We leave behind the traffic of Port Louis and maneuver our way through a small winding road that leads us uphill for a good twenty minutes. At an unassuming orange-colored French villa where we pull up, the warm hospitality of Jean-Michel and his wife Joan awaits me. We exchange niceties and my request for water quickly gets upgraded to a rum punch. I’m in Mauritius after all, and it doesnt matter that it’s just after mid day or that I’ve just landed here after a sleepless 7.5 hour flight from Delhi!
After a quick glimpse at my homely room, I join my hosts in the verandah of the villa, which is designed to be open on all sides, except the shelter above, and offers the most spectacular views; the green valley below, Port Louis beyond and a glimpse of the blue sea further ahead, the sugar cane fields and patches of vegetable farms at eye level, and the rocky mountains above. This is not the tropical postcard Mauritius you see in travel magazines. This is one of the last surviving green pockets of the island that haven’t been infiltrated by tourism yet, and this is the attempt of a Frenchman, native to the island, to keep it that way with his ecotourism efforts.
We talk about the weather and the soil, the rum and the food, the sugarcane fields and tourism, and Jean-Michel tells me that Vallée des Prêtres, where we are right now, is predominantly a Hindu village, where rituals like coal walking and body piercing (thaipussam) are still practiced. Indian immigrants arrived here in Mauritius in the 19th century, from Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and UP, to work on the sugarcane plantations during the British rule, carrying with them nothing but mental imagery of life and religion in India. More than 150 years later, ancient Indian traditions have survived the independence, development and westernization of the island, and the influences of inbound tourism. As have the Hindi and Bhojpuri languages, which are most fluently spoken on the island, after Creole and French.
I settle into my cosy room, whose large windows and balcony face the valley and the fields. When the sun hides behind the clouds, I set out for a hike in the mountains above. 700 feet above the ground, these rocky mountains jut out almost spontaneously, their peaks taking on shapes ranging from a resting Egyptian mummy to a pyramid of finely balanced stones. As I walk along the sugarcane fields, a small group of women laughingly nod at me, and seem delighted to hear that I speak Hindi. On their recommendation, I follow a dirt path leading up towards the mountains, and find myself at a clearing surrounded on all sides by the mountains, except a small opening towards Port Louise below and the sea beyond. I later verify that the valley, as evident by these landscapes, was formed out of a volcanic eruption, during which the lava flowed towards the sea; that also accounts for the shimmering city lights I’ll see in the region after dark.
The clear blue sky suddenly turns ominous with dark clouds, and the strong winds leave the sugarcane fields swaying with an almost magical intensity. The sun disappears before its time, and I scramble to find my way back home in the fading light. After a light drizzle, the clouds move west, revealing a starry sky; it takes me some time to acquaint myself with the alignment of the stars, halfway across the globe, and I end up spotting only the Big Dipper. Conversations and drinks follow, and I settle in for the night, thinking that this face of Mauritius may never find its way to postcards or tourism maps, but anyone who wanders along these forgotten paths can never leave untouched by their sheer beauty.
Villa name: Mon Choix La Maison de Vallée des Prêtres.
Location: Upper Vallée des Prêtres, North Mauritius, near Port Louis.
Contact: Jean-Michel at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go to Mauritius, would you like to discover its wilderness too, or is the ocean too tempting to stay away from?
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Welcome to my blog, The Shooting Star. I’ve been called a storyteller, writer, photographer, digital nomad, instagrammer, social entrepreneur, solo traveller, vegan, sustainable tourism consultant and environmentalist. But in my heart, I’m just a girl who believes in the transformative power of travel.
I’ve always known Mauritius for its turquoise sea, white sandy beaches and the huge range of sea treasures. The way you hint at the views of mountains and rivers, I’m sure it’ll be an enjoyable hiking trip through the fields discovering the nature paradise.
Mauritius is known for all of that for good reason (the waters are really that unbelievably blue), but the interiors of the island are that beautiful too 🙂 Give them a try on your next trip here!
As always you’ve brought to life the destination as seen by its inhabitants. You’ve got a great talent there shivya. To answer your question I would like to see the wilderness but only after getting my fill of the sea 🙂 🙂 (don’t want to miss on that u see!)
Thanks Sapna, glad you enjoyed reading it 🙂 Fair enough, Mauritius does warrant both, thought to be honest, you can never truly get a fill of the turquoise blue seas!
Now this is a face of Mauritius very few paople are aware of. The guest house is like a dream.
i still dream about that open air breakfast 🙂
Mauritius in a different avatar…look forward to discovering this someday. Love the fact that you took this off-beat journey (I know the sea is blue and beautiful, but this is so…untouched!) 😀
That’s exactly why I went here before hitting the waters. The shades of blue are magical enough to make you not want to leave them, but waking up to this view is something I wouldn’t miss either!
Wow Shivya…ur writing is awesome. U do create the most magical, tempting images thru ur writing and well-taken snaps. Kudos 2 u fr taking on a brave new step in life n living the life that most ppl in a boring corporate life would die for! 😀
Thanks Amrita, and thanks for stopping by on my blog! Hope to have you travel with me virtually 🙂
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Describing Mauritius in few words could be writer’s waterloo. How can anyone put the essence of this small Indian Ocean stunner into few words which is replete with a number of cultures, beaches, hikes and all other ingredients required to make it a hot favourite among tourists. Thanks for sharing for this article .awesome posting, It looks like the most ideal setting for learning how to glide, great photos!
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This where I grew up. Round the corner from this villa. Still remember when he was building it, he went through a cyclone that blew his 20ft container abt 100 mts away in a river.
Very nice family
Planning to visit Mauritius and I must say, your article made me a hell lot excited about this small but beautiful island 🙂