As Mauritius celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Independence, President of India, Ram Nath Kovind joined the celebrations, reaffirming the strong bilateral ties between the two countries which share not only the Indian Ocean, but common cultures and a huge migrant community who came to the island many years ago as indentured workers
It is not just the Indian Ocean that Mauritius and India share – the two countries are linked by a long historical and cultural legacy. After the French, the British colonised the island in 1810 and following the abolition of slavery in 1835, Indian indentured labourers were brought to the island to work in the sugarcane plantations in place of the former slaves. The indentured labourers originated mostly, from central India, from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and speaking Bhojpuri as their mother tongue, changed the ethnic composition of the island nation. In those early days of migration, the labourers referred to Mauritius as ‘Marich’.
Today, nearly 70 per cent of the population have ancestral ties with India, who has been Mauritius’ ally in its economic and social development. It was only apt then that Indian President Ram Nath Kovind was chief guest at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the island country’s independence.
An Indian touch
The celebrations started with a sailing regatta on the Mahebourg waterfront and cultural events that even included the famous koli (fishermen’s) dance of Mumbai and a Bharat Natyam performance. The official flag hoisting ceremony was held at the Champs de Mar racecourse (the second oldest in the world) in Port Louis followed by drills and demonstrations including one by the Sarang team of the Indian Air Force with death defying helicopter manoeuvres that held everyone spellbound. Earlier, in the day, Kovind and Mauritius PM Pravind Kumar Jugnauth signed a number of MoUs. In a statement to the media, President Kovind announced, “India has signed an MoU to revive the Nalanda University which was a global seat of learning in what is today Bihar, from where ancestors of many Mauritians came. Also, the ministry of AYUSH India will institute an academic chair for Ayurveda at the University of Mauritius to help promote the science for the benefit of the people of Mauritius. India and Mauritius share deep historical links and people to people ties. We have now entered a new era of cooperation with 25 priority projects being implemented in Mauritius with Indian assistance.”
India has lent Mauritius $353 million of assistance and a line of credit in November. India has also financed 950 housing units in the island nation. Continuing with the co-operation and as part of the historic moment, President Kovind laid the foundation stone for an ENT hospital here as well as inaugurated the World Hindi Secretariat. Jugnauth informed that India and Mauritius have renewed the Programme for Cultural Cooperation for another four years upto 2021. This will ensure exchanges in culture, arts, literature and languages between the two countries, he said.
Speaking exclusively to Indian media, Mauritius tourism minister, Anil Kumarsingh Gayan said, “Our association with India goes back to pre-Independence days and has strengthened over time. And today we are seeing the blossoming of the ties. As we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of our Independence, we had a magnificent helicopter display by the Indian Airforce. This is something that happens every year. The Indian military is always present on our Independence day. But this year is special because the Indian President is here.”
Commenting on tourism between the two nations, Gayan said, “I wish we had more Indian tourists coming to Mauritius. We plan to increase Air Mauritius flights from Mumbai from the current four to daily. The airline also flies from Delhi twice a week and operates a hopping flight from Chennai and Bengaluru as well. But nothing beats a direct flight. So we want Indian airlines like Air India and Jet Airways to fly to Mauritius. We want them to know that we are open to business and we would love them to fly to Mauritius.” He added, India is a big country and the airlines may want to tap the domestic potential, but a time will come when they will want to explore farther destinations. And I am sure with the increased cooperation between India and Mauritius in developing a new airstrip on the Agalega islet in the Indian Ocean, which will be used by the Indian military, there are exciting possibilities.”
He also spoke about Mauritius as a tourist destination. “We have excellent facilities in terms of accommodation, infrastructure and activities. We have a temperate climate and when India has monsoons, we have winter here with temperatures of 15-16 degrees. So this is something we can work on to bring Indian tourists here. But over and above that we have lots of other things that makes us close to India. Like the festivals, recently we celebrated the Mahashivratri for 4 to 5 days. We are a multi cultural country, a peace loving people and we want more people to experience it,” Gayan stated.
There are many hotels in Mauritius including Beachcomber Hotels & Resorts with eight resorts on the island. The Mauritian hospitality brand is the pioneer of the hotel industry in the country.
Mahebourg museum and market
Located on the shores of the country’s biggest lagoon, Mahebourg is a coastal town that is closest to the island’s only airport. Its unique amalgam of colonial and Creole architecture, and its local markets makes Mahebourg a must visit. Founded in 1805, the town was named after the famous French governor Mahé de Labourdonnais.
A small complex of buildings on the seafront in Port Louis, Aapravasi Ghat was the place where the first indentured workers arrived into Mauritius. Indenture was a 19th century worldwide phenomenon started by the British after the abolition of slavery. It involved the mass migration of workers from India, China, Africa and South East Asia to labour- importing colonies. Mauritius was the first country which had recourse to indentured labour.
Between 1834 and 1920, almost half a million indentured labourers arrived from India at Aapravasi Ghat (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to work in the sugar plantations of Mauritius, or to be transferred to Reunion Island, Australia, southern and eastern Africa or the Caribbean. At present, less than half of the Immigration Depot area as it existed in 1865, survives. However, some of the key original structural components still stand. These include the remains of the sheds for the housing of the immigrants, kitchens, lavatories, a building used as a hospital block and the symbolical flight of 14 steps through which all immigrants entered the Immigration Depot.
Grand Bassin or Ganga Talao
Grand Bassin is a crater lake about 550 meters above sea level with a depth of between 50 and 55 feet. In 1972 a priest from India brought sacred water from the Ganges and amid much ceremonial poured the holy water into the lake. From then on the lake has been known as Ganga Talao. Ganga for Ganges and ‘Talao’ means ‘pool’.
Chamarel is a mountain hamlet, home to the famous Terres de 7 Couleurs (seven coloured mud), a natural phenomenon and a prominent tourist attraction. The rolling dunes of multi-coloured earth have long intrigued geologists. Chamarel is also known for its world-class rum. En route to the seven coloured earth lies La Rhumerie de Chamarel Distillery, one of the rare distilleries that cultivates its own sugarcane for its rums. There are guided tours ending with rum tasting.
Located just a few minutes away from the seven coloured earth in Chamarel, Curious Corner is a house filled with optical illusions including a 200 mirror maze and the upside down room. Be sure to allow at least an hour and a half to experience the whole adventure.
L’Aventure du Sucre (Sugar World)
Sugar has left a profound impression on the history and identity of Mauritius. Located near the Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens, L’Aventure du Sucre (Sugar World) museum was inaugurated in October 2002 and covers over 5000 m2 inside the converted old Beau Plan Sugar Factory which stopped its industrial activity in 1999. All the original machinery is present and leads the visitor through the complicated process of sugar production, understanding of the sugarcane plant and its end products, the sugar routes and the sugar markets. The visit includes a free tasting of more than 30 products at Le Village Boutik including 12 unrefined brown sugars, rums of the New Grove House, jams and honey. Don’t forget to visit Le Fangourin Restaurant under its shaded veranda facing the plush garden of Beau Plan for a taste of regional cuisine.
The Maconde route
The Maconde route with its hairpin curves hugs the coastline between Le Morne and Baie du Cap and is one of the most scenic routes in the world. Visitors can stop by at the Maconde View Point, a rocky outcrop offering stunning coastal views. The point was named Maconde after the governor Jean Baptiste Henri Condé, who built the outlook many years ago.