Shiva in a Camper Van

You need to find out
Coz no one’s gonna tell you what am all about

“Parlez vous francaise m’moiselle?” asked a faint voice from behind the mint green burkha next to me at Sahar International Airport.

Time : 2:30 am
State of mind : Anxious
Inner DJ spinning : “Arriving somewhere but not here” (Porcupine Tree)
Destination – Mauritius

The petite Bohri lady next to me looks fairly Indian once she lifts the veil and then she smiles genially at me. I respond with a dry smile and “Sorry ma’am, no French” look. She shows me her boarding pass and through some vague hand gestures we manage elemental communication confirming that we are at the right boarding gate.
This is my introduction to “Maurice” and its people. Most of who look and behave in a manner fairly similar to an average Mumbaikar except when they open their mouths to speak and fluent French pours out of it.
The original plan for a backpacking trip to the Thai islands was scrapped due to last minute changes and one very dismal event in a life fairly ordinary by most accounts.
So, I booked a ticket to Mauritius and mentally prepared myself for the possibility of kissing fish. Which, I ultimately did.

Upon arrival at SSR international airport, a cheery airport hostess and some strong drizzling outside greet me. The Air India code share flight with Air Mauritius was an abysmal experience and I hate flying so I wasn’t in the best of moods when I landed. As I was standing at the immigration check, I managed to raise my travel-weary head and tear myself away from the incessant whirring in my headphones and what lay in front of me took my breath away. Lush green. Beggaring description. Vast stretch of lush green paradise visible through the large window behind the checking agent’s desk. I expected Mauritius to be a fairly touristy place that looked naturally brochure ready but the real deal here was far more exhilarating than any picture could do justice to.
My drive to “Les Cocotiers” was a spiritual awakening of sorts. The mountains on your left compliment the sea on your right and you feel like you are gliding through a cornucopia of consummate natural splendor.

The Stay – The beach was about 5 minutes from my cottage and I could spend innumerable leisurely hours sipping pina coladas and staring at the horizon.
Nugget – Always check if your hotel has a good gardener. Our gardener had a speedboat and was kind enough to take me for spins right at the onset of dusk. He doubled up as a fisherman over the weekend and the snapper he wanted to gift me was a really nice gesture, to say the least.

Tohar Naam Ka?

My driver asked me that right after he greeted me with a “Bon Jour mademoiselle”.
Fact – Bhojpuri is as good as a national language with news bulletin being telecasted in it. Apparently, truckloads (boatloads?) of Bihari workers were shipped off to the island during the late 16th century and have made it their home. As a result, do not be shocked when you come across women dressed in bright red benarasi saris with orange vermilion neatly lining their hair, who alternate between chaste French and Bhojpuri.

Hi, I am Daku and this is Chor.

That’s how my diving instructor introduced himself to me. Not the most pleasant thing to hear when you are in the middle of a pretty fierce ocean stranded with four tall, muscular boys who don’t believe in the concept of upper-body clothing and most of their torsos are covered with rather elaborate tattoos. Fact though, they are as harmless as bunny rabbits. If the idea of an undersea walk doesn’t sound like the easiest thing in the world well you are not wrong, it is not. However, the experience will alter forever the way you classify the can-do, can’t-do and the never-cans in your life. Everything seems possible after this. The corals are gorgeous even if a little spiky but it’s the fish that make you want to transform into a mermaid so that you can spend the rest of your life underwater. A funny little troumpet followed me throughout my walk. My instructor handed me a piece of bread and suddenly I morphed into a fish magnet.
When you reappear from underwater, you are new. You have changed and you feel as though the next worthwhile thing to do would be scale Mt Everest (and I have signed up for a base camp in November). So, there!
The other and the only gangly instructor insisted on playing with my feet dangling in the cool blue,  as I perched on a plank of wood that lined their makeshift home right in the middle of the ocean. So there are people on God’s green earth who essentially spend their days snorkeling for a living. Bah!
He called himself Ray and confessed that he wasn’t really Creole as he had pretended earlier but a nice North Indian export and did occasionally visit the temple when he needed divine diving intervention.
When do you need divine intervention?
“When lots of French people come for the diving”

Moving on.

Ille Aux Serfs is a tourist hotspot. It also happens to be unbelievably gorgeous. I had to visit. I spent an entire day walking the island. I gathered some interesting snippets.
Mauritius doesn’t have any snakes. On the terra firma, that is. There are sea snakes but that’s it.
If you manage to stop for a while by a street corner, you will find the most brilliant combination of daal and roti with pickles served by vendors riding ancient lunas. It’s a much-needed break from the usual boiled French fair available at most restaurants.
The water is really that blue and no, its not photo-shopped in the travel promos.

The Bronze God

108 feet Shiva.
Bronzed and smiling in the lazy afternoon sun. He is the happiest of all the idols I have ever seen.
He also seems a lot friendlier than the deities back home. Its just the island vibe, I concur. Ganga Talao in Triolet attracts the faithful and also those who belong  to faiths other than Hinduism. Some Indian followers and emigrees consider this lake to be the Mauritian equivalent of the sacred Indian river and a temple reigns supreme in this area. The Other Shiva statue that presides over the temple can be seen from a distance. 

Innumerable Italians scattered around with “tikas” dotting their foreheads. Some things never change!

More to come

The South African Clan of 12, the Italian women who out-muscled their men on the bus, staring into the eye of a 600,000 year old dormant volcano, breakfasts with an Aussie who thinks Sri lankan food is the best thing since sliced bread (well, actually, from before it I think), Sega dancing, Adam – the Singer of Amitabh Songs, Strange Man on the beach who insisted upon calling me Bipasha, Stephane(Stefaan) – The Supreme paraglider- cum-masseuse, an adopted in-flight grandmother, The 1000 year old trees of Pamplemousses,  meeting Amma and sharing spiritual tid-bits with her 150 devotees and some more anecdotes.


~ by iconoplastic on April 17, 2007.

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