Friday, January 6, 2017

Mesmerizing Mauritius!

Couple of decades back whenever there was a need to get anything done related to passports or flight tickets, I remember visiting one of the travel agency offices in my hometown. One of the most interesting attractions in the office was the wall that was beautifully adorned with posters of quite a few destinations across the world. Among everything on the wall, one poster always caught my attention. A lovely white sand beach with beautiful emerald green waters with pine trees lining the borders of the beach! It was a scene right out of a fairy tale.

Twenty years down the line, I now stand with the emerald green waters kissing my feet bringing along with it the lovely white sand blanketing my ankles and right behind me I can see the pine trees still lining the borders of the beach. Yes! I am in Mauritius!

It was a family vacation my wife, Ruby and I planned along with our son and daughter, Ryan and Mia, five and one year old each. We had our reservations about travelling with kids; yet we decided to go ahead and take that challenge. Time was to prove if the challenge was worth it!

We took a direct flight of Emirates from Dubai to Mauritius with a duration of six and a half hours. It was an A380 aircraft and was our first experience of flying the double decker jumbo. Fortunately the flight wasn’t that full and we enjoyed the journey though Mia didn’t sleep much during the flight. After most of the journey above the blue waters of Indian Ocean, seeing a green patch of land appearing in the middle of nowhere was a worthwhile sight from the aircraft. We touched down at Mauritius at 10:40 AM local time at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) International Airport which is the main airport in Mauritius.

One thing that surprised us right after we got into the airport terminal is the extensive usage of Hindi as a language in Mauritius. We learned later about the influence India has on this country. A lot of people here speak Hindi along with French and their native language which is Creole. Tamil also seems to be spoken widely here. The airport was a small one though seems to have made good use of the solar energy available in plenty. Officers at the immigration counter were quite friendly as expected since tourism is the key source of revenue for this island nation. We’d planned 5 days of vacation in Mauritius and being Indian nationals got the Visa on arrival for 30 days.

One good decision that we took was to take the baby stroller with us. The efforts of carrying the baby around in our arms would’ve otherwise spoiled the whole trip. We had booked our stay at Emeraude Beach Attitude Hotel a three star beach resort at a place named Belle Mare which was an hour’s journey from airport. Nicha, the guy responsible for the airport transfer we booked was waiting outside the terminal with a name-board with my name written on it. Being the month of November it was the beginning of summer in Mauritius and the temperature was a pleasant 27 degree Celsius with lots of sunshine!

The drive to our hotel was through very scenic routes and the geography shared a striking resemblance to Wayanad, one of the districts in my state of Kerala in India! We could see a lot of sugarcane plantations en route and Nicha said that’s the major cultivation in Mauritius. Ironically you don’t get to buy any of these sugarcane from the local markets since everything gets converted into sugar. Another sight that raised our curiosity was heaps of black boulders that we could see on the farms on our way. These were the remains of the volcanic eruption that happened millions of years back. Mauritius itself is an island of volcanic origin.  

Soon enough we were at our hotel and were welcomed at the reception with some sort of a drink mixed with local rum. The drink was so good that when we kept the glass down it was almost full still. We had opted for a half-board option which includes room, breakfast and dinner. After freshening up quickly we headed towards the dining area where we had lunch. We then decided to take a quick nap before going to the beach.

By evening we went out for a stroll on the beach which was right across the road from the hotel. The walk through the pine trees was a pretty unique feeling. We realized that we were quite late for the beach as we were the only ones there at that time. Also due to low tide, water had receded exposing algae and some other marine organisms. We decided to come back tomorrow for a better experience. Dinner followed and by ten o clock we hit the bed, something which we can’t even imagine doing back home! Another good thing about the resort is that they do not have Wi-Fi in the rooms and hence you are forced to live the good life you had a couple of decades back where your eyes were not glued to the screens.

Day two started with English breakfast which we learned is the norm there at the hotel. Though we’d initially thought of going for a sight-seeing tour that day, we changed our plans to spend time at the beach instead. There was a glass bottom boat ride offered by the hotel and we opted for that to begin the day with. We had to be a bit extra careful to board the boat with two little kids. The driver of the boat helped and were welcomed to the sight of an Indian flag on the boat!

Even before getting on to the glass bottom boat we’d noticed something strange about the beach there. Though the beautiful emerald green water and white sands were all there, one key ingredient seems to be missing. The waves! We could see the waves stopping a bit far away as if someone is not permitting them from reaching the beach. We got the answer to this puzzle during the boat ride. There is a natural coral reef up to 2 kilometres from the beach and this acts as a barrier to the waves from coming closer to the shore. This coral reef is what we see right through the glass bottom of the boat. There were quite a few fishes as well and kids were especially excited to see them so close. The crystal clear waters also helped to see them up close.

One thing I very clearly missed was getting a filter for my camera so that I could capture the complete beauty of this paradise! Nevertheless, images etched deep down in the mind is no competition for a digital image sitting somewhere in an online album.

After almost an hour of appreciating the beauty of corals, we returned to the shore. Walked through the white sandy beaches and collected a few pieces of corals that were lying around. There were quite a few coconut trees lining the beach and some dried grass as well. This combination gave a distinct mix of blue, green and hay colours. A perfect frame for some good beach shots and that’s exactly what we did! After the photo shoot we went for another stroll on the beach and also explored the rocky terrain on the beach where we were greeted by schools of tiny fishes.

Lunch followed and we took a nap after that. The hectic days of work seems to be somewhere in the distant past and that’s exactly what this break was meant to be! Ryan and I decided to check out the pool at the resort. It was fun to be in the water together. He in fact taught me a couple of swimming actions he learned in school! After this we went again to the beach for a short walk. Tide was low and we saw quite a few marine organisms like shells and sea urchins in their natural habitat. It was an interesting experience for everyone to see these beings directly, than only in books or TV channels. We had planned to take a North Tour of Mauritius tomorrow and had informed Nicha to reach in the morning. Had an early dinner and hit the bed so that we could get up tomorrow to begin our tour-de-Maurice!

I got up early in the morning, surprisingly without having the need for an alarm! Got out with my camera without disturbing Ruby and kids. Went for a walk through the pine trees and clicked a few shots of the Mauritian morning. Was back on time for breakfast and pretty soon we were on our way to Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius towards the North of this small island nation. Sugarcane fields and sceneries that reminded us again of Kerala, passed by. Advertisements talking about downloading Bollywood songs also caught our attention. A surprising find was the presence of the golden shower tree, Cassia fistula, which is the state flower of Kerala known as ‘Kani konna’!

Nicha dropped us near the harbour at Port Louis. We walked around the small town and explored the old market area there. We’d to cross a subway to reach the other side of the road and guess who was waiting there to say ‘Hi’ to us?! None other than Shahrukh Khan! Of course, as a poster on the wall of subway for his latest movie ‘Dear Zindagi’ :)

Our next stop was SSR Botanical Garden which was a naturally maintained green belt and that is the best part about it. You don’t get the feeling of a well pruned scientifically laid out botanical garden. Instead you get the feeling of walking through your backyard with the exception of some roads in between. We had our lunch there at a gazebo where quite a few birds gave us company. There was a stream flowing next to the gazebo which was home for quite a few fishes and ducks among other species of birds. Ryan and Mia had a great time feeding these birds and watch them at such close proximity. After a bit of asking around we finally ended up at, literally, the biggest attraction in the Botanical Garden, The Giant Water Lily pond! The sheer size of the leaves were overwhelming. As mentioned in the information board there, the diameter of a healthy leaf under optimum conditions can reach up to 3 meters! We also said hi to a family of giant turtles before heading to our next stop.

Picture this. A huge volcanic mountain jutting its head out of the sea watching the beautiful white sands on the beach lined with Royal Poinciana/flamboyant trees where a lovely red coloured church sits right there on the shore with the bell tower holding its head high announcing good news to the world. That’s Cap Malheureux for you. Happy with the opportunity to pray, we got ourselves a few pictures clicked with a couple of French tourists there. By that time it was getting dark and we started back to the hotel. The shops over here in Mauritius all close down by six in the evening since they are open seven days a week. The roads are all quite deserted after sun down to the extent that you feel safer to be indoors before sunset. End of day three. South of Mauritius, you get to see us tomorrow!

Another early morning in Mauritius. Mia had got up quite early today and hence it was a morning out for daddy and daughter together. We went for a walk on the beach. Saw a lot of interesting marine beings including a couple of star fishes. A school of tiny fishes also said good morning to Mia! Guess the morning breeze was so soothing that soon she slept off in my arms. Shortly after that we had our breakfast and started off to explore the South of Mauritius.

Nicha took us first to a diamond cutting shop where a whole lot of diamonds in different shapes, sizes and colours from across the world were on display and sale. From there we went to a ship model manufacturer and it totally was an out-of-the-world experience. Just walking through the models of the old war ships that once ploughed the oceans of the world was simply an awesome feeling! Unfortunately they didn’t allow photography there, else Ruby would’ve had a tough time to get me out of there.

Our next stop was an old volcanic crater. Though the crater now looks more or less like a valley with a lot of greenery, the mere thought that once it was a bed to molten lava send shivers down the spine! The Black River Gorges National Park followed which was a very beautiful view point where we spent a while, fully taking in the beauty of nature at its best.

Chamarel was waiting for us and hence we didn’t delay much to visit this location, famous for its seven coloured earth, the result of a volcanic activity. We stopped briefly to get some souvenirs from the gift shop there. We also got some coffee grown within that private coffee plantation in Chamarel. Before it was too late in the evening, we headed back to the hotel for our last night at Mauritius.

Day five and our last day at this paradise on Earth, we went around a bit to check out the small town of Belle Mare. Got a few goodies specific to Mauritius and before we went back to the hotel for packing our stuff we had a last few moments spent at the beautiful beach.

Nicha was not available to take us to the airport and hence arranged a friend of his to pick us up. We were dropped by one o’ clock in the afternoon for our flight. The airport was quite crowded, nevertheless we did a bit of last minute shopping at the duty free store as well. Soon we were on board an A380 EK702 flight back to Dubai.

Thanking God Almighty for a wonderful vacation at this beautiful piece of land on the face of Earth our aircraft cut through the clouds leaving the mesmerizing Mauritius! We bid adieu to the fantastic beaches taking back home tonnes of memories that will definitely last us for a lifetime! 

The Album

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Take a Break!

Article for Bethlehem Matrimonial - Jan 2017

A year after we got married, my wife and I went on a trip along with a newly married couple who was none other than her brother and wife. The trip was to the location known as Queen of Hill Stations, Ooty. Six years after this trip we still remember most of the detail of that trip and keep referring back to one or other incident during that trip. We’ve been doing that quite often and that’s when it hit us! One reason why we keep recollecting those good times is the fact that it was an awesome trip. But there was another reason for remembering Ooty days. It was none other than the truth that we didn’t have a ‘proper’ vacation after that wonderful trip!

We became parents, twice in 5 years, shifted to a different country and had to deal with a bunch of other responsibilities. All of these and more forced us to keep in the backburner, our plans to travel to a new destination. Every time, there was something or other stopping us from planning a trip to a location other than our home country. Going back home was never a ‘vacation’. Many a times, those home trips turned out to be more hectic that, by the time you are back, you needed another break! Life went on like that...

Looking back at the last six years, we can definitely highlight various achievements and happenings in our life worth mentioning. Having said that, with the passage of every year, my wife and I could sense something seriously missing. With God’s grace we were having a decent job and a good life with two loving kids. But there seems to be some gap somewhere. A sense of loss started looming over our life with every December reminding us that we’re bidding goodbye to another year.

The feeling kept on growing and finally a couple of months back, we took a decision that we can’t just take this anymore. Yes! We needed a break badly! Incidentally it just so happened that a colleague of mine posted a couple of pictures of his vacation at one of the most beautiful island nations in Indian Ocean. It was a destination that I’ve seen only as framed pictures in travel agencies or similar such places. We got excited at the prospect of spending a relaxed time in the emerald green waters of that beautiful island country! The travel bug has bitten us.

Preparations started at a crazy pace. Trip Advisor helped us find a good deal and hotel bookings were done. The flight tickets were booked online. Shopping for the trip followed and before even we knew we were at the airport terminal counter, handing over our bags to the Check-in staff. A few hours of journey and our aircraft touched down on this wonder piece of land on the face of Earth.

Next five days were perhaps some of the most beautiful ones in the last six years in our life’s calendar. There is no parallel to the happiness that we experienced. The concept of taking a break was truly becoming a reality that we were forced to relax and remain disconnected from everyday pressure of work and life. One of the best things at the resort where we stayed was that they didn’t have Wi-Fi in the rooms. That made us even more disconnected from the world and enjoy some quality time for ourselves.

You cannot really imagine the different perspectives that the trip kept in store for us. We learned about a new culture. Experienced the kind of things that we’ve only watched in channels such as National Geographic and Discovery. Learned a lesson or two in managing finances better. It was a sheer bliss to watch the little ones, though aged only five and one, thrilled to be in a different part of the world. I was very happy as a father that I could provide them with this experience though they may hardly remember any of this when they grow up. What mattered most was that they lived and loved every moment of the trip.

Five days just zipped past like five seconds. We just didn’t want to leave that wonderful land and get back to normal life. How much did we wish for time to be frozen! The beautiful memories will be etched in our minds forever. There is only one question that remains in our mind now, “Where are we going next?”!

May this New Year help you all experience this delight by taking a break and regain the vigour of life. God bless you with a wonderful year ahead! 

Planning Your Trip

It is a well-known truth that nothing is more refreshing than travelling to locations, especially new ones. Many families do this at least...