This is the second part of a 2-part series about a roadtrip through Mauritius island, mostly through the Black River Gorges National Park.
Click here for part 1!
The lake of Ganga. Wait, in Mauritius?
The Ganga Talao (or grand bassin) in the Savanne District of Mauritius, was a complete crater lake. This is Mauritius’s version of the Ganga river in India; quite obvious once you translate ‘Ganga Talao’; which is ‘lake of Ganga’. And unquestionably, one of the holiest sites in entire nation.
The relationship between Mauritius and Indian culture became visible as we drove on the Grand Bassin Road leading up to Ganga Talao. I was greeted by a 33m tall statue of Lord Shiva, majestically gracing the skies with his trident. And in case you wonder why the Mangal Mahadev statue looks so familiar, it is because it bears a striking resemblance to the Shiva statue in Sursagar Lake in Vadodara.
Shiva is the flavour of the region, as the Sagar Shiva Mandir proclaims from the banks of the lake. There are also a few other smaller temples, shrines and plenty of statues dotted around the place. One of the things that I was very interested to see were the legendary giant eels of the lake. While the lake had some little fish, there have been sightings of a few giant black eels, who swam very close to the shores.
I hung out at the shores waiting for them. But today, they were obviously shy.
A black river gorge and a viewpoint to see it all
From the Ganga Talao, everything happened at a hectic pace.
We were already in the evening zone, and there were places we needed to get to before it became dark. So, we continued our drive to what we had planned at the beginning of the day. The Black river gorge.
As mentioned, the black river gorge in Savanne district covers nearly 2% of entire Mauritius, so it’s tough to find a single viewpoint to observe it all. Of course, there are plenty of hiking and trekking options available, but we clearly didn’t have the luxury of time. (In my case, I clearly didn’t have the luxury of a hiking boot, or the aptitude to do something physical today). So, we had to find a good viewpoint to observe the entire gorge, or the best portions of it. And that’s where Alexandra falls came in. Or specifically, the Alexandra falls lookout point.
While driving from the Grand Bassin towards the Black river gorges, about 7 km later, there is a signpost of the viewpoint. If you are with a driver like we were, I am sure you will have no difficulty in finding the parking space for the viewpoint. From the parking space, you walked through a little picnic area, filled with tables and a lot of trees. Many Mauritian families were huddled there, enjoying their 2 pm lunch, or snacks, while surrounded by those little red birds.
We walked past them, and up a series of steps. And we were in the embrace of dear mother nature.
Read: If waterfalls are you thing, you should read this account of the Mele Cascades, a spectacular sight in Port Vila, Vanuatu!
The view was beyond stunning! On one side there was the Alexandra falls – not as stunning as Chamarel waterfalls, which we would see later – but on the other side, the landscape was more than remarkable. The weather looked perfect today, and the sun and shades were playing around on the green pastures. It was so good, that the viewpoint also had a few monkeys who were enjoying the sight!
Who said, only we could enjoy this view?
The seven coloured earth. Finally!
As the day winded down to a twilight finish, we found that we had reserved the best for the last. Chamarel is a little village located in the Riviere Noire District of Southwestern Mauritius, just 10 kms away from Alexandra falls. Apart from being locally popular for its coffee, sugarcane and pineapple plantations, there is also a reason of touristy significance to this village. A geological phenomenon called the seven coloured earth.
Read: Love geological phenomenon? Read my account of the pink city of Petra, in Jordan.
Within the small village of Chamarel, this is an even-smaller piece of barren land and multi-coloured sand dunes in different hues of red, brown, yellow and purple. The most common misconception is that the dunes get there kaleidoscopic colours due to a volcanic eruption. True, there are volcanic rocks – or basalt – in this area, but as a science-direct article explained to me, the colours are caused due to the weathering of the basalt and the formation of secondary iron oxides and hydroxides in it.
To see the seven colours of earth, I first had to see the colour of an entry ticket. After paying 200 Mauritian Rupees, we walked a short way to come across the majestic sight. Of course, I had imagined (read: dreamt) about taking a selfie in the middle of those dunes, but that dream was quashed by the fence that surrounded the sands. A necessity, I reckon, because this was finely grained sand caused by millions of years of natural reactions. All it needs to be spoilt is some idiot doing some stupid stuff on it. So, I let my dreams rest and gave in to the view.
Wait. There is a special guest from Aldabra!
But there was something else nearby. Something – or someone – smelt so raw, and so strong. There was a small enclosure of stone, by the side of the seven coloured earth, about the height of my knee. And behind it, something was emanating a distinctive smell. We walked over to take a look, and came across – for the first time in my life – an Aldabra Giant Tortoise! No wait, there were 2!
Read: I am not new to getting weird animal smells in nature. Click for the time I ran into wild seals in Cape Palliser, New Zealand.
Aldabra is a large coral atoll in the Seychelles; actually the second largest in the world after Christmas Island in Kiribati. It is only 1 of 2 places in the world where giant tortoises still exist, the other being the Galapagos islands in Ecuador which inspired Charles Darwin’s ‘theory of evolution’. Due to the decline of the giant tortoises at Aldabra, it has been protected from human influence, and currently has over 100,000 giant tortoises. And then, there are some that are protected in the isolated parts of Mauritius, Rodrigues and even in Zanzibar. And I was face to face with one of them.
These beautiful creatures were ignored mostly by the tourists, who paid all their attention to the seven coloured earth. We spent some time taking picture of it, and then visited the little café bar at the park, buying some chamarel coffee that is locally very popular.
Winding up at another waterfall
We wound up our day by visiting the Chamarel waterfalls. A short walk away from the seven coloured earth, and a slightly steep walk uphill, brought us to an expanse of plants, with a clearing through them. And through that clearing, we gazed up at the elevated perfection of nature, called Chamarel waterfall.
Many tourists believe that Chamarel is the tallest waterfall in Mauritius. Its not, because that would be the Tamarin waterfalls, 30 KMs from here. But that fact takes away nothing from the beauty of the Chamarel falls, as the water falls over a rather wide cliff. One of the most popular extreme sports in this region is when people go abseiling down the waterfall. I strained my neck to reach out and see if there was anyone abseiling today.
Alas, not today. Maybe I would need to try that myself some day.
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