After travelling around Southern and Eastern Africa for eight weeks, I was looking forward to a relaxing week in Mauritius. I planned to stay at two different resorts whilst on the island, one on the West coast at Flic-en Flac, the other on the North-East at Belle Mare, for a different perspective on the ocean views and beaches for either side of the island.
I had heard exploring the island was best done in your own car, for flexibility and ease of travelling the country roads. Plus as driving is on the left hand side, I was quite comfortable with this. Once on the roads, I was pleasantly surprised the road conditions were well maintained, which always makes for easier driving and one less hazard you need to worry about when navigating around a foreign country. Although the road signs were in French being the island’s native language, so be prepared to translate if you’re not up to speed with written French.
I opted to hire a car only for the first few days, and with no GPS, as I wanted to explore the small island the best way possible. Letting the roads guide me where they wanted to.
I find this is half the fun of exploring, not always knowing where you’re heading to or what you’ll come across.
I knew of the Chamarel Coloured Earth, the natural geological formation of sand dunes on a hillside, so I headed south to view the picturesque formations, which were smaller than I expected, although still impressive to see with the rainbow textures.
As I continued to drive through the mountains of Black River Gorges National Park, I started to come across a few people walking along the roadside. Which doesn’t sound too odd, although all one group of people were carrying a large colorful float!
I had no idea what the float was for or where they were carrying it to, yet decided to continue driving. Then not too much further driving up the road, I came across another group of people walking, this time wheeling a large colorful structure behind them. At that point, I realised this was no ordinary day on the island.
I eventually parked my car on the side of the road to ask some of the people what the floats were for, and why there were a lot of people walking along the road side. Two young local men explained everyone was walking the annual Hindu pilgrimage of Maha Shivaratri, which takes locals from their home towns to Ganga Talao, an old volcanic crater.
I was not expecting to be driving through the middle of an island festival!
I soon learned that the annual Hindu pilgrimage is held around February every year, which involves locals designing and building their bamboo floats, to carry across the mountains and countryside. The structures were large, standing 6m tall, they were impressive, full of colour, streamers, flowers and bells ringing with each movement along the road.
As I progressed driving along the road back through Black River Gorges National Park, I wound my windows down so I could listen to the devotees sing as they collectively walk along. It was very peaceful and harmonising. What a great day to opt for a drive!
I always adore learning new communities and traditions when travelling, and this day I was unexpectedly immersed within it.
Later back in my hotel, I learned from the hotel staff the festival lasts a few days, and has approximately 350,000 devotees making the pilgrimage to Ganga Talao. I was very fortunate to not only be in Mauritius at this particular time of year, but to have hired a car and ventured outside my hotel to see what the country had to offer on this particular day.
This experience reminded me exactly why I like the freedom of having my own transport to explore destinations, to get off the main tourist routes and learn more about local cultures.