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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ile Aux serfs (deer island), Mauritius

Ile Aux serfs is one of the most visited place in Mauritius. Almost every tourist or traveller would include this place in their itinerary. Needless to say the place is very touristy and also bit hyped. But nevertheless, a good place to visit!!

Beach at Ile Aux Cerfs
Ile Aux serfs is an island on the eastern coast of Mauritius. When translated, it sounds as deer island!! Though there are no deer, the island has a golf club, white sandy beaches and crystal clear water with some restaurants. It is also a good place for water sports like para sailing. People come to Mauritius for beaches and Ile Aux cerfs does not disappoint.

Two islands facing each other!!
It was about 75 minutes drive from Flic En Flac to the Jetty of Trou d’Eau Douce town. While the first part of the drive passed through the busy roads, but once the main highway was crossed the drive was through sugarcane plantations with very little vehicular traffic. As we neared the Jetty, the road turned narrow and I was bit worried about the parking place. But that was not an issue. In general, it is a good idea to come around the opening time of 9:30 AM. Also, try to avoid weekends and Sundays as it tends to get crowded. 

Clear waters
Anyone trying to google about this place would get a list of tour operators offering packages to this island. There is hardly any information available for people who plan to go on their own. But it is not an issue at all. After parking our car, we headed to the boat counter. It was 9:45 AM and there were not much tourists. The guy at the ticket counter provided the option of either going through public or private boat. Private boat was expensive and since the less crowded, we felt that it makes sense to take public boat. It was from the mainland->Ile Aux Cerfs -> GRSE waterfall->Ice Aux Serfs->mainland with good amount of time to spend on the island. 

Strip of sand at Ile Aux cerfs

Few minutes of waiting and the boat arrived. Apart from us, there were another group of three people on the boat. 15 minutes of ride brought us to the island. At the island, we found some nice place and jumped into the water!! For the next hour or two, we just played in water. It was a difficult task to bring Tanu out of water. There are public changing rooms, showers and toilets. 

To GRSE waterfalls

It was time to head to GRSE waterfall. A speed boat took us further south to the mouth of the river. Ver soon we were in front of a 30 feet waterfall.

GRSE waterfalls
It was an amazing experience to see waterfall from the boat. The boatman took very near to the base where we could experience the water splashing on us!! This place should not be missed at all. 

Tanu posing in front of the waterfalls

The boat person also allowed us to get down the boat and climb to the top of the waterfall. Not every boat stopped here so I feel it is left to the discretion of the boatman. Looks like he was happy with us for some reason!! By the way, even though we opted for the public boat, in this part of the trip we were the only ones on the boat.

View from the top of the falls

Very satisfied, we came back to the island. Now we decided to explore island bit and relax. It was not hard to find an isolated place. We spent a long time lazing under the trees gazing at the blue waters. It was a peaceful place. 

Information
  • The first boat starts at 9:30 AM from Trou d’Eau Douce.
  • The last boat from island is at around 4:30 PM
  • Avoid Weekend and Sundays. We went on Monday and it was peaceful.
  • Restaurants are available including an Indian restaurant. We did not try as we had brought our lunch. Expect the prices to be on higher side.
  • Get a combined trip of GRSE waterfall and island.
  • Public boat price is between 1000 to 1400 MUR. This includes trip to island and waterfall. Kids are charged lower rate.
  • I do not think that there is an option to stay on the island. There are many hotels on the mainland.
  • You need a full day for this island.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Hike to a beautiful waterfall

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If you travel on the ghat road from jog falls towards the coast, it is hard to miss this majestic waterfalls performing hide and seek at each turn on the circuitous route. Having passed through many times on this road, I thought about reaching to the base of the waterfalls. But there seemed to be no path to reach to the base of the falls. I must say that I did not give a try!!

Second waterfalls
Recently I started getting news that a track has been made to the base of the falls. While that was encouraging, it also meant that I need to visit the place as soon as possible before our people fill it with garbage. During my recent visit to my native place, my cousin sister reminded me about this falls and I promptly added to the itinerary. 

MM waterfalls seen from the trail
We had planned many places on that day and it was quite late when we reached the ghat road. While the waterfall made its appearance on the road, we were in a bit of hurry to enjoy the beauty. We had to reach to the base and come back before it got dark. 

Base of the waterfalls
Some Government department had put up a board on the highway about the falls but it had fallen off. The remaining signs were easy to miss. One of them was an arrow written on the road!!  

Direction to waterfalls!!
The walk was simple though there were deviations that could mislead a bit. We directly reached the base of the falls. The falls looked beautiful and safe to play in water. But it did not look like the “real” base. That seemed to be higher up on upstream and we could not find a way to climb further. It would be tough climb on boulders. The time was also a limiting factor on that day.

"Main" waterfalls
While coming back, we made a detour where the stream formed another falls. It required us to cross the stream and get down to the base of the falls. Here I met a photographer from Sirsi who mentioned that there is one more waterfalls upstream.

First waterfalls
To reach that stage, I had walk along the stream for around 200 meters but it was worth the effort.

The first stage
It was dark by the time we reached the highway but were fully happy with the outcome!!

"Main" waterfalls



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Submarine experience in Mauritius

Before our trip to Mauritius, we never thought that a common person can get into a submarine. When Mauritius plan was made, Chaya who had heard about it from someone asked to include it in our itinerary. Many advertisements in Mauritius proclaimed the great experience of submarine. First I thought that it would be available at many places in Mauritius but that turned out to be false. There seemed to be only one company offering submarine. It was Blue Safari situated in North Mauritius.

Inside the submarine

When we visited North Mauritius on one of the days, we directly walked into Blue safari office. But no free slots were available that day and hence I had to make some changes to the plan and come back after two days. In general, it looks like the submarine is in great demand and it is better to make booking couple of days in advance.

Marine life

The total time duration of submarine trip was 2 hours but actual time inside submarine was about 45 minutes. From the Jetty, we were taken on a boat that took about 15 minutes where we were transferred to a bigger boat. The sea was rough and it was bit challenging to move to another boat. From the bigger boat, we had to get into the submarine. 

Corals and marine life
It was our first submarine experience. To enter into the submarine, we had to get down a narrow ladder through a small hole. Unlike the military submarines, this was a small one that had 10 + 1 seats. Five on each side and a center one for the pilot. But it was not claustrophobic. Some instructions were given and then the submarine dived into the ocean.

Wreckage of a ship

The dive was gradual and we did not notice it much. Interestingly, the red color (anywhere including shirt color) turned into violet!! This was because water acts as a selective filter and after 10 feet most of the red is gone!! The depth has different effect on each color. 

Wreckage

The submarine went down by 40 meters and we were at the floor of the ocean. Wreckage of a Japanese ship was seen. Having seen them only in television, it was a different experience to see in live below 40 meters. 

Sea turtle
The marine life and coral was also abundant. The sighting to remember was the sea turtle. A star fish was also seen. Many varieties of fish were seen. Having been on scuba diving and snorkeling, it is not different. The pilot ensured at both sides got good views of the marine life. Also, the roughness we experienced on the boat was completely absent under water. It was super calm!!

Starfish
The submarine ride itself was about 45 minutes after which we were transferred to the bigger boat and then to the smaller one. Overall, it was a good experience though it was very expensive. But it is not common to get an opportunity to get into a submarine!! It is not easy to go down 40 meters under waters by other means!!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Massive Ratnagiri fort

At the Karnataka Andra border near Madhugiri, situated is the massive Ratnagiri fort. It has a great history spanning from the time of cholas to Nayaks to Vijayanagar to Hyder Ali. This fort was in my backlog for a long time. After climbing the Madakasira fort in January this year, Wido and I had decided to climb Ratnagiri. So, when Wido announced that he would be in Bengaluru in October, a trip to Ratnagiri fort was planned. Wido’s colleague, Santosh also joined this trip.

View from the top

Like previous trip, I went to Airport to pick up Wido and Santosh proceeded towards Ratnagiri. The route we followed was Airport->Chikkaballapura->Tondebavi->Madhugiri->Ratnagiri. The road was mostly good except for the some stretches between Chikkaballapura and Tondebavi where road construction and rains had damaged the roads. The total distance was about 130 km.

Ratnagiri fort seen from the village

At the village, I tried to park the car and walk but the villagers insisted on driving further. The path was narrow and zigzag and it went inside the fort. Apparently the walls of the fort extended to the plains and part of the village was inside the fort. After reaching a dead end, we parked the vehicle and started our walk.

Car parking

By then few kids from the village had come near us. For them, Wido was the prime attraction. They were very proud hen I told that he had come from US to see the fort in their village. They volunteered to accompany us throughout the trek!! Being energetic and talkative kids, they were a nice company. Very soon they got our names and started calling “Aravind Anna”, “Wido brother” and “Santosh brother”!! 

Ratnagiri boys with Wido

After passing through some of the houses, we entered into the fields. A temple at the village looked big and old but was renovated recently. A kalyani next to the temple provided a glimpse of the past. The litter inside the pond indicated the level of importance given to historic structures. 

Kalyani

We could see a lone temple at the base of the hill. It was away from the route to the base.

Temple at the base of the hill

Very soon we were at the base of the hill. The massive brick wall was an imposing structure. It looked like a new addition to the fort. May be built during Hyder Ali days. Couple of sections before the brick was slippery due to rains but was not dangerous. Once you cross the brick wall, the continuous climb over steps begins.

Arc shared wall

It was an amazing walk. The recent rains had made the entire area green and many ponds had come up all along the way. At one of the gates there were some nice carvings. Unfortunately fortune hunters have damaged a lot by digging. The word “Ratna” would have definitely attracted lot of fortune hunters who are a bane to our society.


Carvings at the gatewaty

After crossing about five doors, we reached the second stage of the fort. Here there were two buildings which looked like the store room for ammunitions or grains. There were remains of the small temples at this stage.


Second stage of the fort

To reach to the last stage, we had to cross the narrow and steep steps. From the photos, it looks scary and dangerous but in reality, it turned to be an easy climb. The steps were wide enough and chances of slipping was less though we were cautious at certain places which was wet. If it is raining, it is risky to climb this stage.

Final stage of the fort

The steep steps

This is how it looks from the top of the steps.

Steep steps

A little bit of climb and after crossing the two storied gateway, we were at the top of the fort. A pond and a conical bastion was seen. The kids took us through a very narrow hole leading to the outer wall of the fort. It provided nice view of the surrounding area. If not for kids, we could not have found this narrow hole.

Two storey gateway


The fort spans across the two hillocks and said to have a perimeter of about 4.5 km. The other hillock had very few structures but looked formidable. Kids mentioned that the climb to the other hill was very difficult due to lack of steps and the rains had made the path very slippery. 

Fort walls

After spending good amount of time at the top of the fort, it was time to get down. The cloud cover had increased and some of the nearby areas were already receiving rains. 

At the top

Ratnagiri fort is one of the most formidable fort in the area. It is a pity that ASI has not taken any steps to maintain it apart from putting a board which itself is in a bad state!! Villagers though proud of the fort do not put importance to the maintenance. 

Responsibility as understood by ASI

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Chamarel seven colored earth, Mauritius

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On the south of Mauritius there exists a small place with sand dunes comprising of seven colors. It is quite a strange phenomenon that has survived ages in spite of tropical rains hitting Mauritius every year.

Seven coloured earth
Our trip to Mauritius started with the visit to this place. It was about 45 minutes of drive from Flac en Flac, the place where we stayed in Mauritius. An entry fee of 225 MUR was charged per adult (for child, it was 125 MUR). From entrance, it is about 3-4 kms of drive to the colored earth.

View from the fence
We took a short detour to view the Chamarel waterfall which looked spectacular.

Chamarel waterfall

We were blown away by the beauty of seven colored earth. Though it was a small place, the landscape was stunning against the sunny sky. The place was well protected and people were only allowed to view it from the fence. There is a walking path around the dunes to get different views. The seven distinct colors were Red, Brown, Violet, Blue, Green, Purple and Yellow.

Dunes against the surrounding forests

A board on the site mentioned “This natural phenomenon is due to decomposed basalt gullies. The hot and humid climate helps in the decomposition of the basalt into clay. As a result of total hydrolysis (chemical break- down of minerals by water), the soluble elements such as silicic acid and cations are washed, leaving a large composition of iron and aluminium which constitute a ferralitic soil. The iron sesquioxides (Fe2O3) have a red and anthracite colour, whereas the aluminium sesquioxides (Al2O3) have a blue or purplish colour.”

Few land turtles live next to the dunes. There were huge and about 100+ years old. We were excited as we were seeing such giant turtles for the first time.

Huge turtle
The drive towards Chamarel is also an experience as it passes through hills with some nice views of the ocean.

Ocean view
This is certainly a place one must visit in Mauritius. Make sure that it is a sunny day as the colors will not be vibrant if the sky is covered by clouds.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Family trip to Mauritius

I usually plan a family trip during dasara holidays. As soon as my daughter got her school’s holiday schedule for this year, I looked for places to visit during dasara week. The main criteria was weather, cost and location. Mauritius looked like a nice place to visit in October from all aspects.

View from La Mourne
In this post, I will bring out some of the logistical part of the trip which I believe helps others while traveling. In general, I booked the flight and accommodation three months before the trip.

About Mauritius
Mauritius is a small island of the coast of Africa. Famous for its coral beaches, it is one of the key tourist destination for Indians. It was ruled by Dutch, French and British before becoming independent in 1968. Everyone is a migrant as there are no native people in Mauritius. (Hence Dodos were extinct very quickly after humans entered Mauritius as they had not adapted to live in human presence). Today, Indian origin people who went to Mauritius as laborers during British rule form majority in Mauritius.

An island seen from La Mourne
Visa
Indian citizens do not need visa to enter Mauritius as tourists. I was asked to show my return ticket and the passport was stamped. Very simple process. 

Flight
Air Mauritius has weekly two flights from Bengaluru with a layover at Chennai. It also turned out to the cheapest option among all others. There are daily flights from Delhi and Mumbai. I had difficulty in booking on their site and had to rely on makemytrip. This resulted in additional charges as service. I got some money in wallet from this purchase but it was useless (as it expired in three months)

Tanu in front of a waterfall

Stay
Mauritius is a small island of about 60 km in length and 50 km in width. It made sense for me to stay at the central place and cover the places of interest during the day instead of hopping between hotels every day.  I chose Airbnb apartment at Flic en Flac for its central location. It was a two bedroom apartment with swimming pool and parking facilities. Very convenient. Started to like Airbnb more.

View of the swimming pool from our apartment
Transport
I found renting car as the most convenient and cost effective option for traveling between locations when compared to hiring a car with driver. There are many operators renting vehicles. While renting charges of international companies were very high, local companies provided competitive rates. After some research, I booked “Nissan March Automatic” with AKD location voiture (http://www.akd-locationvoiture.com/car-rental-mauritius.html) from airport to airport. My experience with them was very good. 

Ah!! I forgot to mention that Indian driving license is valid in Mauritius.

Driving
Mauritius follows left side driving like India. There is one highway where speed limit is set to 110 km/hr. All other roads are single lane with speed limits of 60 or 80 km/hr. Most people follow driving rules and hence driving is quite easy when compared to India. Care must be taken of pedestrians and two wheelers who would jump into the road any time!!

I had hired GPS device with the car. It turned out to be useless (the car company had told me about it!!). It is sufficient to download google maps offline and use it. Sometimes, it put me into sugarcane fields or led to a dead end. It is not surprising for people who regularly use google maps but in Mauritius you can rely on locals for any directions.

Our companion in Mauritius
Food
In spite of Indian origin people being majority, I did not find many Indian restaurants. Most of them were situated around the capital city of Port Louis. Since we were staying in an apartment, we had the opportunity to cook and eat. We experimented with couple of restaurants but the food was just ok. There are vegetarian options in most restaurants.

Language
English, French and Creole are predominantly spoken. No issues for Indians as most understand English.

Currency
Mauritian currency is called as Mauritian Rupee. 1 MUR is approximately 2 Indian Rupees. Better to get Dollars/Euros and get it converted to MUR. I think it is also possible to exchange Indian currency in airport but I haven’t tried it. Credit card could be used at fuel stations, super markets and restaurants. But local currency is needed at road side shops, adventure sports (if you go directly with operators in the field) and entrance fees to few locations.

Chaya posing for buggy ride
Detours

Mauritius is near to Madagascar, Seychells and Reunion islands. If you have time and money, all these places can be combined. It tried to include Madagascar or Seychelles but the cost turned out to be prohibitive and I had to extend my holiday and I could not afford both. You can also consider visiting Rodrigues island which is part of Mauritius.