Maha Shivaratri

On a Thursday in early March I noted that Monday the 7th was a public holiday for Maha Shivaratri. I wanted to understand what it was for and its significance. There were signs for it all over the island sponsored by local industries.

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It is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of the God Shiva. There are twelve Shivaratris in the year with the Maha Shivarathri being the most holy.

I was told that in Mauritius Hindus from all over the island will head for the Grande Bassin, the crater, where there is a lake now seen as their major Hindu prayer site.

 

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Pilgrims set off as early as Thursday to walk to the lake where they pray and collect water to bring back to their village.

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Time to carry the flip flops as fresh rain cools tired feet!
Walking during the day was hot work
Walking during the day was hot work

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Many walk in the early evening or at night when it is cooler and even more carry idols of the God Shiva, some blocking the road and causing the odd traffic jam. This could be a 40 mile round trip, and half of it uphill.

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Difficult to overtake on a mountain road !

Some of the structures carried by the pilgrims were amazing. Walking with some of them for a while was a gentle and moving experience.

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This  group had a support car in front playing quite loud music
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Pole essential for moving branches and live cables out of the way of the structure being carried

Along every pavement, through every village, there were people offering food and drink, shelter to sleep, rest, pray or just encouragement to carry on walking.

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Every temple was decorated and open to all visitors with lots of chairs to rest on. Incredibly, almost everyone was walking in flip flops.

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Not a walking boot in sight

Even those caught in traffic jams were offered refreshment to take whilst they were delayed.

 

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Major, minor and village roads were all filled with pilgrims carrying structures to and from the crater

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I was offered enough fruit to open a greengrocery shop when stopping to take photographs in Vacoas.

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What started for some on Thursday finished on Monday night at midnight. Remember, they walked all the way there with their structures and took them all the way back.

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This was a festival that I found very moving and genuinely happy to have experienced a bit of, what a lovely atmosphere.

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Thank you to all the bystanders who gave me food, drink and snacks whilst I watched, photographed and walked. To all those who made it to and from the crater, many congratulations. Next year, I shall walk more, much more… but not in flip flops!

At the Barbers; The third cut

A haircut always makes a person feel fresher, cleaner and more awake. Heat, sun and humidity does the opposite. What happens when you combine them? Read on!

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The same person has cut my hair for many years whilst running his award winning salon with maximum effect, so it was with some trepidation that I visited my first hairdresser (or barber as I am told, ladies go to hairdressers). In the heart of Port Louis, my ears throbbed to loud club music as my head was firmly pushed backwards into a black basin. I was asked what colour I wanted in my hair.

‘Pardon?’ I replied. He repeated the question several times as I was not only being deafened but unprepared for the question.

‘Nothing!’ I said. Apparently many men ask for black hair dye, which explains the colour of the sink. After the wash a peppermint smelling, scalp tingling rub was massaged into my wet (undyed) locks and I was led to the chair to be cut, Mauritian style!

‘Is that short enough?’ he enquired having run something borrowed from an Australian sheep shearing farm up the side of my head.

‘Well it is a bit late to ask me now!’ I replied, my right ear looking like a giant dried apricot stuck beside of my now shorn head.

‘No shorter, please‘, I stated firmly, a slight tremble in my voice.

Within seconds and array of different electric razors, chain saws and scissors attacked my hair from all sides. Minutes later there was more hair on the floor than in a Hollywood actors’ wig factory. Walking out later, feeling lighter and like my head had been squeezed between two lift doors it looked so narrow, I resolved to invest my £8 somewhere else next time.

The second, third and all subsequent haircuts were very good. I went to The Gentleman’s Emporium Barber Shop in Black River.No thumping music, good humour, no industrial shearing equipment and excellent two guys who really knew what they were doing.

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A throne to have your hair washed in, interesting things on the walls with an Irish theme and a wall for first timers to sign their name on.
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Walls have ears but in Barbers’ they have mirrors
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Feeling clean and tidy again … but where has my other ear gone? On the wall perhaps?

They have also opened a new shop in Caudan Waterfront next to the Labourdonnais Hotel.

https://web.facebook.com/damosgentlemansemporium/?_rdr

Walls of wisdom

There is always something interesting to see as you drive around the island, who knows what is around the corner. A rather weather beaten local school had let the pupils brighten the boundary walls with some colourful and educational illustrations.

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Not just with the name of their school, but with messages for all, young and old.

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Here are selection of some of the best.

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Maybe the students should be allowed to paint the school as well?

P.S. This must be catching on, at St Benoit’s School in Tamarin they have even painted the container permanently sited in the yard.

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It has stopped raining!

It has been raining hard for over five days. It turned into a torrential downpour on Wednesday morning when over 100mm of rain fell in 12 hours on the island, nearly 200mm in some areas like Pointe aux Canonniers in the North of the island. This caused flooding and landslides; houses, roads and crops were damaged. Over 300 people had to be evacuated from their homes and the Government wisely announced that all businesses and offices were to be closed after 11:00am. It was chaotic but now the weather has returned to normal.

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Phew! What a scorcher! It is hot again! 34 degrees.

Oh yes, diesel is 29.50 rupees per litre, equivalent to £0.57, €0.74 or $0.83.

The sun is highlighting the freshly watered vegetation on Mont Calme as well.

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Mo pe aprann koz Kreol Morisien

Well that was for my Mauritian readers!

So what do you do in Mauritius when it rains? Stay indoors is probably the ‘korek’ answer and you can do that at a shopping mall and on the way back from ‘laplaz’, the beach …

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Brief respite from the rain but not the wind

There was a big ‘Super U’ supermarket at Flacq on the East coast with some 50 or so smaller shops around it and dry inside.

On the mezzanine floor there were some small independent shops and, surprisingly, the simplest of museums.

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Early rulers did not have a hair problem with humidity it seems

It highlighted the early colonisation of the island and how it developed.

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Specialist shops on the island sell model ships like this, some much bigger, which get exported all over the world.

http://www.bobatoshipmodels.com/en/home.php

Dutch, French and English ships would have dropped anchor off the island  .. but their ships would have been a bit larger.

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Early settlers had well ventilated homes, essential due to the primitive cooking utensils.

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A farmer might have used an ox like this, hopefully not as thin, or sought an alternative job as a model for Abercrombie and Fitch.

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Well illustrated and written boards were educational, thoughtful and revealing
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Willian lookalike demonstrates that family life was pretty simple too

Un-leased shop space has been put to excellent use in the shopping centre, the Mauritius Museums Council should be congratulated for putting this exhibition in the heart of the community with free and east access so visitors can imagine what life was like for the early inhabitants of the island.

http://www.mauritiusmuseums.mu

Now back to my Creole lesson,

Mo Angle, mo sort Langleter’

Not what I had expected

Last weekend my plans changed from a typical holidaymaker’s view at the beach to what the residents actually see. Some interesting things and some images that struck me. It is not all sandy beaches, luxury hotels and turquoise lagoons!

The Mauritian flag is made up of four bands ; red for bloodshed, blue for the Indian Ocean, green for the lush, tropical vegetation and yellow for independence and golden sunshine. It proudly flies everywhere on the island. I bought a tie with these colours, unwittingly, many years ago. It has come with me.

Les Grandes Bands
Les Grandes Bands

There are a lot of statues in public and historical places, one of the most famous is of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, (SSR), ‘The Father of the Nation’, the first Prime Minister of Mauritius,  who led the island to independence in 1968. Many Mauritians on their way to work pass through the road SSR is looking up at.

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SSR looking up at Place d’Armes, in the centre of Port Louis

In the centre there are many offices, banks, local businesses and skyscrapers. Having walked for five minutes or so, the heat and humidity warms your body so much that it can be both a shock and a relief to go into an air conditioned building and see Christmas decorations accompanied by traditional songs referring to snow and winter wonderlands! (I haven’t found any Christmas cards yet but I am looking; six days until the last day to post!)

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‘Let it snow, Let it snow …’

The Mauritius Commercial Bank (MCB) Head Office is a stunning 10 storey, 10,000 square metre building, at a business area in the centre of the island. It uses recycled products in its furniture, harvests rainwater, has low energy lighting and is strategically placed between North and South to virtually remove all direct solar gains. It may remind you of the media centre at the MCC at Lords cricket ground.

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The iconic MCB building at Ebene

In contrast, the local market in Curepipe has a brightly coloured set of chimneys above which advertise one of the best known local brands, a paint producer.

Curepipe market and bus station
Curepipe market and bus station

Life in Mauritius has started!

After a few hectic weeks of packing, clearing, goodbyes and mild panic, Mauritian immigration greeted me warmly on my arrival at Plaisance airport. I am finally here, I thought. During my first few days on the island it has been a pleasure to meet so many friendly people who could not have done more to make me feel so welcome.

I have only had one real challenge so far that vexed me a little! I brought two suitcases with me and having opened the first at my temporary address (I move to Tamarin on the West Coast in December) I tried to open the second. The combination lock had jammed! Rather than resort to brute force I decided to leave it for the moment and manage with the clothes I had. I tried again a few days later and voila it opened as if by magic.

The weather has been splendid, the food delicious and the views amazing. You know you are in Mauritius when you see a view like I did in the wing mirror of my car on the first day I drove it from the dealer’s showroom.

Mauritius unexpectedly mirrored

Caudan waterfront was not too busy when I went for a walk and a cool drink in the afternoon. The shops were diverse and interesting and one walkway showed that umbrellas are not just there to keep the rain off! I am also looking forward to the freshly prepared vegetarian wraps at the Kauai restaurant.

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Fresh and tasty wraps, salads and smoothies
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A Walkway in the Caudan waterfront
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Caudan waterfront looking up at Port Louis

I have had walks on the beach in Grand Baie, Pereybere, La Preneuse and Belle Mare  and obviously had to enjoy the sea; is the water really 25 degrees all year around?

Pereybere beach, near Grand Baie
Sunset on La Preneuse beach
Belle Mare beach in the afternoon

I managed to have an hour’s snorkelling in Blue Bay where I was amazed to see so many colourful fish so close to the beach.

Snorkelling in Blue Bay

This is a wonderful island with so much to explore, discover and enjoy.