and drove around underwater on the sub-scooters.

In between, we had large doses of culture and heritage thrown in. We also checked out Troux aux Cerf, an extinct volcanic crater and — on a different note — checked out the world’s second biggest Shiva statue at Grand Bassin and gaped at the seven coloured earth at Chamarel. The last of these, an inheritance of the island’s volcanic past, is astonishing with the blue, green, red, yellow, purple and various other shades coming together on the dunes.

But much more exciting was the walk with the lions at the Casela Bird Park in the Black River district. It is an experience of a lifetime and you can cosy up to a lazy one-year-old cheetah and feel the thrill of him purr and turn over his belly to you to be stroked.

The encounter with the six-month-old lions — Chiara and Kimba — was less personal. We walked with them over a long trail, but we had to be on our guard. Those paws made us think twice before getting too up and close. But I lived to tell the story, so it couldn’t be that dangerous.

Now with all the sun and the salty air, I was the girl on the beach with a golden brown tan and more. For my knees are skinned, my feet are sore, I look nothing less than the smoked marlin I had the last day there. But the pleasure remains — romancing the island and having it romance me back.

Ready reckoner

Getting there: There are direct flights to Mauritius from all Indian metros.

Staying there: Accommodation is available in all price brackets.

Exchange rate: The currency is the Mauritius Rupee. 1 MUR= 1.517 INR.

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